Take a summer tiki cruise with ‘great brews with monumental views’ aboard Whitlow’s on Water

WTOP's Jason Fraley cruises with Whitlow's on Water (Part 1)
Take a summer tiki cruise with DC views aboard Whitlow’s on Water

Whitlow’s on Wilson was known for late-night dance parties and Bloody Mary brunches the next morning.

However, owner Jon Williams was forced to close the beloved bar in Clarendon, Virginia, during the pandemic in 2021, before opening a new D.C. location in Shaw on U Street NW in 2023.

Along the way, he kept the business afloat by launching the cruise line Whitlow’s on Water earlier this year.

“A lot of the stuff that’s hanging up and the decorations (on the boat) are from the rooftop in Arlington,” Williams said, pointing to various surfboards and cocktail signs. “When the one in Arlington closed, the ‘Jacks’ approached me about capturing the tiki vibe from the rooftop there on a boat and I thought it was a wonderful idea.”

The aforementioned “Jacks” are drinking buddies turned business partners, Jack Maher and Jack Walten, who have been friends since preschool in Arlington, Virginia, before growing up to cofound Sea Suite Cruises.

“The Skipjacks, that’s us!” Maher said.

“It’s more like Captain Jack Sparrow,” Walten said.

Together, they cofounded Sea Suite Cruises in 2018 as an extension of the Potomac Paddle Club, before adding more boats in new waterfront cities. Today, Whitlow’s on Water is the crown jewel of their fleet of 17 boats that are docked across Annapolis and Baltimore in Maryland, Richmond, Virginia and, of course, D.C.

“It was a drunk idea that we had,” Maher said.

“We actually emailed it to ourselves a little north of midnight to make sure we didn’t forget. … As we started building out more boats, more locations, we had just gotten a tiki boat at the same time that Whitlow’s was closing. Jack and I, being Whitlow’s guys, we were pretty distraught on a personal level that it was closing, so we wanted to bring that to life on the water.”

“Jack and I literally went to every single mug night on the Whitlow’s tiki rooftop, which is where the idea kind of evolved from,” Walten said. “We always called our boat ‘The Beach Inside the Beltway’ and the Whitlow’s rooftop had a very similar concept, so we thought why don’t we bring our concepts together?”

Docked in Georgetown on the weekdays and Navy Yard on weekends, the boat travels the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, serving up to 500 people per day and an estimated total of 40,000 people by the end of this year.

“We actually launched right around St. Patrick’s Day this year for the cherry blossoms,” Walten said.

“Since then, the bookings have exploded, we’ve done very well on the weekends, and now even our weekdays are filling up with corporate teams, birthday parties. … This boat is also somewhat of a floating sports bar. We have TVs on here, so we’ve had a lot of watch parties, we had a good turnout for the Masters, as well as the NBA Finals, NHL Playoffs.”

Baseball fans can even get dropped off at Nats Park, turning tailgating into “sail-gating.”

“You can see Nats Park from the water, which is super cool, especially when there’s a game going on, you’ll hear the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd,” Maher said.

“A lot of times when you’re in Nats Park, you kind of forget that the river is right behind you, so it’s cool seeing the flip side. … For select Nats games, we do ‘Nats Sail-gate’ where you tailgate your way from Georgetown and get dropped off by the ballpark right before game time.”

The 50-foot Whitlows on Water can be booked for both group cruises and individual ticketing for guests. (Courtesy Sea Suite Cruises)
The 50-foot Whitlow’s on Water can be booked for both group cruises and individual ticketing for guests. (Courtesy Sea Suite Cruises)
Whitlow's on Water floats along the Potomac River
Whitlow’s on Water floats along the Potomac River near Georgetown. (Courtesy Sea Suite Cruises)
Whitlow's on Water.
Whitlow’s on Water. (WTOP/Jason Fraley)
Thanks to a partnership with Sea Suite Cruises, Whitlow’s has taken to the water. (Courtesy Sea Suite Cruises)
The 50-foot Whitlows on Water can be booked for both group cruises and individual ticketing for guests. (Courtesy Sea Suite Cruises)
Whitlow's on Water floats along the Potomac River
Whitlow's on Water.

Best of all, you get to travel around D.C. without having to sit in traffic, looking up at the frustrated commuters trapped in their cars on the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge as the boat casually cruises underneath.

“A lot of people don’t view the city from the river, but it’s a completely different perspective,” Williams said. “You’re going down the river and you see the people stuck in traffic. I, myself, have been driving home and looked over and have seen the boat cruises. It’s such a cool experience, it’s so laid back, you’ve got reggae music playing, you can sit at the bar, have a drink.”

The boat holds up to 47 passengers for individual tickets or private events for groups of 25 or more.

Guests can choose an all-inclusive voyage with alcohol included in the price or a standard pay-as-you-go approach with a menu that includes tiki rum punch, orange crushes, High Noon vodka hard seltzers and even their own original beer, Sea Suite Cruises Lager, brewed locally at Fair Winds Brewing Company in Lorton, Virginia.

“Everybody loves a waterfront bar, right?” Maher said.

“Being physically on the water, cruising past the monuments, particularly at golden hour with everything just shimmering, it’s really quite serene. … We might not be running the government or solving the world’s issues in different industries or what not, but we’re an outlet for people who do, to decompress and unwind. It’s a low-cost way to get on a really nice boat that’s not pretentious.”

“We really strive to provide great brews with monumental views,” Walten said. “The views from the water are just spectacular. Jack and I grew up here and I never really got on the water as a kid, but when we started the boat business, it was seeing the city from a whole new perspective with a beer in your hand. What’s better than that?”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley cruises with Whitlow's on Water (Part 2)

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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