New Year’s Eve is one of my least favorite days of the year. It’s not that I hate “Auld Lang Syne” or celebratory champagne. It’s the long lines. And the $100 parties with five hours of open (bottom-shelf) bar with falling-down drunks trying to get their money’s worth.
There’s also the crushing pressure to have the best night ever. You can feel it in the air, you can see it in the way people get frustrated when bartenders don’t move quickly enough. I’ve been to black-tie galas, $150 soirees at fancy cocktail lounges and $75 parties at glorified dive bars, and I remain convinced that the best way to handle New Year’s Eve is to spend the night hanging out with friends and making it a low-key affair.
I’m not the only one.
As the bar DC Reynolds prepares to celebrate its first New Year’s Eve on Georgia Avenue, co-owner Jeremy Gifford turned to friends who run the Boundary Stone and Rustik Tavern bars in Bloomingdale for advice. “They say it’s just a good neighborhood night,” he says. “They don’t advertise, they don’t have a cover charge and the crowd doesn’t have to mess with cabs or Ubers.”
That’s why Gifford says DC Reynolds — and a good number of its neighbors — will be keeping things low key on New Year’s Eve. “We’ll just open and do a toast at midnight,” he says. “The jukebox will be cranking. It’s catering to the people in the neighborhood. The people we see on a daily basis just want us to be open.”
Besides, he adds, “The economy isn’t that great, so I don’t think people want to go out and spend $150 on a cover band and [bad] beer.”
It’s not just the little guys, either. The ESL Management Group counts the extremely popular Chez Billy, Marvin, the Gibson, American Ice Company and the Satellite Room among its properties. Of those bars, only the Gibson is going for the big spenders — $130 for an open bar and burlesque performances — while the majority are charging nothing at all. Another ESL property, Patty Boom Boom, is charging only $5 in advance.
“We find that keeping it simple keeps it simple,” says Sheldon Scott, ESL’s chief marketing officer. “We enjoy bringing a theme to life, but at the same time, we like to be approachable and accessible.”
To help you figure out your night, we found no-cover, no-hassle, no-tickets-required celebrations in some of the region’s most hopping areas and grouped them by neighborhood. So if you don’t like one spot, we give you a few others nearby to check out.
In other words, my kind of New Year’s Eve.
You can find more ideas — including concerts, open-bar parties and black-tie hotel galas — at goingoutguide.com.
3718 14th St. NW.
Red Derby’s annual New Year’s Eve party has an “Old Hollywood” theme this year, according to co-owner Sasha Carter, suggesting an unofficial dress code of “feather boas and top hats” for walking the red carpet. A professional photographer will be taking black-and-white glamour shots. In addition to a free midnight champagne toast, the neighborhood bar will be selling $4 champagne cocktails all night, and every table gets a free bottle of champagne. Dance to swing music until midnight, with the usual eclectic mix of modern tunes afterward. (And yes, if you just want a $5 beer-and-a-shot combo on the rooftop deck, you’ll be able to get that as usual.)
3815 Georgia Ave. NW.
The glam, multi-roomed bar and restaurant, full of alcoves and balconies, will have jazz provided by Capital Bop, the group of musicians that organizes the popular D.C. Jazz Loft series at Chez Billy and Marvin. The music begins at 8 p.m.; the kitchen will be open until 10.
3628 Georgia Ave. NW.
The popular pub will be pouring drinks as usual (buy-one, get-one-free happy hour beers and cocktails until 9 p.m.) with music on the jukebox. The huge backyard patio, heated by lamps, will be open, weather-permitting.
3632 Georgia Ave. NW.
Blue Banana will open without a cover, but with DJ Heights spinning party tunes, drink specials and a complimentary midnight champagne toast. Those who want the open-bar experience can pay $40 for unlimited beer and wine and a selection of mixed drinks from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
3234 11th St. NW.
202-332-3234. www.room11dc.com .
Though it recently doubled in size, Room 11 is still a cozy spot that’s perfect for a New Year’s Eve date. Special food and menus with sparkling drinks will be available a la carte, and the outdoor patio (with fire pits) will be open.
3313 11th St. NW.
“It’s our first New Year’s Eve, so we have no idea what the draw will be,” says bar manager Gordon Banks. That’s why the nuevo taqueria is playing it safe and offering two options. It will be open as usual for folks who want to grab dinner or sit at the bar and sample the Mexican eggnog or spicy holiday ponche that Banks is whipping up for the occasion. Or you can pay $45 for unlimited beer, frozen and draft margaritas, rail drinks and special cocktails from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Either way, no reservations are being taken.
3400 11th St. NW.
While the Pint offers a $45 prix-fixe dinner (paired with American microbrews), it will open as usual for those who want to play shuffleboard in the basement or sip one of two dozen drafts.
Kangaroo Boxing Club
3410 11th St. NW.
There will be food and drink specials at Kangaroo Boxing Club, but nothing too fancy. “We want people to just be able to hang out,” says co-owner Josh Saltzman.
900 U St. NW.
Nellie’s is extending happy hour on New Year’s Eve, with $4 beer and vodka drinks until 11 p.m. and $15 buckets of Budweiser bottles until midnight, when there’ll be a champagne toast. DJs will spin on the tented rooftop deck.
1847 14th St. NW.
DJ Neville C of Saint Ex’s Brazilian night — a.k.a. Som Records owner Neal Becton — provides the beats in the downstairs Gate 54 Lounge.
1920 Ninth St. NW.
This low-key hip-hop bar is keeping things affordable. Happy hour runs from 4 to 9 p.m. and includes $4 beers and rail drinks and $2 off house cocktails. A second set of drink specials, from 9 to 11 p.m., brings $4 Corona, $5 rail drinks and free snacks. (Bottles of bubbly are $20.13 all night.) DJs spin old-school and golden-age hip-hop on two floors, and a free toast is offered at midnight.
917 U St. NW.
The upstairs bar and dance floor has been reserved for a private party, but the first floor will be hopping with a DJ, building up to a midnight toast.
414 H St. NE.
One of H Street’s top additions in 2012, Boundary Road’s bar opens at 5 p.m. with special cocktails, craft beer and snacks. A projection screen will broadcast events from Times Square in New York, and the bar will serve a champagne toast at midnight. The restaurant is offering a $42 three-course menu in the dining room (reservations suggested).
1355 H St. NE.
Stop by the massive beer garden, order a liter of German beer and gather on the patio, either at one of the tented and heated tables or around the new wood-burning fireplace.
1236 H St. NE.
This bar, filled with ’80s and ’90s arcade games, is open as usual for a night of playing “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Donkey Kong” and “Operation Thunderbolt” while sipping a DC Brau.
The Queen Vic
1206 H St. NE.
Cheers: The British pub is swapping the traditional champagne toast for a midnight shot of Jameson. Chef Ian Reeves is cooking up a festive menu for the night, and bar specials include a menu of hot cocktails.
2711 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-525-8646.
“Nothing fancy” is the mantra at the quirky 19-year-old Clarendon hangout. No live music, no specials (other than the usual 5 to 7 p.m. happy hour) and no cover charge. Arrive early to get a seat and try the new all-vegetarian/vegan menu.
2915 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-248-9888.
The party at this split-level Irish pub starts a little earlier than others, with a 7 p.m. champagne toast celebrating the arrival of 2013 in Dublin. There’s normal dinner and bar service after, followed by Element K playing at 10 p.m.
3181 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-312-8888.
It’s just a “normal night” at the popular sports bar, says co-owner Nick Freshman, which means you should show up early to grab a shuffleboard table or stake out space on one of the couches. A DJ will start spinning at 9:30 p.m.
3165 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-276-3165.
It could be your lucky night at Odd Bar, and not just because DJ John John is spinning from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Chef Adam Barnett is whipping up special dishes celebrating foods that are thought to bring good luck in the new year: pork and sauerkraut, which is a tradition in Germany and Eastern Europe, and hoppin’ john, a staple of new year’s diets in the South. Doors open at 4 p.m. for happy hour.
2233 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
Glover Park’s retro basement bar is offering free games — pool, shuffleboard and Wii Sports — from 7 p.m. to close, a great jukebox and a free midnight champagne toast.
8081 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. 301-565-9700.
The Sidebar is open for cocktails, whether you want to make a reservation for the open bar, which runs from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and costs $50, or order food and drink a la carte. DJ Drifter spins dance music in the Back Room, an event space with its own bar, all night.
728 King St., Alexandria.
The luxe Alexandria cocktail lounge is open as usual, but with festive champagne cocktails. Reservations are required and available through the bar’s Web site beginning Monday.
Quarry House Tavern
8401 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. 301-587-8350. www.quarry
The Ubangis — a fixture on the local garage-rock scene for two decades — play in the back room at Silver Spring’s favorite dive, where the midnight toast will be with the Champagne of Beers instead of fancy bubbly. There will be two whiskey tasting menus: One features five 30- to 40-year-old scotches, such as a 34-year-old Glenfiddich that was laid down in 1975, and costs $75 per person. The “Old Rotgut Tasting Menu” stars Old Crow, Old Weller and three other cheap whiskeys and sells for $15.