Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Gurus

Dec 13, 2012

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

Hello, everyone. We've got New Year's Eve on the brain -- especially if, like me, you're not a fan of overcrowded parties with $100 tickets and jammed open bars. That's why I put together this list with 30 different bars that will be open as usual on New Year's Eve. Some have midnight toasts or little treats like that, but none have cover charges or require advance tickets. 

Of course, if you have more immediate needs, we have a list of this weekend's best events.

On with the show.

Having just read a piece in a Northern newspaper on the topic I am now jonesing for wassail. Are there any places in the area making this warm winter punch?

Honestly, I don't see much wassail out there. (It's mulled cider, for those who aren't familiar with the centuries-old tradition of wassailing.)

Glogg and hot toddys are the big drinks again this year. Anyone seen wassail anywhere?

Gurus - I have a rare Friday night away from my daughter & want to have a low-key but fun dinner with drinks with 2 friends. Any suggestions for places in DC that fit that bill? Any cuisine but nothing too expensive. The last time I had a night out, we went to Jaleo. Thanks!

Three restaurants in the same price range, with plenty of buzz to make you still feel hip: Estadio, where the food is on the upswing; Mintwood Place in Adams Morgan; or Hanoi House (get the banh mi), will all fit the bill with great cocktails and food. There's one secret to having a much better experience, though: Get to them between 5:30-6:30 for drinks, and you'll actually have a much easier time getting a seat, particularly on a Friday night.

I've never gone but I've heard it's nice, with carolers and deocrations. What time do they start each day? Is it on the weekend or just weekdays? We're going to see teh White House tree / shopping this weekend and thought this would be a nice pit stop. Thanks!

There are carolers in the Willard's super-festive lobby from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. My tip: Go grab a warm (and pricey) cocktail from the Round Robin Bar and carry it out to the lobby with you instead of getting the blah coffee and cider from the coffee stand near the main entrance.

Hello all-knowing Gogs! This may seem a bit rude to some but I have a tradition of sending Christmas cards to my brothers and sisters that are some combination of offensive, naughty, off-color, sexually charged, semi-pornographic, gross or downright vulgar --- but ALWAYS funny! But it’s becoming harder and harder each year as the Hallmark/American Greeting oligopolies dominate the market. Can you tell me where I can find a decent selection of cards like that in the greater DC area? I’ve done Pulp which is fairly good but looking for others. I have a car and live in Arlington but anywhere in DC, VA or MD that’s within the beltway is fine. Thanks!

Check out Chocolate Moose in NW. Among the silly bacon wallets, rubber chickens and  tacky treasures are cards a plenty. I can't vouch that there will be something pornographic, but I know you won't leave empty handed.

I meant to ask Tom this question, but submitted it too late. I'm trying to plan a holiday dinner with my work colleagues and their children. It would only be about 4 or 5 people and it would be early, around 5 pm on Thursday of next week. I'm trying to find a restaurant that is good for kids, but also has good food for the adults. It would also be great if the restaurant is decorated festively for the holiday season, and near other holiday attractions (like the White House or Capitol Christmas trees) that we could go see after the meal. Any suggestions?

 Old Ebbitt has been a go-to for holiday diners with families right now, with some festive decorations, including two large nutcrackers outside; but it's more likely that it's because it's an easy walk to the White House tree and the Willard. If you go to the White House tree, definitely take the kids to Santa's Workshop (they can even give Santa their lists) -- it's really cute in there.

Will there be fireworks in DC on NYE? And if so, where? I have looked for this information but haven't been able to find it yet. Thanks!

I grew up here and I don't remember the last time there was an official fireworks show on New Year's Eve in D.C. proper. Alexandria has a big midnight display on the river as part of its city-wide First Night party. Annapolis actually has two sets of fireworks as part of its First Night: One at 7:30 at the City Dock so the kids can see them without having to stay up past their bedtimes, and one at midnight to welcome 2013.

Can you recommend a liquor store with a good bourbon selection and knowledgeable staff who can help a girl buy her boyfriend a good bottle? Preferably around Logan Circle, but most parts of DC would be fine. Thanks!

Ace Beverage (upper NW), Plain Old Pearsons (Glover Park) and Schneider's of Capitol Hill all have great staff. I like the whiskey selection at 1 West in Dupont Circle, on P St. across from Pizzeria Paradiso, but I haven't talked to the staff too much.

What is up with this place? It's a great-looking neighborhood spot but, um, needs a little fixing upping. The food is well, something to still be desired. Keep the alcohol flowing - or is that the point? Seriously, they need a refresher course in exactly what is poutine. I was so hoping that when I read the description of potato chips that something got lost in translation and chips were as they are across the pond. I really want to love this place but seriously, from proprietors who are able to handle the food end well, why the careless sloppiness? There's great stuff to be had in Shaw and this has potential but it's a fixer upper at this point. Kind of like "looks good on paper..." syndrome. Any of your experiences different?

I actually thought the potato chip poutine was clever -- somewhere between the traditional sort and nachos. They weren't trying to make it like, I don't know, the disco fries with cheese curds at ChurchKey. Everything there has its own little twist, from the cocktails to the snacks.

The drinks are my favorite part of the menu, though -- spiced cider, the silky-smooth vanilla-rum eggnog, the stunningly briney A&D cocktail, which I raved about here.

That said, the place has been open for a week. I know this is the internet age and all, but places need to be allowed to settle in...

Hey gurus, A bit of an unorthodox question, I know, but a lot of my friends are having baby boys lately and I need to give some baby presents. For baby girls, I've been giving a lovely pink silk blanket, but I'm at a loss for boy presents. Do you all have any ideas? I'd love to give a nice keepsake, but not a rattle/cup/weird silver object. Is it too early to give baby's first flask? Thanks in advance!

I don't know... baby's first flask might send the wrong message. (Though if it said "milk," that would be kind of funny...)   I've got two nephews, and almost everyone I know has boys, so I kind of wish I could buy a frilly dress or adorable girl present just once.  But I do think the idea of shopping for a keepsake gift, whether for a boy or for a girl, is similar -- I don't see why a monogrammed swaddling blanket (useful and a keepsake!), or an offer to get the baby booties bronzed or somesuch would still be a lovely idea. Another thought: A lot of wedding photogs, etc., now do baby shoots, too. For a close friend, when they're ready to schedule, that could be a dream gift. 

Dear GoGs, I'm usually just a regular neighborhood bar type, but if I'm looking for the most traditional bar, to where would you lead me? When I say traditional, I mean old-world and classical and knows a thing or two or three about mixing all of the classics with finesse. Not looking for places that experiment with what they put in the glass this time. Save for a rainy day, but there are bars in this city so focused on the experimental drink that they don't even know how to make/what goes into some of the great classics. Shame on them - big time! Really, I promise, I don't drink complicated classics.

If you just want traditional cocktails -- Rob Roys, Old Fashioneds, a terrific gin martini -- I'm a big fan of John Boswell, the bartender at Off the Record in the Hay Adams hotel. It's about as old-school as Washington hotel bars get.

For similar drinks in a more modern setting, we've been really happy with the Moscow Mules, martinis and Manhattans that Jon Harris is whipping up at Firefly. (And they're $5 every day, too!)

Pretty sure the deal site was selling some naughty ones.

Another suggestion for the card hunter... except that I am not seeing where the cards are listed. Help?

My parents used to go to Christmas celebrations at historic plantations (Sully, etc.) and I believe they had wassail there. That might be a place to start. Also look for any Madrigal dinners in the area--they might serve wassail, too.

Sounds like a good place to start. Thanks.

I found some "naughty" but "fun" xmas cards at The Paper Store (sorry if I got the name not quite right) in Georgetown. It won't be a huge selection like some stores, but yep, you can find some!

I think you might be thinking of the Paper Source.

Hi Gurus, I've got reservations at the Gibson but have reservations about the reservation. I've been looking at online reviews where the word "pretentious" keeps coming up. Your own review on the Post sounds awfully complicated, with the whole "check to see if the unmarked place is locked and if it is do x and if not do y" routine. I love a good cocktail, so am willing to put up with some but not tons of attitude. Any thoughts? Also, I'm female and enjoy getting dressed up a bit, especially at this time of year. What's the dress like there? Thanks guys!

If you've got reservations, you have nothing to worry about. The whole "check to see if the place is open" process is more for those  who are just dropping in. I haven't found the Gibson to be pretentious -- just overly complicated sometimes, and occasionally more experimental than needed. Then again, I went nuts over a PX cocktail that involved duck-sauce-flavored soda. So there's that.

I think people dress a little more nicely for the Gibson than they would for going to Marvin or Tropicalia, for example. Feel free to glam it up.

I wrote about my parents coming to visit for New Year's a few weeks ago and appreciated your suggestions. I found out about the Chihuly exhibt at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond and may want to take a trip there to see it. We can go NY Eve day or NY Day (it's open both days 10-5), or we could go down NY Day and spent the night. Do you have any suggestions for things to do in Richmond? Is it worth staying over? We're not looking for a party or even anything to ring in the new year, but maybe a good restaurant or anything else that's fun to do during the day (museum one day, something else the next). Thanks!

That's a great idea! I've seen a Chihuly show before, and this particular show looks amazing from the photos I've seen. They're always a little Las Vegas, with music and videos and amazing lighting, so you feel like you really got a show. For things to do, Fritz suggested this fabulous guide in Garden and Gun magazine (bear with me): Here are some worthy food and drink ideas. And here are some things to do. None of us have had a chance to head to Richmond recently, but Fritz said this guide definitely had things he wanted to try. has a lovely selection of offensive cards.

That's it, we are starting a best bets list of where to get funny/offensive cards. Clearly this is an issue that our readers care about!

Are you aware of anywhere doing brunch on new years eve?? Thanks!

Justin and I were talking about this, and we haven't seen too many places. I mean, it's a Monday, and not a federal holiday.

Firefly, at the Hotel Madera, is doing one.

Not a question, but I had to share: I had that song in my head this morning on my bike ride to work but it was the alternate version from Claymation Christmas where a bunch of dogs were singing "here we go a waffling" as they were eating waffles. And that always made more sense to me b/c I never knew, esp as a kid, what a wassail was.

I just had to share this...

I'm gonna be celebrating solo this year and would really rather not do it at home, although my cat is excellent company. Fireworks in Old Town sounds cool, and there's a new age bookshop there that's holding a psychic fair that evening. What else do they have for First Night festivities? Any ideas on where to eat where I won't stick out like a sore thumb?

First Night is really family oriented (lots of storytime and kids music) but there are bands galore, dancing and magic shows. A bunch of Old Town bars are celebrating NYE with no cover, including Tiffany Tavern (which has live bluegrass) and Virtue Feed and Grain.

As for food: I've eaten on my own at the bar at Pizzeria Paradiso and Eamonn's recently, and there's the Nando's.

Looks like they've sold out, but there was a non-work appropriate sale for naughty Santa cards.

Darn. Well, it is still a cool site to visit. I just finished my Christmas shopping!

I was recently at NoMad in NYC and loved it! Is there anywhere comparable in DC to that atmosphere?

I haven't been to NoMad yet, but wow, does it inspire some kind words. Looks like Chez Billy has the same sumptuousness and nooks and crannies, and elevated French-ish fare such as marrow (though, I think NoMad's James-beard winning chef might be hard to beat). Personally,  I think a great time to check it out is New Year's, when you also get the live jazz.

Six of us girls are planning to meet for dinner next Thursday around 7pm and would like to find a place that is reasonably priced and metro-accessible (preferably something near Penn Quarter/downtown). The only catch is we'll be exchanging presents so a place where we could have a little table space and be able to catch up would be great. Thanks!!

That's right around happy hour, which makes it tough. Places we think might work: Hill Country or District of Pi in Penn Quarter, maybe the new Woodward Table at 15th and H? I've seen people doing just this at Cafe Mozart, btw.

Gurus, here's a really odd question. I want to get my husband a "flight experince" for christmas. Go up with a pilot, pilot lets you 'fly" the plane for a bit, pilot brings you back to earth safely. I can't afford $9,000 worth of lessons so my husband can be certified, btu I thought a one-off flying lesson would be nice. The MoCo Airpark does this, but from SW DC, that's a hike and a half. Do you know of any places closer that do this sort of thing?

I highly suggest Montgomery County Airpark. My friend's husband had a groupon for a one-off that you are talking about and had a blast. I think if you are only going to do it once, you might as well head up there. Also I thought about the College Park Airport but can't find anything more helpful. Chatters?

It used to be traditional to give Jefferson cups or porringers. My sister and I both have Jefferson cups, which are of course for alcohol, given to my teetotaling parents on our births. My parents gave Jefferson cups and porringers. I've actually given a porringer (little silver or pewter bowl. If pewter make sure that it is new or certified to be lead free). A porringer has one handle but a scottish quaich has two handles and is otherwise identical in form. Traditionally it's used for holding a dram of whiskey and making a toast. So it's a perfect gift for feeding a baby on soft foods and then toasting the adult when they come of age.

Thanks for the suggestion and the history lesson!

I believe the Manassas Airport offers helicopter flight where someone takes you up and brings you down but you get the controls for a bit in between. I think it was around the $250 range.

Thank you for the suggestion.

Any cheap New Year's Eve spots in DC? ($50 or under tickets)

The range between, say, $15 and $65 is a wide-open one this year. Under $50 is a little low for open bar (only one I've seen at that price point is at Blue Banana, which has DJs and a toast). I'm kinda cised for Tropicalia's party, with Fort Knox Five DJing, a live set of Latin Funk by Empresarios and three drinks and a midnight toast for $40.

or as I know it Gluhwein; have you considered making it yourself? (It's definitely more fun to drink at a good Christmas Market, but we make it at home every year). I can't remember the specifics of our family recipe (given by an Austrian colleague my dad worked with when we were in Germany), but it is basically a bottle of red, and a bottle of white whine (don't go expensive, but I like to stay on the drier side). Add sugar, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom wouldn't suck; some people add citrus juice (orange/lemon) and peel. Play with it and make it your own. I love serving it to friends that didn't have an army dad and early experience with that sort of thing.

Wassail is cider-based. Gluhwein is wine-based. Bit of difference there.

Looking for somewhere in Dupont for a low-key New Years Eve for around 15 people. Definitely interested in an open bar or a champagne toast, but a festive bar that's "business as usual" would also work. really don't want anything too over-the-top or glitzy. Any suggestions? Thank you!

The open bars I've seen around Dupont are pricey, like $100 at Madhatter or Sign of the Whale, $90 at Public Bar, etc, which is a consideration. With 15 people, I'd say somewhere like Buffalo Billiards might work. You could definitely stake out a spot of your own. Science Club is taking some table reservations,a nd they have Nacey of Nouveau Riche DJing, which guarantees people will be dancing. It's free, but there's an option for $40 that gets you four drinks, including a can of Sofia at midnight...

Hey guys, Just started dating someone whose birthday is next Tuesday. I'd like to take her out to do something fun. She's an intellectual, a little nerdy and way cool. I'm looking for something atypical to do with her. She's kind of a big kid who loves art, museums, talks and stuff off the beaten path. We'd also like to go out to eat in D.C. Any suggestions for Asian/Mexican restaurants? P.s. neither of us drinks so bars are not our scene.

For atypical, you can't beat Nerd Night (can you convince her to celebrate her birthday on Saturday?). You could start the date with an early dinner at Hanoi House (you don't have to drink). If it must be Tuesday, how about starting an evening checking out the Nam June Paik exhibit (open till 7:30, which is always handy), then zipping over to see the new Pajamamen sketch comedy show at Woolly Mammoth? We're hearing it should be awesome, and funny. You can start the night with Oyamel's taco happy hour (at the bar) or just settle in for a cool dinner there.

For the love of all that is holy, please either give them something off their registry or a gift card. The last thing new parents need is a silk blanket that they can't use (silk will get ruined within 42 seconds of coming near a baby spewing fluids), or a monogrammed something-else that isn't useful. Though I agree the photog gift is a nice idea.

Eh, I'll pass this along to our thoughtful gifter. But I feel like giving useful gifts isn't always memorable  (and frankly, some people already have a child and so have all the gear, or a full set of hand-me-downs coming), so occasionally it makes sense to do something that's sentimental.

Thinking ahead to Christmas eve. Hubby and I will be alone this year, which is not a problem, but we'd like to do something unusual since we won't be doing anything New Year's Eve. Our thought was to do dinner in DC, maybe an Italian seven- fishes dinner somewhere, and then maybe find a midnight or late evening Mass. Any help or suggestions would be appreciated as we're just in the "thinking" stage of planning our evening.

Dino always does a multi-course Feast of the Seven Fishes, and it's $59 per person. They open at 4:30, and St. Matthew's Cathedral is doing a 10 p.m. mass. Sound like a plan?

My GF's birthday request was to go out for beer flights- not just a place with a great beer selection- but specifically a place with beer flights. Where are the classiest, best places to go out for a beer flight?

Beer bars have kind of moved away from the whole "flight" program, since most of the good ones (ChurchKey/Paradiso/Meridian Pint/etc.) now offer all beers as 4-ounce pours in addition to full-sized glasses. (Brewpubs are an exception; I'm pretty sure Capitol City and District Chophouse still offer flights of their own brews.)

What I might do is go to the bar at Birreria Paradiso, Meridian Pint or Smoke and Barrel and ask the bartender to put together a flight of four beers for you. You might want four wildly different, four pale ales, or just four things you don't see all the time. The guys and girls know their stuff.

Hi! On sunday I want to treat myself to a decent brunch plus watch the Skins game. Any good place to go? Metro accessible only. Also - getting divorced so this holiday season is a bit weird (everyone I know if married with kids and everyone has holiday parties etc etc). This weekend I'm trying to find something to do that 1. I will feel comfortable doing by myself and 2. isn't laded in family holiday hoo-ha. It's a lonely time of year for me and seeing happy nuclear familes doesn't help. Thinking a spa day could be good. Any recommendations on that or other ideas? Thanks!

First half: ChurchKey would work. Acre 121 has low-country eats in Columbia Heights. You might want to check out the all-you-can-eat bbq buffet at Smoke and Barrel, where you can get jalapeno grits, roasted hash, brisket, even tacos, for $14.95. I'm also in love with the Kentucky Hot Brown at Bourbon (Adams Morgan or Glover Park). 

Sorry to hear that it's a bummer Christmas, but I think your ideas are spot-on. For a spa day, can I suggest Spa World? No hoo-ha, because it's Korean, and particularly if you go on a weekday, you'll get a calm day away from phones and computers and TVs, where you can sweat out all of your toxins in the half-dozen saunas. And I love ending the whole day with the hourlong body scrub with the massage; be sure to get some of the red bean shaved ice (covered in condensed milk). It's not only a sweet treat, it's a good way to cool off between 100-degree plus rooms.  I never feel leaving just pampered> I feel  refreshed, and relaxed.

Is Bourbon in Adams Morgan doing anything for New Years?! Thanks!!

I was just talking to someone about this at Jack Rose last night. It's $75 for open bar starting at 9 p.m. with passed hors d'oeuvres and a DJ on the second floor. At that price, I might go to Jack Rose, which is $100, but a bigger space.

Just wondering aloud. If/when you get/are married, will your places and/or reviews change, in terms of coming from a married perspective? Or won't this change anything? Apologies, maybe you already are. Thanks.

Not married, and don't think it would change my perspective on bars -- I think whether I've had a girlfriend or been single when reviewing a place, I looked at it the same. (Well, maybe you look at whether there are more cute ladies if you're single.)

Yes, I have thought of doing it myself, but it's really a social drink and I'm not in a position to host right now. Also as Fritz pointed out it's not the same as Gluhwein, which I've had and enjoyed. FYI, here's a link to the article that has my mouth watering.

Wow. Any bar that makes wassail like this would get a ton of business from me, especially if they swapped the Strongbow for, oh, the Samuel Smith's Organic cider.

Hi! Headed to Old Town tomorrow night with some friends to get in the Christmas Spirit. Anything we must see or do while we are there? Looking for season specials, great stores, etc....anything Christmasy!

Just walking up and down King Street is plenty Christmassy -- and that's before you get to the Christmas Attic, which is a large all-Christmas store. There are good Christmas beers on tap at Pizzeria Paradiso, Virtue has some seasonal cocktails ... and the antique stores between the Metro and Washington St. have lots of old ornaments and gifts in the windows.

It's not in Old Town proper, but the Del Ray Artisans Market, which runs tomorrow from 6 to 9 p.m.,  is a nice place to find handmade jewelry, ceramics and other gifts. 

any of these around? 

Yep. Lavanya just wrote about the Tom and Jerry cocktail at Firefly. Winter classic.

I agree that if you're not hand creating a gift, something from the registry is best. New parents don't have time to go exchange things. If you're close with the new parents, you can always get them something fun later after you've met the baby.

Okay, all this talk of mulled wine and wassail and Tom and Jerry cocktails is making us thirsty. We've got to run. See you back here 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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