Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Guide

Sep 19, 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 all. We've got a festival-heavy weekend ahead of us, with the H Street Festival, the National Book Festival and Virgin FreeFest, among others. 

Tonight, you can win a year's worth of tacos in a taco eating contest at Smoke and Barrel OR dust off your cutlass and get ready for Talk Like a Pirate Day. (I suppose you could combine the two events if you're so inclined.)

Let's get underway.

Hey Gurus! I was thinking about hitting the H Street Festival but am concerned about the crowds. Do you think it will be Lively-and-Festive crowded or So-Packed-You-Can't-Do-Anything crowded?

The organizers say they're expecting 100,000 people this year, up from 50,000 last year. Read that again: One. Hundred. Thousand. People.

Now, I like that they've extended the festival an extra four blocks to add more space and involve more people, and all the bars will be open to provide some refuge, but it's going to be crowded as heck.

That said, I'm going, and I think everyone else should too. Here's my guide to new things to look out for, including a sneak peek at the Impala Cantina bar and the debut of Biergarten Haus' new patio bar, which opens just in time for Oktoberfest.

What kinds of free festivals are going on in the DC metro area this month?

My three favorites: The H Street Festival (this weekend), Barracks Row Festival and the D.C. State Fair (next Saturday) and Columbia Heights Day (Oct. 5). 

I heard it was National Cheeseburger day this week. What day was that and do you know where to get free cheeseburgers if any. Where is the best burger in town?

Ah, you're a day too late: National Cheeseburger Day was yesterday. As for the best burgers in town, check out our roundup, or take a gander at the ultimate burger -- the People's Burger -- that we assembled using votes from reader

Much like everyone going to the H Street Festival, I imagine, we'll eventually want to find a dinner spot. What would be your strategy for finding a resting place for food and drink? Adding to the request - and that might impress/intrigue some out of town guests?

Honestly? I wouldn't look for a dinner spot at the H Street Festival. Get lunch there by all means -- tacos from the courtyard party at Impala, tacos or burritos at Sol Mexican Grill, snacks from Boundary Road, pub fare from the Queen Vic -- but by the time dinner rolls around, the street is going to be extra crowded and full of people who've been drinking all afternoon.

I'd much rather make the short walk/drive/Bikeshare ride up to Union Market and get something there.  If you want to impress visitors on H, I'd head for the Ethiopic,  where the veggie platters and kitfo are some of the best in D.C., or the more formal Atlas Room.

My brother just helped his best friend move from North Carolina to Baltimore. They are coming into DC tonight for a trade-off (friend is giving me brother for the night so I can take him to Dulles tomorrow morning) and want a "classic DC" dinner. All I can think of Old Ebbitt or Clydes. No small plates and there must be gluten free options. What else should I look into.

"Classic" D.C., for most people, tends to be the kind of place where you can get an all-American meal in a historic setting, in which case, Old Ebbitt would fit the bill. For the corridors-of-power atmosphere in a less historic setting, you could also try Art & Soul, right near the Capital and helmed by celebrity chef Art Smith, where you might spot politicians dining out. There's also the Occidental, near the White House, which dates back to 1906 (pricey, though).  You could try Martin's Tavern, an old restaurant in Georgetown that has served several presidents (it's where JFK proposed to Jackie). But for some people, Classic D.C. also includes longstanding greasy-spoon places like Ben's Chili Bowl and the Florida Ave. Grill, both on/near U Street.

Avast, me hearties! Aye hope to plot me course this eve towards a pub or inn where an old salt like meself can revel in a tankard of ale and mayhaps some gambols without sending me treasure chest to Davey Jones' locker. For what heading would a crew of scallywags such as yerselves point yer mastheads?

Piratz Tavern has your name all over it. Matey.

I am a "Secret Santa" for a woman on a vocational/advocacy forum (think Feline). She lives in England and is 27. Besides White House ornaments, any suggestions for what I could gift her that screams WASHINGTON DC. The glittery, the better; props if in purple and gold. Thanks.

Hmm, this is tough! So many of the D.C. souvenirs are crappy, or they're slogans lifted from other cities (Those I Heart DC shirts, sigh). I bet there are some glittery mini-statues of the monuments somewhere - chatters, have you seen any? Or a snow-globe that snows glitter? This isn't glittery, but you could send her a bottle of Capital City Mumbo Sauce, something she's sure not to have tried in England. Tell her to dip her chips in it.

Worthwhile wine festival to attend? Came across it on Facebook.

Ah, but James Monroe's plantation is hosting more than just a wine festival. For Constitution Day, you get local cider and beer (Bold Rock, Devils Backbone, Starr Hill, etc), live music, $10 hot air balloom rides, fireworks, AND historic tours as well as wine from Barboursville, Horton and other vineyards. For $12 per person, that sounds pretty great -- especially out in Orange, which is a lovely part of Virginia. 

That's a bunch of expected people. What do you think will be the best way to get there/close by on Saturday? I generally take the X2 or Car2Go.

X2 route looks screwy, especially with H closed between 4th and 14th. I would C2G or Bikeshare if you can, or walk from Union Station -- just go out through the Parking Garage and the festival is two blocks away.

Not a restaurant, but Off the Record bar at the Hay Adams is a pretty cool "classic" DC kind of place. Upscale, and might be a fun pre-dinner option.

This. One of my favorite old-school hotel bars in D.C., along with the Round Robin at the Willard.

Hi GOGs! My 24th birthday is coming up and I'm trying to decide where my boyfriend and I can splurge on a great dinner (splurge on a 24 year old's budget, mind you). Rasika and Little Serow are both at the top of my dining bucket list. We are also Taco Bamba addicts and have been wanting to try Del Campo. What do you think? We are both adventurous eaters and I want something special, but we also won't be able to spend a lot on wine, etc. and don't want to stick out as cheap youngsters. Open on Sundays would be a bonus (I know Rasika/Little Serow are not) but otherwise we would be going on a Saturday. Thanks in advance!

Happy birthday! If you want to go to Del Campo without spending too much, check out the bar menu. You can get small plates for less, and everything is pretty filling. We're a big fan of the cocktails too. Daikaya's small plates are another good birthday pick for adventurous eaters, and the upstairs izakaya has a really fun vibe. A few other festive places where you can order small plates to keep it cheap: Red Hen, Le Diplomate (split an entree & get two appetizers), Zentan, which just got a nice review from Tom Sietsema, or Azur in Penn Quarter.

National Parks I know about. But isn't the Mall a National Park? Wouldn't it cost more to post enough rangers to keep people out than it would to leave it open and just cancel all the programs? What about the Smithsonian? Aren't some of their programs (the expensive lectures and day long seminars especially) self- supporting? What about the rest of it? And is the Library of Congress part of an appropriation bill, or are they actually under the budget of Congress? Thanks so much.

The Mall would stay open, but all the Smithsonians, including the National Zoo, would close. (There were plans for this back during the brinkmanship of '11.) The private museums, such as the Phillips, the Corcoran, National Geographic and Hillwood, would open as usual.

I would go to the Native American Indian museum and find something in the gift shop there. You might not be able to get "glittery and purple," but I bet you could find something iconic. (Although I do like the snow globe idea.)

Another suggestion for our Secret Santa. Any museum shop could fit the bill, really -- they all tend to have unique gifts. Oh and one more idea off the top of my head - Pulp on 14th Street! The last time I was in there, they had plenty of D.C.-themed gifts. Maybe some will be sparkly.

I'm taking my five-year-old to the book festival this weekend. I've never been before, but wondered if you had any tips on navigating it? Are the book signings a mess, or should we give it a go? Thanks!

The Book Festival is great for kids. (First step: Check out the kids and teachers section on the Library of Congress website.) There's the Pavilion of States for kids to explore (there's a passport to be stamped and everything), but the real focus is the schedule of public readings, including sessions with Caldicott winners Kevin Henkes and Kadir Nelson. It depends on your kid, but I would definitely prioritize sitting and listening to authors read over waiting in lines to get books signed.

My husband and I are planning our first baby-less getaway since our daughter was born two years ago -- an overnight in mid-October somewhere within an hour and a half of DC. Where would you go? Ideally somewhere with beautiful scenery and some light hiking (it would be great to catch the fall leaves), but also close enough to a town where we could have a nice restaurant meal of the sort we don't get to try very often anymore. We'd also like to keep the hotel price under $150 or so. Suggestions?

Have you been to Harper's Ferry before? It's perfect this time of year.  The hike to the scenic overview above the railroad tracks is an amazing vista, and there are cute inns nearby that should be in your price range. You're also only a 30-minute drive from Volt, Bryan Voltaggio's Frederick, Md. restaurant.

My 15 year old son and a friend are planning to go to Rock the Bells the weekend of 9/28. As a parent, are there any particular concerns I should have, any particular precautions I should take, to ensure he is safe and has a good time?

It's a major festival, which means RFK will be beefing up security. It's an all-ages festival, so there will be plenty of other teenagers there.

That said, it's Rock the Bells, and yeah, the kids may encounter people smoking pot or other behaviors like that. So if you haven't had that talk with them...

The other thing to remember is that it's an all-day festival, and lots of bands will be playing during the day. If you're worried about things getting crazier at night -- and they will -- you have the power to say "You need to be home by X time." Lots of good acts will perform during daylight hours. 

I would have hated hearing these things from my mom back in the Lollapalooza days, but what can you do?

Though Saturday is supposed to be more summer-like, are there any seasonal activities or places to hike (other than Great Falls or Old Rag) that might be a fun day trip in MD or VA? We live in DC but want to do something outside the beltway surrounded by trees or pumpkins. Thanks so much!

Answer from GOG Outdoors Expert Amy Orndorff:

Head south and check out Annmarie Garden’s Artsfest. It is a great event with vendors selling their art in booths tucked amongst the trees. I’d follow it up with a longer walk through Flag Ponds Nature Park in nearby Lusby. The park is a well-kept secret and has a lovely beach to walk along as well as paths through the woods (all together the trails add up to about three miles). The better-known Calvert Cliffs State Park is also an option with a 1.8-mile hike to the beach as well as other trails that wind through the woods.

I'm looking for a store that sells individual bottles of craft beer, preferably including seasonal options, for some friends who want to spend Saturday tasting lots of different yummy beers. Where could I go to find a bounty of single beers? If you have any suggestions for must-taste beers, I'm interested in that too. Thanks!

My go-to spots for single beers would be Chevy Chase Wine and Spirits (probably the biggest collection of singles in D.C.), Total Wine and Whole Foods. 

Thanks for the update on the H St Festival this morning! Do you all have any idea about a schedule for the performances though? I'm not finding anything. Thanks!

There's really not much to go on, even looking at the festival's official Facebook page. I've heard more about when bands are playing from the bands themselves than I have from the festival itself.

Went by on Sunday to watch the Saints game, but it's closed - for good! (At least it looks that way). Really sad - we loved that place. So GOGs, where do all us Saints fans go now?

18th Amendment is gone for good.

I know Penn Quarter Sports Tavern gets a fair number of Saints fans. Also, I wonder about Molly Malone's on Barracks Row. Since that's taken over from 18th Amendment as the de facto LSU bar in D.C., I wonder if it will get the same sort of spillover from Saints fans?

Catoctin and Cunningham Falls Parks outside of Thurmont have good hiking trails (and a good waterfall at Cunningham Falls). Gambrills State Park to the west of Frederick has some decent trails, but if you go close to sunset, the views (particularly at the Middletown Overlook) are great.

Looking for a fun, casual dance place around U street for a bahelorette party (October 12). Not interested in a super dark, swankly lounge where all they play is loud techno style music. Prefer a venue that plays 80's, 90's. 2000's tunes that are fun to dance and sing along to.

Lost Society, Marvin or Dodge City are the go-tos for that on U Street these days. Saint-Ex also has what you're looking for, but can be cramped.

Fortysomething who has spent much of last decade chasing kids thru suburbs. Would like to plan a nice night out with wife and experience either dinner/drinks or activities on 14th street or H Street corridor and see what everyone's talking about. Any thoughts? Thanks

Great! Here's a mini mix-n-match itinerary for you:

14th Street -- appetizer/glass of wine at Etto or Ghibellina, dinner at Le Diplomate, Kapnos, or Doi Moi, then drinks later at 2 Birds 1 Stone or Estadio. You might also see what's playing at the Source Theater.

H Street -- Dinner and drinks at Granville Moore's, Toki Underground, the new RedRocks, or Ethiopic, cocktails at Church & State, and then take in a show at the Atlas, or check out an art opening at Connersmith. Also worth checking out if you want to make a day of it: The nearby Union Market.

Is there any truth to the rumor that Bardo is sitting on a 15 year old keg of their beer?

They might be -- sounds like something Bill Stewart would do -- but I'm not sure I'd drink it, even if it was a 15-year-old Dremo Tibetan Sasquatch. 

Any word on Diego reopening after its inauspicious start of opening, then closing a week later? Was it just a matter of finding new staff or were there bigger problems? Kind of a shame to have essentially wasted that corner on something that failed already - especially now that the folks who go to Martha's Table no longer have anywhere to buy cheap food (from the sub shop that used to be there).

Last we heard, Diego was looking for a new chef and plans to reopen once that and other positions are filled. In the meantime, there's always takeout from Pica Taco on the same block for your Mexican food cravings.

Am headed out to Mt. Vernon in a few weekends when my family is here visiting. (all adults). I have never been and am very excited about visiting, but figure it will only take up a few hours of the day. Is there anything else you'd recommend doing in that area while we are there? Or anything between there and DC? We are pretty open- vineyards, landmarks, breweries, outdoors/indoors, etc- just trying to do some new things!

You're right: Mount Vernon will take 3 or 4 hours, tops, or does for me.

Here's a Thing I Have Never Done: What about getting brunch/breakfast in Old Town Alexandria, getting a cruise up to Mount Vernon on the Potomac, and going back to Old Town afterwards for a trip to the top of the George Washington Masonic Temple for great views, followed by a beer tasting at Port City Brewing Company and then dinner?

Front Page (Dupont) is having a celebration. Maybe not as pirate-y as some would like, but you can get your beer in a bucket and there's always plenty of booty to be had there.


So my spouse and I are taking five kids (11--14 years old) to see Imagine Dragons in concert at Merriweather. We have lawn seats. What time should we target to get there? Do many people bring lawn chairs? And, do folks picnic like they do at Wolftrap? Thanks! Papa Bear

You don't get picnicing at MPP, due to rules about how food has to be in "clear, disposable, non-glass containers." You can bring blankets, though.

Lawn chair rules vary by show; for Imagine Dragons, they're forbidden. Sorry. 

As for timing, doors open at 5:30, first band is on at 7. Traffic to MPP can be godawful on work days -- remember, everyone's commuting home at the same time thousands of people are going to a show -- so I would aim to be there as early as possible. Getting stuck in traffic and missing the band is no fun at all.

What is the best way to get to Rock Creek Park from Alexandria, Virginia? Any road closures?

GW Parkway -> Memorial Bridge -> Rock Creek Parkway. You don't say when you're going, but remember that the Parkway is closed north of the National Zoo on weekends, and that it's southbound only in the mornings. 

Will metro be running okay for this?

A weekend without station closures! Be still my beating heart.

That's going to do it for us. Have a great weekend, whether you're talking like a pirate or not. Today's Post Point voucher code is GG7792.

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The Going Out Guide
The Going Out Guide staff 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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