Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Gurus

Feb 14, 2013

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

Welcome to a special Valentine's Day edition of Got Plans. In addition to offering advice, we're soliciting your top last-minute Valentine's Day tips. The best will win a last-minute gift: Two tickets to see Haim at U Street Music Hall tonight. (The trio of Californian sisters was recently picked as the BBC's Sound of 2013, following in the footsteps of Adele and Ellie Goulding.) 

Of course, if you want to talk about new happy hours, the new Daikaya or what to give up for Lent, we're happy to dish about those, too.  

Sorry to disappoint everyone in GOG land, but no, I did not get engaged last Christmas at Komi. We had only been dating a year and my bf is much too sensible for a spontaneous proposal. We did enjoy the food and atmosphere immensely, though! And the wait staff treated us like royalty, which is especially nice given that many high end restaurants in this city (cough Citronelle cough) have given us sub-par service, which I would guess it due to our age (mid-20s). Thanks for remembering about us, though! I feel the love.

It's always good to feel the love on Valentine's Day. Thanks for the update.

Aww, clearly your bf is a lucky guy.

E Street Cinema is showing the Oscar-nominated live-action and animated short films. On the animated side, one is about a couple learning to love again, one is about a meet-cute couple's attempt to reconnect, and one is a Simpsons short. Get some wine and snuggle in the back row.

Grand total: $22 for two tickets.  Splurge a little and   get a couple bottles of wine, as you mentioned --- and some sweet potato tater tots and vegan cookie? Yes, yes, yes.

Last week someone mentioned Virtue Feed and Grain closed for a private event. I suppose that's great for people who need such things, but what about those of us who just want to eat/drink at a popular, well-regarded venue? I feel like this is happening more and more often. I've personally seen it at Jack Rose, Hill Country, and Capital City Brewing (and not on days or at times when they'd normally be closed anyway). It's bad enough when the one bar in a restaurant gets reserved for a party or when a place gives half its dining room to an event where the noise and sometimes the guests inevitably spill over, but do owners consider what message they send to potential patrons when they close their doors completely? I hope they make make the money they need to survive, but I'm certainly unlikely to go out of my way to try and visit again when I know their willingness to close. I can't possibly be expected to follow the Twitter feeds of every establishment I might want to visit or call ahead every time I want to go out just to make sure a place is open!

Eh. I see your point, but if I'm going out of my way to travel to a place, I do try to make sure they're going to be open. (And most places are better about updating customers on closures via Twitter.)

The fact is, almost every bar will close for the right price, especially during the week, when business is slower and more unpredictable. A private event is guaranteed income.

So, tonight is Valentine's Day. Tomorrow is Friday. A bunch of us usually go out of Fridays. I bet we're going to have trouble finding a good place to eat that isn't a v-dayed up. Any thoughts? (Adams Morgan preferred)

Yeah, we were talking about this in the office earlier -- basically tonight, tomorrow and Saturday are all going to be coupley, as folks who can't go out/get a sitter tonight are going to make they're way for the Big Night Out.

I'd think you'd be fine at Cashion's or Smoke and Barrel. (Avoid Little Fountain and Mintwood.) You might also consider the new menu at Bourbon. I really dig the new space upstairs and expanded cocktail/beer lists.

Could also just grab carryout doner at take it to Bedrock. That sounds like a great non-VDay idea to me.

My younger (23) cousin is in town for a few days and I wanted to show her the Clarendon area, since she may be moving to the area and has seen a good part of DC. Any suggestions for a place I could take her and a few other people tonight that won't be filled with lovebirds?

Galaxy Hut for the neighborhood vibe, taco happy hour at Fuego ... and I'm torn about whether the awesome new wine happy hour at Northside Social will be all lovey-dovey. I took a date there when I was writing about it, and there were more groups of women gathered around tables than couples sipping vino.

Hi GOGs, You've never led me astray, so I'm hoping you can provide guidance for what I should do with my sister next weekend. We're both late 20s/early 30s. I want to take her to an amazing brunch, but I saw Masa 14 is already booked! Do you know of other great bottomless brunches I could take her to? (I'm not into El Centro...tacos in the morning is not for me.) Also, is there anything going on next weekend that we should definitely hit up? If this helps, what I'm thinking about so far is: quick tour of the Mall, stopping by Natural History museum, dinner at Central...then out on either H or U st. Maybe Founding Farmers if we need a more sober brunch. Thanks for your help!!

Founding Farmers can be really packed. If you wanted sober, can I recommend an old fave that we've neglected, Marvin, which is about as "new D.C." as you can get, and the food is home-ier than you'll find at Masa, for sure (come on, chicken and waffles). I spent many a Sunday at that bar with my NYT (oops, pretend I didn't say that), and my French press. Just get there on the early side  -- it can get pretty bustling. The Brixton also just launched a bottomless brunch, $35, but if you don't want to drink, it's $20 for unlimited food and coffee, etc.  The details are on its Facebook page.

Do you think there will be Valentines Day "specials" carrying on into the weekend? Wife and I have no desire to go out tonight but we have a standing Friday night dinner out that I'm afraid will be full of hold-over couple's meals, crowded restaurants and cranky staff. I recognize that this is not the world's most pressing issue but what say you, should we avoid tomorrow night bc it will likely be Valentines part deux?

Yeah, it will be, especially at nicer establishments. (You know, the kind that a guy thinks will impress his sweetie, if I may be a stereotypical guy for a minute.)

I think if you have been dying to try the cuisine at a neighborhood bar -- Boundary Stone, DC Reynolds, Mayfair and Pine, Smoke and Barrel, none of which scream romance on the surface -- this is weekend to do it. 

Two cups of to-go coffee (spiked from the bottle of Baileys in your purse ) and nighttime stroll around the monuments. Could even pack a cupcake, cookie or other treat. Also works watching the sunset at Iwo Jim (but you'd have to make it there by 5:45).

I love a lady who carries a bottle of Bailey's in her purse. Thanks.

Going to "Good People" at the Kreeger on Saturday night 2/16 at 8pm. Oyamel at 5pm....looking for a museum or gallery open at night to poke around in between dinner and the show. Thanks! David

Hmm, what time do you plan to be done with your meal? There's a chance you could catch a few minutes at the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery, which is open until 7, but it will be tight. Other than that, the other galleries in the area won't quite work -- Edison Place is closed on Saturdays, Flashpoint and Civilian are only open til 6. If you have time to go before dinner, you'll be able to enjoy the galleries without having to rush. If you end up getting to Arena Stage early and you need something to look at, you can head upstairs to the cafe level, where they have a small exhibit of costumes from previous shows.

Hi! Do you have any suggestions for where 3 girls can go out tonight in DC and enjoy some sparkling wine? It would be great if the place wasn't a romantic, coupley place. Thanks!

I'm weighing some answers here, because I can't tell if Chez Billy or Metropolitain will be packed with couples or not. (I'd lean not, especially the fun basement bar at Metropolitain, but you never know.)

Firefly at the Hotel Madera would be fun for sparkling cocktails. Same with Hank's on the Hill. (I think Hank's I might be too datey.)

Alternative suggestion: What about posting up at the bar at Bistrot du Coin or Bistro d'Oc with a bottle of bubbly? 

Obviously avoid wine bars, like Veritas, Proof or even Estadio.

Gurus, my parents are coming into town this weekend and I was thinking of heading up to the pinball museum with them as something fun and different to do. I have never been to Baltimore. How long do you think the pinball museum will occupy us? Also is there anything else to do in that area? Can you recommend any restaurants near there? Thanks!

Baltimore is fantastic and has tons of things to do. I visited the pinball museum before it moved from Washington and estimate that it will take you about an hour to 90 minutes to run through the exhibits. You should allow more time if you want to play the games -- which you should totally do.


As for other nearby attractions, you are really close to the inner harbor. My favorites there include Top of the World, the aquarium, a neat lighthouse and the Maryland Science Center. Walk a little bit farther and you can check out Babe Ruth's birthplace and the Sports Legends Museum. Just a bit past that is Edgar Allen Poe House and Museum.


As for restaurants, if you are looking for a quick bite there are plenty of options in the inner harbor. If you are looking for something a bit more upscale I suggest B&O.


...only incidentally, I swear! My younger sister will be in town for her 28th birthday next week. We will be having a family dinner in Arlington early on Friday evening, and I'm planning to take her out afterwards. The problem here is that I haven't been out in that area in approximately 3 years, since I had a kid and moved to Springfield, where the most happening place is Chili's. Where can we go to have drinks and fun after dinner? We'll be in the Clarendon/Courthouse area, and need to stay reasonably metro accessible. Neither of us is much of a dancer, but we like an energetic atmosphere--just not so "energetic" that we can't still have something of a conversation. We like music-- live music (she loves indie stuff but I'm looking for something a little less divey than Iota and don't want to commit to Hallelujah the Hills for the entire evening), open mic, or even just a reliably decent playlist will do. I know finding a not-too-young crowd in that area can be a challenge, but I'd rather not have to deal with too much childish behavior since I'm getting a rare night away from my 2yr old! We're not planning to stay in one place all night, but we're both go-with-the-flow people, so if we don't at least have a place to start we may just end up standing in the street staring at each other all night. Thanks for your help, Gurus!!

This could be a great excuse for a sisters-only bar crawl: A glass of wine at Screwtop, great cocktails down the block at the lively bar at Green Pig, then over to Eventide's first-floor Odd Bar, which skews older than Spider Kelly's or Clarendon Ballroom, but still has a good vibe and a DJ spinning retro tunes.

If you'd rather have live music, I'd head to the revamped O'Sullivan's. It has basically tripled in size, with a new "whiskey bar" and expanded dining room while keeping the pub feel. They've usually got Irish music or a guitar-toting singer-songwriter type on Saturday nights.

Some of the best restaurant experiences I've had with my wife are when we simply sit down at a restaurant's bar and order drinks and food from there. We interact with the bartenders and get their opinions on cocktails, the menu and wine pairings (occasionally getting a complimentary tasting or two). If you avoid peak hours, say show up at 8:30/9pm there's usually room at the bar even at some of the more sought after places. So here's my advice: Have flowers, a bottle of wine, cheese, fruit and nuts ready for your loved one at home for an evening snack. Then when the time strikes take them to a favorite restaurant for a spontaneous, romantic meal, snuggled shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar.

This is a great idea. I wouldn't bet the house on being able to eat at the bar at, say, Rasika or Tabard Inn, but for Mintwood or Vidalia, it's a great idea. (Better service, too.) 

I'm taking my Valentine to see Sound City at the West End Cinema on Saturday. We're going to the 5 pm showing and then thought we'd grab dinner somewhere around there or in an nearby neighborhood but we fear everything is booked. Any recommendations? We've been married 15 years so it doesn't have to be super romantic!!!!!

I'd steer you to the new Latin American restaurant Boveda. It's nearby, and it has the good looks of a trendier downtown place, with none of the reservation headaches.  It was just warmly reviewed by Tom Sietsema, and it looks like you can still make a reservation. If you didn't mind taking a little bit of a risk and trying to snag two seats at a fully booked restaurant, I might also point you down M Street to Bandolero, mostly because a restaurant that blasts rock-n-roll seems like the perfect follow-up to "Sound City."

With no babysitter tonight, we don't have any options to go out. Any suggestions on ways to make staying in more romantic? Thanks!

This is when romantic cliches are your friend: When your little one(s) are in bed, settle into some wine and cheese or chocolate and your romantic Pandora station of choice.  Since you can't go out tonight, I think it would be sweet to spend tonight planning something you two can do together at a later date -- whether it's a trip or just a special dinner closer to home -- as you sip the wine and nibble on sweets. Anticipation can be really romantic.

Get some construction paper, markers, scissors, and a glue stick and construct a handmade sleeve with a thoughtful note to put in a mix CD of love songs! (Or, not-so-lovey songs, depending on your relationship.) It's quick, creative, and thoughtful.

I really, really like this idea. Making a mixtape is so much better than, like, "Hey, darling. I made you think iTunes playlist!" The handmade valentine takes it to another level entirely. I guarantee they'll keep it around.

We're making a 3 course dinner, drinking wine, and watching Roman Holiday.

Sounds fantastic.

Any ideas for a good, not-too-expensive Italian restaurant in Northern Virginia?

Hey Gurus! I'm going to have a free Friday on 3/1 and plan to spend the day in DC doing lots of touristy stuff (in the hopes that I'll miss most of the tourists). Even though I'm a local, I haven't been to most of the museums/memorials. Anything I shouldn't miss? Thanks in advance!

My three must-dos: The gorgeous World War I Memorial, which is my favorite spot on the Mall; the views of downtown from the tower atop the Post Office Pavilion; the Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery. Also, the new orchid exhibit at the Botanic Garden sounds like a great way to spend a pre-spring day.

Also Kora is upscale and I've loved everything I've had there. Cafe Italia on 23rd Street is a throwback, like a place you'd find in a normal town.

Normal? As opposed to Falls Church or an Arlington strip mall?

Hi Gurus! I will have family in town in a couple of weeks and we are looking for a place for dinner for about 18 people, including a couple little ones under the age of 8. We will all be attending a memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery on a Friday afternoon - is there anywhere out that way, or should we trek back to downtown Bethesda (where everyone will be coming from) for dinner? (side note - should we metro or drive to the cemetery?) We will definitely want a place that takes reservations for such a large party and nothing too expensive or exotic in terms of food. Thanks!

Since the funeral is in the afternoon, you have young ones, and it will likely be early evening by the time your services are complete, I'd consider staying in Arlington. Ruffino's Spaghetti House, mentioned by Maura, is an option; I would check with Eat Bar, which offers sliders and other fare a big  family with diverse tastes might enjoy.  You could call Ireland's Four Courts, which has a private room and serves Irish pub food. In Crystal City, there's Ted's Montana Grill, which would be big enough for your group, as well as a Morton's steak house. (Not sure about your budget).  If you do decide to head back to Bethesda, I would make a reservation at Maggiano's, which is great for big groups, thanks to family-style service.   As for driving or Metro'ing -- the cemetery provides some detail on this, asking that those attending services drive, because you'll have to drive "to the gravesite or the Columbarium for the services" (find this in their FAQ under "What is needed on the day of the service?") So sorry for your loss. 

Okay, we're going to wrap up the chat to start getting ready for the big night.

Would the reader who suggest spiking to-go coffee with Bailey's and wandering around the monuments send an e-mail with contact info to I'd love to hook you up with tickets to U Street Music Hall tonight.

Everyone else -- Enjoy your long weekend.

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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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