The Scene: One of the pioneers of Washington's lounge scene when it opened in early 1997, Chi-Cha still relies on its original formula: a candlelit room jammed haphazardly with couches in varying degrees of wear; loud world music; and hookahs filled with exotic tobaccos. Owner Maurico Fraga-Rosenfeld, who's also behind Gazuza, Gua-Rapo and several other local nightspots, says he designed the place to re-create the atmosphere of his grandparents' hacienda in Ecuador, and on a good night, it can have the feeling of home -- friends sitting around in groups, hanging out at a friend's apartment and sipping drinks. The crowd varies from young professionals to European wannabes to South American expats, though it's become a little more yuppified in recent years. The closeness of the couches means that everyone winds up eavesdropping on several conversations during the course of an evening.
In Your Glass: The house drink, chi-cha, which comes in red and white varieties. The red -- corn soaked with pineapple juice, cinnamon, cloves, cane sugar and a secret ingredient -- is reminiscent of a light, spicy South American wine.
On Your Plate: South American tapas. Beware, though, that the kitchen can be notoriously, frustratingly slow on weekends.
Need to Know: The dress code is as funky as the club. Neckties, men's tank tops and baseball caps are banned, as are some (non-trendy) sneakers. Enforcement, though, can seem highly random.
Nice to Know: Happy Hour, which runs from 5 to 8, includes half-price tapas, $3 beers and $4 glasses of chi-cha and the house-made sangria.
Price Points: This is not a cheap date: mixed drinks are around $10 and the glasses seem small. That said, they can be strong.
-- Fritz Hahn (Updated March 2008)