Got Plans? Discuss great ideas for seasonal entertainment and holiday fun.

Dec 01, 2011

Got Plans? Discuss great ideas for seasonal entertainment and holiday fun.

Hello everyone. Hope you're in the holiday spirit today, because we are. Kathy Orton and Amy Orndorff, who are responsible for Weekend's omnibus Holiday Happenings guide, are here to take all your questions about holiday shopping, caroling events, light displays, the water-skiing Santa -- anything you want to know. (This is also a good time to remind you to check out the Post's huge Holiday Guide.)

But, of course, we're also happy to take any questions you have that aren't holiday related, whether about breweries that sell beer to go or the demise of Ray's Steak and Cheese. Let's get started...

Any suggestions for somewhere that would make holiday shopping into a fun outing? Looking for somewhere with options for local / handmade gifts, and not a mall.

When it comes to anti-mall Christmas shopping I try museums first. Especially the smaller, local museums where you are more apt to find local and unusual items. Another fun option would be Eastern Market. And if you are willing to travel to the burbs, Sugarloaf Craft Festival is going to be at the Dulles Expo Dec. 9-11.

Can I pile on and add the House of Sweden's annual Swedish Holiday Bazaar? It's this Saturday at the Swedish Embassy on the Georgetown Waterfront. There are carols, a Swedish cafe with pastries and coffee, lots of crafts/household items/snacks for purchase, and a Lucia procession. It's a total day out with Swedish flair.

Hi guys! My girlfriends and I (mid-twenties) would like to go see the Nutcracker--which show do you suggest? Anywhere in DC or nova would work and we're looking to spend up to $60/person. The first place I thought of was the Kennedy Center, but I'm not sure we can get good seats for that price. Also, we'd probably like to have drinks and/or dinner before or after the show. Thanks!

The Washington Ballet's "The Nutcracker" at the Warner sounds like a good match. Did we mention the Nationals' Racing Presidents will be making an appearance at the Dec. 14 show?

Another option to consider is Momentum Dance Theatre's Hip-Hop Nutcracker which features Duke Ellington's music. Tickets are very reasonable, $18 to $22.

I have lived in DC for 8 years and have always wanted to go to the Scottish Walk in Alexandria, but have never actually been able too. This is the first year I can actually go, but before I make the trip to VA, I wanted to check with you guys to make sure it is worth the visit. Also, is it dog friendly? I would like to take my pup.

It couldn't be more dog friendly! Many people bring their dogs and dress them up in tartan. I'm sure your pup will be in good company. As long as the weather is nice, this is a not-to-be-missed event in Old Town. It is really a lot of fun and definitely worth the trip!

Hey gurus--any idea if the National Cathedral has their annual creche exhibit this year or the previous earthquake closure has sidelined it?

It is up right now. I just called the National Cathedral and they confirmed that the exhibit will be in place through Jan. 6.

Hey gurus! A friend is working on her photography portfolio and wants to come into DC this weekend to shoot some holiday-themed photos. Where's the best place in the city for Christmas decorations at night? I'm thinking Zoolights, and maybe some of the lesser-known memorials (suggestions?) to avoid the crowded Georgetown streets. Any other ideas?

Hands down Union Station is the most beautifully decorated non-monumnet/memorial venue in the city.

Hi Gurus- Just wondering what the gurus think about Mussel Bar in Bethesda. I know Tom was not a huge fan when he first reviewed it, but I think this place is by far the best restaurant in Bethesda. The food is consistently good, the beer selection rocks and the potent mixed drinks with fresh sqeezed juice are not to be missed (or underestimated...). They have now started having live music as well. Do the gurus like this place, if not, why not??

I have mixed feelings about it. Good beer selection, but waaaay pricier than its sister restaurants for the same beer (blame Montgomery County for that one). My food has ranged from great to blah, seemingly for no reason. Sometimes the mussels just seem limp and boring. Sometimes the flatbreads are killer.

In Bethesda, I'm doing my seafood dining at Freddy's these days. Great happy hour, too: $10 for a beer and a box of fried whole-belly clams, or get a draft beer for $2.50 when you purchase a lobster roll.

i'm trying to plan a date to see the white house christmas trees and then grab a drink after at a romantic bar--maybe with a fireplace. i'm envisioning something like tabard inn or something cosy, but closer to our destination. do you have a recommendation near the white house or up towards logan circle that might work?

I tend to think Off the Record, the ornate-but-secluded bar in the basement of the Hay-Adams Hotel on Lafayette Square, is romantic, just because it feels so out of the way. I also love the private areas in the bar at Quill, at the Jefferson Hotel. It's on 16th at M, just a short walk from the White House's front door.

Neither of those has the coziness of the Tabard's hearth-warmed living room, but honestly, that's *so* hard to replicate in D.C. One of the reasons to cherish the place.

I've lived here for years and have always heard that the Willard does some sort of Christmas event every day, maybe caroling and hot chocolate? I've never been able to go, but now I work in the area. Can you point me in the right direction as to find information about this? Thanks!

I was just talking with a friend about this last night -- she's never been to the Round Robin Bar, but I think I sold her on Christmas at the Willard.

Beginning tonight through Dec. 23, the hotel has free performances by local carolling groups from 5:30 to 7:30. My tactic is generally to go to the Round Robin Bar and order a hot toddy or something suitably warming, carry it out to the festively decorated lobby, and sip while listening to the singing. One of my favorite holiday traditions, to be sure.

Hi Gurus. I'm looking for an experiential Christmas gift for my in-laws. We've given them cooking and cocktail classes in the past. Not interested in theater tickets. Any ideas? They're really great to us so we want something that will knock their socks off. Thanks!

I absolutely agree, but maybe not so much this year. I just walked through there today and it's a complete mess due to the netting and construction going on as a result of the earthquake. Really doesn't look great becuase of that.

Usually the Norwegian Embassy has a beautiful tree, train exhibit and holiday market at Union Station. Unfortunately, because of the earthquake damage, they couldn't put on their holiday celebration this year. They told me they hope to be back next year.

Don't forget the DC Jazz Hip Hop Nutcracker too! Not as polished as some of the others, but a fun time.

Another vote for Hip-Hop Nutcracker!

Come up to Petworth for the Upshur Street Art and Craft Fair next Saturday.  Or go this Saturday to the Columbia Heights Market Holiday Market.

Thanks for the suggestion!

I have always wanted to check out the galleries in Dupont when they are open late, and wanted to go tomorrow. Is it year round? Any galleries in particular that are interesting? If its not happening tomorrow, any other date ideas involving art would be great!

First Friday is year-round, and it is indeed happening tomorrow. It's fun to wander around and gallery-hop on, say, 14th Street for a few hours, but it's also good to have a plan. My favorite stop is almost always Hillyer, in the courtyard behind the Phillips Collection, for art and free drinks. (They do generally ask for a couple bucks for a donation, though.) Foundary Gallery is another one that's often on my list.

Hey GOGS, I'm submitting this early cause I know I'll be in meetings all afternoon. I'm helping out my brother in his quest to get his girlfriend jewelry for Christmas. He's looking for a unique, classic piece of jewelry. Could you guys recommend a little jewelry boutique or craft show that has unique pieces but they don't cost an arm and a leg? THANKS!

One idea: This Saturday, Nana in Mount Pleasant is hosting a Handmade Holly Mart from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. I'm a huge fan of the jewelry from Sarah Cecelia -- gorgeous bracelets, earings and necklaces that make great gifts.

I'm going to Folger Theatre's production of Othello on Sunday afternoon. Where should I go close by that will be open for drinks on Sunday at 4:00ish.

The Tune Inn is a mere 5 minute walk from the Folger, and it's always open on Sunday afternoons.

Any suggestions on where to buy a box or two of DC-themed Christmas cards? Something unique would be nice, but I'd accept the usual suspects as well (White House, Capitol, etc.) Thanks, GOGs.

I'll throw this out to chatters, but add that the White House Historical Association has some gorgeous Christmas cards featuring old images of the White House, the first White House Christmas tree, etc. for sale in its gift shop at the Decatur House.

Soooo, chatters -- cool local Christmas cards. Where do we find them?

Hi GOGs! My friends (seven of us, upper 20's) are planning dinner/drinks/dancing for saturday night. We are NOT stand-in-line bottle service type of people, but we want a fun place to dance with great music. Any thoughts?

Penn Quarter is surprisingly light on dance options on a Saturday night. You've got live country music in the Boot Room bar at Hill Country (no cover; call 202-556-2050 for free table reservations), you've got salsa dancing at Cuba Libre (free with RSVP), you've got Muse over on Sixth Street -- a two-level bar and lounge that is really hit or miss, but has free drinks from 10 to 11 and DJs spinning hip-hop and mash-ups.

Any suggestions for the best free or cheap activities in the area this holiday season? I usually look to your Monday blog, but didn't see one dedicated to that this week. :(

I'll let Kathy take this one, but first wanted to point you to Monday's Free & Easy column.

There are plenty of free concerts around. The Willard Hotel has been mentioned, but the National Gallery of Art also has free concerts. The Kennedy Center performance of Handel's Messiah is free but you need to stand in line for tickets. Don't forget the tree lightings in the area. Alexandria, Bowie, Manassas and Poolesville are just a few of the cities with tree lighting ceremonies. Tudor Place in Georgetown is offering Tudor Nights: Punch Royal and Holiday Trimming for just $15 per person.

The store next to Home Rule on 14th st (blanking on the name) has some really funny ones -- more on politics, less on DC, but if you have slightly inappropriate friends and family, I think they're great.

You're thinking of Pulp, at 14th and T, and yeah, it's a great little shop.

The American History Museum is good. (It's days like this that I miss Arts and Industries) So is the Building Museum. (I miss the gift shop at the Historical Society too.) Sometimes Pulp has good DC cards. Or go to Eastern Market or the Downtown Holiday Market and find Mary Belcher. http://www.marybelcher.com/ She has great cards!

Here's a reader who really knows their holiday cards.

And for those that don't know, the National Building Museum is home to one of the best museum shops around. (I hear good things about the Koshland Science Museum, too, but I've yet to go.)

DAR does a nice holiday open house; this year's is December 7 from 5:30-8:00. Since they're located across the street from the ellipse, you can combine it with viewing the White House tree.

This is like a date in a box, people -- and it won't cost you a cent!

I had this brilliant idea for my boyfriend's Christmas present: beer making at Shenandoah Brewing Company but alas, they are out of business. Is there any other place that is similar? We've done beer tastings but that seems like a lazy Saturday vs Christmas present. (Also, anyway to tell the people who are there now to take down the SBC website? It is still up, the number still rings and rings and rings and rings, and I only figured it out after googling. Kind of annoying.)

Hi Alexandria,

With the demise of Shenandoah, the only brew-on-premise place that I'm familiar with is the Flying Barrel in Frederick. It's kind of a drive, but you can totally make a day out of shopping, dinner, a visit to Brewer's Alley for some of its award-winning beers..

Right, sorry. Flying Barrel. They have a "beginner's special" that involves walking you through the whole brewing process. It's $115 for two cases of beer, but that includes all your ingredients, all the bottles and the instruction. Check out the Flying Barrel site and see if it works for you.

Do you know when the Air Force band will be playing at Constitution Hall?

Yes we do... and it is this weekend!

Does anyone/anyplace around the DC area have an extensive model railroad set up for the Holidays?

You have tons of options! We put together a pretty long list... and I hear Kathy has some more ideas...

Fritz and I are partial to the one at the U.S. Botanic Garden. But there are many other options including Brookside Gardens, B&O Railroad Museum and Fairfax Station Railroad Museum. And if you're interested in planes and trains, College Park Aviation Museum is the place to go.

Thanks so much for the response Fritz- def a big help! I'm going on a date and we will definitely be going out for dinner and drinks afterwards. Have been to Dupont plenty of times, but any restaurants in the vicinity you think would be fun and different after?

For some reason, I always wind up at Bistrot du Coin or Bar Pilar after First Friday, but with Pilar closed until further notice, I think I'll be sticking with le Bistrot.

Is there a way to get up to the upper deck without walking 1000 miles up the ramps? This is for a non-disabled, non-senior person. Seems that the elevators were all marked for them only :(

If you're walking from the Metro, turn left when you get to the "main" Stadium gate and start walking around. You'll see a huge bank of escaltors that take you right to the 400 level.

My daughter is coming home from college for the last two weeks of December and I'd like to take her to a good theatre show--preferably a musical but a good dramatic performance would also be ok. Any suggestions?

"Billy Elliot the Musical" sounds like it fits the requirements.

I've slowed down the drinking for a bit, but found very little entertainment on the weekends that don't involve alcohol. I'm tired of dinner & movies. I don't mind going to places or events that serve alcohol it just can't be the main attraction. Thanks in advance.

I take a couple of weeks off drinking every year, and I get through it by going out and doing things at bars: Dragging friends to trivia nights, going to see bands at the Black Cat or DC9, brushing up at salsa or swing lessons, browsing the paintings and photographs at First Friday, which we've talked about a bit in this chat.

And, of course, it helps to go to cool lounges, such as the Tabard Inn or PS7's, where the bartenders can whip up a mean non-alcoholic cocktail.

I've always been able to find them at Barnes and Noble in the past. They have ones with the white house, the capitol...all with a nice snow scene. I always shop at either the Bethesda or metro center locations.

In addition to book stores, just about any place that sells stationary usually has a selection of local images.

Try some of the museum stores, in particular the Smithsonians... I bought some nice DC and Annapolis themed Xmas cards a few years back, but cannot remember exactly where I got them. But museum stores would be a good start I think.

Another vote for museums...

Brew on Premisies - Shenandoah was costly, and I wasn't thrilled with the 2 batches I did there. Why not buy the boyfriend a home brew kit - equipment and ingredients?

I knew a homebrew evangelist would pop up as soon as I mentioned a brew-on-premise.

Homebrewing can be fun -- and some of my friends are very, very good at it -- but spending a lot of money on something that you don't know if a person is going to enjoy is kind of like buying them a puppy for Christmas.

I'd recommend the chatter and her boyfriend try the on-premise brewing at Flying Barrel first and see if they like the process, because it's not for everyone. If they enjoy it, then they can graduate to a homebrew kit, perhaps from MyLocal Homebrew Shop in Falls Church.

I got beautiful ones at Teaism last year. They were DC themed in that they were photographs of snowy, christmasy, DC streets, but they didn't show the usual memorials, white house, etc.

I never would have thought of Teaism. Thanks.

A friend invited me to the lighting but I can't find any information re restrictions on what you can bring or even when it ends. Any info would be helpful. Thanks!

It's the usual restrictions for this type of event: no fireworks/firecrackers, animals (except guide dogs), duffel bags/suitcases/backpacks/coolers, ammunition, knives, mace/pepper spray, laser lights/pointers, chairs  and glass containers. Strollers, wheelchairs and diaper bags are allowed, but they will be searched. Gates open at 3 and all ticket holders have to be in their seats (or in the standing room only area) by 4:30 p.m. The ceremony begins at 5 and I would expect it to last at least an hour. I hope you have a seat! For those without tickets -- they are only available by a lottery that was held in November -- you can watch the ceremony live on www.thenationaltree.org beginning at 4:30.

What's a good day activity for a bunch of bros before Caps on Tap Saturday night? Anywhere in DC.

Justin just suggested a whisk(e)y tasting at Againn, which could be a lot of fun. Suggests some polar bear golf, hitting the driving range at East Potomac Park. I'd say a trip to the Port City Brewery in Alexandria, where you can tour the facility and try four different beers, including their tasting new holiday beer, Tidings.

And we speak as the authors of this Weekend section cover story on Bromance.

Gurus, OK, the topic is a little misleading. I know that DC has some good places to take in wine, whether trying out a few glasses or trying and sharing bottles with friends. I'd like to find a cozy, comfortable, great place that has fabulous wine options where I can go with friends and talk. Here's the catch: It has to be without attitude and no pretense but people have to know their stuff. Where would you suggest that I go? Thanks

I know exactly what you mean. I love Proof, for example, and I think they have the best by-the-glass menu in D.C., but it can be hard to take more than one other person there.

With friends, I'm more apt to go to Veritas in Dupont, where the bartenders haven't steered me wrong, or the wine bar above Bistrot Lepic, though not on a weekend, when it gets packed. I'd also throw in Ripple in Cleveland Park, or the bar at Fiola. Also, if you like French wines exclusively, go to Bistro D'Oc and make friends with one of the bartenders. You can get some outstanding bottles there for $25-$40.

Hi Gurus, My sister and I usually get together for a holiday cocktail this time of year. We like to go places that are classic DC and decorated for the season. Last year we went to the Willard and it was very fun. This year we are going to do some shopping in Georgetown. Where should we go for our cocktail around that area? Didn't you used to have a list of classic DC bars or something like that? Thanks so much!

Martin's Tavern covers itself with lights and velvet bows. It's very much a classic D.C. bar -- oldest or second-oldest liquor license in town, if I recall correctly -- and some friends and I have a holiday tradition of going there for warm drinks.

I'm going to the Arlington C&D tomorrow night, and am looking for a restaurant to eat at beforehand. Can you recommend anything in that area?

Two options come to mind: For something on the light side, Head down the block to the Twisted Vines wine bar for a charcuterie plate or flatbread paired with some really great wines, with bartenders who know their stuff and can offer some intriguing pairings.

Or head across the street to P. Brennan's. Good fish and chips, great Guinness.

Hii there! A friend and I are attempting to plan a joint birthday party. We'd love to be able to have a semi-private area for our large group of friends (~30 people) to gather, but be able to dance and mingle throughout the rest of the bar. Oh and we'd prefer no room charge, but can do a fairly high bar tab minimum. Do you have any suggestions for bars in DC that fit the bill? Thanks!!

Places that fit the bill: Little Miss Whiskey's, Science Club, the upstairs bar at Jack Rose (no dancing, though), Laughing Man Tavern (BYO iPod for dance music), downstairs at Iron Horse Tap Room, the rooftop at the Reef ... could also get a cordoned-off area inthe basement of either Hill Country or Meridian Pint. Won't be completely private, but you do get your own space.

Thanks to Kathy for all the great holiday tips and advice, and to all the readers who recommended everything from cards to handmade gifts. Join us again next Thursday, when we'll be talking holiday cocktails and festive events. See you then -- and don't forget to stay up to date with the Going Out Guide's blog and Twitter feed.

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The Going Out Gurus
The Going Out Gurus are the experts behind The Washington Post's Going Out Guide. They write about restaurants, bars, movies, the arts, special events and visitor attractions, and they're out every night to keep you on top of the D.C. entertainment scene.
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