There are reasons to dislike New Year's Eve -- the hype, the unruly crowds, the ridiculously inflated cover charges at otherwise boring nightspots -- but it's really impossible to grumble for too long. What other night is celebrated with endless bottles of champagne at black-tie hotel parties, at clubs where the beats thump until 5 a.m. (or even later), and at family-friendly festivals that end with fireworks over both the Potomac River and Annapolis's City Dock?
This guide is an attempt to make sense of it all, looking at the various galas, dance clubs, concert halls, bars and community gatherings, and paying attention to the all-inclusive $100 affairs as well as the goings-on at holes-in-the-wall that won't charge admission and may even give you a free glass of something resembling bubbly when the clock strikes midnight.
(Illustration by Federico Jordan - For The Washington Post)
All prices listed are subject to change as Dec. 31 draws closer -- especially at the bigger clubs and hotel parties -- and generally do not include tax or tips. Many events will sell out in advance. For a continually updated list as the holiday approaches, visit washingtonpost.com's Entertainment Guide.
If you're going to one of the busier hotel or club events, give yourself plenty of time to get there, get in and get settled. In the past, I've heard horror stories from people who arrived around 11 and were still waiting in line to enter when the clock struck midnight.
And one last reminder: If you're going to be drinking this holiday season (and not just on New Year's Eve), take advantage of SoberRide, the free taxi service sponsored by the Washington Regional Alcohol Program. Available nightly through Jan. 1, SoberRide offers up to $50 in taxi fare for your ride home. If it costs more, you pay the difference. Just call 800-200-8294.
When people talk about big New Year's Eve parties -- ballrooms full of couples in black tie excitedly counting down to midnight, free-flowing champagne, live music -- they're describing the popular all-inclusive events thrown every year at Washington area hotels. Hundreds or thousands of folks pack into Hiltons and Hyatts looking for cool bands, dancing, unlimited drinks and -- just maybe -- the chance to find someone to kiss at midnight.
Hotel events are the biggest New Year's Eve celebrations in town, and they also get the most criticism. Every year, disappointed partygoers come home complaining about long lines, poor service, crowded rooms, difficulty obtaining champagne at midnight or, heaven forbid, bars running out of alcohol. In response, some promoters are advertising they'll have extra help this year. The Downtown Countdown at the Grand Hyatt Washington pledges one bartender for every 75 patrons -- a better ratio than you'd get at most nightspots on a regular Friday night. Will this calm the criticism? We'll see.
It's important to note that not all of these parties are targeted at revelers in their twenties and thirties. The Positive Black Men Coalition, which welcomes superstar jazz-funk vibraphonist Roy Ayers to the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, offers an AARP discount as well as a hand-dancing competition and soul food buffet. In McLean, Mix 107.3 FM morning show host Jack Diamond and his band headline a party at the Hilton. At $399 per couple, it's one of the more expensive tickets in town, but it includes a four-course dinner, the concert, an open bar, DJ and overnight accommodations.
Speaking of accommodations, discounted hotel rooms are offered at all events listed below -- ask about them when ordering tickets.
FAIRMONT WASHINGTON -- A Celebration of Many Nations, including eight internationally themed party areas with entertainment, food and drink. (Think karaoke and dim sum in "Tokyo"; live reggae music by the top-notch Oasis Band in "Montego Bay"; live classical music and waltzing in "Vienna," along with pastries and European cheese.) Sponsored by Professionals in the City and Things to Do D.C. (formerly the D.C. Society of Young Professionals). $144, open bar, various buffet stations. Black tie optional. 2401 M St. NW; 301-519-8030. www.thingstododc.com or www.prosinthecity.com.
GRAND HYATT WASHINGTON -- Downtown Countdown featuring Carbon Leaf, Pat McGee Band and Lloyd Dobler Effect (alternative rock); DJs (Top 40, hip-hop); karaoke; college football bowl viewing; and more. Hosted by DC101 FM DJs Elliot in the Morning and John Ballard. Sponsored by Lindy Promotions, Georgetown Events, Smith Point and others. $139, open bar, hors d'oeuvres buffet. $225 VIP tickets give access to more rooms. Creative black tie optional. 1000 H St. NW; 202-397-7328. www.downtowncountdown.net.
HOLIDAY INN CHEVY CHASE -- Young Vibe 2005, with DJs (Top 40, hip-hop, Latin, retro), cocktail reception, three-course dinner and open bar. $99. Black tie optional. 5520 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase; 301-656-1500. www.youngvibe.com.
HYATT REGENCY CAPITOL HILL -- Asian Celebration, designed for the area's Asian community. DJs (hip-hop, R&B, house, trance) in two ballrooms. $50, dinner buffet, champagne toast, fashion show. Sponsored by DCNites Asia. 400 New Jersey Ave. NW; 703-385-4325. www.dcnites.com.
HYATT REGENCY CRYSTAL CITY -- Positive Black Men Coalition New Year's Eve Gala, featuring Roy Ayers (funk, soul), Soul Patrol (funk, R&B) and DJs (soul, funk, R&B) across three ballrooms. There's a hand dance contest with a $1,000 prize. Sponsored by the Positive Black Men Coalition. $85, soul food dinner buffet. $60 without concert and buffet. AARP discounts available. 2799 Jefferson Davis Hwy., Arlington; 301-809-6094. www.positiveblackmencoalition.com/main.html.
JURY'S WASHINGTON -- New Year's Eve Around the World Gala, with various internationally themed rooms, including "pubbing in Dublin" in Biddy Mulligan's Irish pub; a masked ball in the "Venice" room; Brazilian music and samba dancers in "Rio de Janeiro"; reggae, soca and calypso in "Trinidad and Tobago"; belly dancers in "Morocco"; and so on. Sponsored by Euronet International. $119, open bar, various buffet stations. $169 adds four-course dinner. Black tie optional or "vintage period costumes." 1500 New Hampshire Ave. NW; 703-863-1199. www.euronetinternational.com.
HILTON MCLEAN TYSONS CORNER -- Mix 107.3 FM New Year's Eve Celebration, featuring the Jack Diamond-Jim Steed Band, the Reflex (rock) and a DJ ('80s). $399 per couple, four-course dinner, open bar, champagne toast, psychic reading and overnight accommodations. Semiformal attire. 7920 Jones Branch Dr., McLean; 703-761-5217.
WASHINGTON COURT HOTEL -- Inner Caucus New Year's Eve Gala. DJs (hip-hop, R&B, reggae, old-school) and live jazz in five ballrooms and lounges. Sponsored by Inner Caucus and WHUR 96.3 FM. $55 before Christmas ($60 after, $65 at the door), hors d'oeuvres buffet, half-bottle of champagne, champagne toast. Black tie optional. 525 New Jersey Ave. NW; 703-218-6500. www.innercaucus.com.
WASHINGTON PLAZA HOTEL -- Party of the Century's Fifth Annual New Year's Eve Gala Celebration. Super Mack and Kung Pow (rock), DJ Julian of Hot 99.5 FM plus DJs Baxter and Leo (Top 40, hip-hop, dance) in two ballrooms. $119, open bar, hors d'oeuvres. Prizes include pairs of airline tickets to New York and Miami. Black tie optional. 10 Thomas Cir. NW; 202-842-1300. www.impactpromotion.net.
HILTON SILVER SPRING -- SalsaMetro.com's Seventh Annual New Year's Eve Salsa Party with Orquesta La Romana and DJs Bruno "El Unico" and Mike "El Sonero" (salsa). Two ballrooms of great dancing -- too bad you have to choose one of them. $90, dancing to live music and demonstrations by dance teams. $40, dancing to DJs. Either option includes a reserved seat, dinner, a champagne toast and a copy of Orquesta La Romana's first CD. 8727 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring; 202-638-6464. www.salsametro.com.
The biggest surprise this New Year's Eve may be the lack of big-name DJs at Washington's top nightclubs -- no Fatboy Slims, Paul Van Dyks or Deep Dishes. At Cubik, the electronic music event at Nation that is usually the preserve of some of the world's finest mixmasters, the stars of the party are 17 local DJs chosen by a vote of their peers. (No pressure there.) Bling-bling clubs Dream, H2O, Platinum and Fur are keeping admission prices low (for New Year's Eve, at least) by cutting back the frills. After some early evening open-bar and buffet action, all four nightspots are pay-as-you-go with multiple rooms of hip-hop, house and other styles of dance music. They're not the only ones letting club-goers celebrate on a budget. "Glam" is the theme at Home, and a $75 ticket includes four floors of dancing, a buffet and all-you-can-drink liquor. Or, for $30, you can get in the door and lift a glass of champagne at midnight. MCCXXIII and Five similarly allow patrons to choose whether they want to sign up for an expensive open-bar "deal" or not.
Other clubs, though, are going all out. Pearl, Crush, Polly Esther's and Tequila Beach are among those touting all-inclusive packages of food, drink and dancing. The City Museum of Washington closed last month, but the event Muse promises to bring crowds for a top-shelf open bar, DJs and a performance by English bhangra DJs RDB (Rhythm Dhol Bass).
Looking for something more romantic? Try swinging in the new year at Glen Echo's beautifully restored art deco Spanish Ballroom, where the Tuxedo Park Orchestra plays hot jazz and jump blues from 9 to 12:30. (If you need help for that first dance of 2005, instructors Tom Koerner and Debra Sternberg offer an hour-long beginner swing lesson at 8.) Most, if not all, of the following events require "proper attire" -- leave the jeans at home.
CITY MUSEUM OF WASHINGTON -- New Year's USA Gala, featuring Rhythm Dhol Bass (bhangra, hip-hop, house) and five other DJs. $75, top-shelf open bar. $150 VIP tickets include access to an upper floor, bottle service and more. 801 K St. NW; 202-498-5757. www.newyearsusa.com.
CLARENDON BALLROOM -- Gonzo's Nose ('80s, '90s and current rock covers), DJs Mack and Mike. $95, includes seven drink tickets, buffet, champagne toast. 3185 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-469-2244. www.clarendonballroom.com.
CLUB HEAVEN AND HELL -- Three DJs over three floors (hip-hop, house, retro and more). $20 in advance, $30 at the door, $50 VIP ticket includes dinner. 2327 18th St. NW; 202-667-4355.