Got Plans? The Going Out Gurus and guest Diana Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival discussed the festival, nightlife, weekend outings and more.

Mar 15, 2012

Got Plans? The Going Out Gurus discussed fashion, nightlife, weekend outings and more.

This glorious spring weather has arrived just in time for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which kicks off next weekend. (The blossoms themseles are expected to hit their peak blooom early next week.)

Washington's favorite rite of spring is a huge undertaking, with exhibits, sporting events, tours and restaurant deals. Joining us to talk about it all is Diana Mayhew, the president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

But, of course, if you want to chat about St. Patrick's Day, March Madness or any other topic, we're happy to oblige. Let's get underway...

I heard peak blooms moved up to March 20, has it ever been any earlier? thanks.

As I recall about 20 years ago, the trees bloomed on March 18 and that was when the Festival was one week long...the blossoms and the Festival did not coincide that year.  If you want to see a history of the exact blooming dates over the years please visit the National Park Service's official website.

Interesting story today about the return of Piratz Tavern. It seems like the community is really rallying around the bar. Do you think it will be more successful this time around?

Tim Carman's story about Piratz Tavern shedding its reborn "Corporate Bar and Grill" theme is indeed an interesting read, and neither side really comes out looking well.

The "Bar Rescue" team didn't really get that Silver Spring isn't K Street, and no one there wanted to go to an office-themed lounge with $13 burgers at lunch.

But the Piratz team, as Tim notes, weren't making any profits from the years-old restaurant, and the staff didn't seem to want to make an effort to change. That's too bad, because I've been to Piratz, and it wasn't pretty. The food ranged from okay to mediocre. The servers were straight out of Ren Fest -- and more interesting in "acting" than paying attention to customers. The saving graces were the patio and the rum drinks, and even those were inconsistent.

I'm not sure if the attention will bring enough people to help keep the place viable.

Hi all, thanks for taking my question! I'm planning to go down to the Cherry Blossoms this weekend, but I want to find someplace to go for lunch beforehand. Open to suggestions - anything but Asian cuisine, relatively inexpensive. Thanks again!

One restaurant that I would suggest would be Asia Nine

in the Downtown area.


Please check out our website, key word "Cherry Picks" for a list of our 100 Cherry Picks restaurants providing cherry inspired entrees, desserts and cocktails.


Since you're not looking for Asian, I'd add to that Cafe du Parc, not far from the White House, and the Chef Geoff's downtown. Both are closeish to the Tidal Basin (unfortunately nothing really qualifies as "really close"). Another option - bring a picnic and head toward Hains Point and East Potomac Park to eat before or after.

Hoping for some advice on what to do for entertainment. I have family rolling into town this weekend to check out the cherry blossoms - but other than that I'm out of ideas. They've visited numerous times and we've done the typical touristy stuff (monuments/White House tour/etc). Everyone in the party is older than 21.

If your family likes to bike...use Capital Bike Share and explore the city's neighborhoods.  The Tidal Basin should be gorgeous this weekend also.     Don't forget that there is a new memorial down there at West Potomac Park...the Martin Luther King Memorial.

Hi Gurus. Thinking about getting a group together and heading out for the St Patrick's Day festivities on Saturday. Since it's the weekend, what time will most bars open? We were thinking the afternoon might be the best time to go, but what say you? And finally, who will have the best drink specials? Thanks for your help.

The pubs I've talked to are getting ready for 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. openings on Saturday. That's a looooong day of drinking ahead.

On a "normal" St. Patrick's Day -- if there's any such thing -- you get a series of peaks and valleys. Places open early, get packed at lunch, slow down from maybe 2 to 5, and then roar for the rest of the night. On a Saturday, though, when no one has to run back to the office in the afternoon, I'm expecting things to go full throttle all day long, with maybe a few breaks before dinner, but not much.

As for drink specials -- there aren't really any good ones at the traditional Irish pubs. You can go to Town Tavern or McFadden's or something for cheap drinks -- the former has $5 pitchers of green beer until 10 p.m., the latter offers 17-cent drafts until 9 a.m. and $4 Guinness from noon to 3 -- but not at, say, the Dubliner or the Four Courts or any of those pubs.

For the parking that's set aside for the festival, how early does it fill up? Do we need to be there at the crack of dawn to get a space?

There is no reserved parking...but parking is avaiable at Hains Point and a shuttle will be available starting at 10AM to drive people to the Tidal Basin area.  People come in and out of there all day long.  Metro is also a great option.

I'm dragging my boyfriend around the city this weekend and want to give us both a treat by going to Churchkey on Saturday. Can you give me an idea what time to get there to get a couple seats at the bar? I'd love to have the chance to chat with the bar staff. I was going to shoot for 2 or 3 pm (after lunch but before dinner), good thought? Thanks!

On a normal Saturday, the 2 to 4 p.m. window would probably be ideal. St. Patrick's Day, however, is not a normal Saturday. I think you'll still be fine around then since ChurchKey isn't a participant in the whole green beer and beads movement, but seating could be hard to come by here and there if they get slammed.

I usually go to Churchkey at slower times -- 6 p.m. on a Tuesday, 4 p.m. on a Saturday -- so that I can chat with the bartenders or beer director Greg Engert about what, exactly, I'm drinking. After all, it's what they're there for, right?

But as Alex said, this isn't a normal Saturday. I would think maybe 2-4 p.m. would be a good window between the brunch and dinner rushes, but don't know what's going to be going on with St. Patrick's.

Hi gurus! Thanks for taking my question. Celebrating an anniversary the weekend of March 31, and we were hoping to include a morning looking at cherry blossoms in the line up. With the warm temps, I'm worried the blossoms will be gone by then! (not that I'm complaining!!) The only other weekend we could go is March 24, which is not ideal because I am babysitting a relative and he will have to tag along. Any other suggestions for something fun and outdoorsy we could do in DC/NoVA in lieu of blossoms March 31/April 1?

You are in luck!  There are so many wonderful events...most are free...that weekend.    The Blossom Kite Festival will take place on March 31 at the grounds of the Washington Monument.  There are so many amazing museum exhibits as a part of this Centennial Celebration.  Check out our website for a full schedule

Hey Gurus! A friend from out of town is coming to visit this weekend. She's been here before (awhile ago) and enjoys the museums and monuments. Are there any cool exhibits that we should check out, or any events going on downtown we shoudn't miss? Also, will the cherry blossoms be far enough in bloom that a walk to the Tidal Basin is in order? Thanks for your help!

This answer is from our other guest guru Kathy Orton: The new exhibit, The Art of the Video Game, at the American Art Museum has us all really buzzing -- it sounds amazing and really intelligent, and there are a lot of events including screenings that are related to it this week.  There's also a lot of events related to the cherry blossoms, even if there aren't necessarily a ton of blossoms yet. Two to check out: 100 Years of Japanese Kimono at the Mandarin Oriental (which is an amazing place to go anyway!) and 2:46 and Thereafter at Edison Place Gallery (near the American Art Museum, conveniently).

Haven't been able to make it as of yet, looks really neat. However I can't help thinking that the location is going to be its demise.

I liked Sixth Engine on my couple of early visits, but I've been on vacation and haven't been in almost a month, so I don't know how the crowds are now.
The area is interesting. I interviewed the owners before Sixth Engine opened to get an idea of their plans, and they pointed out that there are a HUGE number of rental condo units in the immediate area -- thousands within a few blocks. The market is there, and the half-empty Buddha Bar isn't quite filling it.

Seen them at the Tidal Basin and at the Arboretum. Since it is so nice I want to be out this weekend. Are there any other good places for cherry blossoms. I would like to be near Annapolis or event the Eastern Shore.

I am not aware of any cherry blossoms at the Eastern Shore or in Annapolis.  Not say that there aren't, I just am not familiar with them.   

I'm volunteering for the Rock & Roll Marathon on Saturday. I wonder if there are any Irish pubs serving breakfast and beer when my shift ends at 8am?

Yep. Downtown, the Irish Channel, McFadden's and the Dubliner will be open at 8, and Fado's open at 7.

where would you go? scenery a plus and avoiding 95 is a must as I'd like to go on my Harley. I live in Northern Virginia.

Have you been out to Middleburg? This is a place that's full of rolling hills, and it's really popular with bikers. There's a cool winery, Chrysalis, out there, and lots of cool shops and lunch spots, as well as Market Salamander.

Thanks! I had completely forgotten the calendar date until I hit submit. Felt dumb for asking but couldn't get it back :)

No worries. I think a LOT of people are worried about how the St. Paddy's Day crowds are going to impact non-Irish bars during the day.

Any suggestions on places in the Alexandria/Arlington area where a group of about 10 of us in our mid/late 30s can enjoy St. Pat's and watch March Madness? My initial idea was Crystal City Sports Pub, but a couple of people didn't want to go there. Any other options you can think of?

If you're looking for a pub with screens that's not going to be insanely crowded, I'd check out Daniel O'Connell's in Old Town.

But you could skip the Irish theme altogether, too -- what about Rustico in Ballston for good beers and a couple of TVs, or the stellar wings at First Down Sports Bar?

Lengthy visit of parents. One person on crutches. Everyone bored. Please give us something to do.

Kathy Orton: One idea might be to take a cruise along the Potomac on one of the many tour operators such as Spirit of Washington, Odyssey, D.C. Cruises, D.C. Sail, etc.) Most of their themed "cherry blossom" cruises don't start till next week, but you can still take a sail this week to see the blossoms, and it would kill a couple of hours.  Check out a bunch of the options here.

Fritz, really? You've been on vacation for the last month? Lucky, lucky man!

Only about three weeks, and it was a makeup vacation -- I didn't get to take a scheduled vacation at the end of last year, so I combined two.

And there was a lot of "research" involved, as anyone following my Twitter account can tell you.

I am "working from home" Friday afternoon which means I'll be at a bar watching basketball from noon onward. Of the recs in your blog post, which march madness bars have wireless internet access so I can at least keep up the illusion that I'm working by checking my email once an hour on my ipad? Thanks!

Buffalo Billiards, Town Tavern and Nellie's are WiFi enabled, and I just spoke to the folks at the Mighty Pint who will happily give you the WiFi password if you show up with your iPad or laptop. 

This might just be the perfect storm! Are there any bars with outdoor space with TVs that will be open during the day on Thursday & Friday for March Madness? I would normally not mind watching the awesomeness inside, but given the weather, do I have any outdoor options? Thanks!

Alex covered a few of these in his his clever March Madness post -- Cleveland Park Bar and Grill will be open early for games, as will Penn Quarter Sports Tavern. The roofs at Jack Rose and Whitlow's don't open until 5 p.m., if that's not too late.

You can also try Caddie's, Public Bar (Dupont, not Tenley) and Grevey's for al fresco-TV watching.

Hi! I love the Guide, but one thing that would really be helpful is the ability to sort by time of day. I'm often looking for things to do, say, after work on Friday, but, if I'm up for anything (and therefore not sorting by exhibit, performance, etc) I end up sorting through ~50 pages of things, many of which are exhibits at museums that are long since closed by the time I get out of work and to the museum. I'd love the option to search by start time, and even if it isn't possible to do by actual time (say, 7 pm), I'd appreciate a window, like "morning," "afternoon," "happy hour," "evening," etc. Apologies if this already exists and I'm just incompentent : ) Thanks!

Trust us -- we'd love for you to have this option, too. All I can say is that something is in the works.

I'm going with a group of four to the Warner Theatre Saturday night. Showtime is 7:30. We're thinking of District of Pi for dinner beforehand. Given that they don't take reservations and it's St. Patrick's Day, how bad should we expect the wait times to be? We want to make sure to finish in time, but don't want to be too early.

As much as I like Pi, I'm not sure that it's ever advisible to go to a "no-reservations-ever" restaurant at dinner when you've got a time-sensitive event afterwards. Things are just too unpredictable -- and that's on a Saturday that doesn't happen to be St. Patrick's Day. (Unless you're happy to show up at 5:30 and eat at the bar if all else fails.)

Hi Gurus... given all of this beautiful weather we've been having, I realize I often come back to the same question. What are some great things to after work on these lovely days? I love an outdoor happy hour as much as anyone, but I'm thinking free options not necesearily centered around drinking. During the summer you can do outdoor movies, jazz in the garden, etc. During this nice, pre-summer weather I'm at a loss. So far all I've come up with is wandering the mall (and the sculpture garden) and visiting the national zoo. Any other ideas? Thank you!

Lavanya: I can't help but think of a couple of  cool Meetups I did back when I did a five days of Meetups story.  One was  cool run around the   Mall that takes place on Mondays in the evenings -- such an awesome night, and afterward, the whole gang heads out for a carbolicious dinner (and beers). But there are also regular hikes held by local groups; it's super beautiful and really calming to be out on the trails.

Kathy Orton: There's a couple of outdoor options involving cherry blossoms. The National Park Service rangers are leading walks around the Tidal Basin in the early evening and later at night, depending on how ambitious you are. I'd recommend the Lantern Walks that start at 8 p.m. and last two hours. Also, Bike and Roll is offering Blossoms by Bike tours around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park. Or just rent a bike on your own and make your own tour.

In all of the recent chats about gluten-free options, would like to know of bars preferably in the DC/VA area that serve draft cider, so that I can pretend to be drinking a pint instead of always drinking from a bottle.

There are usually cider options on draft at ChurchKey, Galaxy Hut, Public House No. 7 and Fireworks, to name just a few.

Suggestions for somewhere (preferably in NW) to celebrate St Paddy's day with good beer that won't be a super crazed, drunken madhouse?

Ahh, that's going to be tough, buddy. It's Saint Patrick's Day, and when bars open at 7 a.m., drunken and crazed is kind of a given. Here's our running list of events; you could always try earlier in the day, before people wake up. I'd suggest the P.J. Clarke's bash, which is also a benefit that happens to be at a classy restaurant far from the traditional bar row in Dupont; and maybe the Mighty Pint or Irish Whiskey Public House. Again, I stress getting there early.

I know rooftop bars are all the rage, but really I just want to be outside (whether its rooftop or not), any suggestions for places to watch a little NCAA action and sit outside? Places with a smaller crowd potential are a definite plus!

Gotta be Biergarten Haus. According to their Facebook page, the patio is now fully opened (as opposed to the partial outdoor space kept open during winter months) and the games will be shown on all TVs and screens. You will definitely want to get there early, however. Like, perhaps now.

So Saint Pats is on a Saturday, but the parade was last week and Shamrockfest is next week? - the only non-pub item I see is a family oriented thing in Vienna, (did I miss anything; (if I don't want to go to Gaithersburg?) And if pubs are the only action, is there an order of preference? (with better, more authentic music being a priority?) Old town has options, but my though had been starting with the cap-hill stalwarts and orange-lineing/stumbling down the Wilson Blvd corridor

More "authentic" music: My picks would include Pennywhistle at the Old Brogue in Great Falls (worth the drive/designated driver), Garryowen at the Limerick Pub in Silver Spring, Brian Gaffney at the Irish Channel, Brendan Mulvihill at the Four Fields and Conor Malone at Duffy's.

Thanks-- I didn't think about how crowded a pizza-and-beer joint would be likely to be that day! Any other ideas for tasty, relatively inexpensive places to grab dinner within walking distance of the Warner Theater? Any cuisine would be great!

Well, Chef Geoff's is right next door to the theater, so that's one idea. Carmine's isn't much further than Pi (an extra block and a half). And right up 14th Street is the new Hamilton, which has everything from fancy grilled cheese to sushi. Don't splurge on cocktails and it's not too expensive.

Hi Gurus- I'm looking for a birthday gift for my boyfriend, and I'd like it to be an activity. He doesn't live here full-time, so I do need some flexibility with dates (meaning, not something that can only be done on a specific date). One thought was the firing range. A really nice scotch tasting would also be something he'd enjoy; any recs for that? What other ideas am I missing? Ideally, I'd like it to be something we can do together (although, no matter how hard I try, I just can't get into scotch). Thanks!

I think an obvious option would be to sign up for all the Capitol Deal/Living Social/Groupon e-mails and start looking for something that catches your eye. This time of year is great, because we're starting to see some cool Cherry Blossom cruises, deals for ziplining, and those classes (cocktail, mixology, etc.) and special events that are being offered at Living Social's 918 F Street space.  But there are other things worth looking into as well, including cooking classes such as Culinarie's or Cookology's.

For whiskey tasting, I have two ideas for you. First is Jack Rose, which has an inventory of 1,000+ whiskeys at the bar and a staff that knows its stuff; I'm sure if you called ahead they could set something up for you easily. Second, keep an eye on Mad Fox -- they frequently host tastings of the local Catoctin Creek, and have a number of whiskeys at the bar there that can be informally tasted. (You could also pair with a beer tasting, since award-winning brewer Bill Madden always has something cool coming out of Mad Fox's taps.)

Hi GoGs! I really could use your sage advice for this. My dear friend is turning the big 30 next Saturday (the 24th) and wants to go to a dance party that plays "Taylor Swift/ Britney Spears/Madonna" and similar music. She's asking my help, but I only know of the dance parties that play music that I want to dance to, like Moneytown, Mousetrap and Liberation Dance Party. I'm assuming this magical dance party doesn't just exist on its own. Do you have a suggestion for a venue that we can rent out and plug an iPod into the speakers or something? Help me, please! Thanks!!

You might not expect it, but the basement of El Centro D.F. on 14th Street turns into a straight-up dance party with DJs spinning Rihanna, Ke$ha, Spank Rock, etc. It's free, the drinks are solid and the floor is usually packed.

Any suggestions for a bar for a private party, for dancing, drinks for about 115 people, some of who will be under 21? Anywhere in the city works! Thanks!!

I can't help but think you might try something a little different -- how about a gallery space, such as The Dunes (gorgeous space, and you can get a great mixologist such as Jon Harris from the Gibson) or Lamont Bishop Gallery. Both are cool spaces, with art on the wall, and you set up your own DJ, drinks etc, for a party and not worry about how you're going to get in the under-21s!

GOGS, I have my inlaws in town this weekend, staying at a hotel in Dupont but enjoy basketball. I also have a friend in town who wants to party in Arlington for St. Paddy's day. Where could I take my inlaws to watch basketball without massive crowds, that is near a bar that is doing a St. Paddy's day rager?

Spider Kelly's? Ton of screens for the afternoon, will turn into a party as it gets later.

Just how crowded will it be in Fado this Saturday? Do you think they will have a big St. Patrick's Day crowd in addition the large Saturday morning rugby crowd? Is there any other bar in DC that shows the rugby?

Crowwwwwwded, that's how crowded I think it will be. And yes, expect a big general St. Paddy's non-rugby contingent too. You might try the Queen Vic if you want to watch rugby without as much general hullabaloo. 

Hi GOGs - submitting early but I hope you can help me! Friends are now coming to town this weekend, staying in Penn Quarter. Are there any restaurants near there that would work well this Saturday night with twin 5-year-olds and a 9-year old? Thank you!

From Lavanya and Kathy Orton: If they want something kind of kooky and fun, Ping Pong Dim Sum could be a blast, if they don't mind ethnic food. With more broad appeal, there's Matchbox (kids will lose their minds over the sliders) or Ella's, or Chef Geoff's (again, I know) but there are burgers.

Okay, guys, that's it for today! Thanks for playing, have a great St. Paddy's, and we'll see you next Thursday at 1 p.m. to talk about whatever going-out dilemma you've got.

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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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