Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Gurus

May 09, 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.

This week, Washington Post movie critic Stephanie Merry, the author of our recent Summer Movie Guide, will join us to take your questions about the biggest summer blockbusters and the coolest indie hits. (Have you heard the buzz over "Kings of Summer"? Ask Stephanie about it.)

Hi all. This week, we're enjoying the sunshine, planning ahead to Mother's Day and looking forward to summer. And summer, of course, means blockbuster movies. Stephanie Merry, who wrote last week's Summer Movie Guide cover story, is here to take your questions from "World War Z" to "Gatsby" to "Kings of Summer."

We'll answer anything else you want to know, too.

Hi Gurus, a bunch of friends are hoping to get together for a picnic, but are having trouble thinking of a good spot. There will likely be 10-20 of us, mid 20's, and it ideally would be a place where we could eat, drink (we can do that discretely) and play some lawn games or perhaps some ultimate frisbee. Most of us live in DC, so bonus points if its close by, but carpooling is also an option. Thanks!!

My go-to for a picnic party is Montrose Park in Georgetown. Lots of space for fun and games.

This is likely a long shot, but I just returned from Paris where I had a lovely gin and tonic where the gin was infused with a French prune/grape called prunelle. Do you have any idea where I could find something similar in DC?

Prunelle is a sloe gin, and a very delicious one. You can try an English sloe gin, such as Plymouth (I know I've see it at the Gin Joint at New Heights and Hank's on the Hill), though it won't be exactly the same. 

I recently had a lovely gin cocktail from the new Graffiato menu -- Earl Grey-infused gin, fresh blackberries and fino sherry. Not exactly the same as Prunelle, but a great summer flavor.

Ack. Need to organize last-minute drinks with some friends tonight. Problem is, I never go to Bethesda. ISO low-key, semi-quiet place where half-dozen people can get together amd is walkable from the Bethesda Metro. Thanks!

I was just in Bethesda last night, and I think Vino Volo looked like a a cool place for some adult conversation. There's also Brickside, which is new and more cocktail-oriented; I suspect the vibe is slightly more fun, but that may mean loud.

We're planning a date night out at Bryan Voltaggio's restaurant, Range. Is there anything fun in the Chevy Chase area to do before or after dinner? A good dessert place or some fun entertainment? Thanks!

There's not much at all in Chevy Chase, to be honest. You've got the AMC Mazza Gallerie, a cushy movie theatre that serves booze; wine and dessert at the Tasting Room; and the occasional live band in the basement bar at Clyde's. 

My brother is coming in town at the end of June after school is out. He's 15 and I'm at a loss on what to do. I only see him around the holiday's so I don't know his likes/dislikes - I know he hates history type museums. I figured 1 day for the zoo, 1 day at Kings Dominion but what else to occupy him? I thought maybe snorkeling but there's no places in Ocean City or VA Beach for a snorkeling tour. Help!

If he might like snorkeling, I am going to assume he is a bit outdoorsy and adventurous. How about a hike in the Shenandoah National Park? That could eat up a day. You could also go to Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School for a bit of a challenge. And my go-to for teens is a sporting event. There are plenty of minor league baseball teams in the area. How about a Baysox game? Or you can head to Baltimore for a day, visit the new Blacktip Reef shark exhibit at the aquarium, Babe Ruth's birthplace or the Sports Legends museum. And if all else fails, just ask him! He might surprise you.

Hey Gurus, looking for some advice here! I was super pumped for Sweetlife, but now the weather forecast is looking so very very rainy! Think I can rock the poncho and make the best of it or should I try to sell my ticket ASAP?

Eh, people rocked ponchos in 2011, and it seemed they had a pretty great time, regardless. Also, let's not forget that Kate Moss and her fellow Brits go to festivals in the rain all the time; Moss made it famous to wear wellies, some ridiculously short shorts  and  a super disaffected look to all music festivals, rain or not.  

That said, I also really like the bill this year. You're not going to get to see Solange while all of her D.C. shows sell out; I think Kendrick Lamar and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are going to be a lot of fun (I've seen the latter live twice, and they're a blast); and while I haven't loved Passion Pit live, I'm still astounded at how complex and lurching their pop music can be. I'd love to give them another shot.

At the risk of being a buzz kill, the service at Range can be pretty bad. I'd go elsewhere until they get it straightened out (at yesterday's chat, Tom said he was sorry he gave them a good review because of all the complaints).

For what it's worth, a different commenter in Tom's chat said that he noticed that the service at the bar was better, so anyone going to Range could keep that in mind and sit there for their meal.

We have company coming (30's without kids) and could use some help with something to do with them on Saturday (especially if it’s rainy). Are there any special exhibits or can't miss things going on this weekend? Any ideas would be welcomed!! They’ve been here before (long, long time ago) so some of the touristy things would probably be okay too. Thank You

Saturday is EU Open House day, so you and your friends can peek inside a bunch of different embassies, many of which will have food samples and performances. Plus it's free. Be warned: The event is pretty well-attended, and lines can get long. Other options: Smithsonian Garden Fest, if the weather is nice, or the soon-to-close exhibition of work by Pollock, Ossorio and Dubuffet at the Phillips, if things take a turn for the rainy.

Hi me and a friend are going to Preakness on Sunday May 18th. We know we are going to be drinking so driving is not really an option. What is the best way to get there? We've thought about the Marc train but I've never taken it and I have no idea if its close to the racetrack or how late it runs on Sat night. Anyway help well be appreciated. There are no hotels that allow for a 1 night stay in Baltimore that weekend. Thanks for your help!

The best way, honestly, is a charter bus, but the ones I'd heard of, such as the Boomerang, are sold out. MARC doesn't run on weekends, so you'd have to take Amtrak to Baltimore. From Penn Station, you can get a taxi (not inexpensive), take light rail to Rogers Station and walk for a mile or so, or a take a half-hour-or-more bus ride. 

Getting back -- Amtrak runs until after 1 a.m. I've taken that last train many times.

Have you heard about any Bloomsday (June 16) activities planned in DC this year?

The Harvard Club of Washington will once again be hosting a Bloomsday party at James Hoban's in Dupont Circle. It starts at 2 p.m. and is free.  

I was in SF this past weekend for Cinco De Mayo and had a life changing cocktail. It was at a little place called Tacolicious called a Mucho Gusto, with the following ingredients: pueblo viejo blanco, pineapple, coconut water, lime, agave. Can you suggest your favorite refreshing DC cocktails and the bars that serve them?

That isn't exactly a cocktail that's a classic -- I've never seen anything quite like that in Washington, but I do have a very good idea for how you can make them at home! Sweetgreen makes a pressed juice that hits almost all of your ingredients -- when i wrote about it, the first thing I thought was, "This is so delicious it needs gin. Now."   It's called Hydrate, and has pineapple, lime, coconut water, pear and cucumber (it's awesome). You could always grab a couple of bottles and some high-end tequila and go to town.

Hey Gurus-- what's the word on GG? Worth the hype? Looks great but I've been fooled before.

The general consensus has been pretty meh. Ann Hornaday gave it two stars, on the basis that it was fairly dumbed down, while former Celebritologist Jen Chaney wrote in Esquire that it wasn't Baz Luhrmann-y enough.

Hey all- Have family coming into town next weekend and looking for a place for breakfast on Saturday. I know a lot of places offer "brunch" but that doesn't start until 11am. Any ideas for a pre 11am breakfast place in DC or even Old Town? I know Founding Farmers is open early but I was just there last week!

Teaism in Old Town opens at 9am and they have a great breakfast (and there are other locations in the District). Ted's Bulletin also opens at 7 a.m. seven days a week, and Open City opens at six. We have a best bets list for weekday breakfasts - chances are, most of these places are open early on weekends, too.

Hi Gurus - hope you can take my question! My mom's here visiting and I'm looking for things to do. Was thinking of taking a trip to Frederick while she's here as I've never been and I've heard there are good furniture/antique stores there (I just bought a house and she loves shopping!). Problem is I don't know where to start on a visit there - any suggestions for places to go or things to see? Also any other suggestions for mom-appropriate activities would be welcome. She's been here many times so has done the usual tourist things - but loves to see and do a lot while she's here! Thank you!

Frederick is a perfect day trip for shoppers with plenty of stores to visit. I know this sounds touristy, but the city does have a visitor center that is about two blocks from the main drag, Market Street. If she likes it, I would also suggest Leesburg as another shopping destination.

Emporium Antiques, which is right downtown, is the biggest antique mall. It's also by the Canal, which is great for wandering and snacking. (Bryan Voltaggio's Lunchbox is there.) I also like Cannon Hill Place, which has a ton of Americana, vintage records, etc., but also some awesome pieces for your new place.

with the rain expected on Saturday? And if you want to get into a popular one, is there a strategy other than being there before they open? Anybody planning something interesting for adults rather than just kids activities?

I think adults will appreciate the Austrian wine and coffee at the Austrian Embassy, and the Spanish wine and food tastings (and photography exhibition) at the former Spanish Ambassador's residence. Sweden, the UK and France/Germany tend to be the most kid centric. 

My strategy is not to go to the popular embassies, to be honest. The lines are always horrible at the UK, France and Finland.

Pick a few that are clustered, such as Spain/Estonia/Poland on 16th Street, or the Czech Republic/Hungary/Austria up at Van Ness, so you don't have to rely on busses. 

Although I'm terrified it won't live up to my 15 year old memory of the book, some friends are going to see Gatsby this weekend. Is this a movie people will dress up for? We were thinking headbands and feathers might be appropriate but at 30, we don't have kids in the "Harry Potter" crowd so I'm not sure at what age dressing up for movies becomes age-inappropriate! Thanks!

If you're cool being the only ones in the theater in boas and flapper dresses, I say go for it. If you'd rather get in the spirit a little less overtly, check out some of Maura's picks for food, drinks and local sights that will get you in the mood for Gatsby.

Hey Gurus! Daddy wants to take his Princess out to lunch/tea for her 5th birthday tomorrow (Friday). Where to go? We need real food that a kid would eat, so not just tea. Bonus if it's in NOVA or near. Thanks!

There's a "Peter Rabbit Tea" intended for children at the Tyson's Ritz that involves finger sandwiches and teddy-bear shaped cookies. Seems perfect for your five-year-old princess!

Hey, I have a third date on Saturday. We've done the whole drinks/dinner/talking, and would love to suggest a cool, not-too-expensive activity for us to do. Thoughts?

You could find out how well you travel together. This weekend is the annual EU Embassy Open House (free!) so you guys can peek into how the other half lives,  snack on international foods such as kielbasa, sip Belgian beer and take tours of D.C.'s stately embassies. If you're still hungry after all that, pop into Dolcezza in Dupont Circle and have a coffee and sorbet. 

My husband is out of town for Mothers' Day, so I'm looking for something fun to do with my 6-year-old son that doesn't involve him taking me out for brunch :-) He's very active, but also enjoys music and kids' theater productions--anything going on that day suitable for someone his age?

If the weather is nice let him take you to one of Washington's many public gardens. He can run off some energy while you enjoy the flowers. As for music and theater, "James and the Giant Peach" at Imagination Stage has two shows on mother's day but they are nearly sold out so act quickly!

Also, even if she has seen the major tourist stuff, she might have missed other things. For example, having just bought a house, you might like house museums. Cedar Hill, Woodrow Wilson House, Hillwood, Heurich House...

I agree, these are often overlooked spots that are worth visiting. Of course the Design House would also be a great place to visit. I visited last Sunday and had a wonderful time poking around such a lovely house.

Any ideas for week night activities for a group of 3 or 4 girls that replace the usual indulgences of happy hours? We're trying to cut down on the calories and stay active, but still want to be social!!

The key is to find happy hours or after work activities that involve THINGS TO DO while savoring a glass of wine or beer, not just sitting around eating and drinking. Think the Phillips After 5 (tour the museum, interact with other guests); playing board games at the Board Room; a game of bocce on the patio at Vinoteca; Science Night hands-on science fair at Argonaut ...

I am looking for a restaurant to take my family and some family friends for graduation. It is next friday and there will be about 12 people. The type of restaurant I am aiming for is between The Hamilton and The Prime Rib at about a price range of $$$ maximum and preferably not a huge chain restaurant and in the DC area. If you have a few suggestions I would really appreciate any help.

This sounds like a job for Maggiano's Little Italy!

A friend from home is visiting and staying in Laurel. We want to meet for brunch on Saturday morning (I am in Petworth) but she has a flight to catch out of BWI and doesn't want to deal with coming into DC. Is there anywhere in Laurel/College Park/Beltsville to eat brunch that's not a Denny's? Please advise if you can!

Franklin's in Hyattsville would be a good pick, and right on Route 1. My wildcard pick: The Dutch Country Farmers Market on Fort Meade Road in Laurel. It's not traditional brunch food, but it's so good, and different from going to, say, the Silver Diner (Laurel) or Plato's (College Park).

Have you heard of Lemper Ayam and Sasadango? And do you know where in the DC area I can find them? I have been to most of the Indonesia/Malaysian/Southeast Asian restaurants and Japanese grocery stores, no luck.

I just checked in with a friend in D.C. who spent several years in Indonesia, and he says he's never seen them in the area either. He passed along the name of an Indonesian restaurant in NOVA, Satay Sarinah, but I'm not seeing it on the menu. Any readers out there know where to find these delicacies?

Any new brunch spot recommendations, or old favorites, in DC? We're looking for a fun, yet relaxed vibe for four 20/30-something year olds. Thank you!

My new favorite brunch spot is Sixth Engine. It kind of feels like it's in no-man's-land, but the duck confit scrapple is worth going slightly off the beaten path. I also had a great brunch experience at Crios recently, though I had just run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, so full disclosure: I was slightly starving.

Muzette or Wok N' Roll? Which would you recommend in terms of price, song selection, ambience?

None of us have been to Wok N' Roll for private-room karaoke, so we can't tell you for sure. But I can say that Muzette, though something like a New York subway station full of drunk people, is run like a well-oiled machine, and I appreciate that. The Sapporos are not too pricey, you can make your pals buy them at the bar, etc. They have a ton of songs, but if you're a hip-hop fan like me, the list is lacking. I mean, come on, is it too much to have a little Hova? 

Gurus, My husband turns 55 in mid-July and I interested in a reasonably priced venue (DC or NoVA)to have a cocktail party for about 50 persons. Willing to pay for open bar and finger food. Budget can go up to $2500, Friday or Saturday ok. Somewhere with a nice view would be a bonus.

The rooftop at Jack Rose would be my pick, especially if you could do it on a weekend afternoon. (There's a private room that would fit your party; the whole roof, which can hold ~100, is more than you'd want to pay for.) Great views of the Adams Morgan skyline, such as it is. 

We've got tickets for tomorrow night's event, but have no idea what one wears to a go-go cocktail benefit. Thoughts?

Cocktail attire is what I was told, though I think you'll see a lot of guys in blazers/ties/jeans. Something that fits the venue and the celebratory mood, but also allows you to dance to Chuck Brown.

(And if you haven't read my background piece on the Black Mixology Club, check that out. Then go buy your tickets.)

Plan some outings for local fitness classes...thinking hot yoga, barre, spin. Then follow it up with sweetgreen or something light. I learned this once I turned 35 and couldn't stay out past 10 anymore without feeling like death in the am.

Good ideas. And I'll throw in the Wednesday afternoon yoga at Heurich House -- a venue I'm writing about in tomorrow's Weekend section! -- run by Capitol Fitness. Gorgeous space.

Hey -- real quick, for the person whose friend has a flight out of BWI, if you're willing to drive a little further, VERY close to BWI, in Glen Burnie, is a place called The Grill at Quarterfield Station. They have lots of great things, but their pancakes are the absolute best I've ever had.

Never heard of it, but it's an idea. Thanks.

Hi gurus! We just got engaged over the weekend and are stupid excited, and would like to share our stupid excitement with our friends. We were toying with the idea of hosting an informal "engagement party" at a bar, ideally in NWDC and metro accessible, but have only a vague idea of how many would be able to come - somewhere between 20-50 people (probably on a Saturday evening in late June or July - I know, an ideal time, ha). Also, we don't want to shell out a ton of money on this - recommendations for places where we could either filter in to a room and meet a drink minimum (I anticipate no problems there) or just ease on into the bar itself after giving them a heads up would be ideal. Thank you!!

Since you're doing this in June or July, you should take advantage of the outdoors: To keep things fairly cheap, how about organizing a happy hour at a place such as Barcode, where after a certain amount of time (2 hrs, or so) all the drinks are on special, and you pick up the tab for food? You'll have an easier time getting that booked if you do it at, say, 5 p.m. before they get busy (usually around 11 for them). Fritz suggests also calling Helix hotel -- they have a lovely shaded patio and indoor and outdoor space.

I understand the scheme for getting seats, but do you NEED seats, or is there a place where you can just show and watch without waiting in line?

No. If you want to watch the parade at the Barracks, you have to have tickets, or wait in line for the unclaimed seats. There's no "public viewing area" outside the Barracks, as it were.

You might also want to check out Jack's Boat House (or whatever they're calling themselves these days), One Brick ( offers opportunities to volunteer with usually a option to go for a drink after, or why not go to a fitness class together (i.e. maybe pole dancing?!?)

I was with you up until the pole dancing...

My sister has just graduated college and is moving to the area in a few weeks! Since reservations can be tough in this town, I want to plan now for taking her to brunch when she arrives. DC or NoVA are fine (MD would be too far for us), somewhere appropriately festive, and perhaps with bottomless drinks (and/or food). I want to show her something really nice as a welcome to my--and soon to be her--adoptive city!

I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but the brunch at El Centro will fit the bill - you can even dine on the rooftop, plus the drinks and food are in fact bottomless. (Mexican french toast was kind of delicious.) Afterward, it's easy to show her around 14th street, which is pretty much as busy as it gets on the weekends.


Yeah, I know, we were mostly joking. I did not make that clear, and for that I am sorry. Joking: Yes, it is a chain and it is easily the first place that jumps to mind when thinking last-minute, affordable graduation dinner with a big group. Really we just considered it to be a last resort when the chatter can't get reservations anywhere else. Don't worry, we'll keep thinking.

Some of my 16 year old's favorites...If he enjoys the outdoors, maybe kayaking on the Potomac? There are places in the area that you can rent kayaks and canoes... Great Falls and the billy goat trail are fun. Rent bikes and cruise around the mall or take the trail from Crystal City up to Roosevelt Park.

Thanks for the suggestions, they are all good ideas.

Help! I'm supposed to take my out-of-town friend on an evening tour of the monuments on Friday night. Where would be a decent place to get dinner nearby (preferably within walking distance) beforehand?

I'd probably get dinner somewhere in Foggy Bottom -- maybe Tonic at Quigley's or District Commons? At that point, you're only about 6-7 blocks from Vietnam, the Lincoln Memorial, etc.

If you're talking about the one at the Iwojima Memorial, from the MC Barracks website: "The Sunset Parade is open to the public at no charge. Reservations are not necessary. Spacious lawns provide ample room for guests to bring lawn chairs and blankets for informal viewing. No other type of seating is available, except for invited guests of the Parade Reviewing Officials." Parking, on the other hand, is another prospect entirely.

I don't think that's what the previous poster was asking about, since they mentioned "the scheme for getting seats," which is required for the Twilight Parade at the Barracks, not the Sunset Parade.

The Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum ( might be a good choice even for a 15-year-old who doesn't like history museums. My nephews all loved it.

Lavanya, I also prefer karaoke with hip-hop. Who has a good song list for this?

Yea! It exists: The first Thursday of every month at Liv is hip-hop karaoke.  The DJs spin the instrumental tracks, and Fritz says people are so good they don't even need to look at the screens.

Gurus - appreciate your help in advance. It's wife's birthday this weekend and she loves 80's music so looking for a place for a group of 10 30-something's to dance Saturday night.... Any suggestions on what might be going on this weekend? Thanks much

I'm having trouble thinking of an all-'80s night happening this Saturday. You could try the Mixtape party at the Black Cat, which always drops some '80s and '90s gems among the newer electro-pop and Robyn tracks...

Maggiano's? The OP said no big chain and between The Hamilton and Prime Rib. Maggiano's is a chain below The Hamilton.

Yes, but graduation reservations have been filled for a while -- with several colleges in the city, it's pretty difficult to get a table anywhere. Maggiano's is one of those places that has worked for picky eaters. Carmine's would be the District option -- it's good enough for celebs. And here are some more massive restaurants that might be able to squeeze in 12.

And with that, we're taking our leave of you for another week. Hope you're looking forward to tomorrow (85 degrees and sunny!) as much as we are.

Oh, and here's something new:

For those of you who participate in PostPoints (quick summary: it’s a free reader rewards program), we're going to start giving you points for participating in the chat. Here is this week's code: GG5814. To get your points, sign in to your PostPoints account (, click Claim My Points and enter the code to earn 15 PostPoints. (Note, this code will expire in 24 hours. )

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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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