Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Gurus

Dec 27, 2012

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

Between Christmas shopping and cheering for the Skins, who's had any time to think about New Year's Eve? We've got last-minute ideas for big blowouts here, and awesome ideas for a low-key, hassle-free New Year's here. And if you still don't know what to do, we're here for you. Let's get this started.

My friends and I would like to go to a nice, but affordable place for New Yea's Eve that features jazz. We all well over the age of 40, so we are not looking for a wild, drunken scene.

It depends what "affordable" is. At HR-57, for example, tickets are $75, which includes three drinks, dinner and live jazz from 9 p.m. on. Twins has pianist Larry Willis, which should be great; tickets are $85, which includes a three-course dinner and a bottle of champagne.

Of course, you can also go the free route: Lavanya and I are both buzzing about the party at Chez Billy, which includes live jazz from Capital Bop with no cover charge. (Just be careful, though, because a la carte drinks there can add up.)

We will have a group of 14, ranging in age from 8 to 75, in town this week. We were going to go to Marrakesh for dinner, but just learned that they've closed. Do you have a fun, tasty, and not-too-expensive dinner suggestion that can accomodate a good-sized crowd? (Gluten free options are a bonus.)

So, we haven't been able to confirm that Marrakesh is closed, given that their web site is still up, and phone not disconnected (usually a sure sign). That's a caveat for our other readers. Since you're pressed for time to find a place, you should give the folks at Matchbox a call --  in particular, the Rockville or 14th Street locations. Both definitely have space for large groups, and a gluten-free menu. More like Marrakesh is Neyla in Georgetown, which has belly-dancing, etc. And I have a soft spot for Mama Ayesha's. I also think you should consider Indique Heights, which definitely has the space for your big group, and since it's Indian (and there are plenty of rice-based Southern Indian dishes, too), you should have a number of gluten-free choices.

Hi. Meeting some college friends for dinner from Baltimore tomorrow night and have been tasked with coming up with something roughly halfway between here and there. Any recommendations for somewhere relatively low key that we either won't feel rushed out of or that has an attached or nearby bar where we can hang out after dinner? Thanks!

Can I recommend somewhere that I haven't been yet? The team behind the Pratt Street Ale House, the Wharf Rat and Oliver Ales in Baltimore has taken over the old Rocky Run pub in Columbia and turned it into The Ale House in Columbia. It only opened two weeks ago, and holiday duties have kept me from heading up 295 to visit. But what I've heard so far has been very, very positive.

My Argentine wife and I just moved back to DC. I want to show her a fun DC NYE. any suggestions? most parties seem to be all booked up by now! thanks for the advice!

You have to hit Tropicalia, the new underground dance club right in the heart of things at 14th and U Streets. The New Year's party, called From D.C. With Love, is not sold out, says Fritz, and will be a night of samba, Latin funk and house. It's always a fantastic place for dancing, and draws an international crowd.

Are there any places to celebrate that do not serve alcohol, and are for adults, not kids?

"First night"-type events are dependably sober, particularly in the earlier parts of the evening. First Night Alexandria is an family-friendly event that takes place right in Old Town with a treasure hunt for kids, events at the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, the Little Theatre of Alexandria and more. As the night gets later, expect more live music, and more adult activities. Fireworks take place at midnight at the waterfront. Admission to all venues is $20 for adults, but it's free for children 12 and younger.     Annapolis  rings in the New Year with this  free events centered around City Dock. The day starts off with children's events including music and crafts at 3 p.m., with a round of fireworks at 7:30 p.m., so you can get the little ones into bed on time. After 8 p.m., live music for adults begins, with more fireworks at midnight. 

So, an elegant bar where we can go dressed up at 5 or 6 NYE for a drink before dinner. So no prix fixe menu or cover. PX is out as they are not taking reservations (despite the WaPo saying they were starting 12/17). Quill is a maybe, but other thoughts? Thanks, and Happy New Year!

PX did take reservations for New Year's via City Eats, but they only have room for 40 people at a time, so if you didn't get on the website early on the 17th, there was likely to be nothing available. (This happens on Saturday nights that are nowhere near NYE.)

If you require reservations for the bar, though, you might be out of luck. Quill is a possibility, to be sure, but seats are first-come, first-serve. Proof will be open as usual with by-the-glass champagne specials. I'd definitely consider that. Blue Duck Tavern is another open-as-usual spot with a nice bar, and you might also try the Source, which is advertising a pricey prix-fixe menu, but will have its bar open.

The problem is that so many spaces I'd usually recommend for something like this, such as Fiola and the Gibson, are doing big-ticket dinners and parties.

I was thinking about hanging out in Old Town for a while New Years Eve, but can I just walk around without buying a ticket to First Night? I've never been to one so I thought maybe they'd close some streets off.

You can definitely do this. You won't be able to access some of the First Night concerts and events that are indoors, such as those at the Athenium, but you can wander the streets, pop into shops and bars, and watch the midnight fireworks. Virtue, Tiffany Tavern and the Majestic are good bets for drinks if you want to avoid cover charges; the Light Horse is charging $20 for live music and a toast; Murphy's Pub has a three-course meal and live music for $40. 

HOw about the several great places in Frederick, MD?

As much as I like Frederick, it's about twice as far from both Baltimore and D.C. as Columbia is...

I would recommend first nite Alexandria. I especially like: Not So Modern Jazz Quartet Plus One and QuinTango. These two are well worth the admission and will be mostly adult audience.

Yeah, that's the thing about First Nights. There are plenty of kid-friendly events for the first few hours, but after that, when the kids all start getting tired, it's much more adult focused.

Hi Gurus. Thanks for taking my question. My husband and I have a late afternoon/evening date tomorrow and was hoping you could give me some advice on where to go. Looking for not stuffy places with good drinks and beer where we could share plates at a bar verses doing the whole table thing. I was thinking maybe picking a different neighborhood to explore (we work in downtown and Georgetown and live in Arlington). Thoughts? Thanks!

I can't help but think Churchkey will fit the bill - I love getting there early, heading upstairs and finding a spot at the bar or at a table and poring over the beer list while there's still a little light coming through the windows. (Highly recommend this on a bored Saturday afternoon too, since it opens at noon.) Sitting at the bar before it gets too crazy also gives you access to a knowledgeable bartender, who can help you navigate the list. Some other thoughts -- Meridian Pint in Columbia Heights, if you head downstairs, has the laid-back feel you like, and there are lots of fans of the food. Another option in that neighborhood that has been winning raves for the food: Kangaroo Boxing Club. I love to sit at the bar at Estadio and have a gintonic (yes, that's what they're called) - their sandwiches and brussel sprouts are made for sharing (and ridiculously delicious). Finally, if you wanted to check out a newer place, you could head for H Street, where you can absolutely do that at Boundary Road, which also has a good happy hour. 

I am sure you will get questions on the best place to watch. How about a great place to watch where there might be 40-something single men in VA/DC?

We're actually working on a roundup of this nature right now. I would think that just about every bar in the entire area will have the Redskins on -- there's no competition from any other football game at the time. Dunno if any specifically attract 40-something singles, but I would presume Crystal City Sports Pub and Mister Days would fit the bill. Chatters?

I emailed Meshelle Armstrong and she said City Eats was not taking reservations before the 24th, and then it was not doing so even then (I tried at 6 am).

Okay. I was told the opposite when I talked to Todd Thrasher and the EatGoodFood Group's publicist.

Hi gurus! My 30th birthday is coming up in a few weeks, and ideally, I'd like to gather about 40-50 colleagues and friends at a bar or club to celebrate. I moved here from Europe recently, so I have no idea how this is usually done here. Back in my home country, I'd reserve space at a bar and buy appetizers in advance (for a total cost of a few hundred dollars) and then people would buy their own drinks and additional food. Can I do something similar here? Looking to spend $500 or less. Any advice greatly appreciated!

This is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it's how a good friend and I do our annual holiday party at bars. We lay out some snacks and hors d'oeuvres for early arrivals, and negotiate a drink special or two, and everyone buys their own food and drinks. I don't think anyone really expects you to buy them food, so it becomes a nice surprise.

What night of the week are you planning on this, and what kind of vibe are you going for (place with a DJ and dance music, a pub, a wine bar)?

I've tried all my usual places - no luck! Have the day off and would like to find something fun to do with my Dad while he's in town. Appreciate any suggestions!

Hi, I really want to help you!  If you're still there, what does your dad like? What's he into? Thanks!

My husband and I are 35 - he still enjoys going to to the big bustling New Year's Eve parties with an open bar. I'd prefer something a bit more low key - don't mind the energy or the atmosphere but don't want to have wait on line for food/drink and jockey for a place to stand/dance. The big parties tend to sell too many tickets which ruin the experience. Any thoughts on something that might appeal to both of us?

There are some open bar-party hybrids that might work for you: Jackie's Sidebar has a party with a DJ in the back room, but the bar itself will either be (a) open as normal or (b) have an open bar for $50. They're apparently limiting capacity to make it easier for everyone to get served. The party at Tropicalia (mentioned above) should have a great atmosphere thanks to the music and dancing without the big-club hassle. I'm curious about the party at Bourbon, which is promising the usual DJ/open bar combo for $50, but hasn't been overloaded in the past.

As awesome as some events sound, such as Questlove DJing Bohemian Caverns with live jazz in the basement ($50), or the Brixton's rooftop mod party I'm wondering if they're going to be too packed to be fun. (My last weekend trip to Brixton was wall-to-wall crowds.)

our boss is going to take us out for lunch and she wants us to pick the place. Any recommendation for lunch around silver spring or bethesda?

Always nice when the boss is paying, eh? In Bethesda, we like Bistro Provence or the new Wildwood Kitchen (both places you want someone else picking up the check). Around Silver Spring, we remain fans of the pies at Pacci's, especially with a group.

Do any local places ever have movie marathons? Different movies, not the same one over and over. I could do a day of total chill out.

Arlington Cinema N Drafthouse will frequently have marathons, particularly around the holidays (they just held an eight-movie marathon of Christmas flicks). And if you can remember to check sometime in late January, the AMC theaters host a Oscars movie marathon in February, right before the awards ceremony.

And finally, it's not a marathon, but if you really wanted to chill out, you might try watching a movie at the AMC Courthouse theater, where you can watch in a cushy recliner with a foot rest.

Dear, dear GoGs, I live in MoCo. I broke up with my ex six months ago. I am ready to get back on the market. I haven't ever been to a singles bar and think it's time to break the trend. I do not like driving into the District because I am lazy. I am in a flirting mood. Where can I find those in a five-year range of the early thirties? Extra points for loungey places where I can hang out and chill to some music (I listen to anything.) If no such thing exists in MoCo, I will accept District recommendations, as well as any tips. Thank you. Consider it your Christmas gift to me.

Hmm. Having just been through Bethesda for a couple of writeups, I can say that Tommy Joe's and Union Jack's felt the most single-y to me, as in, a place where you can go and strike up a conversation with the person next to you. (Not really loungey on either county, though. ) The bar at Redwood definitely had that meet-and-greet feel at happy hour.

In Silver Spring, I've never had a seat at the bar at Jackie's without finding myself talking to someone new over a cocktail, though as Lavanya just pointed out to me a second ago, a lot of locals go there in groups, not because they're on the prowl.

E Street Cinema usually does the nominated short films around Oscar time. If you buy tickets to all three (animated short, short film, short documentary), that would take a lot of time. Although I don't know if they'll offer all of them this year.

Not exactly "local" but not very far either... I really like Bengie's Drive-In Movie Theater just outside of Baltimore "Dusk to Dawn" movie marathon every Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend. The often do double and triple features every weekend in the summer. And besides, it's a DRIVE-IN theater, how cool is that?

Alright, that does it from us. Please watch the GOG Blog for any last-minute New Year's Eve updates, including brunches. Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve, and we'll see you back here in 2013.

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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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