Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Gurus

Feb 28, 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.

Hi everyone. No big preamble today -- just ready to take your questions about going out in the D.C. area.

As a Maryland resident, I'm looking forward to hearing some great music at the new Bethesda Blues and Jazz club. But $15 for food and drink minimums on top of ticket prices makes me think. Do you think there's any chance the owners will drop all the extra charges and try to make more money on tickets? It seems to me that would be the way to go.

This was a common theme in the comments on my post about the new Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club, which opens in the old Bethesda Theatre tomorrow night. I agree the minimums might scare some customers away: If you and a date go to see Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra tomorrow, you're guaranteed to spend $115 before you even walk through the door, when tickets are technically $40 each. (The staff admitted flat-out that prices are "a concern," especially in this time of sequesters.)  But they have a similar policy at Blues Alley, and if you've been to the intimate Georgetown jazz club lately, the seats are regularly filled.

As with any new business -- and let's remember that the place isn't even technically open yet -- I'm sure there will be a period of adjustment.

Hi Gurus! I used to read every week, but moved out of the DC region in the summer of 2011. I'm heading to DC this weekend to visit and was wondering what new bars / restaurants / ??? have opened that I should check out. Obviously hard to get a reservation anywhere, but definitely looking for some fun! Also - I would like it to be in the District & vegetarian friendly (awesome cocktails a plus). Thanks!

Welcome back! Three suggestions: the brand new Daikaya, where there is vegetarian ramen (it's walk-in only), Bandolero in Georgetown, where there are  mushroom enchiladas and some super brussels sprouts on the menu, and French-inspired Table (also walk-in only, but you can grab a drink at A&D around the corner while you wait).  I'll let some chatters chime in with other tips!

Hi there. A few girlfriends and I want to catch up over happy hour near Metro Center...but one of the girls is pregnant. Do you have some suggestions for places that would have tasty mocktails in addition to boozy drinks for the rest of us?

Hmmm. Does it have to be near Metro Center? That's kind of a barren patch for good cocktail bars. The one I've visited most around there would be Ceiba, which I know has a few mocktails with passion fruit juice, fresh-squeezed guarapo or house syrups for the pregnant lady, and decent margaritas and dark and stormys for everyone else.

A list of the best booze-free cocktail spots in town would include Hank's on the Hill, Firefly and El Chucho (for the fantastic house-made Mexican sodas).

Hi all, My 70-something father is visiting this weekend from out of town and I'm racking my brains trying to think of something interesting to do. Last time he visited, we went to the Udvar-Hazy center to see the space shuttle and everyone loved it. Looking for something interesting like a tour or interactive experience in the Baltimore - DC metro area. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

Do you like to walk around and gawp at big objects? There's the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore. Lots of cool things to see (though some people don't always equate locomotives with the space shuttle).  If you went to Udvar-Hazy because he's a space fan, I'd suggest the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt -- the redone visitors center has some cool new exhibits, and there's a Gemini capsule that kids can climb in. (A favorite thing to do when I was a child, and if there was no line when I was there, I'd do it again.)

If you want offbeat, try the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring. The bullet that killed Lincoln is the star attraction there.

A few weeks ago, Fritz answered a question from me about dressing vintage for the St. John's College vs Naval Academy croquet match. I recently found this great online resource for how to put together such an outfit. There is also information for men's clothing. This is for an annual event in California, but would apply to any 1920s-1940s event. Anyhoo, just thought someone might be interested in the information. Hope to see you at The Croquet, Fritz.

If you're going to the Croquet -- April 20, on the lawn at St. John's College in Annapolis -- then this is good reading. I'll be there, Pimms Cup in hand.

Hi - my husband and I will be in DC for our anniversary the last weekend in March. Other than reservations Saturday night, we have no plans, and aren't at all familiar with the city. We're hoping cherry blossoms might be in bloom, but other than that, what are some can't-miss or really great things we should see and do? We're staying in Georgetown, if that matters (see, no idea!)...Thanks!

Hello! Just to get you started: we have a few guides to the can't miss stuff for a weekend in Washington in our Visitor's Guide. Since you'll be on the Mall for cherry blossoms and you're a DC newbie, you'll want to do some of the traditional  stuff, like Smithsonian Museums, but if the weather is amenable, monuments are really more fun after dark. H Street NE, Barracks Row and U Street are some fun neighborhoods for you to check out for nightlife and food (specific restaurant suggestions for all of these are in that Visitor's Guide). If you guys like theater, Metamorphoses at Arena Stage is surprisingly romantic & could be really nice for an anniversary (I saw it on Valentine's Day).

Once upon a time there was an incredible hole-in-the wall place called "One Step Down" on the edge of Georgetown. It was cozy (small), but local jazz musicians would drop in for jam sessions and it was usually free or cheap. Is there any such thing happening in DC or Northern Virginia. I know about HR-57, but they have gotten expensive. Really want a casual drop-in place with a small jazz combo.

HR-57 has gotten pricier since moving to H Street. You might try the weekend jazz jams at Columbia Station in Adams Morgan (4-8 p.m.), Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Jo-Jo on U Street, or, even better, the Sunday night jazz jam at Dahlak at the corner of 18th and Florida. Some of the best musicians in town play there.

The DC Jazz Loft is one of my favorite jam sessions -- it's been bouncing between Chez Billy and Marvin in recent months. A donation is requested, but not required. Check Capitol Bop for more listings.

Also, the Black Fox Lounge in Dupont frequently has free jazz and -- surprise, surprise -- the Butch Warren trio is playing there tonight from 8 to 11 p.m. There's free jazz this weekend on Friday and Saturday, too.

I usually go to Blues Alley and pay the high prices because they have top name jazz artists. But, because of the price and unassigned seating, I seldom go. I understand these jazz artists are expensive, but there is a limit to how much I'm willing to pay. If Bethesda Blues will have the same quality musicians, then it might be worth price.

I think this is the million-dollar question. Marcus Johnson plays around town pretty regularly. Is it worth paying $25 + $15 in food/drink on Saturday night? For people who usually drive from Montgomery County to the Birchmere or Rams Head, it might be.

For the person returning to town, as a vegetarian, I would recommend Sticky Rice (seriously veggie friendly) or Ethiopic on H street.

with the weather looking dreary and cold this weekend, any suggestions on fun family friendly events/activities for this weekend?

How about the Intersections Festival on H Street? There's a bunch of family friendly dance performances and sing-alongs all weekend. Saturday is also Family Day at the Corcoran, which just opened up its new exhibit, "Pump Me Up." I don't know much about the Pet Theater show at the Warner but it sounds like it would be fun for a family that loves cats and dogs. Or, you could go play with Legos at the National Building Museum.

I know Busboys was open when you were here in 2011, but they have expanded to several locations. I always suggest Busboys and Poets to my vegetarian friends. They have the best tasting vegetarian and vegan dishes in the DC area. Plus they frequently have poetry, open mikes, and movies.

Good call.

Hi Gurus! I have a how to go out question - I am admittedly a little musically challenged as I mostly still listen to bands I did in high school (ahem, 90s rock). I'd love to get out on the music scene more, particularly local bands but have no idea how to decide on shows. How do you know who to go see?? Who is a trusted source for reviews? Thanks!

I put your question to Going Out Guide staffer (and musician) Ryan Little, and this is what he says:

Chris Richards and Dave Malitz, of course. Also, City Paper covers local music doggedly--Jon Fischer, Joe Warminsky, and Ally Schweitzer are great. Also, keep an eye out for Aaron Leitko, former WaPo staffer and current Pitchfork writer.

As far as my own recommendations: Go see Foul Swoops, Heavy Breathing, Deathfix, and Priests. Malitz's band The Cheniers is pretty rockin' too, and The Plums are real heavy if you like Sonic Youth type noise-rock. Also check out  Roomrunner and Dope Body from Baltimore; they come through town a lot, and they're both incredible.   

Also, The Black Cat is a staple venue in town. I recommended tonight's show, with Beanstalk Library, in our weekly email, because it's full of great, rockin' Americana.

Hi, submitting early. Do you guys remember that little night club called RED? (Does that show my age?) It was just south of Dupont Circle, around the corner from 18th St Lounge, etc. Anyway, I am looking for a place like RED - small, intimate, good music, interesting late night crowd, without the mile long line to get in. I don't mind paying a cover charge if the music is good and the vibe is right. Suggestions?

I went to Red underage, and wrote a long tribute when the place closed. Still miss it. The closest thing musically is a night called Red Fridays at U Street Music Hall, where you'll find Kenny Dope or Derrick Carter visiting, alongside locals like Sam "The Man" Burns and Chris Burns. Sam, who was a late-night fixture at Red, keeps a very strong Red vibe burning with soulful house and garage music at Eighteenth Street Lounge on Sunday nights. (That's my favorite night to go to ESL, really. And it's free.)

Hi Gurus! Finishing a work event tomorrow 3/1 (maybe my last - happy sequestration day!) in Crystal City and looking for any ideas on nearby hangouts or something to do after dinner. Prefer something interactive (not a movie), not too loud (to talk) and indoors. Willing to consider Pentagon City too. Thanks! - "Sequestered"

Karaoke at Freddie's Beach Bar. While the Saturday drag shows are awesome, Friday karaoke can be fun, too. And it's loudest after midnight.

The Tortoise and Hare bar usually has bands on Friday nights, too.

My husband just started a new job, but we are still hurting for cash since he was looking for work for a couple months. We'd love to go out to a cheap dinner that doesn't feel cheap this weekend. Anything affordable that is high on your list right now? Thanks!

Congrats to your husband on his new gig. If you don't mind showing up early to get your name on the list, Toki Underground is inexpensive and casual, but still feels like a special-occasion place because it is so small and sooo delicious (you can grab a drink next door at Church & State while you wait). Bistro Bohem in Shaw is also inexpensive, intimate and warm. Ethiopic has shareable food and a good vibe, and if you wanna turn a taco happy hour into dinner, El Chucho is a bargain.

My husband's 40th birthday is at the end of April. I'd like to throw him a surprise party with about 20 guests. We live near Old Town and enjoy going out there. What's a great restaurant that could host our party? I'm thinking private room, open bar, heavy appetizers. I would consider dinner if it could be done relatively affordably. Thank you!! :)

Virtue Feed and Grain has a great upstairs space that would work for your group, filled with couches and pool tables. There's also a private space upstairs at the Light Horse that I really like. I've seen private parties while hanging out there. And it might not hurt to ask Pizzeria Paradiso if you could reserve half the bar space (easily big enough for 20) for pizza and craft beer.

My wife is hosting a baby shower this Saturday morning. So I will have a 3- and 4-year old boy to entertain out of the house for a few hours. Any suggestions? We're in Alexandria, but happy to come downtown.

I sent your question over to Weekend Editor (and mom-of-two-boys) Amy Joyce, and she says:

Oh, this one is easy! 

The Building Museum is always good for kiddos this age, but can get crowded on weekends. The Natural History Museum has its butterfly exhibit still going strong, and your boys may really enjoy exploring the insect exhibit. Mine have been asked if they wanted to hold some pretty hair-raising things, and there is a tarantula feeding demonstration Saturdays at 11:30, 12:30 and 1:30. Parking is much easier if you get there around 10, when the museums open. 

It will be cold this weekend, but the zoo has so many good places indoors or nearly indoors. Park at the bottom and make your way through the petting zoo, check out Amazonia (it's indoors and they can get up close with huge fish, monkeys and more), and see the new seal exhibit which has been really fun (they swim right by kids at eye level). 

And isn't this Saturday the St. Paddy's parade in Old Town? Why yes it is. Brave the cold and crowds, dad, and your kids can see old cars, dogs dressed in Irish garb and a lively parade.

I'm looking for a quiet, cozy, romantic bar or lounge for a date night with my husband. Someplace where we can talk -- wine or cocktails are fine, neither of us drink much beer. Would you recommend the lounge at the Tabard Inn for this? Or, do you have any suggestions closer to Cleveland Park, where we live? Thank you!! This might seem like a simple question, but with two little kiddos we don't get out much and I'm not up on the latest places.

Tabard is a classic, if popular, choice for this. Just beware that it can get crowded.

Room 11 in Columbia Heights is the go-to date option for several of the Gurus. Fantastic wine and cocktails, great staff, cozy and welcoming. And there are outdoor fire pits if it's chilly and you want to cuddle with a warm drink. 

A seat in the mezzanine at Chez Billy, the alcove at Firefly ... and for classic D.C. romance, the two-person Kennedy booth at Martin's Tavern (reputedly a favorite of JFK and Jackie).

Hi- My friends and I are in our mid to late twenties and we all love going out on weekends. Unfortunately, I think for most of them, the "drinking" aspect is all they really care about, but I like to find fun and creative other things to do. They are definitely good about wanting to do fun activities alongside drinking though...for example, we attended the drinking spelling bee on H-street that was a ton of fun! Do you have ideas of other "alternative" experiences at bars in dc? Maybe cool jazz clubs or places with shows? I read a bit about 9th and beats at old dominion and it sounded pretty cool! Thanks!

I think I've written about a bunch of these over the years: The Spelling Buzz at Rock and Roll Hotel is one of my all-time favorites, but there's also Blingo -- speed bingo -- every Wednesday at Sticky Rice, classic board games and tournaments at the Board Room, indoor corn hole and skee-ball at Penn Social ... let me see if I can get them all in one place for you.

My husband and I are pulling up stakes for Baltimore at the end of the summer. We decided instead of a bucket list, we'd write a bunch of DC things to do on popsicle sticks. They'll be color-coded for indoor or outdoor stuff to account for the weather. Then, whenever we have a free day, we'll pull an activity at random and go do it. So I need ideas for my sticks! So far I have the National Postal Museum, dinner at Etete, buying crabs at the fish market, a picnic at the Arboretum and a trip to the Hirshorn. We're adventurous eaters, but hate lines, crowds and noise (so please no shows at the 9:30, Little Serow or anything of that sort). What would the GOG's write on my popsicle sticks?

Oh wow, you should definitely check back with us next week when we publish our list of 40 essential Washington eats. Put each one of 'em on a stick! To give you an idea, this is last year's list. As for activities, I think you should do a bike ride from Old Town to Mount Vernon, see the Corcoran's DC-themed exhibition "Pump Me Up," and watch a sunset from the rooftop of the Kennedy Center. That's just to get you started, and I'm sure everyone else will have a bunch of suggestions (p.s. - you guys remind me of my friends, the DC Date Map couple... you should check out the date map for some ideas, too!).

Heading there tomorrow to catch a flick at AFI....we have a reservation 8407 Kitchen for dinner...maybe quarry house tavern for a drink...anything else we need to check out?? thanks!

Cocktails at Sidebar. That's a given. Beers and live music at Quarry House would be a good nightcap.

And what are some on the VA side? Thanks!

The upstairs wine bar at Northside Social is a great date spot, especially with the new $5 happy hour. Alexandria's PX is a longtime favorite of mine, though you can't just wander in. Twisted Vines wine bar on Columbia Pike can be a lot of fun with a date. A spot at the bar at the Old Brogue in Great Falls is fun, too.

A bunch of us, late 30's, are going to Sticky Rice for dinner next Saturday. What should we do after dinner -- stay at Sticky Rice (is there dancing there after dinner? I'm sort of confused by the whole DJ at a restaurant thing), go dancing somewhere else (is there anywhere within walking distance?), go hang out at H Street Country Club, or just go get some pie?

Sticky Rice entertainment is a late-night (after service, usually after midnight) affair. If you're dining late, you're set. For dancing on H, I still think that Little Miss Whiskey's is king, though there's the upstairs at Rock and Roll Hotel for a free/grungey option. I say vintage arcade games at Atlas Arcade, terrific cocktails at the Atlas Room, a pint of Scottish beer at the Queen Vic ...

Hello or should I say hola!? I was wondering if the movie "Bless Me Ultima" will be released in the DC area anytime soon. I read the book and loved it, but I cannot find any showtimes listed for it. (I believe it opened this week in other cities.) Thank you in advance for your help tracking this movie down!

Movie guru Michael O'Sullivan says that as far as he knows, it's not on the schedule at any local theaters for at least a month. Bummer. Check back in three weeks, maybe?

The weather reports I check for the weekend have it sunny, clear, and in the mid-40s. So not sure what the person was looking at who wanted stuff to do inside with kids. I'd take them to Occaquan NWR and let them explore and see eagles, myself.

Your forecast is better than the other chatter's. Thanks.

Tour the monuments by moonlight. Go see "To Fly" at the Air and Space Museum (and get freeze-dried ice cream afterwards). Tour and buy a piece of art at the Torpedo Factory.

All good suggestions.

Thanks so much for the free jazz suggestions. May go tonight.

You're welcome. You should see Butch Warren tonight if you haven't seen him before. I mean, the man played bass on Hank Mobley's Straight No Chaser, Dexter Gordon's Go! and A Swinging Affair, Sonny Clark's Leapin' and Lopin' ... and Herbie Hancock's mind-warping Takin' Off, which includes the uber-classic "Watermelon Man."

My husband and I rarely see movies in the theater, but I was given some passes recently. Any recommendations on what we should see this weekend? We're up for anything that's good.

"The Gatekeepers" just got four stars from Ann Hornaday, so that's something to consider. "No," which comes out tomorrow, got positive reviews from our critics, too.

Nats' day game on a weekday (if there are any). Occaquan NWR to walk or Mason Neck to canoe/kayak. Dinner picnic on TR Island

Not sure if this falls into your area of expertise or not but here it goes. We’re looking to start making summer vacation plans but are unsure of where to go. There are 3 of us, mom, dad and 12 year old girl. We would like to go somewhere close that we could drive to and bring our dog. We would like to have a place on the water (river, lake or ocean) and have activities that the 12 year old will enjoy. All with a rental of under $2000 for a week. Any suggestion?

I have vacationed at Chincoteague many times before, and I'll sing its praises: It's inexpensive, relaxing, quiet, and of course, PONIES. The beach is a national park, so there's no boardwalk (which is a plus, for me at least) but there are nature trails everywhere, kayak rentals, marine biology tours, and mini golf. You can bike everywhere. And, of course, the potential to see wild ponies (and once, for me, a bald eagle). Only catch -- I think dogs aren't allowed in the wildlife refuge area, but would be welcome elsewhere on the island. For some other suggestions: Last year's beach guide (MD & VA, Jersey & Delaware).

ice skating at any of the 3 outdoor rinks. Movie night at AFI. Nats game!


My parents are coming into town tomorrow night. We have 8:30 pm reservations at Rasika West End. Any suggestions on where to get a round of delicious cocktails prior our dinner on the West End? A place with innovative drinks that is no too crowded or loud would be much appreciated.

Two good spots within walking distance: A Bar, at the Avenue Suites hotel, hits all the cocktail trends, including molecular mixology, but the drinks show off great flavors. Bartenders are very personable, too. And Firefly, at the Madera, has a menu mixing Prohibition-era classics and some clever new drinks.  

What time does Little Miss Whiskey's get crowded?

around 11:30? I usually get there at 11 if there's a DJ I want to see. It does fill up, especially on weekends.

Going to E street theater to catch a show with co-workers, then heading out to HH. Any nearby suggestions of places to go with good beer? Not too pricey since we are getting sequestered!?

Pi has Schlafly beer for $3.50. 9th and F St. Walk a little farther for District Chophouse's great house-brewed ales for $3.25. 

You said Tabard could get busy -- is there a better time to go?

I don't go to Tabard on Friday and Saturday nights. When the restaurant is slammed, the people waiting for tables take up every seat at the bar, and fill the couches in the lounge. It's far more fun to go sit at the bar and talk to Chantal (the woman behind the house cocktails) on a Wednesday than to fight for an inch of space by the fireplace on Saturday night.

Sunday is a great time to go, since there's live jazz in the lounge.

Thanks everybody! Can't wait to add these to my collection!

Glad we could help!

Okay, that's going to wrap it up for us. See you back here next week.

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: