Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Gurus

Jan 24, 2013

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

Hey. It's cold. We're trying to stay inside (and warm) as much as possible these days. That's why we're all thinking about warm cocktails, hot cocoa, and bars with fireplaces. How about you?

Dear GOGers -- I recently became addicted to watching snooker tournaments on BBC 2. Is there any place in the DMV where there are snooker tables and perhaps even lessons? Lady Fairfax

The only place that I remember seing a snooker table in this country is Buffalo Billiards, but that was ... two years ago? (I'm not very good at snooker, I'm afraid, so I don't seek it out.)

Can anyone else help?

Hey Gurus, thanks so much for all your inauguration advice - very helpful in getting ready for the big day. My question is about Mari Vanna - I've only been hearing about people eating there. Is it also a fun place to go out on a weekend? Thanks!

I haven't been to Mari Vanna since the grand opening of the third floor, which features karaoke and a DJ booth, though I can't wait to see what the scene is like. (I've spent my visits at the downstairs bar doing shots of horseradish vodka and eating dumplings.) Anyone make it out for the weekend dance parties?

A friend and I will be going to the Kennedy Center to see Alvin Ailey on a Friday evening. Do you have any dining suggestions between the Foggy Bottom Metro and the KC, that won't be too expensive (up to $35pp w/o wine), too crowded at 6-ish, or too slow for a 7:30 show? Are there any pre-theater specials? Thanks!

If you're headed to the show on Feb. 9, you'll be right on time for Restaurant Week. You might  make a reservation for District Commons, which is one of the rare restaurants that will allow diners to select anything from the menu, and the total (pre-tax) per person would be right around your budget, at $35.13.  The restaurant is pretty large, so it shouldn't be too crowded, restaurant week or not -- particularly if you get there at 6.

This is an odd question, but google is failing me and I don't know where else to ask! I want to take my friends here to a rodeo or stockshow or something. I live in the district, but something like this has to happen in Maryland or Virginia somewhere? Any ideas to help out a homesick Coloradan?

Looks like the Kanawha Valley Rodeo is an option for you if you're willing to drive, and wait -- it's below Roanoake and doesn't seem to have many events scheduled until May. There's also J Bar W Ranch in Carroll County, Md., where you'll find barrel racing and the "Battle of the Beast," though it doesn't look like they've put up their 2013 schedule yet.  Chatters, know any other options?

I'm going to Philadelphia for work and was hoping someone here could give me some ideas of places to eat, bars to go to. I've never been there before. Thanks!

Here's what I've told readers in the past (sorry for the repeat, but these are still my favorites):   First, make a stop at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is really really incredible.  For dinner, you could hit Continental (which is near the water, so that's a fun walk), which is a kind of crazy 50s diner meets Asian food joint (the Chinese mustard-doused french fries, the Chinese mustard-doused french fries...). It's on Market Street, which is fun to explore. I'm a huge fan of  Standard Tap (the food's great, too, but you can also just grab beers, in true Philly fashion).  For a good grimy little bar with crazy dance parties (not unlike the cat) - I'd check out the Barbary, or slightly more tame, Johnny Brenda's.   And before you leave, head to Honey's for brunch.  They only take cash), but it's like a weird Philly tradition .

Here's what I'll add: Amy Orndorff recommends Pat's for a real Philly cheesesteak;  definitely stop and see some of the popular historic attractions, including the Liberty Bell. Readers? Anything else to add?

Hi GOGs, Have any of you been to the Crystal City 1K beer walk? Feeling a bit bored and thirsty this weekend and debating between attending or spending the $38 at a good beer bar. Any other drink related activities that are worth checking out? Thanks! Katie

It sounds like a decent way to drink a lot of beer over the course of an afternoon. It's covered and heated, and it's definitely different. The beer lineup isn't awful, either, if you go for Blue Mountain, Green Flash, Harpoon or even the Virginia-made Bold Rock ciders instead of Yuengling or Labatt. (Seriously, people get free beer and they choose Labatt?)

You might also want to check out the new happy hour at Smoke and Barrel, which pairs two of my favorite things: local beer and kentucky bourbon. Every day, they're offering $4 local brews and a $5 bourbon-of-the-day from 5 to 8 p.m.

So are there any good restaurants at national harbor? The reviews have been pretty bad...

 When I go to National Harbor, I enjoy dining at Elevation Burger  and Nando's.   Cough. Cough.

The tips on bars with fireplaces and hot drinks are great... but I have an overseas visitor on an American tour stopping by, and he has been comparing Cosmopolitans across the country. I only drink wine, so I'm at a loss - where should I take him for the best of what this area can offer? Thank you very much!

Cosmos? Seriously? Is he a "Sex and the City" fan? Take him to the Passenger, Hank's on the Hill, Firefly ... 

Oh, wait. You're a wine fan. He wants to drink Cosmopolitans. Go to Proof. If they're not slammed, see if the bartender can track down Adam Bernbach, who runs the cocktail list. I bet he can whip up an amazing one.

Hi. Once at Tryst, I had a drink they called a hot white russian, which was exactly that. And delicious. I tried to order it again, later, and they had no idea what I was talking about. Anybody have suggestions for a warm, kahlua and cream centered cocktail?

This sounds vaguely familiar from two or three years ago, but I cannot recall seing anything like it recently. Chatters?

Has anyone been to Bowl America in Falls Church? Is it a dump or OK? Isn't there a cool bowling alley in NoVa?

"It's the anti-Lucky Strike," former GOG David Malitz says from way over in the Style Section. Fatty food, cheap beer. It's a little tired, from the shoes to the balls, but for there's a reason it's $13 for all-you-can bowl (after 9 p.m.) outside of weekends.

A friend and I are going to meet up for dinner tomorrow. Where would you go? We're late 20s, fun, and looking for a delicious meal. We don't want a super long wait - can make a reservation if needed, but may try to get somewhere in time for happy hour if we can get out of work on time. Thanks for your help!

My go-to lately is Estadio, which is just so so good right now, and there are lots of small plates for sharing. My advice is to get there at 5:30 or so, but you won't get a happy hour there. If you're looking for a place with a happy hour, you could try getting to El Centro very early, put your name down for a table (or call today and try to make a res), then have a drink. Or just head downstirs, and have tacos at the bar. The key to all of these popular places  is to get there early.


Hi Gurus, I'm planning a birthday party for a 33 year-old and friends who are vivacious and like to party. Of course, we're not 22 anymore, so partying has a bit more upscale feel to it now--and sometimes we need to sit down! Do you have any recommendations for a fun place where we can dance that's not going to make us feel old, is not too clubby and will be really fun? Does Vegas Lounge fit the bill? Anything else like that but maybe not SO jam-packed? Thank you!

Vegas Lounge's appeal is that it feels like a sweaty frat party. It's hard to sit down unless you get there really early to stake out seats. I'd suggest trying Tropicalia for African funk/South American and Caribbean beats, Lost Society for house and electro or Fever or 1920dc for old-school hip-hop. 

Go to Tony Lukes for cheesesteaks or the roast pork. Pat's is a scene at 2am, if you want to people watch. Go to the Reading Terminal Market. DiBruno Brothers for amazing Italian "deli" (but so much more than that). Franklin Mortgage for cocktails. The Mutter Museum is spooky cool. The Barnes is supposed to be wonderful, but reserve tickets early. Also the Rodin. Philadelphia Magazine just put out a great list of the top restaurants. I'd recommend Osteria, Vedge, and Zahav (preorder the lamb). Also the Farmer's Cabinet is cool, especially when the live ragtime band is playing. Walk around Rittenhouse Square and stop at Parc for a French 75. This makes me miss my hometown!

I second most of this. (Especially the pork at Tony Luke's.) For beers, I like Johnny Brenda's in Fishtown and (especially) the Standard Tap in Northern Liberties. Can't say enough about the Rodin Museum -- cool and quiet and feels off the beaten path.

My vegan sister is coming to visit this weekend. Where in Va can I take her for a brunch that has vegan options but that others who like meat and eggs for breakfast will also appreciate?

The only place that seems to fit all your  needs is Busboys and Poets in Shirlington - I like their brunch, actually (the vegan tempeh sandwich, is amazing, whether you're vegan or not, and they have a great selection of tofu scrambles, etc.). 

Seriously, this is a question for a friend. Does Washington have a Downton Abbey fan base the way it has in so many other places? Are there places where to watch this with other fans? Sort of like Mad Men, I guess. Thanks

I put this question up to Jen Chaney, former Postie and DC-based "Downton" recapper for New York Magazine, and she was stumped. You could try the MeetUp group for Brits and Anglophiles?

Would you spend the $20 to go to Natsfest? It seems like it could either be really cool or an overly crowded not-that-interesting afternoon.

Batting cages, photos with players, the reveal of a new mascot (please be James Madison, please be James Madison, please don't be Reagan) -- it could be fun. It could also be crazy crowded, especially on a cold weekend. If I had kids I'd probably take them, but I'm not sure that I would go by myself for $20.

Hi gurus. I want to do a Spa Day to celebrate my birthday. What are some good places you can recommend? I have been to Spa World and that is not what I have in mind...something more relaxing and calming. If there are any great "bang for your buck" places I'm interested in that, but I also recognize that for many spa places, cost does increase with quality. I would prefer somewhere Metro/bus accessible. Thanks for your help in getting me pampered!

I feel like what you need is a retreat - hotel-based spas are a good way to do this, because they combine treatments with the kind of service that doesn't feel as clinical as some medi-spas, or as hair-salon-y as some of the spas in the backs of hair salons, haha. A couple I've known about that are splurges include the spa at the Jefferson, and Red Door at the Willard is always a favorite of Washingtonian women. Last thought: Try the Bliss at the W Hotel. I'd honestly also sign up for Gilt City, because they'll frequently have deals for nicer spas in town, if you wanted to try a place without the huge investment. 

PS I understand what you mean about Spa World - I love it there, and yet, on a weekend, it can also be crowded, chatty, and about as relaxing as the Orange Line.  It's kind of a crapshoot.

Looking for a bar in Dupont/Farragut area to grab a few drinks with a couple friends. Ideally a lounge type place with an older (30s/40s) crowd. Suggestions?

I'd suggest the lounge at Firefly, Bar Dupont at the Dupont Circle Hotel or the lounge at Science Club. Be warned that all will fill up, because it's Friday. I'd try to get to any of them early. (If price is not a concern, I like the redone Edgar at the Mayflower, but the cocktails were around $15.)

Dear Gurus, Which place would you pick? Cork, Estadio or Rasika West End? Thanks!

Can't go wrong with any of those choices, but I'm leaning toward the latter two. Cork's chef Ron Tanaka left a couple of years ago, and the buzz, well, hasn't been the same.

I am trying to plan a third date for Sunday. We'd both like to check out Union Market. With that as a starting point, how would you recommend making a day of it?

You could make a day of browsing and noshing at Union Market. New York bagels and egg cremes at Buffalo and Bergen, oysters at Rappahannock Oysters, sausage and bacon at Red Apron Oysters, cool cheese at Righteous Cheese ... getting hungry just thinking about it.

Oh, and this Sunday (surprise) is a Super Bowl preview, with cooking demos and such from 11 to 3.

So once you're marketed out, I'd head over to A. Litteri's, just because I love the place. It's full of gas can-sized jugs of Italian olive oil, more pasta shapes than you've ever seen, walls of Italian wine -- amazing. I could spend so much time browsing in there. 

And after that, with bellies full, I'd steer you down to H Street. For something arty, see Rorschach Theatre's "The Minotaur" at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. If not, play skee-ball or mini-golf at H Street Country Club.

I'm a big spa-er, and I can't really recommend Bliss for the OP's purposes. There's nothing in the way of relaxation areas (no hot tub, sauna, etc.). The BIG splurge is the Mandarin Oriental, which has amazing amenities and treatments, but is not for the faint of wallet.

Going to see a band at Clydes late Friday night and we're looking for fun, pre-show, non-Clydes dining. Not interested in the chains up there (PF Changs, Rosa Mexicana, Cap Grille, etc.) - are there any other interesting options?

How about Range? A big menu with plenty of group-friendly shareable plates, and it's fun to marvel at the small army of people required to prepare food for such a gigantic restaurant. If you're not a vegetarian, do the cornbread with bacon marmalade as a starter - it's super.

Any suggestions on somewhere to go to watch the game and get something to eat? Thanks!

Maggie's (the old Wing Hub) is my place for good wings, cheap beer and TVs in Bethesda these days. You could also try Union Jack's -- their sister bar in Ballston is a big Caps bar. 

I'm going to the Improv next week. We are looking for a place to eat after around 10pm. Can you suggest some good casual restaurants in the area? We will be driving so it doesn't have to be that close. Thanks!

Since it's a Saturday night, and pretty hard to find parking in D.C., I'd stick to a place near the Improv.   If you want to do something kind of fun, you could try Shake Shack up the street, which is open till midnight - who doesn't love cheese fries and burgers? Better idea for a date night:  I'd make a reservation at Boqueria. We don't shout it out enough, but it's just a few blocks from the Improv and clubs such as Eighteenth Street Lounge. In fact, I need go back soon.

and he wants to try out some smaller, authentic ethnic places. Where are the best places to head for pho/ramen, or tacos in the district? I know there are at least a couple of newer places that have popped up, but I am drawing a blank on what they were. Thanks

This question is so up my alley. For tacos alone, try Tacos El Chilango; if you really want to sample tastes of Mexico, head to Mama Chuy. There are a lot of things I like about El Chucho, though they're not exactly authentic -- they do have a pozole, and a torta, and tacos. Check out this gallery of taquerias and the chefs behind them here. 

If your friend is in town, it's absolutely necessary to eat the local cuisine:  Ethiopian, and Salvadoran. For Ethiopian, I'm obsessed with the traditional breakfast at Dukem (right down to the epically slow service), which my boyfriend and I find to be the city's best hangover cure; and Habesha market for its amazing, cheap veggie platter.  For Salvadoran, we just got a few nods in the GOG pod for the Salvadoran sandwich at the Eastern Market stalwart Canales Delicatessen, then head to their cafe next door, Tortilla Cafe for pupusas.

As for Vietnamese, I know a lot of people love Pho 14, but I've never been a huge fan. I'd much rather dine at Pho Viet. Better: Hop the train to Virginia and go to Pho 75, where everyone around here goes for the real deal. If you were up for renting a Zipcar, you could head to the amazing Eden Center, and grab a banh mi at Song Que - a place so good Anthony Bourdain  is among its fans. It's one of my favorite places to eat in the city, hands-down. Ack, one more -- Fast Gourmet! In a gas station. Order the Chivito.

My wife is out of town for at least a week, maybe longer; I'm not sure I realized how depleted my circle of friends has gotten over the last couple of years by virtue of people moving away from DC, but I don't really have much on the social calendar and its a slow time at work. What can you suggest I do to entertain myself this weekend and into next week, as far as solo activities? I'm about 30 and have lived in the DC area for 7 years, so most museums, etc have been done, unless there's something temporary I should check out (already saw the Ai Weiwei exhibits). I enjoy going to see live music, good drink (Galaxy Hut, Passenger, Smoke and Barrel) and good food, but taking my kindle to a bar or restaurant gets lame pretty quickly. Thanks!

There are so many options here. Let's try to break it down. For museums, our critic Stephanie (who likes to go out by herself, too) says: Shock of the News at the National Gallery is really good, and I haven't been able to see the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2013 yet, but it should have some really interesting/fun portraits.

The Super Bowl preview party mentioned about at Union Market on Sunday should be great -- grilling tips, an oyster tasting, a lesson on making beer cocktails. And maybe that 1K/38 romp through Crystal City, too. You'll be walking around and looking at things, not staring at a Kindle Screen.

Meridian Pint has a bunch of local beer tastings coming up. Tonight it's a takeover with Mad Fox and Baltimore's Union Craft Brewing beers; next Wednesday, it's Brewer's Alley and Monocacy Brewing Company from Frederick County.

Music-wise, you've got the great Roy Ayers at Blues Alley this weekend, Ty Segall at the Black Cat next week, the buzzed-about Vaccines coming from the UK to the 9:30 Club ... Heck, you could make a night out of going to see Robert Earl Keen at the Rams Head in Annapolis next week. Get dinner (a bowl of crab soup or something) at Federal House, a pint at Galway Bay, and see the show. 

Hi gurus, I'd like to go out for brunch next Sunday, February 3. I was hoping to go to the Tabard Inn, but it seems I am too late! They only have reservations for two available. Do you have any places you would recommend for a group of about 6? I've also considered Masa 14, which I love, but would really like to do something new and different. Thanks for your help!

Try something similar to Masa 14: Head to El Centro. It's an all-you-eat, all-you-can drink affair, and that's always a people-pleaser, and perfect for a birthday. Here's the menu. PS I kinda loved the Mexican French toast. Here's the menu.

Poplar Springs Spa in Casanova Va is about an hour from Washington. We've been going there for the last few years. They have an outdoor hot tub, steam shower, and very good spa treatments. Plus can get lunch brought to you in the resting room. Not cheap, but lovely surroundings.

Another suggestion for the spa-seeker. I love the road trip element here -- there's nothing like getting away from smog. It's great for the pores.

Highly recommend the Four Seasons in Georgetown. The Mandarin is lovely, but WAY too expensive and the Ritz in Foggy Bottom is "just OK."

I've heard this about the Mandarin - thanks for the suggestion. All this spa talk is killing me, you guys.

Alright, with that, we have to wrap it up for today. Stay warm, and we'll see you back here next Thursday, when we'll be talking Super Bowl and looking ahead to (shudder) Valentine's Day.

In This Chat
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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: