Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Gurus

Jan 17, 2013

Every Thursday, the Going Out Gurus discuss inaugural plans, concerts, happy hours, weekend getaways, new exhibits and other ideas for fun in the Washington D.C. area.

Finally, Inauguration Weekend is here. Formal galas! Late-night drinking! Celebrity spotting! Parades! Fun events for $20 or less!

We're here to answer all your questions. And if you want to talk about ways to avoid the security lines and other hassles, we'll talk about that too. 

I've seen brunch specials for Monday at Hill Country, Poste, Birch & Barley, and Firefly. Any other recs?

I've also seen food and drink deals at Red Derby, which is offering its usual $2 bloody mary and mimosa specials. Other options include ChurchKey/Birch & Barley, Cafe Saint-Ex, Bar Pilar and, of course, the Tune Inn...

So I wouldn't head to Hill Country unless you're planning on being in the inauguration parade, or heading to the Mall -- you'll officially be in the security perimeter, and just a few blocks from the parade checkpoints. No problem if you ARE headed that way. But if you want to watch from afar, you could try Ben's Next Door, which will do brunch, the BYT party, or Cause bar, which opens at noon. That's my PSA for today.

I know this may a bit of a long shot, but are their any bars or restaurants having a Burns Supper or specials events in DC or close by?

The only Burns Night dinner I've seen this year is the annual formal gala put on by the St. Andrew's Society. Cocktails, a formal haggis dinner, music -- and a $95 ticket.

I love the chats and would love a suggestion (probably from one of the guys). I am trying to plan a seecond date this weekend or next week that is not necessarily going to a bar and getting a drink. We aren't big drinkers. Live Music, Art or trying something new would be nice.

First, let me point you to our recent list of great first date ideas, most of which could be used for a second date, too. The influx of new outdoor skating rinks -- Washington Harbour and Canal Park -- could work, especially given the chilly weather. (Or, conversely, you could play bocce indoors at Black Jack.) For live music, I'd suggest trying a place you haven't been before. Bluegrass at Tiffany Tavern in Old Town, country line dancing (with lessons!) at Nick's in Alexandria, classic rock at JV's, dancing to rockabilly in the back room at Quarry House Tavern. 

This is my first inauguration living in DC and I'm an Obama fan. I want to do something, but I am afraid of everything being a big headache. Didn't get tickets to the official ball. I am open to another ball, but don't want to spend too much if it's not going to be cool. I also live near the Mall, so I was thinking of walking down to the actual event. Given all this information what would you do if you were me on inauguration day?

I think the reputation inauguration has earned is directly connected to 2009's overflow crowd, which some have estimated as more than 1.5 million people (in a city that usually houses about 600,000). This time, we're going to see a third to a half of that crowd, so I think there's no better time to try to be a part of things. There are going to be a lot of cool events that are inexpensive, and nightlife that will draw celebs.  If you're headed for the Mall,  here are some things to know, including which food trucks to look out for, and which museums will have bathrooms open and cafes you can visit.  Print it out, because even we're not sure wifi and cell service will be working once you're in an area with a crowd that large.   And, because you'll need it: How to stay warm.

Saturday Night the Blue Banana is playing the Caps Game and then has a band from Ocean City, MD playing after. Sunday Night Looking Glass Lounge is having a late night dance party. On Monday DC Reynolds will be open for Brunch starting at 11.

Throw in late-night drinks at Chez Billy (the only place in the neighborhood on D.C.'s official 4 a.m. list) and you never have to leave the neighborhood.

I am looking for a nice place to have an inexpensive lunch with my mom in Georgetown. Anything new there these days?

It's not new, but you and your mom might like Kafe Leopold, especially if you think you'll be having dessert -- no meal at the out-of-the-way Georgetown spot is complete without pastries.  New(ish), and also a little more expensive: Bandolero. Though Tom Sietsema's review cautions against the noise, that probably wouldn't be as big of a problem at lunchtime.

So this will be my first time doing inauguration in DC. I'm not going to any formal balls but a few brunches and late night parties. My question is will people still be wearing "dressy" dresses? It's going to be cold! Advice?

Yes. It was really cold last time, and everyone still got glammed up. Lavanya and Maura put together this guide to staying warm and looking good. Personally, I'm going to be shivering in my tux jacket. Coat checks at parties in 2009 were a ... zoo. Trying to avoid that as much as possible.

Hi Gurus! I have reservations at Hill Country for Monday to eat, hang out and watch the inauguration. They have zero info on what the security situation will be around them. Any idea on that situation? Or advice as to how much time I should leave to get there? Thanks!

Hill Country is right in the security zone, which means no vehicular traffic will be allowed anywhere near it. Seventh Street (at D Street) will also be an entry point for people bound for the parade, which begins at 2:30 p.m. So you'll definitely be in the middle of a pretty hectic area -- plus, with the Archives and Mt. Vernon stations closed on inauguration day, there will be a lot of extra people coming out of that Chinatown Metro station.  Hill Country should be a blast, but I would absolutely give yourself extra time to get there. And also, if you're mildly claustrophobic, to consider walking.

Can you give me a rough timeline for events on Monday. My 13 year old nephew is flying out of dca as an unaccompanied minor at 7 pm. We have swearing in tickets and parade tickets. Trying to rough plan the day and determine if we really can plan to see some/all of parade before hopping on metro to airport. Can't remember how long/what time parade started/ended. Also are there any ritzy/ball type events that all kids of that age. I would like for him to experience that aspect of inauguration also but would rather it be an event that allows kids rather than an event for kids.

Sure thing! Here's the tentative schedule: 4 a.m.  Metro opens.
6:30 a.m., p ublic entry points open on parade route.
11:30 a.m.  inaugural program begins at the Capitol.
Noon, swearing in, inaugural address
2:30 p.m. parade begins.

This is a handy pocket guide you should print and take with you, since cell service could be limited.  Hate to be Debbie Downer, but there is one thing to note,  since you're planning on grabbing the Metro to the train station. There are very heavy restrictions. No suitcase, no backpack and pretty much no bag larger than a purse is allowed into the perimeter (the parade has checkpoints). Here's where you can see the list.  I think if this is your plan, you should try to find some place to stash his things outside of the perimeter (a locker at a gym, if you're coming from a hotel, at the hotel...).

My company is bringing a bunch of its East Coasters together in Baltimore for a few days at the end of the month. Any suggestions for midweek nightlife around the Four Seasons?

Ah, Harbor East. The huge and popular Wit and Wisdom bar is right at the hotel -- it's a Michael Mina restaurant, like Bourbon Steak in D.C., but with happy hour, so it's worth a visit even if your company's not picking up the tab.

You're not far from Fells Point. I was just up there a few weekends ago. Rye is the cool new cocktail bar. (Baltimore-based friend walked in and said, "Oh, we're in D.C. now.") Pretty decent drinks with house-made infusions. It's next to Max's on Broadway, one of the best beer bars in the country. (And it's across the street from the Blarney Stone, a neighborhood bar with cheap shots and cheap bottles of Natty Boh, for when you feel like making bad decisions.) 

If you don't mind cabbing around, I'd also send you to Johnny Rad's (a skateboarding-themed pizza and beer joint with skee-ball), and two excellent beer bars: The Brewer's Art brewpub, and Of Love and Regret, which is run by the brewer behind Stillwater Ales. Neither of them have been too crowded on my (admittedly infrequent) weeknight visits.

GoGs, I just looked at your suggestions for a first date idea (other than cupcakes and board games, no comment on that idea). Um, let me guess, the guru who threw out the idea of a used book store had to be Fritz!

No, as a matter of fact. (But I totally would have.) It was Amy.

Washington Revels does a pub sing with a little bit of a Burns Night (15 minute version) at McGinty's in Silver Spring. Buy tickets early if you want to go. It sells out. Very, very informal. You buy your own food from the menu. Information here.

For someone who wants an informal Burns Night (ie no $95 tickets)...

I bought tickets for the inagural parade and am kind of put out that doesn't even guarantee me bleacher seats. How early does someone with tickets have to get to the parade seating areas? Is it even possible to watch both the swearing-in ceremony and the parade?

I think it would be really difficult to do both, because you'll have to camp out to get your space for the parade, and wait to get through checkpoints to get to the Capitol. Personally, since you have tickets for the parade, I would do that - you're going to have a better view. Again, public entry points open on parade route at 6:30 a.m. I have not seen tickets for the parade, so I'm not sure if there are recommended entries for you.

For folks considering going to the parade, please know that Secret Service has announced that the checkpoints to the parade will stay open only as long as they determine they will stay open. When they feel capacity has been reached, the entries will be shut down. This actually happened to me in 2005, and it was a total bummer, for me, but mostly for the people who had come from around the country. So get there early!

That article about RVs got me thinking that shopping for them would be an awesome date night with my husband. However, with only three hours and Safford being too far away, it's just not going to happen. Can you think of other things for which it might be fun to window shop for on a date night?

The U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis always strikes me as a fun "pretending to buy" date. Sadly, you just missed the annual International Motorcycle Show at the D.C. Convention Center.

Chatters? Can you think of cool browsing dates? (And please, no jokers suggest diamond rings.)

Why are the WashPost maps showing the parade route/security area so freaking small without the ability to zoom? This makes the map useless.

Sorry - there is a lot to get in there. On the PDF I've been posting, you can zoom in on the map. I'm looking at it in Firefox, and there should be a little plus sign that pops up at the bottom of your screen. Click on that, and you'll be able to take a better look.

I have two guests who are Ravens fans. Any suggestions where I should take them to watch their team this weekend?

The only quote-unquote official Ravens bar that I know of in D.C. is Mason Inn in Glover Park. They'll have pitcher specials and plenty of folks wearing black and purple, including the bartenders.

HI Ru's - I would like to have a dinner for my wife at the end of next month and a small group, 10-12. Can you suggest some good restaurants that might have a private room or at least a secluded corner, preferably Arlington/ Alexandria/close in Fairfax? The honoree and guests like good food and appreciate most types of cuisines, except steak houses. Long time reader, first time chatter.

One of Tom Sietsema's chatters asked the same thing last week, and he suggested Liberty Tavern in Clarendon, which got high marks in the Fall Dining Guide, and McLean's Bistro Vivant. Vermilion, in Alexandria, is also a pick from the dining guide -- it will have a new chef before your party  next month.  Obama ate there for Valentine's Day last year.

After almost 15 years of living in the DC area, I'm moving to the west coast and am leaving in about 6 weeks. I've been trying to think of a good bar to have a going away party where I can invite my various groups of friends for one last big evening out in DC (the invite list will be about 40 people). I was trying to think of somewhere that would have space for a group this size to take over, but because I'm in the midst of relocating, job searching, and planning a wedding, I prefer to avoid the expense of renting out a private room. My friends and I are primarily in our mid-to-late thirties. I tend to like wine bars and the bars in the Atlas District, but since most of my friends are in NoVA or parts of DC not readily accessible to H St. NE, I was hoping to come up with some place more centrally located/easier to get to. Any brilliant ideas? Thanks!

For big parties with no fees, go low-key. Buffalo Billiards is a huge place where no one will blink if 40 people want to hang out together. You could probably also have that many folks show up in the basement of Hill County (as long as there's no band) and commandeer a few of the long communal tables.

Worth noting: Cause the Philanthropub (on 9th just south of U) will rent its back party room for free, and you could easily get 40 people in there. Just call in advance.

I'm heading to an inaugural ball on Saturday and need to get my hair done before - do you all have any suggestions in the downtown/Chinatown area? I'm late 20s, so I'm looking for something more fun, and not a place my grandmother would go to. Thanks!

You might try Saint-Germain salon - it's dependable for a hip look.  But it's getting pretty tight this time of year, so I'd expand your search outside of downtown. For example, XYZ in Adams Morgan does great event hair, and they're just far away enough from the tourist spots, that I think you'll be able to get in. I also think Karma, the Erwin Gomez salon, might have some openings. 

I'm the Hill Country questioner - so should I expect to be stuck in a line for hours just get to Hill Country? Or will the street just be crowded? I ask only bc while not stuck in that purple tunnel last time around I got stuck for 7 hours in line right around that area trying to enter the parade route - they were funneling a whole block's worth of people thru 1 security turnstyle. Not something I'm looking to repeat. Thanks so much - you guys know way more than HC!

No, I don't think you'll be in line for hours, nor will you have to trek through the Third Street Tunnel/Purple Tunnel of Doom to get Seventh Street. And can I say that I'm so sorry that happened to you last time. It was tragic. And probably very scary.  I just wanted to warn you you'll be in the perimeter, in case you were someone who wanted to be far from the action, which, naturally, some people do.

So you DO need tickets to view the parade? I thought this was open to everyone :(

No, you should be fine, please don't mistake me. It is open to everyone. But if you're in the city, you'll see there are bleachers and other seating set up. The Presidential Inauguration Committee did sell $25 tickets for, what, access to that seating (?!). But that will absolutely not preclude you from going.

My birthday is January 20th (usually Inauguration Day every 4 years), and with Monday off I want to go out for drinks, with an invite to friends to drop-in between 6 to 8PM; could be anywhere from 2 to 10 friends, no idea of anyone's schedule or if they even have off the next day. Originally I was thinking Sidebar, but it appears they are closed Sundays. So where might be a good place to hold court & not worry about friends not finding space to hang out on a Sunday evening? DC or MD preferably, but could go to VA if that's got the best options.

You know, I really haven't gotten a sense yet for how busy places are going to be on Sunday night. Monday's a holiday, and there are football games on TV. 

A few ideas for keeping it lowkey, spread all over the city: Chez Billy, Hogo, Bedrock Billiards, Breadsoda, Iron Horse Tap Room, Ambar, Rock Bottom Brewery Bethesda.

I have rented out private rooms at Buffalo Billiards with no fee and at Mad Hatter with a minimal (like $150) revenue minimum. Both experiences were great.

Sorry for posting late....any suggestions for something fun in DC to do w/ kids aged 7 and almost 4? thanks!

Going Out Guide editor (and mom of 2) Amy Joyce offers this:

Lots always going on, even when an inauguration isn't taking place. If you're trying to avoid the Mall and its great museums, here are some ideas:

There is the Children's Theater Fest at Artisphere on Saturday. 
The Georgetown or the Yards Park skating rinks
The National Zoo is actually great, even if it's cold out. Their new seal and sea lion exhibit is pretty awesome, and there are plenty of indoor animals.
We just did a TryThis about open studio Fridays at the National Portrait Gallery (which is sort of off the Mall)
Taking in the Kennedy Center itself is always pretty fun, and there is a Teddy Bear Concert Saturday through Jan. 26. 

Avoiding the craziness in DC and headed out to Spa World for the first time with a few friends this weekend! The website says the sleeping rooms are closed (and have been for a while now) and we're planning on spending as much time there until we get bored. Is it possible to conk out in the other rooms? Or is that a dumb idea?

Huge Spa World fan here. Depending on how light of a sleeper you are, you could bring an eyeshade/earplugs and try to nap in the common room on one of those straw mats -- but there are often kids running around. I've noticed people napping on those big couches in the women's dressing room, where it is much quieter, so maybe you'll be able to snag a spot there? I'll assume the men's dressing room has the same comfy couches.

Mad Fox in Falls Church is doing a Burns dinner for $65

Ah, thank you. Forgot that I wrote about this last year. Good place for Haggis and freshly brewed Scotch Ale. More details here.

Hi GOG - quick question. Any suggestions on a great place for dinner with our son and soon to be daughter-in-law to celebrate their recent engagement? Would love Rasika but hate to wait several weeks for a Saturday evening reservation. Prefer the District but certainly open to other suggestions. Thanks so much!

Oh, I have a great suggestion for you. Bombay Club! I love it there, because it's so formal and old-school, and because it's the same restaurateur, you'll still get to order the crispy chaat (not just with spinach, but with arugula, too!). At dinner, pianists play. Seriously, it's perfect for a celebration like this, and it's not quite as hard to get a reservation. And one more: The Oval Room. Totally different food, but again, same owners, same attention to detail, pitch-perfect service and impeccable food.

I am going to be with a group of friends around Pentagon City for a function on Saturday evening. We want to go out dancing after around 11pm. There are about 5-8 of us, we are a diverse group in our 30s. We are driving so we are looking for a place in Arlington or DC that plays top 40, hip hop, latin (something everyone can enjoy). Is there a place that isn't too crowded and we can all get in? Thanks!

Well, there's nothing in Pentagon City. You could head up to Clarendon for dancing to a DJ at the Clarendon Ballroom (Top 40, pop and hip-hop tunes, '80s hits, etc., and only a $5 cover). Clarendon Grill also has a DJ doing the same kind of music for the same price. 

If you come into D.C., head for El Centro D.F. on 14th Street. They play a mix of club tunes and Latin pop with no cover, and it's usually not too bad until after midnight.

Are there any restaurants/bars in Arlington that will be serving brunch/lunch and showing the inauguration on Monday? Don't feel like standing out in the cold this time! Thanks!

Whitlow's on Wilson will be serving brunch, starting at 9 a.m., if you'd like to watch the inauguration with a mimosa in hand. Also, the aforementioned Mad Fox, which is in Falls Church, but worth the drive.

GOG, I need your help!! I'm in charge of planning a wine tour in Charlottesville for about 4 hours later this month and I have no idea where to go! I know there are several in that area that are probably pretty good, but are there any must go places?

Hi, sorry for the delay, we've been on inauguration, as you can imagine. Here's our guide to the area -- can we convince you to include a few breweries on your trek? The area is becoming known as the Brew Ridge Trail. If you want to stick with wineries, I'd find a way to visit Barboursville, which is on your way south. It's fantastic, and home to an award-winning blend known as Octagon. The restaurant is great, too. If you're looking for a restaurant, one of our eds just told me about his visit to a wonderful Chinese restaurant (there are two words so rarely used together): Peter Chang's Charlottesville. Peter Chang is a famous, elusive chef. The New Yorker's even written about him. Okay, that's all! 

Hi, I've been fortunate enough to have a last minute opportunity to attend the official inaugural ball (the one for the public). I'm having difficulty locating any details about what the ball entails though (food: light or heavy nibble? cash or open bar?) - do you have access to any information about the ball details? The ticket comes at a rather steep price, and I just want to make sure I know what to expect. Thanks!

Hi! I'll be going to the official inaugural ball at the Convention Center this year for the first time, too, so I asked Reliable Source's Amy Argetsinger and the Style section's Monica Hesse, who attended last time. Based on their advice, I'd recommend bringing cash, eating a light meal beforehand, and wearing flats, if you're a girl. "Imagine you're going to a junior high school dance," says Monica, who reported that the finger food was less-than-stellar in 2009, and included bowls of chips. Amy says that it's a cash bar, and she says you should be prepared to stand in a lot of lines for security and coat check. A friend told me last night that I shouldn't bother with a coat, and should just wear a heavy wrap instead, to avoid those lines. Monica said that the crowd last time was more into celeb-spotting than dancing.

What's a teddy bear concert? Is this something for families where kids will be aplenty? Or is this some cheeky riff on the classic teddy bear?

It actually sounds kind of awesome: Kids can bring their favorite teddy bears to the Kennedy Center. The stage will feature pictures of different kinds of bears, and the NSO will play music from each bear's home country.

I realize this may be a better question for Dr. Gridlock, but help! I note that you cannot carry "large containers" onto Metro this weekend. Does this count suitcases? What to do if you have a flight getting IN at 2 pm on Monday? Camp out at the airport bar until 8 pm? I know, we are dolts.

Hi, just talked to WMATA, and they assured me that the reason they've recommended people not bring large containers is that the system will be crowded, and more important, you won't be allowed through the inaugural checkpoints with them. If you're traveling, you're fine! Suitcases are okay on the Metro - not at the checkpoints. And I believe that by the time you land Monday at 2, you're going to be on the tail end of events on the Mall. So don't worry, don't camp out. Just go where you're going. Unless you're going right  into the perimeter :) 

I took my girlfriend to Busboys & Poets and she loved it (she's a vegetarian). What's a good vegetarian restaurant in DC?

Oh, boy,  you have to check out our Essential Vegetarian Eats gallery. Commit it to memory. Eat everywhere twice. There are a couple of new places that have popped up, that are doing veggie Asian very well,  including Sprig and Sprout. Just be sure to tell them no fish sauce, but it's pretty good Vietnamese, and they have several veggie dishes that would rival the meat ones. Mandu is another favorite - they just know how to feed a vegetarian.

Any advice for cheap bottomless mimosas/bloody marys on a Sunday?

Firefly's $2 mimosas on Sunday are fantastic, as you'd expect from a great cocktail bar. (They're offered from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

...of a long-standing debate we need to settle: is it RAS-ih-ka or Ras-EE-ka?

I love this question.

It's the former. It drives me nuts when people call it Ras-EE-ka. If you really want to be accurate, it would be pronounced by an Indian person as  RUS-ih-ka. But when I pronounce that way, people give me blank stares, so  RAS-ih-ka it is.

Okay, that's all from us. Whether you're going to a ball, watching the events unfold on a TV at brunch, or just enjoying the bars staying open until the wee hours, we hope you have a great inauguration weekend.

We'll see you back here next Thursday, when the city will (hopefully) have returned to normal.

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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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