Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Guide

Nov 07, 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.

Greetings on a rather dreary Thursday. But hey, there's a holiday weekend on the horizon, so that's something, right? Lots of news all around: The Alexandria Film Festival kicks off tonight, RedRocks unveiled new nightly specials (try buy-one, get-one-half-off drinks on Thursdays), and the Dolcezza Gelato Factory and Osteria Moroni are getting close to opening. 

Your time starts now.

Gurus! Please help me figure out restaurant Mari Vanna. They accept reservations on Open Table, but have a key-only policy after 6 p.m. So does one need a key to get in for dinner, even with a reservation, after 6?

Well, "key-only" is a bit of a misnomer. While the Russian restaurant and vodka bar locks its doors nightly at 6 p.m., it's not impossible to get in without a key. I did -- that's how I found out about the policy. You just have to ring the doorbells (try each one until someone answers) in order to get someone to let you in. I imagine it would be easier to get in if you have a reservation... but I haven't ever made one there. Chatters?

Help! I need a restaurant/bar for Saturday night birthday loose get together. Extra points for a) not a parking nightmare (people are driving from every direction and nothing ruins my night more than 30 minutes of space hunting); b) reasonable drink prices or drink specials; c) not screamingly loud and d) not super cramped for space. Impossible?

On a Saturday night? You're looking for Club Unicorn. Very few places offer drink specials on Saturday night, because that's a night when you don't need to cut prices to lure in crowds. 

How many people are you talking about and where is everyone coming from?

My college-aged niece is coming into DC for Thanksgiving, and she's a huge Francophile. I would like to take her to a French restaurant in DC with lots of French ambiance and good French food. She enjoyed Paul's last year, but I want something a little nicer (but not off the charts expensive). If you have a few suggestions in different price-points, that would be great! Thanks!!!

Le Diplomate! It's on the pricier side, but not outrageous, especially for what you get. I would definitely make a reservation, though.

(A quick aside about Le Diplomate and French ambiance: Why don't they ever turn the patio tables so that people can sit side-by-side, facing out towards the street, like they do in Paris? Always seemed like a missed opportunity to me. Anyway, the ambiance is otherwise what you want!)

A few other options for you, in case that doesn't fit the bill: Bistrot du Coin, or Montmartre.

Hi GOGs! I'm surprising my husband with dinner at VOLT later this month to celebrate our anniversary. Our reservations are at 5:30 so I'm looking for a place to have a drink or two following dinner. We both love beer and bourbon. Bonus points for something to do prior to dinner while still dressed to impress. Thanks!

The most creative cocktail list I've come across in Frederick is at the Tasting Room, on Market Street downtown. It's not Employees Only, and some of the drinks are a little sweet and desserty, but it has a nice ambiance and the bartenders will work with you to find the right drink if you don't see it on the menu. 

Beer-wise, I remain a fan of the Brewer's Alley brewpub. The stained glass and faux-marble columns make it special, and add a nice touch of class to the terrific German-style brews. 

As for pre-dinner activities while dressed to impress ... I'm blanking. Any suggestions, chatters? Most of my recent non-eating/drinking experiences in Frederick have involved used book stores and slightly dusty antique shops. 

Hi there - I haven't spent much time in the H street area and would like to try some of the bars I've heard so much about. Will have a group of about 8 people (early 30s) out there on a Friday night; can you suggest a few of your favorites to try? We generally like lower-key bars (we are never dressed up); bonus if it's got some interesting beers on tap. Thanks in advance!

Upstairs at Granville Moore's for cool Belgian beers would be a first suggestion. Also maybe upstairs at the Queen Vic, though the more interesting English and Scottish beers are generally in bottles and not on tap. I've been drawn back to Le Grenier recently, and I think it wouldn't be too hard to get eight in on Friday if you go after the dinner rush. Beers are eh, but the wine is good and the bartenders are friendly.

You should see if there is a cultural event going on at the French Embassy when your niece is here. I'm sure she would enjoy being on French territory while in DC.

I'd also suggest checking with the Alliance Francaise, which puts on cultural events around town, including wine tastings, happy hours and film screenings. Plus it's a great chance to practice her French, since most people there are either fluent or students of the language. 

Hi there Gurus! I'm looking for a recommendation for a moderately-priced restaurant in DC that can accommodate people taking metro as well as drivers from Arlington and Montgomery County, so one with parking options (street, valet, paid lot) would be good. We'll be about 8 ladies in our fabulous 30s celebrating a birthday and any cuisine is fine. Thanks!

Your best bet might be something in the Penn Quarter/Chinatown area, where there are plenty of garages. Daikaya's upstairs izakaya is festive for birthdays, and the delicious small plates are very cheap (though, they are also very small). Graffiato next door would also fit the bill. You could also check out Nopa, which I believe has valet, or Jaleo, Oyamel, Zaytinya, or even Hill Country for something a little rowdier.

There's also Le Chat Noir in Tenleytown.

Hi Gurus, I am interested in giving yoga a try after reading the article in the Post about it a few weeks ago. Are there any particular studios you would recommend for a novice guy (who is in good shape) but knows practically nothing about yoga?

I kicked this question over to GOG Yoga Expert (and certified yoga and spinning instructor) Stephanie Merry, who says: 

"I would say that if he belongs to a gym those would probably be the most approachable. Tf he doesn't, just look for classes at Studios that are labed Yoga I or something similar. I like Yoga District, Flow and Past Tense -- all have beginners classes."

Hi Going Out Guide! For years I've wanted to visit the Great Dismal Swamp because - what a name! However, as near as I can tell, neither the state portion nor the federal portion offer any sort of ranger tours or guided excursions. Googling found me two possibilities, but it seems both are now obsolete. I know this is an odd one, but - are you aware of any options? This weekend seems like it would be a good time, since it's no longer hot and muggy, but not yet cold and dreary. Thanks!

I'm not aware of guided tours, but the Swamp -- a National Wildlife Refuge -- is open to visitors daily, with miles of self-guided trails to explore. There's a visitors center, too. (Warning: The refuge is open for hunting this Friday and Saturday.)

Though the chinatown area is perhaps the worst part of the city for finding street parking. Much easier on 14th or other neighborhoods north of downtown. Much cheaper than a garage.

14th Street? Really? Have you tried to find street parking on a Saturday night between P and V streets? It takes a good 30 minutes (or more) of circling.

Hey, Gurus! I'm wondering if you might point me in the right direction. I'm in dire need of a massage, but don't have the income right now for it. I've heard that there are places where massage students put in their required practice hours before certification. Do such free/cheap massages exist in DC? A friend in Calif. told me massage and acupuncture students offer free services at her local medical marijuana dispensary, which just seems, well, completely awesome. At this point, I'd be thrilled for just the massage. Appreciate any advice you have!

I have never tried it personally, but the Aveda Institute offers student massages for $40. The Potomac Massage Training Institute will give you an hour-long massage for $37. In Falls Church, the National Massage Therapy Institute will give you an hour massage for $35. If you can get out to Baltimore, a massage school there offers 50-minute full-body massages for $25.

I'm going out to a late dinner at Graffiato Friday night and would like to get cocktails beforehand. Anywhere you would recommend nearby? Thanks

I'm a big fan of the creative cocktails next door at Daikaya's Izakaya. The Empress of Stockholm -- a gin cocktail with brown rice vinegar syrup, basil and herbal bitters, is a particular favorite.

Proof is a standby, and it's also less than a 10-minute walk to the amazing rum drinks at Hogo.

Hi GOGs, I do not own a car, but have access to one this weekend. I originally thought about going apple/pumpkin picking, but it seems like the season has ended. What would you suggest as quick day trip/road trip ideas for this weekend? I'm pretty open to anything fun/autum-y/food-related. Thanks!

How about a trip to the Distillery Lane Ciderworks near Frederick? They still have some apples to pick, there are tours of the orchards, and nothing says Fall to me like sampling hot apple cider and trying adult hard cider. 

If you want to head out west, check Lavanya's suggestions for interesting Virginia wineries to visit this fall. (She also came up with this list of wineries with the best views of changing leaves.)

I would recommend Unity Woods. Their yoga style is very specific about alignment and does not move fast like some of the vinyasa/ flow classes. Also, I think Circle Yoga in Chevy Chase has (or at least used to have) a yoga class for men only ("broga"). I would definitely advise against a general "all levels" class for someone new to yoga.


I would definitely recommend trying a studio first rather than a gym. My experience with instructors at gyms is that they are less able to assist and give tips about good form -- hence you may be more likely to get injured or just not get anything out of the class. Finding a good level 1 class at a studio would be a better bet, especially when you are just starting out. Almost all the studios in town will offer new student specials so you can try out a few different classes over a week or a month for a low price. I second Yoga District and Flow, both of which offer lots of different styles and many beginning level classes. I totally commend you for getting into yoga. I hope more men give it a try. I hope you love it!

There may not be tours because the main "path" is a completely straight, completely flat, and ridiculously obvious track through the woods. It's neat, but we bailed halfway through because it was pretty monotonous (and we were visiting family, so it seemed rude to continue walking in a straight line for another hour rather than go hang out with everyone else. Unless we missed something, it wasn't the brilliant hike we'd expected.

There are a couple of different paths through different parts of the swamp, but this is something to keep in mind. 

Hello! I'm looking for a venue to host a private (or semi-private) NYE party in the District for about 150 people. We want someplace that can provide the booze, bartenders, and sound system. We're providing the DJ and the people. We don't want to pay a rental fee if possible and are going for nice but not bottle service nice. I've got a growing list of possibilities but would love to hear your ideas!

We've had people ask this question before, and I've honestly never had a good answer. I don't know of any bars that will essentially give away their space with no rental fee (or a low rental fee) on the busiest bar night of the year.

But if anyone knows of one, feel free to let me -- and this chatter -- know.

I'm not sure level one classes are the best for people who've never done yoga before. A lot of studios have "fundamentals" classes - usually a series of classes that introduce the poses. Then you can jump in to the level one classes. Pure Prana and 532 in OT offer such courses but a lot of studios do.

Hi! I'm going with a big group of friends to brunch on Sunday at Masa 14. How is that place these days? Anything we should definitely order? And afterwards, the girls in the group want to break off and do something fun (and cheap) while the guys bunker down and watch football at a sports bar....any recommendations for what us ladies should do with the afternoon? We'll only be staying until early evening in the city before we have to head home.

If you're going to Masa with a big group of friends, and you're all getting the $35 unlimited brunch (which is a pretty good deal if you're planning on lingering over your meal), you can literally order one of everything, if you want. They will just keep bringing plates out for you, and since you'll have a big table, everyone will get a little taste of all that the menu has to offer. It's extravagant and fun. Last time I did the unlimited brunch, my whole group got sleepy from all of the mimosas and food - so you'll want to do something pretty low-key in the afternoon. Maybe a movie? Here's where you can find our recent reviews. "Great Expectations" got 3.5 stars this week, so that would be a good pick. There's also plenty of good window shopping in that corner of 14th Street, between Pulp and Current and the new location for Redeem.

Maybe I've just had good luck. Always find a spot quickly.

You are indeed lucky! There have been times when I can't even find a spot to return a Zipcar on 14th, and those are supposed to be reserved.

I just called the Aveda Institute and they told me they only do facials. $40 for a facial sounds like a good deal, and it's super convenient, so I'm going to give it a try. Will report back!

Please do!

I had a friend try to do this a couple of years back and it's either a high rental fee or a high guaranteed minimum bar tab (if your friends don't buy enough you have to pay the rest).

Yeah, this has been my experience, too -- There's a reason so many bars have high cover charges on New Year's Eve. The bar wants to make as much money as possible, not just get people through the door.

Sorry to ask such a strange question, but thought someone in the audience might be able to help! I recently inherited my grandmother's old fur coat. It's a bit outdated, but I'd love to refashion it into something a bit fresher. From my little bit of internet research, I gather there are things called furriers that do alterations/cleaning of furs? Can anyone recommend one? Prefer northern Virginia, but could also do DC. Thanks so much.

This is based on Googling , not on personal experience, but it looks like Bethesda's Furs by Gartenhaus will have what you need. Any other chatters have a personal recommendation?

Any suggestions for outdoorsy activities near Old Town on Monday? It doesn't need to be strenuous, but something more than walking around Old Town.

Have you ever walked the Mount Vernon Trail along the Potomac? It doesn't get as much love as the stretch between Roosevelt Island and National Airport, but it's a pretty cool (and not-too-stenuous) hike that takes in the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve and Belle Haven Park, where you can watch for birds or just enjoy the views of nature, and the old defense batteries and wildlife trails at Fort Hunt. You can make the hike as long or short as you want -- there's parking at several locations along the trail. Check out the National Park Service site for more details.

I had dinner at Mad Momos in Columbia Heights recently. I think the host told us they don't charge a rental fee. The space is great.

I don't believe there's a fee for renting Mad Momos for birthday parties, holiday gatherings or community events, and I like that deck. But New Year's Eve is a completely different than the rest of the year as far as bars are concerned.

Hi Gurus--Mom's coming into town this weekend and I want to show her some foliage without injuring her. Is there a maybe 2-3 hour hike within an hour's drive of DC that isn't crazy strenuous? Thanks!

From our GOG hiking expert Amy Orndorff:

Have you ever heard of rails to trails? It is a great organization that lists tons of great trails that were once train tracks or trolley tracks. This is perfect for you and your mom because it means that they are all flat and many of them are paved. No sliding down hills and no tripping over rocks and roots! You might have to contend with bikers, but it is a small price to pay for a lovely, leisurely stroll. There are quite a few good picks in this area and some are more rural than others. My favorite is the Goldmine Loop Trail in Maryland. One other thought, sometimes people forget that the C&O Canal runs more than 180 miles long – well beyond the busy District and Great Falls areas. There are plenty of places to park and go for a nice, long (and undisturbed!) walk. 

Okay, y'all -- We have to run, but we'll see you next Thursday. Today's Post Points code is GG9406.

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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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