Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Guide

Dec 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. So the biggest news of the week -- heck, of the whole holiday season -- is that panda cub Bao Bao is going on display on Jan. 18, or a week earlier for FONZ members.

Otherwise, we're looking forward to the debut of Derek Brown's new Southern restaurant and whiskey bar Southern Efficiency on Saturday, taking a spin around the ice at the Canal Park skating rink, and checking out the new Stoney's.

How about you?

Oh, and a preemptive New Year's Eve announcement: If you're looking for something new to try on Dec. 31, here's a rundown of what some of 2013's best new bars, lounges and restaurants are doing to celebrate. (Hint: Many of them will be open as usual.)

Any word on whether The Passeger is doing a New Year's Eve shindig?

They are again teaming up with neighbors/sister bar Hogo for a party in the Warehouse Theater, which is conveniently located behind the Passenger. DJ Neal Keller of the long-running '80s Dance Party is spinning, and the deal includes a late-night taco bar. Late. Night. Taco. Bar.

There's a $10 cover at the door, and no need for advance tickets. I did the Passenger party last year with a bunch of friends, and a good time was had by all -- you can get cocktails in the main bar if you want, or go dance in the theater.

Hello Gurus! My family arrives via train on Christmas Day and I'd love to treat them to a festive brunch---without breaking my young professional budget. Can you please recommend some affordable options ($50-65/buffet (not including drinks)---or better yet, a la carte); bonus points if it's near the Mall or Union Station, since I anticipate they'll arrive hungry.

It is reeeeally tough to find Christmas Day brunches that aren't super high-end. I see on Open Table that Sequoia has a $40 per person brunch and there are still reservations available. Piola on 14th Street will also be doing its pizza brunch on Christmas Day, which would definitely be within your budget. The Grille at Morrison House in Old Town will have a $50 per person brunch that day. I've scoured my inbox for others, but I think you may need to increase your budget if you want more choices - most of what I'm seeing out there is on the pricier side.

I've been out of town and are looking forward to catching up with you...specifically, my parents will visit this holiday season as they do each year. Is there anything new for them this year....suitable for their ages. Thanks.

It really depends what they like. National Geographic Photographers on Assignment features the work of 11 female photographers at the Nat Geo museum. I'm kind of intrigued by the idea of browsing the artifacts in the Freer's "The Nile and Ancient Egypt" exhibit.  There's "Elf the Musical" at the Kennedy Center, or the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington's annual show -- who can resist the Christmas Can-Can?

is the light display at the Brookside Gardens worth the $20 admission?

Well, there's an 11-foot-tall giraffe made of out 9,000 different lights. If that's not an attraction, I don't know what is.

The Wheaton park has one of the area's most expansive displays, with more than a million lights. Then again, it's four times as expensive as, say, the one at Watkins Park in Largo -- $20 per car for Brookside vs. $5 for the Watkins Park Festival of Lights.

(And for you budget lights browsers, remember that the National Zoo's Zoolights is free and open from 5 to 9 p.m. every night until New Year's Eve.)

A friend and I want to hit ZooLights some evening in the next week or so. Any suggestions for pre-lights drinks and/or dinner?

If you're coming from Cleveland Park, there's Ardeo + Bardeo for small Italian bites, or beers and pots of mussels at St. Arnold's. If you're coming from Woodley Park, District Kitchen has homey American cooking and a daily happy hour. And New Heights has small plates and a specialty in gin. Hope that helps!

Since Christmas is in the middle of the week this year, my family is not getting together until the weekend. That leaves me flying solo in DC for Christmas itself. Have a couple ideas for things to do during the day, but am still trying to figure out if there's somewhere good to go eat. Looking for somewhere with good food (doesn't have to be overly nice or traditional Christmas fare - just good) and somewhere I wouldn't be completley out of place dining by myself. Preferably in Arlington/Alexandria/DC. Thanks!

Tom Sietsema just gave a really nice update on the cooking at the Kennedy Center's Roof Terrace Restaurant. I'd be happy getting something to eat in the lounge or at the bar there and then making my way down to the Millennium Stage at 6 p.m. for the All-Star Christmas Day Jazz Jam, which I absolutely love, or vice versa. (The show's over by 7:30 if you want to do concert before dinner.)

Other Christmas Day options where I'd happily dine solo at the bar or lounge: Bourbon Steak, Blue Duck Tavern and the wine bar at Bistrot Lepic.

A plea for next NYE. Will venues and restaurants please announce their events earlier and put the information on their websites? I know everyone is busy this time of year, but we need more than 2 weeks to make plans for an expensive night out that requires tickets or reservations, and coordination with friends. I appreciate the GOG story that came out today, but NYE is 13 days away and my plans are already made because I didn't want to risk not booking anything. Please, earlier announcements next year!

Most of the big-ticket events, like concerts, had their announcements out by the end of November/beginning of December. (I wrote about them weeks ago.) But I've got to tell you, I had to nag a number of bars to send me NYE info for that story, and there are some that *still* haven't nailed down their plans. 

Also, NYE doesn't have to be a big, expensive night out. I think I actually prefer the way the industry is going, where so many of the bars that I've enjoyed this year, from 2 Birds 1 Stone to Right Proper to Mockingbird Hill to the Ale House in Columbia, are just saying "We're open as usual. Stop by."

Hi gurus: any recommendations on what to do and what's open on New Year's Day? I'll get the day off, but have to work the day before and the day after, so travel isn't an option. Most friends will be traveling, and I assume a lot of businesses will be closed. Help...?

Brunch! So many places are going to be open for brunch. To name a few: Urbana's doing a cold pizza buffet brunch (Correction, Dec. 20: Urbana's pizza brunch is not a buffet) . Poste is doing an all-day pig roast. Pearl Dive will be serving brunch, and upstairs Black Jack will be showing football and hosting happy hour that afternoon. The not-yet-opened Agua 301 will be debuting its brunch menu that day. Masa 14, both El Centro D.F.s,  and Ambar are doing their decadent all-you-can-eat brunches Jan. 1, too.

The Smithsonian Museums are open New Year's Day, as well.

Also, I will share my New Year's tradition here, and cross my fingers that it doesn't become too popular. Every Jan. 1, I go to Spa World in Centreville and spend the entire day soaking in the baths, relaxing in the steam room, and drinking bubble tea. It's the best way to start the New Year in a state of total relaxation.

Grilled cheese bar at Ripple!

Oh, how could I forget Ripple? Thanks.

Isn't it time to set a time for Christmas and always have a 3 day weekend?

It'd be nice if we got a holiday around Christmas, so if the 25th was a Thursday, we knew we'd get Friday of, of if it fell on a Monday, we got the Friday before it to make a four-day weekend, or something. But I doubt you'd ever get Christmas set as the last Thursday in December, or something like that.

I love looking at the creative home lighting displays. Any ideas of great neighborhoods to explore in Fairfax county area?

I don't live in Fairfax, so I'm going to throw this one out there to any chatters who do: See any great displays lately? Anything like these?

Fairfax county is huge, but there's this one if you're in the Ft. Hunt area:

One suggestion for our Fairfax lighting fan.

Hi. My husband and I are lucky enough to be able to go out a couple of times (without kids!) over the break. Since we'll be going out a few times, any suggestions on free activities, preferably in Montgomery County (time restriction)? Thanks!

Happy hour with discount drinks/free pool at Jackie's Sidebar; live rockabilly and blues bands on Saturdays (and tonight!) at Quarry House Tavern; traditional Irish jam sessions and a good pint of Guinness at the Irish Inn at Glen Echo (Monday) or the Limerick Pub in Wheaton (Wednesday); Wine tastings with cheese at Bethesda's Cork and Fork ... so many options.

Have it on a Monday like most federal holidays. Let's face it is Dec 25 really meaningful to most people today?

Aaaannnd now I really want to watch the Charlie Brown "Meaning of Christmas" scene.

Okay, that's it from us. As a quick reminder, there's no Got Plans? chat next week, as we recover from Christmas. The next time we talk to y'all, it will be 2014. So have a safe and happy holiday season, and watch the GOG Blog for updates on holiday meals, events, cocktails and other good things. 

Finally, since I know people stress out about New Year's Eve, send your last-minute questions to and I'll try to help.

See you next year.

PS: Today's Post Points code is GG3614.

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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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