Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Gurus

Nov 29, 2012

Every Thursday, the Going Out Gurus discuss concerts, happy hours, weekend getaways and other ideas for fall fun.

Hi everyone. Hope you've recovered from Thanksgiving and are gearing up for the annual Month of Holiday Parties (aka "The December Bender"). We've been out reporting on hot cocktails, new bars with firepits, holiday bar crawls and, for that Christmas lover in your life, the 25 most cheer-inspiring events in the D.C. area.

Also, reminder: Start making plans for Repeal Day. The Jack Rose party is going to be something else.

Your questions start now ...

My wife and I are excited to finally have a night out with another couple to splurge for dinner at Bourbon Steak. We have a late reservation, so we are trying to find a place for drinks or appetizers before hand. Is there anything else around there that would be a good first stop?

Other than a few cocktails from the excellent Duane Sylvester at Bourbon Steak, one of my favorite fancy bars in the city? 

You might consider having a drink in front of the fire in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown.  (Cocktails are available from the Degrees lounge, and the chairs are perfect for sinking into...)

My husband and I are going to a holiday party next Friday night and since we have a babysitter for the first time in ages (yay!) we're hoping to grab a drink first. But we'll be in cocktail attire and don't want to end up at a bar where everyone else is in jeans. What's fun and appropriate in the area around the Convention Center? Thanks!

You could easily fit in at 901, which has a loungey look and a surprisingly awesome bar program (the bar manager came from Bourbon Steak, and remains incredibly creative with his drinks, without the high pricetag). I just swung by last week to check out the hot cocktails, and they're gorgeous. Read about them here.

Hello - Really enjoy the chat. Hope you can take my question. My friend and I are mid-40s singles. She's always been very good about coming to the gay bars with me, and I'd like to return the favor. Can you recommend any bars in DC that cater to a slightly older crowd?

I'd throw out Le Bar in the Soffitel, Off the Record at the Hay-Adams, Bourbon Steak, the cozy wine bar above Bistro Lepic -- especially for jazz on Wednesday, or free wine tasting on Tuesdays -- and Fiola

I know you get asked a million times, but looking for a dinner spot with the parents after a show at the Kennedy Center. We were hoping for Blue Duck but they are full! Other suggestions? Much appreciated and happy Thursday!!

A couple of options include District Commons or Circa, though neither are quite the experience of Blue Duck. Our own staff has a soft spot for Notte Bianche, an intimate Italian restaurant walking distance to the arts center. If money is no object, you might check in with Marcel's, which fared very well in the most recent Dining Guide.

Gurus - trying to cut back on the booze and rich food before the holidays. Any cool things to do that don't center around drink or food this Saturday in the metro region? We are adventurous 40 somethings.

Okay, one great idea for the weekend that's actually calorie-burning rather than fattening. You can hit the new ice rink at Washington Harbour on the Georgetown waterfront; the rink just opened and is celebrating with performances and more (there will be food and drink specials, though). Before you go, make a stop at the Swedish Holiday Bazaar at the House of Sweden, which is also Saturday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Hi Gurus, A friend of mine is leaving DC soon, and we'd like to do one final day in the city, hitting up favorite restaurants and "not-to-be-missed" spots around town. I need some help in putting together an itinerary....I know you get this question often, and I could have sworn you put together a list of your answers? I tried looking for it yesterday but couldn't find anything. :( Anyway, our interests are food, history, DC life/culture/etc, music. Not so much art museums, but other than that we are open. Any guidance you might have would be much appreciated. Thank you!

We did have a summer bucket list, but it's a little out of date at the moment. Hmm. It's hard to pick just one day, so if I can make it a weekend, here are 10 holidayish suggestions from me:

1. A meal at Little Serow.

2. A hot toddy at the Willard's Round Robin Bar while checking out festively decorated lobby, including the tree of White House Christmas ornaments. 

3. The parade of lighted sailboats in Annapolis, followed by crab balls at Davis' Pub

4. Taking in the best view of Washington (for free, no reservations required) from the top of the Old Post Office Tower. (Hurry, before the Donald maims it.)

5. A visit to the Frederick Douglass House.

6. A trip to see the holiday trains and escape from the cold at the Botanic Gardens.

7. Shopping for holiday gifts, sipping coffee and watching a Lucia procession at the House of Sweden's annual Swedish Holiday Bazaar. (Followed by optional ice skating.)

8. Drinks in the JFK booth at Martin's Tavern.

9. Browsing Eastern Market and Capitol Hill Books on a Sunday morning with a cup of Vigilante Coffee in hand.

10. Dinner at Rasika.

Chatters? What am I forgetting?

Hi Gurus! My roommates and I are getting in the holiday spirit and we wanted advice for couple of fun spots for holiday brunches and happy hours. We were hoping to go to a few places in the district that were festively decorated, had holiday inspired food/drinks, and cheery atmospheres. Thanks, and happy holidays!

Your timing is impeccable. Jess Righthand and I just wrote this piece about some ways to soak up the holidays, and though I am super into her gingerbread-making, then holiday jazz date, I think you might like a trip to the Hamilton's gospel brunch on Sundays. After the brunch, you can literally cross the street to the Willard hotel, and soak up the festive decorations, grab one of the minty hot cocktails at the Round Robin bar and stay a while.

1. I've only been to Lost Society for dinner -- any idea what it's like on a Friday or Saturday night there? Crowded? Music? okay for a group? etc 2. Any word when bars will start posting their New Years events? Looking for ones in the under-$50 range. thanks!

It gets crowded. Good DJs spinning house/electro, not a ton of room to dance, but it can be fun. (And if it doesn't work out, go down to the basement for Tropicalia, where the music might be Afropop, Latin, reggae or a Eastern European brass band, without a cover charge.

In terms of NYE -- Bars are being lazy. I expect we'll start to see more in the next week or so. Even people I'm calling directly have said, "Uh, we're still finalizing things."

Thanks for your cheer-inspired holiday guide. I'm totally in need of it as I can't believe Living Social is doing a massive layoff (no, I don't work for the company, just surprised as they seem to be stretching far and wide) and the $7 cup of Geisha @ Starbucks. Need I say how that is offensive on a few different levels. I do have a question about going out in here. I'm utterly curious about the Mansion on O street. I've never been/done it before. I am finding their website to be frustrating as everytime I click on something for more information, I get a reservation form. How do I know if I want to reserve if I can't learn more about how events work there. It says it's open to the public but with all this advanced reserving, not sure how it works (other than advance reservations needed) and what would I expect once I got there? Thanks for any help.

The Mansion on O is a weird place. Secret doors, staircases to nowhere, hidden passages -- it's like a real-life Scooby Doo set.

You can take a self-guided tour ($8) or go to one of their oddball parties, like the bring-your-own homemade ornament deal. There's an open house on Christmas Eve that might be worth a look.

Dear, dear GoGs, I have a frequent question with a new spin: Where's a good place to put on a cocktail dress, chill, maybe listen to some music, and get flirty with the late twenties-early thirties crowd in Montgomery? Does such a place exist? If not, I'll accept good bets in DC. Bonus points: A place with a nook where I can curl up, have a drink, and knock out some words on my NaNoWriMo story while still having a chance of getting hit on... though that may be asking too much.

Jackie's Sidebar is the best of what you're looking for in Montgomery County. Great cocktails, cool crowd, fun vibe, very social. You might also consider Wildwood Kitchen, Robert Wiedmaier's new spot in Bethesda. It's stylish, there's a good menu of house-made/infused cocktails ... but there are only like 15 seats at the bar, and it's not super-social.

Is there a good soccer bar in the area to watch the Madrid derbi this Saturday? Thanks!

Lucky Bar has it, as will Summers ... 

Hey guys: Any great ideas for what to do for a day (10-3) with a toddler in the Moco/DC area next Friday?

I sent your question over to Amy Joyce, our resident expert on all things toddler, and this is what she says:

This time of year is actually great for fun things to do. My boys have always liked the trains at Brookside Gardens. It's a beautiful park, so running around the trails there also burns off time and energy.  The trains and trees at the National Christmas tree display make for a good visit. Looks like the trains start running Dec. 6 (

You can also go see Santa in his workshop there starting Dec. 8.

And not to get too trained out, but kids love the trains at the Seasons Greenings at the Botanic Garden. Thomas and pals make an appearance on the tracks.

Zoo lights is happening, so a trip to the zoo in the afternoon into the dark hours might be a good idea.

Hope this helps. 

Looking for something Friday night in the District that incorporates something artsy with refreshments....any thoughts?? And not too expensive? I need an idea for my date night! Thanks!

Unfortunately, Friday night's art offerings are pretty thin. If I could convince you to move your date to tonight, there's the always awesome Handi-hour, the happy hour-meets-craft night at the Renwick. And Saturday has the aformentioned Washington Harbour event/Swedish Bazaar, plus the holiday Parade of Lighted Boats. Over at the Fridge on Saturday, it's the opening for the new solo exhibit of work by the gallery's owner Alex Goldstein.  But Friday, you could always try an evening roaming the Portrait Gallery or American Art Museum till they close at 7:30, followed by a walk over to the bar at Jaleo or Rasika? Sorry, lame, I know.

My husband turns 36 the day after Christmas. I try to make a BIG DEAL for his birthday because he spent many years a a kid never having a party and getting the dual birthday/Xmas gift. He loves beer, bourbon, steak and sushi. I was thinking an afternoon snack/drink at Biergarten followed by dinner at Lost Society..maybe Chez Billy? We love to eat and he is super adventurous, so we'd like to hit some of the newer/hipper places in DC (that 36-year old wont look silly :)) A bonus, someplace that is not decorated to the hilt for Christmas.

While it's not quite sushi, how about the fantastic Japanese menu prepared by Hiroshi Seki at Izakaya Seki? I'd add a pre- or post-dinner beer and bourbon at Smoke and Barrel -- one of my favorite spots for both -- or maybe a celebratory end-of-the-night glass of Willett bourbon at the downstairs bar at Jack Rose afterwards.

What do I wear to my first holiday party ever? It is at the Hyatt Fair Lakes Hotel from 8 pm till the next morning (guests get hotel rooms). It is my fiances work hosting the party. He is the intern.

I have a few thoughts on holiday parties: One, don't spend all your money on a whole expensive outfit. And two, since it's effectively your fiance's day, and he's the intern, do the right thing and dress a little more conservatively (and, this isn't fashion advice, but don't drink too much). Try picking up a simple, fitted solid-colored dress (preferrably not strapless) in a cool jewel tone like royal blue or oxblood at a Zara, Express, H&M or even Forever 21. There should be lots of holiday dresses out on the racks now; then spring for a great chunky glittery necklace that you can wear again and again (see J. Crew's chunky line, if you want to save some dollars, look at Forever 21 or H&M for cheaper versions). A platform pump will make a night of greeting people and dancing a lot kinder on your feet.  And then, trust me, try a red lip, which will make your whole look a little vintage, and very holiday.

Hi Gurus! My brother-in-law and his wife will be visiting us from Costa Rica this winter. They've never seen snow before, so we want to give them a proper introduction to the white stuff. Any suggestions about some wintery activities in the area? A drive of a few hours is not a problem.

While you're probably not going to take them skiing right away, there's no steep learning curve with tubing, so I'd suggest that. Wintergreen has a huge tubing park with a giant hill that allows for a lot of speed -- I'd start there. (Check out Travel's Ski Guide for more ideas.)

Lavanya - Notti BIanche used to be good, but have you been recently? The last few times I went it was truly bad. The review in the going out guide dates to 2005!

Thanks for your feedback! I know Fritz likes it, but we should definitely re-visit the review. We've been trying to clear out the old ones, and i'll mark that one as next for removal.

Not exactly "art" but the chatter could go to the Downtown Holiday Market. Always fun to look at different types of art, crafts, etc, for sale and maybe even find some good holiday gifts (or something for themselves!) from local businesses.

Love the Downtown Holiday Market, thanks! I thought it didn't open till next week, but it opens Friday, and that's an amazing thing to put into your date itinerary, though it's not a whole night in and of itself.

This is a bit early, but I wanted to get this in now. My parents are coming for New Year's Eve and we're looking for something fun to do on New Year's Eve day, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day (though we may not do all three). They are in their 70's and we're in our 40's, so we're not looking for wild night life, and we're not looking for anything formal. Any ideas? Anything cultural or DC-specific that might be interesting? (DC or MoCo are best for us, since we live in Olney). Thanks!

We're going to have more as we get closer to NYE, but I think this is a chance to throw out a suggestion of the big First Night celebration in Annapolis: Free music at the City Dock, historic house tours, all sorts of festive activities, etc. First Nights are usually considered family-friendly or for people with young kids, which is true, but some of them, such as Annapolis or Alexandria, do have enough that would appeal to people of all ages, not just face-painting or storytime or something like that.

We have friends with their children coming to visit us the last weekend in December. All together there will be 4 adults in their mid 30's and 6 kids ranging in age from 4 months to 5 years old. We are hosting them in our house in suburban MD. In past visits we have used Metro to visit some of the museums on the mall, driven to the Air and Space museum near Dulles and been to the Baltimore Aquarium. Do you have any Christmas, holiday or winter themed vsits we should take for that weekend?

The last weekend in December, you should still be able to visit some of the holiday displays, including Season's Greenings at the Botanic Gardens, and the National Christmas Tree, and perhaps swing over afterward to the Kennedy Center for a Millennium Stage performance of holiday vaudeville. For kids, you definitely want to put Zoo Lights on your calendar as well, or closer to home, Brookside Gardens' annual light display, both of which continue after Christmas till the new year.

Thanks for joining us, folks! We know we took quite a few of them today, but next week, we'll host our official Holiday Happenings chat, where we'll be answering questions about outings with parents, friends, and little ones in town for the holidays. So think up your best and join us at 1 p.m. next Thursday.

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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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