Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Gurus

Mar 07, 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 chatters to our first spring-like edition of Got Plans? This weekend, there's plenty of fun, from the Maggie Rose shows in Bethesda, to the kickoff of the U Hall anniversary week. Oh, and we have your roadmap to the 40 Eats of 2013 that every one of you helped contribute to. So thank you all for the brilliant suggestions, and the extra 8 pounds I put on.  'Cause I needed that.  Let's get started!

In this forum and others, I have strongly advocated for the fireplace at The Tabard Inn. And that is where we were headed after the brisk weather of Old Towns St Patrick’s parade. But we were shocked, shocked to find that they had put a dinky little wood burning stove inside their fabulous and formerly roaring fireplace. Now, where is the best fireplace for drinking?

You should have just stayed in Old Town and had a drink in front of the wood-burning fireplace at Murphy's Irish Pub. I've also really enjoyed the fireplace at the Ritz in Georgetown -- grab a drink from the Degrees bar and just settle in.

Oh, and the wood-burning fireplace at the Old Brogue pub in Great Falls. Another good one.

My son is becoming a bar mitzvah in Israel this summer (June) and we plan to have a small, primarily kid, party in October (but relatives will be coming in from out of the area). I would love ideas on fun places to host. The "musts" are one stop shopping (bar or restaurant, not an event space where I need to bring in a caterer), something different and fun where we can have a DJ and dancing, somewhere in DC or close-in Maryland suburbs, and enough space where we could seat about 70 people. I loved Policy down in Logan (especially the graffiti on the wall!), but felt it might be a little small. Would love to hear what you guys recommend -- thanks!

First question: What day/time are you trying to have this party? That's going to make a HUGE difference, because most bars/restaurants have a set cutoff time after which no kids -- and I mean anyone under 21 -- is allowed.

Any thoughts of putting together a furlough guide for cheap eats and HH for us lowly government workers who are looking at significant cuts in pay?

Oh, but we have! Check out Tim Carman's guide to sequester dining. I'm a huge believer in ethnic restaurants for inexpensive, hearty meals. I'd add a couple, too, from the Essential Eats list: El Chucho -- there's a happy hour every day that makes tacos a mere 2.50 for two tacos, and this amazing corn is also just $2.50. Song Que, just $3.75 for a sandwich that has everything you need.  And finally, Sakuramen's $11 bowl that pretty much should keep you full for an entire day, and cover all your food groups. I mean, look at it.

Hi Gurus. I'm in need of your expertise. I have family coming in town the last weekend of March. I'd love to show them the cherry blossoms, but they can't do a lot of walking. Is there a way to show them the trees other than wandering the tidal basin route? Nearby lunch/bruch suggestions are also appreciated!

How about a cruise? The Odyssey cruises promise food, so that would knock out two of your requirements. (And I would be remiss if I didn't plug our cherry blossom events guide!)

So, I'm on a booze-free Lenten detox, and have a friend visiting who wants to go out Sat night. Any suggestions? Going to a bar is ok, but it would be great to have options besides just drinking. In DC. Thanks!

Great timing -- I am also in the midst of the annual detox, though mine only lasts until St. Patrick's Day. What you need to do is find a place where there's something -- anything -- to do other than just sit at a bar and drink mocktails. I'd say the Mixtape dance night at the Black Cat would be a good place to go dancing, and there's free water -- same as if you go to U Hall for Troy Pierce rocking techno all night. (The bonus there is that it's free before midnight.) But check out a country band at Hill Country, play skee-ball and pop-a-shot and giant Jenga at Penn Social or Buffalo Billiards, throw darts at Bedrock, get oysters and play bocce at Pearl Dive/Black Jack -- something like that.

If your friend does want to get drinks, though, I can vouch for the non-alcoholic options at Hank's on the Hill, the Gibson, El Chucho and Firefly, all of which will also please a discerning boozehound.

Hi Gurus! I moved away from DC in 2009 and will be back in a couple of weeks for a long weekend. My friends are asking me where I want to go out to eat, what I want to do, etc, while I'm there, and honestly, my knowledge of the DC scene is a few years out of date :) I'd love some ideas on great restaurants or dessert spots that opened since I left, or perhaps some neighborhoods that have changed a lot (for the better, I hope!) in the past few years that I should make a point to wander around, etc. Any ideas are welcome!

We keep this list of restaurants that just opened in the past year, so take a look at it and see if anything strikes your fancy. I'm not sure of your budget or your age, etc.  I would TRY to make reservations at Mintwood Place - seriously, seriously delicious right now. Second, Estadio, amazing drinks and food, and shareable between you and your friends. For drinks, I really love Hogo right now - great cocktails, and very unassuming. The neighborhoods that have seen a lot of change are Adams Morgan (weird, I know, but the restaurant scene, with Mellow Mushroom pizzeria, Mintwood, Taan and Sakuramen, is booming); 11th Street in Columbia Heights, where Room 11 has expanded, and  the Coupe, Maple, El Chucho (see above) and Kangaroo Boxing Club are really offering great food and a quieter place to be than 14th. Really, there's so much that's changed - I heartily recommend you wander around, particularly around 14h and U. It's pretty wild.

what are your fave spots that have great wines by the glass (and won't break the bank)...preferably east of dupont through H street... thanks!

I think Veritas has seen a major turnaround. They've always had a great selection of wines, but the service has stepped up, and frankly, even the flights are a great way to figure out what you want to order by the glass.  (New som, I hear.) 

If you get the two-ounce pours, Proof is still my favorite, but that's probably not what you're looking for. Vinoteca's happy hour, with 15 different wines for $5 every single day from 5 to 7 p.m., is fantastic. The Passenger also has some great stuff on its rotating list. On H Street, Sova was a go-to, but that's gone. (I'm going to say that Boundary Road's wines, while tasty and quirky, are a little pricy at $10-$11 a glass...

Hi Gurus, I have a quick tipping question. For restaurants I generally always tip at least 20%, for bars when I have a beer (and only beer) I tip about $1 or $1 every other beer. But whats the standard tip when ordering nice cocktails (and only cocktails)? I geneally leave 20% or over, which feels right to me but was wondering if that was the norm.

I think you're doing it right.

I feel like cocktails is also $1 or $2, depending on what you order and how hard it is to make. (Then again, I usually run a tab and just drop 20-25 percent at the end, based on whether I'm ordering complicated cocktails or just shots of whiskey with beer.)

As a non-drinker all the time, I love all those suggestions for places that have things other than drinking. But do you have any suggestions for places like that in Montgomery County?

The only places I went in MoCo last year when I was detoxing were Jackie's Sidebar (booze-free cocktails) and Quarry House (live rockabilly). I'd add live music and the house-made rootbeer from Growlers of Gaithersburg in there, too. 

As with most things relating to nightlife -- and I've been in Bethesda and north a bit recently -- Montgomery County just comes up short of the options in D.C./Arlington/Alexandria.

Hi gurus, I remember hearing about Spy at Night, this program offered at the Spy Museum where you did some kind of interactive spy simulation after-hours and then afterwards got a voucher for a drink next door at Zola. Is Zola now closed? I can't find any information about this on their website--do you know if the spy museum still have this program or anything like it? It sounded really fun. If not, as a follow-up, my husband and I are looking for fun things like this to do--kind of off the beaten track, more interesting than just drinking at a bar. We are interested in the haunted pub tour that you profiled in an article a few weeks ago. Any other ideas along these lines? Thanks for all the great suggestions. I love reading the chats.

I wrote about Spy at Night a couple (ok, more like four) years ago and had a blast. You are right, there isn't anything on their Web site about it. I went ahead and left a message with their pr person and if I hear back I will let you know.


So worst case scenario, they never do them again and you need some alternate plans. In addition to the tour in Washington we wrote about, you can also try haunted pub tours in Fells Point and Annapolis. If you just want a cool tour and then find drinks on your own, try Frederick. Along the lines of the Spy Museum, the National Cryptologic Museum on the grounds of the NSA is pretty great alternate choice. It doesn't have the bells and whistles of the International Spy Museum, but I think it is pretty great.

We ain't normally haute cocktail sorts, by my wife called on opening day and we ended up at BarMini this weekend. We immediately sat on the cactus couch, which was more comfortable that a cactus, but less comfortable than a couch -- for my money, the much cooler seat is the pink, white and purple, and also cactus inspired chair next to it -- which appears to have appeared after all the publicity pics were taken. Discovered Chartreuse, discovered bitters, discovered something wonderful that they called a Mollymok; but I'm left with a few questions. I don't get the concept of reservations? Who is planning for a drink they want to have two Tuesdays from now? We are cocktail novices, so is this temple to the golden era of cocktails and forgotten techniques playing the game at a truly higher level than those on the Going Out Guide list of Best Cocktails? Where else can I try cocktails with "homemade bitters"? I took it to try making my own during the Snowquester, and I'm wondering how they compare. (They macerate as we speak)

PS: Yes to the fried pork dippy things; only maybe to "our take on lox and bagel."

Almost every bar on our list of Best Cocktails makes its own bitters these days -- and its juices, and infused liqueurs and, in some cases, their own ice. (The Columbia Room's bitters are generally top class, along with PX, the Passenger, Hank's on the Hill and Room 11, at least recently.) 

If you want the custom cocktail experience, you have to make reservations -- same deal as at PX, the Columbia Room or the Gibson. You don't have to pick your cocktails in advance, but because they're such intimate spaces, they fill up quickly. 

Going to a show at the Iota club on Saturday. Where would you suggest grabbing dinner before the show? I know Iota has food but looking for other ideas too. Also, if it listsa 9pm start, does music usually start at 9? Thanks!

Green Pig Bistro (New American), Fuego (spicy Mexican) and Dehli Club (Indian) are all within easy walking distance of Iota. I'd say Fireworks Pizza or BGR if you want something more basic -- again, both within three or four blocks.

Iota *generally* starts on time, but since the club doesn't do advance tickets, you should plan on being there 15 minutes early anyway, just to get your ID checked and get inside. I don't think the Highballers/Human Country Jukebox show will fill on the early side, so you should be okay if dinner runs a little over.

I just wanted to thank the Gurus for taking my question on finding a meeting place that was large enough for 100 people and was also ADA compliant for our adaptive rowers a few weeks ago. While some the suggestions were great, we ended up reserving RFD's Backroom bar in Chinatown. It's not in the Capitol Hill/Navy Yard area but it's semi-private, ADA compliant, and has a projector for a slide show of photos. Our informational meeting/ happy hour is Wednesday, March 13 from 6:30pm to 10pm and it's for anyone interested in learning to row or get back into rowing that may have rowed in high school or college. Thanks again. Abigail Potter, VP of Membership, Capital Rowing Club.

Thanks for the update! If anyone is interested in rowing, here is your invite.

For the poster looking to show off the cherry blossoms to relatives who can't walk far, I would recommend a drive through the Kenwood neighborhood in Bethesda. You can pretty much see the trees in all their glory without ever having to get out of the car! And now a question, I am looking for a fun date night place for tomorrow night that won't break the bank but is buzzy and has great cocktails. Was thinking maybe Toki Underground or Estadio? Anywhere in DC proper is great and we never seem to make it out earlier than 9pm, so crowded places shouldn't be a huge problem.

Wait, you never make it out before 9 and you want to go to Toki or Estadio? That's the only way I usually manage to get seats at either of those places! (Even on Valentine's Day, I got a seat at the bar at Estadio by getting there before 7 p.m.) By 9 p.m., the wait for a table at Toki is usually measured in hours, not minutes, and Estadio isn't much better. (I've been told 90 minutes there around 8:30 p.m.) If you can break the routine and get to Toki by, say, 7 to get your name on the list and go sip classic cocktails at Church and State or play video games at Atlas while you wait, that might be a start.

So, options. You could head for Ninth Street, and get food and great cocktails at A&D, or maybe Table. (Again, you're going to wait if you're too late.) In Columbia Heights, we like Room 11 for date nights, but if it's packed, you can head across the street and try your luck at El Chucho, or go north to Kangaroo Boxing Club.

I'm sure you get this question a lot, but... I have relatives coming into town next weekend. They've never really seen the city, and I'm looking for something that might be out of the ordinary. It's a couple in their mid-20s--they definitely want cheap eats/sights. So far, they've asked to do the Holocaust Museum and Georgetown Cupcakes. What's something else that we could do? Museums are fine, but I'm looking for something a little different.

Definitely get to the Holocaust Museum early, and get free tickets in advance. It's an amazing museum, but one of the city's most busy. (PS you can also pre-order and pay for your cupcakes at Georgetown Cupcake -- and you don't have to wait in that godawful line.) If you wanted to have some fun, you could Eat Like the Obamas (Shake Shack = cheap), or visit some of our celebrity chefs, including Spike Mendelsohn's Good Stuff Eatery for a marshmallow shake after stopping in at the Capitol Visitor's Center. It'll be too early for cherry blossoms, it seems - but I'd consider a walk around the Tidal Basin. And maybe take some Bike Share bikes for a spin across the Memorial bridge over to Arlington, and perhaps a visit to Roosevelt Island. (With the nice weather, I'm thinking outdoors stuff, obviously.) Also, check back at this time next week on the Going Out Guide, and we'll have all next weekend's hot events ready to go, so you can throw in a cool dance party or St. Patrick's day fun for them, too.

What are some fun ideas for spending St. Patty's Day in DC? Any good bar crawls that won't be full of college students?

The only St. Patrick's Day-related bar crawl that won't be full of college students is this Saturday's Whiskey Walk, thanks to its focus on (a) Irish whiskey over cheap lager, and (b) the $35 price tag, which gets you eight free tastes, including aged and rare whiskeys.

Do you have any good ideas for a second date on Saturday?

We need way more info than that -- what did you do on the first one?

My stylist offers comlimentary bang much should i tip her? also, if there is a slight adjustment to be made to the cut and I have to go back in, do I tip again?

I take advantage of the complimentary bang trims, too, and I typically tip around $10, particularly if the salon worked to squeeze me in the same day, or I have a relationship with the stylist. Fritz seconded that. I think almost in percentages -- if it's a stylist who generally charges $70-$100 for a cut, $10 seems right. If you're a $35 customer, $5 seems right. (Stylists in the crowd, correct me if I'm wrong). I think if there's an adjustment you need for your cut, there's no need to tip again, not out of spite, but because I generally tip well the first time around.

Hi- A group of about 15 of us are doing a vineyard tour by limo from DC. We are stopping Doukenie, Northgate, and Notaviva for the vineyards. Any recommendations for a lunch spot on the way there or near that area where we could grab sandwiches or other lunch goodies for a picnic somewhere? Thanks!

Ah, love those wineries, for their staff and their views. Definitely stop at Stoneybrook Farm Market, which is literally down the street from Northgate, on your way to Doukenie. It's owned by the owners of a 45-acre certified organic farm, and you can get coffee and fruit pies. And they do salads, sandwiches and a “yoga burger” (that’s vegetarian, natch). When in season, the vegetables in the deli fare come fresh from the adjacent farm. I wrote about them as part of this story. (Oh, PS, while at Northgate, DEFINITELY do the truffle and wine pairing.)

Can I get this in now that we're on the early side of March? The nickname for Patrick is PaDDy. The nickname for Patricia is PaTTy. St. Patrick's Day is March 17th. St. Patricia's Day (less popular) is August 25th. Thank you.

Yes, that's right. Don't muck it up, people. Also, don't use "paddy." It's a pejorative term that was used against Irish people.

My best friend and her boyfriend are coming in from New Zealand at the beginning of August and I'm looking for a fun place near D.C. to take them for a few days. This will also be the first time they meet my boyfriend so I'd like it to be somewhere where we aren't all on top of each other the entire time. I was thinking the beach but we will likely only have Friday-Monday and most rentals I've seen are for the week. Do you have any ideas? It doesn't have to be the beach but anywhere within a 7 hour drive of D.C. We don't have a set budget but would like to keep things fairly under control. Thanks!

The idea of planning stuff for August makes me giddy! House rentals might require a week, but why not look into hotels or motels? And if you are reconsidering the beach, why don't you head for a cabin by a lake? Maybe Deep Creek in Maryland or Lake Anna in Virginia? Plus, if you are trying to keep things really cheap you can always  go camping -- both Deep Creek and Lake Anna have options.

A group of 5-10 friends and I (all mid-twenties) would like to do a St. Patrick's day brunch. Are there any places in the district doing unlimited brunch on Sunday? An Irish pub would be ideal, but anywhere downtown that does bottomless drinks would work.

Oh God. Brunch on Saint Patrick's Day sounds like the worst idea ever. Most real Irish pubs don't do specials on  March 17 because they don't have to. There's no incentive. They don't need to offer any sort of specials to get people in the doors on March 17. (Remember when the 4Ps would take ever seat out to cram more bodies in, pack the place to the rafters and serve nothing but cold corned beef sandwiches all day? Woo, Irish hospitality!)

About the only thing I've seen that fits what you're looking for is the Uptown Tap House in Cleveland Park. They're opening doors at 8 a.m. There's a free breakfast buffet until 10, and beers starting at 17 cents. (It's a beat-the-clock deal with prices going up every hour until 11:30 a.m.)

Otherwise, I'd stick with the known places, such as Masa 14, the Argonaut or Southern Hospitality. And while they're not bottomless, brunch at Firefly offers $2 mimosas, which is a steal.

but apparently it is time again to remind folks - the saint is Irish and named Patrick, not American and named Patricia. Hence, if you MUST abbreviate, it is St. Paddy's Day, not St. Patty's Day.

Yep. Patrick in Gaelic is Padraig, so it's shortened to Paddy.

I'm trying to de-stress about that this year, though. No meat, no booze, everything zen.

Hope you don't mind taking a question from someone who I guess is not-in-the know. Is Fuego really good, good enough to warrant a trip there? It sounds promising but don't know if I'm not lazy enough to make the trek.

Fuego ... it's good for happy hour. That's when I've enjoyed it most. Otherwise I lean towards "bit pricey, iffy service."

This question got me thinking- what about on the other end of the scale. When I get an obscenely expensive haircut/highlight that costs me upwards of $200 am I still supposed to tip 20%? I usually do but it adds another 40 bucks on to my already substantial tab and to be honest diminishes the frequency with which I go.

Hmmm. This is a great question. So I'm going to throw it out to readers. What would you do?

But I will ask this. You clearly wanted a high-quality cut and highlights, and saved up the $200, and spent the money to make sure you look your best. It seems unfair, doesn't it, that the person who makes their living on tips makes you look amazing, but effectively gets the short end of the deal? If it diminishes the frequency with which you go, maybe you downgrade a bit to a stylist who can do it all for $170, so you can be out the door for $200?

If you saved up and went to Komi for dinner for two with wine pairings for $500 or so, wouldn't you tip at least 18 percent (but frequently, more), for the people who worked to make your night memorable? It's got to be factored into the cost...

Gurus, my girl friend and I have an afternoon appointment in Georgetown Saturday. Is there anything in the area (DC or Arlington) going on where our boyfriends can kill a few hours? Thanks!

You don't say what they're into, but watching college hoops at Mason Inn or Town Hall, sampling tiki drinks at Farmers and Fishers, or playing pool or darts over good beers at Breadsoda -- that's where I'd start.  (And yeah, most of those are in Glover Park, but outside of Martin's Tavern I'm horribly bored with bars in Georgetown these days.)

No question, I am just expressing my thanks that year, St. Patrick's Day does not coincide with the REAL holiday in March: the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament.

But it *IS* on the day of major college basketball conference championships.

As a Marylander who rarely crosses the border into Virginia...can you recommend a restaurant for a dinner on a Friday evening for about 15 people (including a few kids) near Rosslyn? Other parts of Arlington are fine, or even into Georgetown. Nothing too fancy, exotic or expensive.

You might try Ireland's Four Courts, Rustico in Ballston, or Pupatella, one of our 40 eats. Pupatella is a cool space because it's very casual but the food is superb, but I'd definitely call ahead before you bring 15 people anywhere.

25 yr old niece from SF coming to DC for Nike Women's half marathon in April and staying the long weekend. Booked at the Eldon Luxury Suites on L Street. Any good restaurants in the area? Any must sees in DC that weekend?

She's not far from Rogue 24 (one of the city's top gastronomic destinations) and Table, or Hogo, a cool rum bar with a pop-up kitchen in the back.

As for fun April events -- check back with us in a few weeks. She's going to miss the Cherry Blossom madness, but late spring in Washington is one of the best times to visit.

Hey gurus, I just got back last week from a trip to Nashville. I LOVED the music scene there! Is there anything like that here? (It also reminds me of The Back Fence in NYC.) I know Hill Country has live music, though it's kind of twangy. Is there anything else? Nashville seemed to have a mix. Thanks for your help!

I really think you might like New Vegas Lounge. It's divey, and there are bands with a little more "rock" to them, a little more blues, which I think you're looking for. 

Sorry for that overbroad question. The first date was brunch in Arlington. It went well but alcohol was not involved and I am still feeling her out on that aspect of a second date. I think an exhibit or museum that isn't too heavy followed by a fun atmoshphere for dinner might do the trick.

No worries. Our current date idea, which you're welcome to steal: "Before Photoshop" at the National Galley, then a short walk up Seventh Street to Oyamel or, if it's on the early side, the bar at Rasika for snacks and a cocktail.

I would tip the standard unless obviously something went horribly are tipping on a service performance so I guess it should be comensurate with the experience/result. It's a lot but so is a $200 haircut. If you are getting more than just a haircut (color, for example) then the person is probably doing a decent amount of work and time on you. I don't know but if you can "afford" a $200 hair session, that should also mean that you can, hopefully, afford an appropriate tip. Otherwise, consider finding a place that is a little cheaper for the services. I think getting a haircut is one of the most relaxing things you can do, almost a little spa-like. Also, I give an additional tip to the person who washes my hair. I doubt that tips are pooled and shared and probably people "forget" to tip the person who washes your hair.

That was our feeling around the GOG pod: If you can afford a $200 hair session, you should swing for the tip. Thanks!

Hello GOGs. I am a 40 year old native Washingtonian, but have recently gotten interested in our food scene. A friend and I would like to start trying a variety of foods in our area, but we are both on a tight budget. Would you suggest happy hour menus are a good source of what restaurants have to offer? And if you had to name five to get us started, where would they be?

Not always happy hour menus per se, but appetizer menus are the way to go. It's where you'll find chefs stretching their wings and being creative. But here's a few ideas.

1: Happy hour at Vidalia, with small Southern bites cooked before your eyes. Cheap cocktails and beers, too.

2: DGS, because it's still got a lot of buzz, and it's easy to fill up on two or three shared small plates for $15 total.

3: The Source's happy hour (4-6 weeknights) lets you pick any three appetizers from the bar's Izakaya menu, whether it's the chili pork wontons, the bahn mi sliders, the pork bao buns, or  lobster and scallop spring rolls, for $22.

4. I'd add not a happy hour special, but Proof's lunch crush. Served at the bar, you get a glass of wine and one of five of their entrees (get the burger) for $14 in the bar. It's a steal.

5. El Chucho's happy hour, which brings tacos down to a mere $2.50 for two, plus that corn. Oh, that corn.

What is your reaction to the LGBT discrimination controversy at Spa World?

So, as the staff's Spa World champion, it seems fair that I ought to answer this.  I was really really disappointed by the business's immediate response, and then its unfortunate follow-up response.  But our reporter Tom Jackman offered a followup that wasn't as reactionary as we saw in other publications.  Having been many times, I do believe Spa World's claim that the follow-up response was the result of a language issue, particularly because in my many visits I've run into LGBT friends and patrons at Spa World, and have never seen disciminatory behavior.  I am sympathetic to the culture clash that both the business and its patrons contend with every day; but if readers told me they would not be going back, it wouldn't surprise me.

Wow. Today's chat stretched over 100 minutes. Be back here next week when we'll have two very special guests discussing tomorrow's Weekend cover story: Washington's 40 Essential Eats.  And don't forget to tell us about your favorite dishes on Twitter with the hashtag #40eats, or tag photos on Instagram with @goingoutguide.

Okay. We're hungry. See you next Thursday.

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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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