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Posted at 08:04 PM ET, 04/05/2011

Daytime diversions for a federal shutdown


Visitors to the National Air and Space Museum during the shutdown in the fall of 1995 were greeted by this sign. Could it happen again this weekend? (AFP Photo)
It’s looking increasingly likely that you’ll wake up Saturday morning to find the government shuttered and the lights out at federally funded “non-essentials,” including many of your favorite museums, national parks and the National Zoo. And come Monday, hundreds of thousands of Washington workers could find themselves furloughed.

So where can you spend your weekends — and potentially empty workdays — in the event of a shutdown? Galleries and private museums can provide a culture fix without costing big bucks, or, if you have saved enough rainy-day funds to splurge a bit while on your forced vacation, go in for that high-end, long lunch you always wanted to try but never had the time to. We’ve also got a list of bars that open early, should you choose to observe the shutdown as some sort of Government Worker Spring Break.

The last shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 stretched for a combined 26 days and saw the closures of Smithsonian museums such as the National Air and Space Museum; National Park Service facilities including the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument (trips to the top ceased); and the National Gallery of Art.

With the prospect of a repeat performance this weekend, the area’s private museums should fill in in a pinch. The Phillips Collection has two major shows, “Philip Guston: Roma” and “David Smith Invents,” that are must-sees; the Corcoran Gallery of Art doesn’t have a major exhibition up at the moment, but it does have a show of selections from its collection, including photography and contemporary paintings. (During the last shutdown, the Corcoran greeted a major spike in visitors with doughnuts and coffee for everyone.) The private Kreeger Museum opens a new show, “Tom Wesselmann Draws,” on Friday, and it could also be a great time to pop into other museums locals might neglect, such as the Newseum or the Spy Museum. If you’re looking for something more budget-friendly if you’re furloughed, head to area galleries. Irvine Contemporary has the intriguing “Image/Fame/Memory” show through late April, while the Art Museum of the Americas just opened a show of 12 Washington and Baltimore artists called “Corridor.” Artisphere has a large show, “Hamtdaa: Together,” of colorful Mongolian-inspired pieces by Arlington artist Gankhuyag Natsag. And finally, tourists looking for an alternative to a largely shuttered Mall will find Mount Vernon open; it has stayed open through previous shutdowns.

If we lived in Spain, we’d be able to take leisurely lunches and then settle in for a nice siesta. As long as you’re looking at a newfound abundance of time, why not do as the Spanish do? Some of the area’s poshest restaurants offer multicourse lunches at a steal during the week.

At Restaurant Eve's Bistro, you can indulge in a cocktail and a fancy sandwich, or a cup of soup and an Irish “BLT,” or even just have two desserts at the fancy dining destination; the bistro's Lickity Split Lunch (served only from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays) lets you pick two items off a limited menu for just under $15. At the Source, a three-course price-fixed lunch a la Wolfgang -- think potstickers and Kobe cheeseburgers -- rings up at $30 (and comes with the option of getting into the Newseum for an extra $7). At La Tasca in Chinatown, the “Feast Like a King” special (served before 3 p.m. every day) lets you order as many tapas as you want for just $20.11. And during a day off is probably the only time you can indulge in wine during lunch without tipping off a nosy cubemate. Proof's Lunch Crush deal (served only in bar/lounge area) lets you pick your lunch from a list of four entrees and either a glass of red or white wine to wash it down, all for just $12.  

So, will the bars be packed around Capitol Hill? Joe Englert, who owns Capitol Lounge and who was a fixture on the Hill bar scene during the last shutdown, predicts it will be “a party.”

“They’re not going to roam very far,” Englert says of Hill workers. “They’re not going to go home, and they’re not going to go to Vail.”

If, in lieu of work, you’re heading to a bar, think: Capitol Lounge , R.F.D . in Chinatown or Star and Shamrock, which open most days at 11 a.m. The Argonaut is open at 11:30 a.m.(Wednesdays through Fridays, anyway), as is Sign of the Whale and McFadden’s. And on H Street NE — a major haunt for Capitol Hill types these days — the Pug has said that if the shutdown takes effect, it will give anyone with a government work ID 10 percent off their tabs through the weekend. UPDATE: More furlough specials across the city can be found here.

Workers facing a furlough: How are you planning on spending your days? Let us know in the comments.

By Going Out Guide staff  |  08:04 PM ET, 04/05/2011

Categories:  Going Out Gurus, Bars and Clubs, Restaurants, Museums

 
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