Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Gurus

Dec 20, 2012

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

Welcome, chatters, to the pre-Christmas/pre-end of the year/pre-end times Got Plans? Tom Sietsema just posted this list of his favorite restaurant newcomers of 2012, so  we decided to theme this chat around readers' best and worst bar, restaurant, theater, exhibits of the year.  You tell us what you liked and (politely) what you didn't, and we'll expound. We'll start things off with our best: While the burbs have always been my go-to for excellent, divey ethnic restaurants, I'm seeing a lot more cool things out there, including the opening of a swanky Angelika movie theater in Fairfax (the Angelika in New York was where I first saw "In the Mood for Love," in a packed house), and TNT bar on Columbia Pike.  My worst: Seeing bottle service bars come back. Yuck.

I have a list of all my favorite new things going live soon. (Sorry! Been sick since Monday.) But as a preview, I'll say I'm happy about the number of places adding large patios and rooftop decks, whether that's new bars (Brixton, DC Reynolds, Mova) or existing places building additions (Rock and Roll Hotel, 1905, Masa 14). I agree with Lavanya on the number of great options opening in the burbs -- with the exception of Maryland, where it's hard to think of new places in Montgomery or P.G. County that are worth raves. A shame, says this Maryland boy.

DC is just so utterly, utterly lame for NYE. I'm looking for something that includes entertainment, not just drinking and a quick toast at midnight! I saw the rave review that Peter Marks gave the Pajama Men at Woolly Mammoth, so I was thinking: the tickets seemed kinda pricey for their NYE event ($120 a pop), but there is an open bar and the show is supposed to be funny and not too long ... maybe it's worth it? Any other chances to catch a live act and ring in the new year that seem good to try -- cabaret, burlesque, theater, other?

Stephanie Merry: The hilarious Pajama Men show In the Middle of No One was easily one of my favorite performances of 2012, so I would highly recommend it. The sad truth about NYE is that you're probably going to overpay, and whatever destination you choose will most likely be overcrowded. If you want something low-key -- and free to get in -- check out Fritz's list of New Year's events.

Hi GOGs, Some friends and I are looking at the Red Derby's Old Hollywood party for NYE. What's your take on it? I know everywhere's crowded that night, but how crowded do you think we're talking about?

I'm been to the Derby on New Year's Eve before, and it does get really crowded. But if you're in by 10 p.m. , or even earlier depending on how many friends you have, you should be okay. It's the people who show up around 11 who are going to have problems.

We're spending Dec 25th seeing some movies in Arlington. Any suggestions of restaurants that will be open?

Looks like you could go two (entirely different) ways: Mala Tang will be open, and so will Ruth's Chris. Not sure how celebratory you're feeling, but it might be the one day of the year you can score a Blue Duck Tavern reservation in D.C. They're open and doing a three-course meal.

Desperately searching for the elusive Friday brunch complete with cocktails. Please help. Anywhere inside or just outside the Beltway is workable. Thanks!

Ted's Bulletin on the Hill is breakfasty/brunchy all day, and they offer boozy adult milkshakes and mimosas for anyone who wants them.  Firefly has a breakfast menu until 10 a.m., and while that doesn't include the $2 mimosas and bloody marys offered on weekends, you can still get a drink.

What minimum age would you recommend for this show? Is it too scarey for a pre-K kid?

Stephanie Merry: Round House recommends Young Robin Hood for ages 8 and up. If you're looking for kid-friendly performances for that age range, I'd recommend A Brown Bear, a Moon and a Caterpillar at the Kennedy Center, which looks like it will be a pretty spectacular puppet-based retelling of some of Eric Carle's books (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, etc.). But act fast because tix are selling out fast. Seussical at Imagination Stage would be another good bet.

I have visited several restaurants in the Columbia Pike corridor, but haven't made it there for happy hour yet. Can you tell me who has the best happy hour deals on that side of Arlington? Thanks!

Twisted Vines is a favorite of Fritz's, and they have a great happy hour that's worth trying. If you happen to have children you want to bring along, there's a Stroller Happy Hour. Another one to add to your list: William Jeffrey's Tavern.

Hi, GOGs! I'm just moving back to DC after a stint in Northern California. I'm thrilled with my quirky new place off U Street, but need to fill it with some cool used stuff. I'm hoping you can steer me toward a few thrift stores where I might be able to pick up some quality vintage (but reasonably priced) furniture. Of course I'm watching Craigslist, too ... any other tips? Many thanks!

Stephanie Merry: I just furnished my new apartment almost entirely from Craigslist, which was -- yes -- a huge pain but also a huge success. Millennium Decorative Arts is one of my favorite places for mid-centry pieces, although it's admittedly a little pricey. Miss Pixie's is a bit cheaper than that and probably one of my favorite D.C. shops to just go in and wander around. I was so sad when Ruff & Ready closed up shop in my neighborhood, but the store has relocated to Petworth, so that's another option. Chatters, what say you?

I just saw Fuego Cocina on your list of 2012 new places. Do you know what the HH time and specials are for this place? I noticed that it's from the same owners as Ceiba and they have great HH specials. Thanks!

Their happy hour is $5 house margaritas (frozen and regular, both good but not great) and $5 draft beers. No food specials, but the tacos are regularly priced at 2 for $7. That said, you do get a large basket of free chips and smoky, spicy salsas with your drink order. Good for a date or with a group, but it's not the best deal in Clarendon.

What are some of the DC area's better BYOB restaurants?

Thai X-ing, for sure, because there's also no corkage (and there is the best pumpkin curry I've eaten anywhere, period). And Charlie Palmer Steak, because they also charge no corkage for up to two bottles, so long as your wine is American. And finally Dino, which nixes the corkage fee on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

I definitely appreciate your list of best free NYE events; thanks for providing! Do you have suggested arrival times at these places so you can nab a seat at the bar and enjoy the evening? We were thinking of heading to Virtue but on a normal night it is usually a bit crowded and we have to wait to grab a seat, let alone two seats; I guess we should expect NYE to be a bit crazier? Happy holidays!

First, here's a quick link to my no-cover New Year's Eve list, which has more additions coming today. Worst time of year to be sick. Anyway.

My rule of thumb: Expect New Year's Eve to be worse than you think, and allow a 90 minute cushion, because it's amateur night and crowds are bad. If your favorite bar usually fills up at 10 or 10:30, consider showing up by 9. If you know that the Passenger is swamped at 11 on a regular weekend -- and it is -- than you're going to want to beat the crowds and arrive at 9, no later than 9:30. You can fudge that if you don't need a seat, but I wouldn't, especially at these free events. I'm hearing that a number of ticketed parties aren't close to selling out, so I wonder how many people are trying to skip them this year.

I love Pearl Dive Oyster Bar in Logan Circle. I've heard people complain about the service, but I've always had awesome servers!

A lot of people adore Pearl Dive, and it's a great addition to the neighborhood, for sure. Service complaints seem to be an issue in D.C. - with all the restaurant and bar openings, we understand a few hiccups, particularly in crowded spaces. But I think they might be epidemic here, from reading Tom's chat, and from my own experiences (recently had every single order jumbled at a restaurant, had two restaurants give away our table while we waited at their bar....)


I'm new to the area and not able to fly back home to see my family so this year it's literally just me and the dog in my tiny Fairfax apartment. I don't want to sit home because it's so depressing but is there ANYTHING open or anything to do? I'm doing the museums later in the week since I'm off all week.

Stephanie Merry: So sorry you'll be alone for the holidays! There are some places open on Christmas, and not just Chinese food restaurants. The Botanic Garden is open every day of the year, and Christmas would be an excellent time to drop in and see the Season's Greenings exhibit of trains zipping past plant-based replicas of D.C. landmarks. At the Kennedy Center, the free Millennium Stage performance that day will be the All-Star Christmas Day Jazz Jam. And, of course, there are always new movies. Nothing says Christmas like Quentin Tarantino, right? Django Unchained is getting good early buzz, though if you want something a little less bloody, there's also Les Miz, which opens that day, and a slew of other worthwhile flicks.

Did you all publish your list of places to go for hot winter drinks yet?

We had a few favorites highlighted here, including the drinks at 901, Firefly and the Round Robin bar. Fritz chronicled bars with fire pits and hot drinks here. Ripple has a couple of hot offerings, as does Bibiana, and finally, there's Room 11, where the Glogg is hot, and still delicious. It's on my list to drink all over again.

As a long time resident of Adams Morgan, it is nice to see some actual restaurants coming to the neighborhood again ( Mintwood, Doner, Pho 14, the two new noodle places). Hopefully when the hotel is built this trend will continue.

I agree, this is totally a trend, and an awesome one. I dream of the lentils at Mintwood, and Sakuramen has been a favorite of the staff here.

Best thing: October baseball in DC!!!! (and all the bar specials that come along with that.) Oh, and can't complain about RG3 or DC United either. Worst thing: in addition to not having a hockey team, looks like we don't have a basketball team either.

The excitement around the Nats this October was unlike anything I can remember in D.C. (Sadly, I'm not old enough to really remember when the Skins were actually good.)  The bar specials were tremendous. And the buzz around Sunday afternoons this year, whether in Sterling or downtown, has been fantastic. Good to see people excited about the home team (and mocking Giants and Cowboys fans) instead of moaning about coulda/woulda/shoulda this year.

Mt Vernon Estate is also open on Christmas Day and decorated beautifully - could be fun to head there and up to Old Town to see the holiday lights and tree on King St afterwards.

Stephanie Merry: Great plan. Thanks for the input!

Hi GOGs, and happy holidays! A friend is coming back into town for the holidays and we want to check out Jack Rose. I'm looking for a quick, easy, and tasty food option nearby for about 5 people. Any ideas? Also, does Jack Rose really get THAT packed?

Yeah, you should get to Jack Rose very early, like before 6, if you're hoping to not encounter crowds, though there's a small chance that all the people headed home somewhere means it will be quieter than usual. For quick, easy, tasty food, try Doner Bistro, or Amsterdam Falafelshop, or Sakuramen, depending what you're in the mood for.  Pho 14 just opened in the hood, too.

Hi Gurus, Two questions for you: We would like to have a Christmasy date this Sunday... any suggestions? We are thinking of heading to Old Town, grab dinner, and walk around. Is this a good idea? Second question: How easy is it to get tickets to the Messiah sing-a-long at the Kennedy Center this Sunday? Thanks so much and have a lovely holiday!

Second part first: I'd love to hear from someone who waited in line for Messiah tickets last year. Tickets are distributed one-per-person at 6 p.m., so the standard time I hear for lining up is always 2 or 3. I guess it depends on how badly you want to go.

Old Town is a great holiday date -- tons of decorations, great shopping in boutiques and antique stores, Irish coffee at Murphy's ... 

Tropicalia is a GREAT addition to the local music / nightlife scene. Best of 2012, imo. Creative bookings, mature, laid back crowd, great sound and dancefloor...I love it there.

Rhome, is that you? Regardless, we wholeheartedly agree, and add the following: Unpretentious door staff. People who don't care how they look dancing. No corny Top 40.  $5 caipirnhas.

Seriously folks, listen to Fritz. Plan a party. Go to a party. Get a lovely fancy carryout meal and a great movie. Buy a new board game. NYE is crazy, and crazy expensive. Only go out if you have a specific good place to go to!

Word. I don't think people need to stay in, but really, just lower your expectations, have a good time with your friends, and CHILL OUT if the bartender can't get to you right away because they're busy, or if there are no seats, or if you have to wait in line to show your ID at the door. It's supposed to be fun, not torture.

One of the worst restaurants I went to was District Commons, the server got our order wrong and brought out our appetizer AFTER our entrees were taken away. I also had a bad experience at its sister restaurant DC Coast. Because of this, I'm scared to go to Fuego in Clarendon.

I don't know that these issues are related to the ownership -- perhaps just a single server? -- but we hear that Fuego is improving its service, and Justin has said he's enjoyed it. I'm eager to check it out for dinner as well, since I hear the vegan and vegetarian fare is great (finding good Mexican is also among my life goals).

I grew up in Falls Church and Oakton (now live in Pennsylvania) and my favorite thing is how these suburbs now have so many really good, affordable ethnic restaurants (thinking mainly of Elephant Jumps and Four Sisters in Falls Church, various pho restaurants, as well as Middle Eastern restaurants). Both suburbs were so bland when I was growing up there in the 1970s and 1980s. I really enjoy exploring all the new restaurants when I come home for visits.

Oh, nice shout-out for Elephant Jumps. I'd add to that Curry Mantra, the Indian restaurant that's one of Tom's favorites for 2012.  Rasika and Masala Art aside, the burbs have some of the most amazing gems for finer ethnic food, for sure. 

2 years ago you recommended a show at JVs in Falls Church. This was perfect for my wife and I. Live music, some dancing, not an emphasis on becoming drunk. Right in our wheelhouse. Anyplace in Northern Virginia doing anything like this for NYE this year?

God, I love JV's. Just a perfect low-key kind of place. (This year's show is Deja Blue, a Chicago-style blues band.)  I'd say there, Tiffany Tavern in Alexandria (which has a bluegrassy open mike) or the country dancing at Nick's. The latter is $20 to see the local country act the Ramblin Fever Band. There's a $50 ticket that includes dinner, too, but you can go just for the music. The focus at Nick's is on boot scootin' over chuggin shots. 

Help! I was planning on doing a holiday themed date night with my boyfriend before we both leave for the holidays, with ice-skating and viewing the National Christmas Tree, etc., but the weather forecast shows rain moving into the area tonight. Do you have any suggestions for things to do indoors tonight, with an activity in line with the theme? Thanks!

Stephanie Merry: Fritz and I chatted and think a good plan would be checking out the very funny Commedia Christmas Carol, which is playing at Gallaudet, followed by festive drinks -- hot cider with bourbon, egg nog, hot chocolate with salted caramel moonshine, among others -- at the nearby Church & State.

You described it as child centric in the paper the other day--there are some kids events that generally end pretty early, but lots of venues are much more adult themed, and there are plenty of restaurants with bars up and down King Street. If the weather is good, my buds and I have always enjoyed it--start with beer, chili and onion rings at Hard Times cafe, and end up with Irish coffee for the midnight fireworks.

Thanks - for readers who were considering First Night, it looks like it can go both ways. The same is true for Annapolis, too -- it becomes a bar crawl of sorts later in the night, but is definitely family-friendly earlier.

Hi GoG's! I'm submitting early since I have a meeting to get to...but my birthday is next Friday and was thinking of having friends come out to Penn Social. I have never been there but love the idea of games and that it's a big venue and metro accessible. How is the place on a Friday night? I don't really have a set number of people coming, just shooting out the email and seeing who is around to celebrate! If not there, is there another venue with that kind of fun, easy going, vibe that could potentially fit a group of 15 or more? Thanks so much! :) Happy Holidays to you!

Penn Social is cavernous, so it's great for loose, informal groups;  happy hour offers a bit of a discount on beers and drinks;  and there are games.  I'll post a note we just got from a chatter who took our advice to go there recently.

Hey GOGs, no need to post this, but wanted to let you know that your advice was great! I asked some time back about where to get my office together for a holiday happy hour -- you suggested Science Club and Penn Social. We chose the latter and it was perfect. I am happy to report that I retain my position in the office as happy hour arranger extraordinaire. Thanks so much for your advice!

I'm finally off on a Monday! Anything good going on Sunday night? Looking for dance floor action.

If you haven't been to the samba nights at Tropicalia, with live bands, DJs and dance lessons, I'd put that high on your list. Certainly something new and different -- and the caipirinhas and Brazilian beers are the perfect pairing. Electronic music? Really doesn't get much better than Eighteenth Street Lounge, where Sam "the Man" Burns is your guide for a FREE night of dancing to smooth, soulful house music until the wee hours.

For the poster looking for a holiday date night tonight, I highly recommend the Botanic garden, which is open until 7:30pm!

Yes! And then you don't have to worry about the kids that mob the place on weekends! 

Actually, the place is open until 8 tonight, according to its website, with live choral music from 6 to 8. I'd package it with a post-garden drink at the festively decorated Tune Inn a few blocks east.

Hi Gurus. My SO and I are feeling burnt out, and are looking to escape from it all some weekend after Christmas. We are hoping for a nice place, maybe a B&B, that won't break the bank but would offer a nice dinner nearby and an opportunity for some relaxing walks in nature. Something in MD would be awesome, but we're willing to drive a reasonable distance. Thanks. This will be a Christmas present to ourselves.

Without falling back on our usual Virginia responses for this (Me: Staunton! Steph: Charlottesville!), I'd think you could head across the bay to Easton or St. Michael's or a weekend to relax. This isn't high season for either town, so you should be able to find deals.

What might be some fun bars/lounges for a group of single coworkers to go to in Arlington? We work in Rosslyn, and are looking for some lively after work spots in the Courthouse/Clarendon area that would be good time. I feel like most of the places in this area that we have been to so far cater mainly to the early/mid 20's crowd. We like all types of food/music. Thanks!

You should try Odd Bar at Eventide, and the bar at Fuego; both attract more mature crowds, in part because of the price point being a smidge higher. A third option: Liberty Tavern.

The Botanic Gardens are open until 8 tonight. That could replace the rained-out National Christmas Tree.

That's true, thank you!

I want to buy someone a gift of true, real Rye. I know nothing about the different makers so can you please help point me toward a name or two that I might be able to find in the area (preferably NoVa).

It really depends on how much you want to spend. My favorite ryes come from Willett and Van Winkle, but they're not always easy to find. Easier to get your hands on: The Bulleit Rye is really good, and I love the 100 proof Rittenhouse for cocktails. 

I'm sold! I will be there. I've been looking for this man since Five & Red closed years ago! Thank you!

There is no one like Sam when it comes to getting the crowd dancing at 2 a.m. when they have to get up for work in a few short hours. 

Hi Gurus! Any particularly good live music events going on in DC between now and early January? (Hoping to get tix as a last minute panic x-mas present!) Think: jazz/blues/folk. Thanks!

Jamaican jazz pianist Monty Alexander at Blues Alley through New Years Eve and the brassy Nawlins stomp of the Rebirth Brass Band at the 9:30 Club a week from today would be two of my picks, or Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder at the Birchmere if your giftee likes bluegrass.

I was at Batch 13 on 14th Street this week and they seemed to have a good selection of Rye.

yeah, but the chatter wanted NoVa. If they're going to D.C., I stick by Ace Beverage, Potomac Wine and Spirits in Georgetown, or Schneider's on the Hill.

Help! I'm trying to find a place that will seat 8 people for Christmas Brunch, preferably in the AdMo/Columbia Heights/Woodley/Dupont kinda area. Any suggestions? Parents will be visiting out of town, so somewhere on the nice-ish side would be ideal. Everywhere I've called so far (Jack Rose, Mintwood, Open City) seems to be closed Christmas Day.

Okay, so I had a thought that hotels would be open, and a perfectly attractive one that came to mind was Cafe Dupont in the Dupont Circle Hotel. It'll be open, doing a Christmas Day brunch till 2:30 p.m. -- give them a call. Also open, in Alexandria  if you wanted to make the trek , is the Grille at Morrison House, which will be doing a bunch of traditional holiday dishes, including figgy pudding.

I'll be over at the Atlas Theater tonight. Where's a good place to grab dinner that will be incredibly delicious and give me a good feel for H st?

I'd hang my hat on Granville Moore's for mussels;  Stephanie here and Tim Carman swear by the newish Cusbah, and I like Atlas Room, though it's pricey. (Avoid Pho Bar and Grill, and the vibe and the drinks are often better at  Smith Commons than the food.) If you want a real feel for the neighborhood, end your meal with a slice of punk rock pie at Dangerously Delicious.

We have family coming in for nine straight days over the holidays. So, I am planning two date nights with my husband to get him out of the house as a reward (especially since we have built-in babysitters). Would love some suggestions: 1) Saturday, Dec. 22: Anything fun or different to do in DC? I've already done the Ellipse, Willard, etc. with friends this season, so it doesn't have to be holiday-related. A sporting event is typical, but we've already been to 1 Wizards game, so that's probably more than enough. Food, cocktails are good, something out of the ordinary better. Staying overnight in Dupont. 2) Friday, Dec. 28: Need a nice place to watch the VA Tech bowl game. NOVA preferred. 30s/40s age range. I saw the Hokies viewing sites, but thought I'd ask about any place off the beaten path. Thanks and happy holidays!

For the 22nd: If you're staying overnight in Dupont, I'd hit Estadio for drinks and dinner - it's far easier to dine and drink there if there are just two of you. A wintery slushito or gin tonic and the brussel sprouts are a MUST, people.  Then, I'd score tickets (ASAP) for the Pajama Men show at Woolly Mammoth. You'll have to cab over, but the review is excellent, and I love a show that mixes theatricality with a little slapstick humor. Unusual enough, I think. I checked, there are tickets left. 

Regarding Tech: So many bars are "unofficial" Hokie bars that aren't on the alumni group's list. Have you been to Hard Times in Clarendon? Tons of TVs and spirit. First Down in Ballston, too.

Oooh, the mention of onion rings makes me want onion rings. Where can I find good onion rings? The thin kind, battered lightly and very crispy-fried? (Remember the New Orleans Cafe that used to be on Columbia Rd where Pasta Mia is now? They had the platonic ideal onion rings.)

Such a good question, and one that really requires time and research and greasy fingers. A couple of names being thrown around among the assembled Gurus (and others): Hank's on the Hill, Matchbox (with the mini burgers), Meridian Pint and Big Board.

Hey GOGs, My friend and I want to throw a party for our 30th birthdays, both of which happen around the same time. Do you, or any of the chatters, have recommendations for good places to rent out (or preferably reserve space at for free? :) We want somewhere where we can have fun music to dance to, but don't want a club.

We need more info, because it really, really depends on the day, the time, the number of people -- a while host of factors. 

If you go, don't pass on the fries! I dream about those fries.

This is true. I was saying the same thing about the fries at Big Board! And the fries at Marvin...and the fries pretty much anywhere. Potatoes (and doughnuts) will be the death of me.

I have a gift certificate to Rasika that expires January 1, but can't manage to get a dinner reservation between now and then (dear Lord they are STILL such a hot ticket at both locations). Have you all had any luck just showing up and trying to eat at the bar?

Yes, I've had luck at the bar! (Get there early, when they open, if you can. It'll get lively soon enough.) But I also suggest calling and speaking to a manager about your predicament. There is NO place I've eaten in D.C. that makes diners feel more welcome, and happy, and full. Any problems I've encountered are always remedied without another thought.

Matchbox does make good onion rings. I had forgotten. Love Meridian Pint. Not so much the food. Should I give the onion rings a try? Are they thin, battery, shattery?

They are. Not perfect, but delicious, especially with a burger.

I'd like to treat my BF and myself to an AFFORDABLE couples' massage, but it seems as though, in DC proper, you've got to shell out major money! Know of a reputable place that doesn't require me to empty my bank account or get a loan for a massage? Thanks!

Go to Spa World. Serious. Lavanya and her boyfriend have gone there -- she's off the chat or I'd have her answer this -- and you can get a 30-minute couples deep-tissue massage for $100, or a 60-minute Swedish massage for $160, which fellow gurus tell me is a total deal.

I showed up right when they opened at 5 on a Saturday night and they offered to seat me at a table they didn't have a reservation until 6:30.

Some advice for the Rasika-goer. With all the people heading out of town, I would think this would be the perfect time to try this strategy.

For the chatter looking for a peacefull B&B getaway, my wife just treated me to a stay at the Red Fox Inn in Middleburg, VA for my birthday this past weekend. Historic old building, decent restaurant and shopping right there. Oh yes, ran into Sam Huff in the restaurant during breakfast Sunday AM. Also, Tom Sietsema recommends the Ashby Inn in Paris, Va which is only minutes from Middleburg. I think we'll try that next when we need a short break.

Alright, we have to wrap it up. You have ONE MORE CHANCE to talk New Year's and holidays with us next Thursday, assuming the world hasn't ended. (Listening to a DJ on the BBC calling people in Australia to make sure the world hasn't ended there, and everthing seems to be okay.)

Thanks for all your questions and advice. See you this time next week. Merry Christmas, happy holidays and be safe.

In This Chat
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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