Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Gurus

Apr 11, 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.

But we'll compensate by spending the next hour talking about all the things we wish we were enjoying outside: Rooftop bars, Pimms Cups on patios, brunching on the water -- whatever you'd like to chat about.

My parents are on the train coming down to Dc right now. I have reservations for us for dinner for the night we are going to a play, but no other reservations. My parents prefer to eat early, but I presume that a lot of other tourists do too. Likely to be eating mid-range in the Penn Quarter (they are staying at Hotel Monaco). Do I need a reservation to eat at Zatinya at 5:30? Checked on Open Table, that shows a reservation available for 5:15 (forgot what day I checked, I was just trying to check it out) but there are some tables for walk ins, right?

Zaytinya does save some tables for walk-ins, but I'd go ahead and make the reservations. The place is so wildly popular, especially with visitors. Other places you can stop in without reservations in the neighborhood: Hill Country, Clyde's, and, at 5:30, I'd probably say Proof. (I've certainly done it before, as long as you don't mind one of the tables closer to the bar area.)

That's disgusting. I'm sorry but if you're going to be in public you must be wearing pants or kilts or something. When are you getting out on the water Fritz? Sailing season has started!

Ha. Was thinking more like, you know, bottomless mimosas or "champagne" or bloody marys.

I was in Annapolis on Sunday doing research for a story and was watching beginner sailing classes on Spa Creek. I'll be out there soon enough. 

Thanks for having this chat, GOGs! Long-time reader here, but I've been away from DC for a couple of years. What time would a couple need to get to the Passenger on a weekend night to be able to enjoy the experience? I hear it gets packed to the gills.

Welcome back! The Passenger does get packed, but on weekends, it takes a little while to get there. I find that getting there by 9 or earlier is best -- but honestly, I'd recommend that this trip you skip ahead to what's new: Hogo, next door (just look for the big painting of Bill Murray from "The Life Aquatic"), is making amazing drinks, has cool food from new pop-ups every few weeks, and has some very cool bartenders behind the bar. I find it gets slightly less packed than the Passenger, and I think you should have no problem scoring a seat with two people. If you wanted to add a stop to your night, you should consider crossing past the Convention Center over to Ninth Street to A&D, particularly if you're looking for a tasty snack. I really am digging on their bar food lately.

Is it still worth it to take the family down to the Tidal Basin to see them this afternoon/evening? If so, what is our best bet for parking? Thanks!

I would definitely do it tonight, if you can. Blossoms hit peak bloom earlier this week, and there's always the chance that tomorrow's rain will wash away a good amount of flowers. 

We've produced a PDF map of the Tidal Basin, which you can see here. Hains Point and West Potomac Park have more parking spaces than other areas, though remember to watch out for rush hour restrictions, depending on what time you go down.

Our 25 Anniversary is coming up soon. Since it is a Wednesday and we have kids and jobs and are taking a vacation later to really celebrate we are thinking of just going out to a really fancy lunch on the actual day. Do you have any recommendations for a lunch that is truly "special occasion worthy"? We work near Penn Quarter but may be able to take the day off, which would open up anything within an hour or so's drive of Falls Church. To us it more about the specialness than the cuisine. Thanks for any thoughts you may have.

Congrats on your silver anniversary! Tom Sietsema recently gave high marks to the Old Angler's Inn, which has a nice garden near the river. You could also check out the Blue Duck Tavern, or Fiola, where the first lady recently dined. We have a whole list of romantic restaurants that might fit the bill.

Hi gurus...I'm doing my annual closet cleansing in preparation for the warm weather (who knew it would come so quickly) and ahve come across a bevy of bridesmaid dresses and other formal gowns that I no longer need but want to donate. Any suggestions? I give a lot of work attire to dress for success but I figure this is more along the lines of dresses for high school girls for prom? THANKS!

I don't have any personal experience with any of these groups, but here are a few in the area that accept used prom dresses: Kissing Frogs, St. Anthony's, Once Upon a Prom.

Have a rare free Saturday night. Thinking about getting pretty and hitting up the city, probably on the early side. Where's the best place in the city right now to enjoy some chill electronica, get flirty, and watch the sun set from the rooftop? Coming from Maryland, so bonus points for an easier drive from there.

Hmm. The electronica is throwing me, since Donovan House doesn't have its summer events going, and the roof at Eden is a much later-in-the-night kind of scene. 

I'd say happy hour on El Centro DF would be a good bet -- good music, cheap margaritas. The neighboring Masa 14 also has a bumping rooftop on Saturdays, though it's a little smaller.

Here's our guide to the best rooftop decks. Lately, I've enjoyed the laidback scene at 1905 and the brand-new rooftop on H Street Country Club.

Hi Gurus, How do you like Hanks for their cocktail list? Good stuff, mixologist knows what they are doing? Which of the Hanks spots does this best? Do you know of any bars in DC that actually serve London dry gin as opposed to gin for the U.S. market (these gins are not the same). Thanks

Hank's on the Hill has by far the best cocktail list of the three Hank's locations. I'm pretty sure it's the best bar staff, too. (I haven't been to the Alexandria one recently enough to pass definitive judgement, but HotH has one of the better bartending teams in D.C.)

As far as London Dry Gin, you're not going to go wrong at the gin bar at New Heights. They have gins that few other places in D.C. manage to get, especially London Drys. (I'm a card-carrying member of the London Gin Club. No, really.)

To the person whose parents are on the train coming to DC now and staying in Penn Quarter - it would be a good idea to check the Verizon Center schedule to see if an event is going on, since that makes things a lot more crowded. And tonight thru Sunday has an event every night (Caps, Wizards, Caps, Alicia Keys in that order). So reservations would be recommended for early eating since most of these things start around 7-8 PM.. I'm basing this on my experience.

Very good advice.

Very, very good advice.

Hi there, My husband and I are going to the 12n Spam-a-Lot performance at National Theater Saturday. We're meeting some friends for apps/drinks/beer afterward - around 2:30p. There doesn't seem to be a lot of choices around National Theater so we're fine jumping in the car and going elsewhere in DC. Where should we head? I'd love to sit outside if possible. Just looking for moderately priced food and good beer. Seems like a lot of place stop serving at 3p. Can you help me out?

Actually, there are a couple of possibilities that wouldn't require you to hop in the car (not a great proposition anyway, since Saturday is the Cherry Blossom Parade; personally, I'd park it in a garage and leave it there while you lunch, rather than try to find parking all over again) -- Chef Geoff's will hit all of the marks, and is open till 4. I also think you guys might consider walking over to Woodward Table/Woodward Take Out Food (you can also eat in)

Hey Guru's - Going on a first date tomorrow for the first time in a while, and am trying to decide on a place for us to meet up after work for drinks etc. We both live in Virginia (Fairfax/Vienna) area, but work in Arlington. One of us is in mid 20's and the other is in their mid 30's, so somewhere with a similar aged crowd would be great. Any suggestions for places in the Arlington to Fairfax/Vienna corridor? Thanks!

The wine bar at Northside Social in Clarendon is perfect for this: Busy, but you can still talk, and good happy hour deals. I'd also suggest EatBar in the same neighborhood.

Moving west, I'm a big fan of Spacebar in Falls Church for meeting friends and catching up. The bar at Dogfish Head in Fairfax is another favorite.

I'm hoping you guys can help me find a brunch location for a group of 8-10 girlfriends with outdoor seating and bottomless mimosas. Saturday or Sunday is fine. Must be Metro accessible, neighborhood isn't important but DC proper is preferred. Any recommendations?

The Masa 14 $35 prix-fixe brunch would be perfect for you guys. I think reservations are required. They have a patio, and in addition to bottomless mimosas, bellinis and bloody Marys, you can pick as many of the shareable plates from the menu as you want. It is totally decadent. Plan to spend the rest of your day lazing about, because you will leave tipsy and full. If that doesn't work out -- the disco brunch at Level One is outdoors, bottomless, and has many fans.

Hi Guru's, My wife and I are hosting two other couples from southern VA this weekend (longtime friends - all late 20's). Saturday afternoon we are going to the Nats game, and after the game we want to grab dinner and drinks . Not looking for anything fancy since we will have been downing beer and hotdogs all afternoon. We want to keep it metro accessible, but would prefer a place that won't be excessively crowded. Any suggestions?

Stay around the Navy Yard/Barracks Row/Capitol Hill. The new Gordon Biersch brewpub, Matchbox, the Tune Inn and Seventh Hill Pizza are all good (and very different) options.

Gordon Biersch was crowded after the game last night, but it was more packed in the bar area than in the dining room -- I assume that with six people, you'll be getting a table.

Hi- I am looking for some activities at bars or bars that have other things going on besides just drinking- ie- penn social (games), board room (games), old dominion (9th and beats shows), maybe a jazz club or something like that? I love going out with my friends but get a little bored when its just to go get drinks and go dancing! Any ideas?

How about Science Night at the Argonaut, live jazz at the Black Fox Lounge, bands in the basement of the Pinch, board games at the Red Derby, burlesque or beer tasting classes at the Bier Baron ...

Is it worth it to get a table at the POV Lounge? I heard the view is great but what about drinks and music?

The drinks are good, if a little expensive ($15-$17 last time I was there). What you can taste is less of a draw than what you can see -- fantastic postcard-worthy views of the White House, the Mall, the Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, etc.

If you're talking about getting a table on Saturday night, it's a more bottle-service vibe, a la Josephine or Shadow Room. 

What is a good Friday date night that would impress an out of town guest? Starting with an 8:30 dinner, and somewhere with a good scene to keep the night going. The evening will start at Union Station and end in Rosslyn, so all downtown, Gtown and North Arlington could be on the way (but not Dupont/U Street...too far from final destination) I recently moved back to NOVA from LA and I don't think my old go-to stomping grounds (on the hill, Mr. Smiths or Liberty Tavern) go with the vibe I'm hoping to put out this weekend. -1st date

If you're starting near Union Station, I might direct you to  cab over to Barracks Row. That will put you in an area popping with options (plus put you steps from the Orange/Blue lines home to Rosslyn). So I'd suggest dinner at Ambar (whose decor should satisfy any longing you have for LA); if you want something a little like your old stomping grounds, but new, Pacifico Cantina, with its margaritas and rooftop, could be fun for drinks afterward, as could Beuchert's, which has a major fan in Fritz; you could also split a boozy milkshake and house made Pop-Tart at the bar at Ted's Bulletin. The neighborhood has changed pretty dramatically, so you don't have to hang out at the old Hill bars these days.

My girly, peppy daughter is turning 16 on April 15th. We don't have enough money or space for a party, so I am thinking of giving her (and 3 friends) a pedicab ride around downtown from about 2-4pm on Saturday, April 20th. I am thinking that we'd have lunch some where and then they'd get on the pedicabs and travel around downtown with stops at about 3 locations where they'd pick up pre-purchased & wrapped gifts/snacks/something and then end at a movie/something. The idea is to make it kind of scavenger hunt like, in that they'll have clues/riddles to figure out where to go next. But, I'm at a loss for where to start, what stops to make for cool, not terribly expensive gifts (maybe $30-50 each for my kid, and trinket for the other girls), and where to end. Just to give you an idea of personality, she and her friends are girly-ish, they like to match their nail color to their bag, play sports, like manga, and they're all smart girls with an appreciation for history, etc. Any ideas?

Wow. This sounds fantastic. You easily deserve parent of the year award. Now on to some ideas...

Lavanya suggest starting at District Taco for lunch. And then one of the stops being Co Co Sala for dessert. Of course Urban Outfitters in China Town is also nearby and has plenty of great gift ideas.

Since money might be tight, I think a good way to go would be to have them take pictures with their camera phones around different landmarks. They could send you the pictures in order to get their next clue (and you could turn those pictures into a photo album for your daughter.) The Chinatown gate at seventh and H streets comes to mind as does the National Building Museum's Great Hall (great for gifts, too) and Ford's Theater as perfect landmarks.

You could do the above on foot (to save some money) and then make the last part a pedicab ride to Eastern Market so they can do a little shopping. Landmarks on the way include the Mall (maybe let them take a ride on the carousel?) the Botanic Garden, the Library of Congress and my personal favorite, Folger Shakespeare Library.)

Again, this is a fantastic idea. Please let us know how it goes!

Hi GoGs - Happy spring! Hubby and I will be in Penn Quarter overnight on an upcoming Saturday. I am blanking on where to eat! We probably want more casual/bar/saloon type places for snacks/burgers/bar food/etc. than a formal restaurant. What's hopping right now for us to consider? Not heavy drinkers, but a couple of beers or wines and some chow would be great. There's always, say, Cap City, but I am looking for other ideas. Thanks!

It's not quite the saloon atmosphere, but if you want a different kind of bar snack, I'd check out the new izakaya at Daikaya. Some of the food is on the adventurous side but there are also simple, tasty rice balls and skewers to go with Japanese and American craft beers. For pizza, Matchbox might be closer to the atmosphere you're looking for, and Graffiato's bar would be worth checking out, as well.

My brother and his family will be in town this weekend, and they'd really like to take my nephew the Air and Space museum downtown. They've already done Udvar-Hazy. I generally try to avoid the Cherry Blossom crowds, but I think we'll have to brave them. Will it help if we head downtown around 9 am (even though museum opens at 10)? How bad will metro and traffic be at that time?

If you're going Saturday, you're going tobe up against crowds going to the Cherry Blossom Festival parade (the parade kicks off at 10 a.m.) I always think getting into the city early is best, since many of the people who LIVE here aren't on the road yet, cutting down on traffic. Is it possible to come in on Sunday morning? You would miss the parade, and also miss meter fees, which aren't enforced on Sunday.   On Saturday, I would take Metro to Smithsonian, which shouldn't be too bad - and yes, I think coming early is still a great idea. The weather will be a lot more comfortable, so you can kill some time exploring without succumbing to heat stroke.

It certainly can't be that every London dry style gin (which is most of them) sold in this country is somehow different than their counterparts sold in Europe? Any truth at all to this assertion? Plus, I hear from Jason Wilson it's all about the navy strength now -- had a great Martinez with Plymouth navy strength at the Gibson recently.

London Dry Gin is a specific style, like Plymouth is a specific style. (There's a movement afoot in London to get London Dry as an appellation, similar to champagne or Stilton cheese.) We don't get as many of the good London Drys over here as you'd think. I''m obsessed with Portobello, Sipsmith and City of London right now. 

Also, most of the craft gins made in America these days -- which are showing up in increasing numbers in D.C. bars -- are not London Drys, though I'd rather drink them than, say, Tanqueray.

Don't forget back-room bocce at Black Jack.

Yep. Or outdoor bocce at Vinoteca. Or ...

Hi Gurus, Submitting early because I have to run to a meeting. My colleagues and I are trying to plan a lunch to celebrate the completion of a large project. We are a group of eight and love trying new restaurants. In the past we have gone to Rasika, Founding Farmers, and Zaytinya. Any suggestions of places with good food (wide range of options) and good atmosphere during lunch time during the week? Thanks!

I want to say Daikaya for ramen (the weather will cool down a bit, making ramen the perfect thing to hit the spot); It's open for lunch, brand new and feels off the beaten path. You could also easily do Graffiato next door, which has a very cool vibe, plus a $20 three-course lunch if you sit in the bar level (I'm partial, however, to the upstairs level, with its cool decor) and lots of natural light.

I think that translates to "drinking beers at Davis' Pub." Somewhat related: when can I get my claws on that Old Bay vodka?!

I was not at Davis' Pub. (This time.)

Old Bay vodka was allegedly hitting stores and bars this week, but I haven't seen it anywhere yet.

My late 60's parents are visiting this weekend. Trying to come up with activities. Looking for an easy hike/ picnic (not Tidal Basin or Great Falls). Also looking for museum exhibits for when my mom's hayfever gets the best of her. Dad is not to into art except photography. He is more into history or nature. I am in DC, but have car, will travel. Thanks!

The weather is supposed to be lovely this weekend so it will be a great time to get out. I agree no Tidal Basin or Great Falls this time of year. Instead, how about a visit to one of Washington's lovely gardens for a long walk and a picnic? I am thinking if you guys choose some place like Hillwood there would also be plenty of history and art to see indoors.

I donated a bunch of dresses last year to Formals for Five, which collects donated dresses and sells them to girls from the Arlington high schools for $5. They also take jewelry and purses. Was easy to drop them off at one of their multiple drop-off locations. You can contact them at to get more information and drop-off locations for this year.

Another suggestion for everyone's spring cleaning. Thanks!

Hi GoGs, I'm taking my mom out to brunch this Saturday. Where do you recommend going for a quieter atmosphere (went to Founding Farmers last time and it was a bit hectic) and less crowded (I love Belga but it's overhwelming with the amount of people and tight space). Would love to hear your thoughts! Somewhere in Georgetown or Dupont would be nice (already been to Tabard Inn, looking for something new!) Thanks!

I have heard nothing but stellar things about brunch at Mintwood Place. It's quite meaty, so not ideal for vegetarians, but I think it should hit the spot.

Hi Gurus! Do you see any easy way to work in the cherry blossoms and the ballgame (at 1:05) tomorrow? I mapped it out, and it looks like a long walk from Smithsonian to the tidal basin to the ballpark. No bikeshare because we will be with people from out of town. I guess maybe a cab? Too crowded anyway? I dunno.

Get them a one-day membership for bikeshare? It's less than two miles from the Tidal Basin to the ballpark. Start early in the morning, pitstop for brunch at Cantina Marina, you're good. 

Lavanya suggests a pedicab, fwiw.

For the person going to Air & Space this weekend, also beware that there are some street closures Sunday morning due to the Race to Stop the Silence 8K.

Good point. The race will start at 9 a.m. at Freedom Plaza.

Hi Gurus, My boyfriend is turning 30 next week and I'm looking for recommendations for a fun birthday dinner for just the 2 of us. We'll be doing a bunch of other activities over the week/weekend, so I'd like to keep the cost down (~60 for 2, w/out tax, tip and drinks). He has requested Italian or seafood and I'd love it if we could either stay in NE, Chinatown or U Street area. A place that takes reservations (this will be for next Thursday) or won't be crazy crowded is best. Thanks in advance!

You can do Graffiato for around $60 for two without drinks. (It might be close, but it can be done.) I've also heard that Al Crostino on U has improved recently, but haven't been in to try it myself. 

Hi folks! A good old friend is coming to town unexpectedly, and we are trying to nail down plans for Saturday night in DC. She doesn't get down here much, so I wanted to do something that would showcase how much the city has grown, especially east of 16th St. (We're hitting 11th St corridor on Friday.) I was thinking dinner and drinks around 14th/U Street for Saturday? Need a veg friendly (not Ethiopian or Indian) restaurant. Maybe vino at Cork, dinner at Eatonville, and beer at American Ice? (I haven't been to Eatonville, but hear it's good for veg.) I'm so proud of how the city has grown over the last 10 years I've been here and would really like to show it off. Alternatively, do you think that the wait time w/o a reservation at Zaytina or Graffiato would be awful?

Oh, this is great. I would skip vino at Cork (always crowded, not the same chef anymore), however, and stop into Estadio for a gintonic or, frankly, any of their amazing cocktails. I'd get there around 6 to plant yourself at the bar; Estadio actually has fantastic vegetarian food, so if you like the vibe, you could simply stay and eat. (Here's a guide to some of dishes to order; I swear by ALL of them.)  But Eatonville is always a  fantastic option for after a cocktail; the pan-seared tofu is so good. From there, it's a brisk walk to American Ice; if it's crowded, however  (it often is, a little too much for my taste),  there's another cool option a block away at Satellite Room. I would skip the Zaytinya/Graffiato thought -- reservations are necessary, but they also leave you in a neighborhood without a lot to do afterward, whereas the other itinerary shows off a fuller picture of what's new and different.

Hi guys! Hope it's not too late for my question. My husband's birthday is in 2 weeks and I'd like to take him to dinner. He loves bacon, a good steak etc.. Although we have a 5 month old baby and he will be with us. Is there someplace we can go with the baby and it not be a problem? Can be Arlington, Alexandria or DC (Foggy Bottom, Gallery Place, Barracks row) Thanks for your help!

Serious question: Can you get a sitter? Consensus in the office is that a five-month-old at dinner -- especially a fancy celebratory event, when you want to go to a nice restaurant.

Assuming you can, we like Virtue Feed and Grain in Alexandria, the Green Pig Bistro or Liberty Tavern in Arlington. In D.C., he might like the Pig, which is a very meat-centric restaurant that creatively uses all cuts of meat -- definitely something beyond the usual steakhouse. (For steakhouses, we remain fans of BLT Steak and J&G.)

Which would you choose? 1. The XX, Franz Ferdinand, or Janelle Monae? 2. Lumineers or Alex Clare?

Janelle Monae puts on a fantastic spectacle of a show;  the XX sounds amazing live. You can feel pretty good about choosing either (though as a girl who loves her noise pop, it's an excellent change of pace to see an act really dance, so Monae has a little bit of a lead for me).  As for the choice between the Lumineers or Alex Clare, Fritz wants a third option: Hemlock.

Thanks for the suggestions. Do you know if Hillwood (or any of the other gardens) allows you to bring a picnic lunch?

They do! Plus they have a cafe where you can get food.

Thanks for response -- I took the original to indicate something like the Beefeater sold here was different than the Beefeater one would get in, say, London. No idea, but hadn't heard anything like this.

It's not. I've toured the Beefeater distillery with Desmond Payne. They do make Beefeater varieties that are nearly impossible to find in the U.S., such as the Beefeater Summer, which I don't think made it out of New York, and the Crown Jewel, a 100-proof "premium gin."

I know most people don't consider going to Cleveland Park for brunch but Pulpo has an amazing brunch special -- $25 for all you care to drink (Bloody Mary's, Mimosas, Champagne, rail drinks) and all care to eat from their brunch menu, which is quite extensive and very good for both meat eaters and vegetarians alike. It is a cool space and doesn't get too loud, espcially if you request a table upstairs. After several brunches there (including a successful birthday brunch) it is definitely on the top of my list.

Okay, we have to wrap things up now, but hope you enjoy the weather and the cherry blossoms this weekend. See you back here next week.

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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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