Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Guide

Jan 23, 2014

Every Thursday, the Going Out Guide staff discusses concerts, happy hours, cheap date ideas, weekend getaways, new exhibits and other ways to have fun in the Washington D.C. area.

Hi everyone. Two things before we get to the questions: 

1. Tomorrow's Weekend section cover story is about my annual multi-week hiatus from drinking. In addition to reading about alternative happy hours and nightlife, you can also see videos of Firefly bartender Jon Harris making three of his top mocktails, including a "Cosmopolitan" that's better a real Cosmo.

2. Looking for something to do this weekend? Our top stops range from the D.C. Record Fair to the Monster Jam to the ever-popular Polar Plunge.

My husband loves beer so we were going to try out Bluejacket this Sunday and eat at Arsenal for lunch. However, the reviews of the food at Arsenal are not that great. I normally wouldn't care too much but it's his birthday so I'd rather not have crappy food. So how bad is the food? Is there anywhere else (better) in that area to eat (besides Osterria Morini)? Is there anywhere else that you would suggest instead (not ChurchKey, Rustico, Mad Fox, or FireWorks) we've been to those places a bunch). Metro accessible, VA or DC. Also have a young child. Thanks!!!

I like the beers at Bluejacket -- most of the ones I've had, anyway -- but I've never been enamored of the food, except for bar snacks like pork rinds, pickled sausage or fried chickpeas. Outside of Morini, there aren't a ton of places to eat down there. (I like the barbecue sandwich at Justin's, but that doesn't strike me as a special birthday lunch.)

My favorite brewpub right now is Right Proper, in Shaw. Creative beers, great atmosphere and, in your favor, very family friendly. Unfortunately, they're not open for lunch yet, so you couldn't go until 5 p.m. 

Two beer-centric restaurants you could check out for Sunday lunch with a kid in tow are Meridian Pint, which had a great lineup of local and mid-western brews when I was there on Monday, and the Belgian-inspired Granville Moore, where some of the best moules-frites in the city can be paired with dozens of delicious Belgian ales.

Gurus, what restaurants do you recommend in the area around Arena Stage? THANKS!

To be perfectly honest? The resturants near Arena Stage are not critically acclaimed. You're better off doing an early dinner around the Navy Yard or in Chinatown, and then taking Metro or a cab to your show. I'd try Osteria Morini near Yards Park, or the pre-theater menus at Rasika or Jaleo, instead.

So am I crazy or does it seem like Bluejacket isn't living up the hype? They just announced their tour policy and it's $22 for a tour with 5 tastes. I've been on a dozen or more brewery tours, including a few here in DC and no one charges that much for a tour and tasting.

That's only one of the three tours they offer. The brewery will have six free tours on Fridays and Saturdays, and each one includes a small pour of one of their draft beers. The $22 tour includes five tastes in the brewery, plus a sample of one beer right off a tank. I understand it's a much longer and more involved tour than the free one. Then there's the $75 tour, which includes a tour, tasting and a four-course beer dinner. I don't think anyone else offers anything close to that.

Fritz, do you ever feel guilty or self conscious out on the town when you're NOT drinking? I sometimes swear off booze for Lent, which is a convenient enough excuse, but some of my friends still pressure me to drink. Also, I feel somewhat guilty monopolizing a stool at a popular bar during a sporting event and ordering a $2 soda water and nothing else, much to the bartender's dismay.

Yes, and I do touch on this in the story. Even when I'm out with other people who are drinking, I feel awkward about monopolizing a barstool drinking water or a soda. Those bartenders could probably be making actual sales if the seat was open. (I mean, I try to tip on soda like it's a beer, but ...) I'm acutely aware of it because I know how much bartenders dislike "campers," or the folks who hang out at the bar when they've finished drinks and food and are just linging to chat in finish their water glasses. 

One of the things I suggest in the story is going out and going to bars where patrons can do more than just sit at a counter with a glass in front of them -- playing board games at the Board Room; trying skee-ball, shuffleboard or pop-a-shot at Penn Social; pumping quarters into video games at Atlas Arcade.

But yeah, sporting events are tough, especially when it's Saturday morning and you're drinking a virgin bloody mary or a cup of coffee.

Last year I set myself the task of seeing ALL the Oscar nominees, and I succeeded - with the exception of the short docs. As such, I'm determined not to miss them this year. Do we know yet when and where they'll be playing in the area?

Yep! They'll be at E Street on Jan. 31st. The showtime for the program is still TBA according to their last email, so check in with them in a few days, or watch their website for details.

One more option for you. My colleague Michael O'Sullivan says that the National Archives does screenings of all of the shorts every year, typically in February. He expects that they will make an announcement next week, so check in with them, too.

Do you know of any bars/restaurants that will have any of the televised Nats spring training games? As it gets closer to the season start, I like the group atmosphere for watching the games.

Duffy's always shows spring training games when possible. I went to watch a few last year. It's fun (and a little weird) to watch baseball in February, even when pitcher specials are involved.

Where would be a good, cozy place to celebrate my birthday at midnight with my closest friends this Friday?

Details, please: How many people, where in the area, what kind of bar/music, etc...

Looking for some fresh ideas for two young, single, lovely 40 somethings! I have done online dating, but I would much rather socialize through an event or some kind of activity. Phillips After Five is a nice venue. Any suggestions or ideas formal or informal for us.

I actually tried a bunch of these sorts of events in an effort to go out for happy hour without just sitting at a bar. A few of my favorites:

The Corcoran's Create at the Corcoran is a monthly class series where you learn to paint a still life, decorate ceramic tiles, make jewelry and other crafts, led by instructors from the Corcoran. Classes are small, and there's wine and cheese to go around (optional).

The Corcoran and American Art/National Portrait Gallery's monthly happy hours are fun. American Art and the Portrait Gallery (separate events) hold theirs in the Kogod Courtyard, with live jazz, board games, quiz nights and pop-up "handi-hours." The Corcoran's "Corcoran Uncorked" mixes interactive gallery tours with DIY crafting, wine tasting, movies and other fun. (The next one, on Feb. 19, is Hitchcock-themed.)

My story also lists some other embassy and cultural events, such as language classes and wine nights at the Alliance Francaise, and music and film nights at the Mexican Cultural Institute.

Or if you're a woman, EVERYONE assumes you're pregnant. Not cool.

Yeah, this is one thing I (thankfully) don't have to deal with. I know friends who were "outed" by turning down drinks at two happy hours in row, for example. 

But I also think that the idea of Dry January/Dry February or whatever has enough buzz now (good and bad) that people will at least have heard of it if you explain it's what you're doing.

Hi GoGs! Was hoping you could do some sleuthing for me. I've enjoyed the Capital Wine Festival for the past 4 years and was looking forward to it again this year, but it looks like it's cancelled or just not happening - I've not seen any press for it or anything. Any idea what happeend? Is it because 2100 Prime in the Fairfax Hotel closed? Lack of consumer interest and participation? Too similar to the DC Food and Wine Festival?

Just got off the phone with the Fairfax, and your first guess was the correct one -- a manager explained to me that the festival was popular, but now that the hotel has made changes in its dining room, it has been discontinued. Sorry.

Hi Gurus -- We have some out-of-town visitors this weekend, and they expressed interest in grabbing a drink at the rooftop bar at the W Hotel. I know the place gets pretty crazy in the summer time, but what's it like in the winter? Do you need a reservation? We were thinking we'd go either before or after dinner for a drink or two (I know it's pricey!) -- can we just walk in? Or are we better off making a reservation (and it is okay to make a reservation but just get drinks?). There will be four of us. Thanks!

My experience is that it's far less crowded in the winter. Part of the reason is that, well, it's cold. There are heat lamps up and clear plastic overing the walls, but you can still feel the wind whip in occasionally. 

With four people, there probably won't be too much of a wait for the terrace. I've also found that it's easier to walk up and ask to be outside; with reservations, I've been placed in the lounge, which makes it more difficult to look at the monuments and the White House.

We're flying in to get married--well to sign papers really-- and need a good place for brunch--live music if possible and since we're coming from Georgia we gotta ask. What time can you start serving alcohol on Sundays ?

Congratulations! Last week, our cover story was about brunch, and we have a photo gallery jam-packed with options for great brunches all around the city. What kind of music do you want to hear? There's a jazz brunch every sunday at Georgia Brown's and Acadiana. The Howard Theatre does a nice gospel brunch. If atmosphere is more important than live music, I think brunch at Cashion's or Le Diplomate would be appropriately celebratory for your nuptials. And restaurants here will be happy to get the champagne flowing as soon as you arrive.

Are Board Room, Penn Social, and Atlas Arcade kid-friendly? My b-day is on a Sunday, and I'd love to go to one of those three for late afternoon/early evening fun, but will have my two elementary school aged boys along.

I've seen kids playing video games at Atlas Arcade on weekend afternoons.

Penn Social is 21-and-over unless there's a special event.

Board Room requests that you call ahead and "ask nicely," but says they can often accomodate those under 21 "during daytime business hours 12pm-4pm Saturday and Sunday."

I have a clipping from 6+ years ago listing the area's best places for hot chocolate. Can you give an update on places in DC and Montgomery County? My ideal is a super-rich bittersweet hot chocolate a la Angelina’s in Paris, but I am open to trying new indulgences. Please include the closest Metro stops or bus route(s) for DC locations.

You're in luck: Our Lavanya just updated our Best Hot Cocoa list last week. For rich, decadent hot chocolate, I love the cocoa at Hank's Oyster Bar in Dupont Circle. It's only offered Monday nights, but they melt 65% cacao in a pan with milk and a ginger syrup right behind the bar. You can get it spiked with house creations, such as a lavender Campari, or drink it by itself. (I recommend asking the bartender to add a little orange oil, which really brings out the fruity notes.)

Thoughts on the head brewer change? I really do love some of the beers, but the idea of even more unique beers seems a bit nutty. Part of it is that I've run out of people to go with as most find it too pricey, food not great, and the beers too "weird" or missing ones they've liked before. I think there is a lot to be said for exploring the craft and creating unique concepts, but sometimes it feels more like a pet project than a business.

I'd like to see what they're doing in a few months' time -- Megan Parisi says she's made enough beers to last that long. The place has 25 lines (20 draft, 5 cask) so there's room for some experimentation and weirdness. (Remember that Bluejacket's first-ever beer was Snack Attack, a porter that used peanuts, sea salt and cocoa nibs.) Even with the weird apple/doughnut beers, there were five pale ales or IPAs on this week, plus a pilsner, a porter, a hefeweizen, a kolsch ... if those start coming off to be replaced by novelties, then I think you worry.

I'll be downtown for an event next week at the National Geographic building. Any suggestions for quick eats near there? Thanks!

If you want something really fast, you're right around the corner from a burger and fries at Shake Shack, Peruvian chicken at Nando's Peri-Peri, and pizza and pasta at Vapiano. If you want to linger a few minutes longer, there's the handsome Iron Gate, which now serves lunch, as well as Mari Vanna for Russian food.

A friend wants to find a bar to relieve her study abroad in Scotland by celebrating Burns Night. Do you know of any bars in DC that will be hosting Burns Night events?

I'm going to have a post about Burns Night up soon -- say, in the next half hour. Two that I'm especially interested in: A no-cover Scotch tasting in the basement of Jack Rose ($5 per 1-ounce taste of various Scotches, plus a poetry reading by house Scotch expert Harvey Fry) and a three-course Scotch dinner menu (with haggis, obvs) and optional three-course Scottish beer tasting at the Queen Vic.

I'm new to the area and have seemed to gravitate toward Dupont Circle. I've hit Buffalo Billiards, Front Page, Mad Hatter, GBD, and Bar Dupont. What else should I be checking out? Thanks!

Firefly for cocktails. Mari Vanna for late-night karaoke and house-infused vodka shots. Bistrot du Coin for French wines and foosball. Pizzeria Paradiso for craft beers and whatever the week's special pizza is. Bier Baron for a huge beer menu and weekend burlesque.

Hi! A friend and I have dinner reservations on Saturday night on Barracks Row. Any recommendations for pre or post dinner cocktails? I love dive bars as well as fancy cocktail places so I am open to anything! Thanks.

Ambar is the spot for cocktails -- anything with rakia, the Eastern European plum brandy, is worth trying. I like Belga Cafe for Belgian beers. You're a short walk from Hank's on the Hill, which has some of the most interesting cocktails in town, and the cozy confines of Beuchert's Saloon.

Can you just do a beer tasting at Bluejacket without doing the tour? Thank you!

Man, everyone wants to talk about Bluejacket today.

You can make your own flights at Bluejacket, which is what I usually do. Last time I was there (December, before I went on the drinking hiatus) I put together two very different flights, each with four different four-ounce samples. One was $9, one was $11. Best way to try the beers before actually ordering something.

Did you mention the GOG Post Points code today? I didn't notice it.

We don't do that until the chat's over.

Hi gurus - looking for something fun to do this Saturday during the day. Doesn't have to be anything super exciting or out of the box, just something fun to get us off the couch. Willing to drive up to an hour (or more than happy taking the metro) but definitely something indoors!

Here are a few things happening this Saturday -- hopefully one of them will fit the bill for you: A scotch tasting at DC Coast, a free "cine-concert" at the National Gallery, NatsFest at the National Harbor, a truffle-making class at the Salamander Resort (kinda pricey but could be a nice day trip), Chinese puppetry at the Kennedy Center, and the Tapas: Spanish Design for Food exhibition (I got a preview of it this morning, great stuff). More weekend fun here.

Going to Del Campo for the first time this weekend. What can't I miss?

You have to go with the Asado menu -- the grill and the smokers are the true stars at Victor Albisu's restaurant. I loved the smoky wagyu brisket on my last visit; if you're going with a hungry meat-lover, I'm intrigued by the idea of the 48-ounce tomahawk ribeye for two.

Either way, start at the bar. I'm in love with the house-bottled Fernet con Cola, a smooth mix of Coke and vegetal Fernet liqueur. The Papa Porteño, made with smoked lemon and grapefruit, is summery, but goes down smooth regardless of the weather.

Around 6 people. Somewhere inside the District. Would like to avoid the loud/younger crowds & enjoy a laid back atmosphere and music.

Go to Hogo, get one of the round tables, and order a couple of bowls of tropical drinks. The Shaw tiki bar is never as loud and packed as the neighboring Passenger, and the rum drinks are a fantastic way to ring in another year.

Okay gang -- we're over our time limit and have to run. Enjoy this chilly weekend, and keep an eye on the GOG Blog for the Burns Night info I promised.

Today's Post Points code: GG0117.

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The Going Out Guide
The Going Out Guide staff 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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