Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Guide

May 30, 2013

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

Hi everyone. Does this weather have you craving a refreshing summer cocktail? Did you see that six D.C. bars made Esquire's Best Bars of 2013 list? 

And, importantly, did you see the Screen on the Green announcement?

Lots of questions today, so we're going to dive right in.

Is there anything planned before the U.S. - Germany friendly to celebrate the centennial? I'm trying to plan when to arrive at RFK. Appreciate any information you have. Thanks!

I haven't heard of anything, other than the American Outlaws/Screaming Eagles tailgate, which runs from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

If I want to eat at 7pm tomorrow at Little Serow, what time should I get in line to put my name in? I can be there anytime to get in line, but the friend I'm meeting can't be there for dinner until 7. Thanks!

One friend of mine had a similar situation. He got in line as usual. When he got to the front, he told the staffer taking his number that his date couldn't make it until 7:30. If his number came up earlier, would she mind letting other people go ahead of him?

I'm guessing it worked, as he got in around 7:45 or something like that. It couldn't hurt to try.

Hi GOGs! I'm looking for a place to go with my husband and my parents (who will be visiting from out of town) for my birthday dinner. Looking for something nice but not extremely expensive; looking for fun, and good drinks would be great. Bonus points if it's either on the yellow line or has relatively easy parking on a weeknight. Thanks!!

Happy birthday! You could all head Nopa or Daikaya (the upstairs izakaya), both near Chinatown, and both with good drinks and a fun, upscale-but-not-extravagant vibe. For Daikaya's izakaya, the small plates are really small, so you would order more of them than at a typical small-plates restaurant, but they are also priced accordingly. It also means your group can try a lot of different things.

A few other choices: Etto on 14th Street (walkable from U street, or you could park nearby) has been getting a lot of buzz, and I've really enjoyed both of the meals I've had there. It focuses more on wine than cocktails, but there are no bad choices on the very condensed cocktail menu. You could also check out Le Diplomate, if you can get a reservation, or the Red Hen in Bloomingdale.

HI! I'm looking to visit 1-2 vineyards a few Saturdays from now coming from Arlington. I was hoping you might recommend your favorites in terms of great wine and atmosphere. I've been to Bluemont (loved the wine and the view!), Notavia (amazing story, good wine), North Gate (great wine, cool place), and Doukenie (nice people but didn't love the wine) if that helps! As a bonus- anywhere cool to stop for lunch nearby? Doesn't have to be fancy but just somewhere I couldnt get inside the city! (I don't often have a car to venture out past the suburbs). Thanks!

It sounds like you've made your way through the Purceville/Harpers Ferry area, so I want to point you in a different direction.  You might start in Middleburg, where Boxwood Winery opened its estate for the first time last year -- it's good wine, but a little cerebral of a place, so it's not conducive to picnicking and such. From there, you can go two ways: To Vintage Ridge, where wine tastings are seated, and can be paired with a platter of snacks and cheeses (it's fun, plus the tasting room is also where some of the wines are aged). Or you can go to Barrel Oak Winery, which can be a little overwhelming, with dogs, babies, humans, and wine all at once. But the next driveway over is Barrel Oak's John Marshall Tasting Experience (this link says it's over, but it has re-opened for the season) where you make reservations, get your own tasting attendant, and sample some fantastic wines, paired with small bites; on my visit during the first year last year, I tasted my first madiera. I do think you should pack a picnic, because finding dining out there is hard, and the bites really serve as a kind of app. If you're curious, here's my list of faves from last summer

I live near Ballston and never realized there was a wine bar and bistro nearby. I don't see a review in the Going Out Guide - do you have any info on Grand Cru Wine Bar and Bistro?

I've written about Grand Cru in the past, and just updated it last year. (Here's the review.) It's different from most Ballston patios, in that it's not on a sidewalk, or right next to the street. The selection of wine is decent, and I like that if you find something you like, you can grab a bottle to take home, since it is both a wine bar and a wine shop.

You always have the answer. Thank you!

No problem. Let us know how it turns out.

Want to take my parents for a late night tour of the monuments of D.C. Does anyone have a tour for this? Would be easier than driving...

I haven't been on any of these tours, so I can't personally vouch for them, but here are a few tour companies that do nighttime tours:

On Board DC

Old Town Trolley

DC After Dark

Hope this helps!

I am leaving the midatlantic area at the end of the summer and am trying to determine my bucketlist. What would be on yours? I am pretty active and adventurous, so I am not necessarily looking for a list of restaurant and bars to go to.

What a great question. Here are some nominations from the Going Out Guide staff:

* A picnic at the Bishop's Garden at the National Cathedral -- such a Washington thing to do.

* Spa World!

* There are so many! But the first thing that popped into my head if you’re looking for something DC-centric: Go to the crazy-busy Dupont Farmer’s Market. Get a nice cup of coffee and croissant, and go sit in the circle to watch the world go by. Bonus points if the majorette/juggler stops by, or the break dancers. There’s always something interesting and it’s so fun to get a taste of the city, literally and figuratively. 

* Honestly, I would go museum hopping on the Mall. I know that might sound like a simple answer, but there are so many experiences you can have wherever you move to. The Smithsonians are such treasures and there really isn’t anything like them anywhere else. Besides, I usually avoid them to avoid the tourists.

* Billy goat trail, impressionists at NGA and outdoor drinking at standard. Kind of a perfect day!

* A Bucket List Day Plan: Gospel Brunch at the Howard Theatre, a trip to the Arboretum to see the Zen Garden and the Capitol columns, and then hop on the B-W Parkway to go see the American Visionary Art Museum.

* Sailing on the Chesapeake -- maybe the cruise from Annapolis to St. Michael's? -- followed by crabs at Jimmy Cantler's. Once you leave the Mid-Atlantic, the crabs are never the same. 

* The Constitution Museum in Philadelphia, and locally, crossing the Potomac on White’s Ferry (could be part of a bike ride) on the way to a day of fruit picking or antiquing in Loudoun County.

Do you have some fun recommendations for staying cool this weekend?

First answer: the movies. It's summer movie season, and there's "Star Trek," "Fast and the Furious 6" (which looks kinda good!), and "Great Gatsby" to keep you occupied. Here's our summer movie guide.  If you're super-geeky, like me, you might hop onto a museum tour (a great way to learn about art you wouldn't have otherwise spotted), or see the big "Ballet Russes" exhibit after popping into the public symposium about the exhibit on Saturday. You could also play mini golf indoors at the National Building Museum or eat your way through some of the area's coolest ice cream.

You can also take cover in a nice, air-conditioned bar and drink one of Fritz's favorite summer cocktails so far.

Yes, I saw this list. Interesting. Only interesting. I sometimes wonder about how they pick their picks. Although I would have swapped this or that bar for The Raven, I say kudos to them. Finally all the swank and smoothly elevated gets passed by for something down & divey. I say it's about time. I was actually glad to see it, though I have to wonder if it was a bit of a token tossed out there for the "average Joe." If so, I'll take it, thanks. On a seasonal note, yes!, I am dreaming of wonderful cocktails on a patio or rooftop. Can't decide for which one today. Any recs for along 14th street? Might be willing to travel a little, but not too much since it is so sloppy hot. Thanks so much. Enjoy the summer simmer.

Well, David Wondrich making the picks gives them more weight. He's one of the foremost cocktail/bar writers in America. He honestly enjoys bars like the Raven. It certainly makes a nice balance to the Columbia Room or Off the Record.

Honestly, the one I don't feel belongs on that list right now is the Round Robin. It's a fantastic piece of history, but it can be hit or miss if Jim Hewes, the longtime bartender, isn't making the cocktails. Sometimes you get a great julip, sometimes it's a tepid Negroni. I understand why it's there -- Wondrich is a historian -- but I think there are more inventive places out there, and certainly better bars. Start with ChurchKey or PX.

Argh, cut off my answer.

As for wonderful cocktails on a rooftop, I'd steer you toward the just-reopened DVN bar above the Donovan House on Thomas Circle. Their tea-based cocktails, one of which I featured in my summer cocktails gallery, are great, even if you can't go swimming in the rooftop pool.

Uh, I'm pretty sure I know who put the sailing/crab pick. It's funny that you suggest museums to get away from the tourists; I stay away from the museums to get away from the tourists. Anyway, I would probably second the pick because it's hard to find the quality of museums elsewhere and for their low entrance fee!

Ha. See, if I left the D.C./Maryland, that's what *I* would miss.

But, you know, I'd also miss the Shenandoah Valley -- wineries, breweries, hiking up the sides of mountains to see abandoned Civil War, going peach picking at Chile's ... so I'll throw that out there, too, for something completely different.

My parents love the Arboreteum, but sequester has affected hours. Any suggestions on another spot .. other than Brookside, please? Thanks.

Have you been to the Kennilworth Aquatic Gardens? The wetlands are such an interesting little slice of the area, and the warm weather makes this a good time to go see the lilies. 

Our own Amy O has compiled this gallery of other gardens in the area. I'll bet you'll find something you like.

Honestly, I've found the many of the most knowledgeable drink folks tend to frequent/like/prefer regular or divey places such as The Raven. Glitz is fun, it can be nice, it once was novel but for die-hard drinkers who know their stuff, pass them a regular place that is comfortable.

I agree with this. I love the Columbia Room's cocktails, but I couldn't go there every night, even if I could afford it. I'd rather hang out at the bar at Room 11, the Tune Inn or the Red Derby. 

(Tune Inn, btw, made the Esquire list a few years ago.)

Things I would do before leaving forever (and things I will do before I leave forever!): National Aquarium in Baltimore, because I love the jellyfish. Hiking around Great Falls. Hiking and driving along Skyline Drive. Visiting all my favorite restaurants and haunts. Just take a walk around the Mall around sunset.

A bunch of great ideas here. Chatters, keep these coming. We'll feature the best on our blog.

I forgot to mention - I'm a vegetarian! Does that change your recommendations at all? Thanks again!

Oh! I think you would still be fine with some of those places - Nopa has a lot of vegetarian dishes, and we actually wrote about how Etto, despite focusing on salami, has some really interesting vegetarian choices. You can nix Red Hen and Le Diplomate. Daikaya would be tougher for you because there is so much fish on the menu there, but Graffiato next door would be much more accessible.

Six young ladies, majority under 21, heading to DC tonight to celebrate. Is Ultra Bar the best place to go? Gurus, what would you recommend?

If you want the big club experience -- most importantly, a big club experience that will allow the under-21s to enjoy the scene -- then Ultrabar is the top spot. 

Maybe I'm getting older, or it's just that time of year, but it seems like the 14th St. bar scene is suddenly only college students and young 20 somethings. Where have all of the 30 somethings gone? Please don't tell me I have to trek over to H St.

It could be that time of year; I'm already seeing interns are already pouring into town. Really, I think the crowd is bar-specific. Walk into the Standard or Black Jack, and it reminds me of the after-work happy hour when I worked at a dotcom in the early aughts - all inappropriate officewear and inappropriate flirting.  If you're looking for an older crowd, you're far more likely to find it not on H Street (definitely. not. on. H. Street), but in 14th Street restaurants, where the bars are slammed with people who are a bit more mature, and maybe like to eat a little with their cocktails. I liked the drinks at Ghibellina; Estadio is always a favorite; now there's Etto, and of course, Le Diplomate (though I'd stick with wine; the cocktails were a little bland for my taste). If it's a pure bar you seek: Try Hogo, or Black Whiskey. 

I need a happy hour suggestion that's convenient for someone who works near Metro Center and someone who works near Farragut, and that's also low-key/quiet enough for us to be able to easily carry on an actual conversation. Any ideas?

I'd get a stein of German beer at Cafe Mozart (14th and H), a sinkhole cocktail at the recently redesigned Ceiba (14th and F), or a classic cocktail in the swank Le Bar at the Sofitel (15th and I). 

For the person looking for food out by the wineries, there's actually a great little pub in Upperville (just a 20 min. drive from Barrel Oak Winery) called Hunter's Head. If you go, be sure to dig into some of their terrific crusty bread - it's worth the trip!

Thanks for the suggestion. I also always forget Ashby Inn, which rated quite high with Tom Sietsema not too long ago.

Hi gurus! Was planning to head to Taste of Georgetown this Saturday with some friends who are visiting, but we're looking for a less sweaty indoor alternative that is just as fun. Any ideas? Was considering mini golf at the Building Museum, but do you think it'll be a zoo? Any kind of activity or food/drink situation that can keep a bunch of almost-30-somethings entertained for a few hours would be lovely!

Mini-Golf will be a zoo. It's kid-friendly, and the NBM is a magnet for rugrats on the weekends. What about the Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk? You're not outside the whole time -- only when you're walking between the Phillips Collection or the Textile Museum or the Wilson House -- and it's free. You can easily keep yourself amused for hours, and it's easy enough to wander into, say, Bistrot du Coin for a glass of rose or champagne for a pick-me-up. (The French rose with grapefruit in it at BdC seems made for 90-degree days.)

I want to be charmed by this event, but the thought of it on a surplus of 90 degree day sounds awful. Thinking about a fat suit riding a two-wheeler all day long makes me tired already. I want to curl up underneath a shady tree!

Wellllll, you don't have to wear a fat suit for the Tour de Fat. (It's so named because it's sponsored by the brewery that makes Fat Tire beer.) There's plenty to do at Yards Park that doesn't involve riding a bike -- concerts, magicians, stand-up comedy, beer gardens, food trucks ...

Okay, we have to run to put the finishing touches on our guides to Summer Concert and Capital Pride. Thanks for joining us today, and we'll see you next week, when we'll be joined by the critics who wrote this Sunday's Summer Arts Guide.

Oh, and your Post Points Code is ... GG5174

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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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