Planning a holiday party? Book it now.

By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 2010; T09

Holiday party season is almost here, and if you're trying to host a happy-hour get-together for friends - or something bigger to impress your boss - planning can get a little confusing. Bar minimums per hour? Room-rental fees? Can you bring an iPod to play your favorite seasonal tunes?

With this guide, we've attempted to make some sense of the possibilities out there, and even found a few places that will give you the space for free - as long as you're flexible enough.

The DISTRICT

Buffalo BilliardsThe sprawling subterranean pool hall has numerous rooms and areas that can be reserved. (We're partial to the lodge-like Adirondack Room, which has pool and shuffleboard tables and dart boards, and can hold up to 175 people, and the smaller, more elegant Victorian Room, big enough for 50.) Rates vary wildly - you'll pay $650 to take over the Adirondack Room for two hours on a Friday night, which doesn't include the minimum bar tab (which is variable, based on day and time), or $200 to rent out the Victorian Room for two hours Sunday through Wednesday.

A budget-friendly idea: Take over part of the Adirondack Room on Thursday through Sunday and get unlimited use of three pool tables and two dart boards - with no need for a minimum tab - for $350 for two hours and $150 for additional hours.

1330 19th St. NW. 202-331-7665. www.buffalobilliards.com/dc.

Iron Horse Tap Room

The motorcycle-themed bar is large enough that you could probably show up with 30 friends midweek and carve out your own spot, but you can also reserve a large part of the downstairs space for private events for up to 75 people. For $150 an hour (or $250 an hour Thursday through Saturday), you get your own bar and bartender, a private bathroom, unlimited use of a shuffleboard table, flat-screen TVs, couches and several video games, including Big Buck Hunter. Prices, managers note, are flexible. If you come in on a slow night, or negotiate a minimum bar tab, they'll generally waive the rental fee.

507 Seventh St. NW. 202-347-7665.www.ironhorsedc.com.

Laughing Man Tavern

Its convenient Metro Center location has made Laughing Man Tavern a popular place for fundraiser happy hours and group parties. The large downstairs bar area holds 150, with smaller side rooms that hold 25 or 40. There are 13 TVs, and party planners can bring an iPod to spin tunes. But what makes Laughing Man worth a look are its fees: There's no room rental charge and a $10 per person minimum for the whole night. If 50 people show up at your happy hour between 5 and 8, the bartender should ring sales of at least $500, which seems awfully doable, especially given the weekday specials: $4 appetizers and all drafts, wines and rail drinks between 3 and 8 p.m.

1306 G St. NW. 202-737-1797. www.laughingmantavern.com.

Little Miss Whiskey's Golden Dollar

The hippest bar on H Street? It's hard to top Little Miss Whiskey's, from the New Orleans-inspired decor to the tiny, greenery-covered patio. The small private room upstairs - a kitschy spot with couches and a year-round Christmas tree - is available for an all-night fee of $500 and seats between six and 12 people comfortably, and a lot more standing. (With larger groups, it's also an easy place to stash your stuff when you hit the dance floor.) More intriguingly, the backyard patio can be reserved - including the gas grill for cookouts - for an all-night minimum of $1,000.

1104 H St. NE. 202-555-1212. www.littlemisswhiskeys.com.

Meridian Pint

The basement at Meridian Pint has become the neighborhood's cool spot for football viewing on Sundays, and the new Columbia Heights beer bar is becoming a popular destination for private parties. Owner John Andrade says it costs $500 to reserve the whole space, which holds 120 people and includes pool and shuffleboard tables and three tables with their own beer taps, "and then there are minimums based on what night of the week you want, the time, whether it's open bar." For a more flexible option, Andrade says most people are opting for a semi-private events Monday through Wednesday, in which part of the room is reserved, but anyone who isn't in the party can still come downstairs to the bar to get a drink or watch sports. The upside: There's no charge for the space, only for drinks. Most groups have been 40 people or fewer.

3400 11th St. NW. 202-588-1075. www.meridianpint.com.

Rock and Roll Hotel

You can't stay overnight at the Rock and Roll Hotel, but you can book a room upstairs. The private spaces have the same edgy-meets-goofy decor as the rest of the club: pictures of Sid and Nancy in the Honeymoon Suite, a lux room that holds 25 on velvet sofas and requires a $500 minimum tab, and portraits of Alice Cooper at the White House and Gene Simmons on Air Force One in the Presidential Suite, which is twice the size of the Honeymoon Suite and comes with its own bar and bartender. You need to hit $1,000 to reserve the space.

1353 H St. NE. 202-388-7625. www.rockandrollhoteldc.com.

Science Club

Cool DJs, a vegan-friendly menu and all-night happy hours have made Science Club a very popular downtown lounge. A lack of room fees during the week has made it a popular space for office groups and charity fundraisers to hold their gatherings. (On weekends, the bar asks for between $100 and $150 for reservations and a $10 per-person minimum, though owner Steve Maguire says "that's totally flexible" depending on the night and time.) The main floor can hold 100 people, though it's booked only on certain nights and times. There's room for 60 upstairs and 40 in the dimly lit basement bar room.

1136 19th St. NW. 202-775-0747. www.scienceclubdc.com.

VIRGINIA

Carpool Herndon

The cool pool hall, decked out with vintage Americana, has a comfortable back room that holds 50 and sports multiple couches and a pair of pool tables. There's a charge of $125 an hour to reserve the room, but there is no minimum tab to hit, and that fee includes unlimited use of both pool tables.

208 Elden St. 571-203-7995. www.carpoolweb.com.

Ireland's Four Courts

Ireland's Four Courts is a traditional Irish pub - Guinness, live music, friendly people. That welcoming atmosphere extends to private events. "There are no room [rental] fees," says catering manager John McGuirk, "and nine times out of 10, we don't charge food or drink minimums." The James Joyce Room, for example, comes with its own bar, high tables and room for 50 or 60 people. You can have it for nothing if you're flexible. "If you start around 5:30," McGuirk says, "and your party runs until 8 or 8:30, and we get the space back by 9 to open to the public, there'd be no minimum fee," he explains, noting that the bar's happy-hour food and drink specials extend to private events. (If 60 is too small, the larger Irish Cottage Room can hold up to 120, and McGuirk says it's equally flexible.)

2051 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-525-3600. www.irelandsfourcourts.com.

PX

PX is one of the classiest places to have a drink, but the neo-speakeasy is pricey for private parties: A three-hour event requires a $70 minimum per person on cocktails (add $30 for snacks) for groups of 20 to 40, and a minimum of $3,500 to close the place to the public. But for smaller groups, there is a somewhat less expensive way: 10 to 14 people can occupy the cozy little Blue Room Lounge for two hours for a minimum $500 food and drink tab.

728 King St., Alexandria. 703-299-8384. www.restauranteve.com/eamons/PX.

MARYLAND

Caddies on Cordell

Caddies on Cordell is one of the best places in Bethesda to watch a game, but don't overlook its upstairs party room, which holds 85 people and offers a private deck. There's no fee to reserve the space, but there are minimum tabs, ranging from $1,500 Sunday to Wednesday, when you can have the space from 5 p.m. to midnight, to $5,000 to reserve the whole place from open to close on Thursday or Friday.

To keep costs down, says event coordinator Lisa Gormley, try the public option. Host a Saturday night event from 6 to 10 p.m., which requires a $1,500 tab, and then open the room up to the public. Your group can hang out all night at the same tables, but you don't have to worry about making a $4,000 tab.

4922 Cordell Ave., Bethesda. 301-215-7730. www.caddiesoncordell.com.

Dogfish Head Alehouse Gaithersburg

You'll find some of the best beer in the country at Dogfish Head Alehouse, and it's easy to bring your friends to try it around the holidays. The Gaithersburg restaurant has two private areas on its second floor: a closed-off dining room that seats 10 and a larger space that seats 40. There's no rental fee or minimum, and only a couple of stipulations: Parties are placed on one tab, which can be split up to seven ways at the end of the night; an 18 percent gratuity goes to the room's private server; and on busy Friday and Saturday nights, parties have a two-hour time limit.

800 W. Diamond Ave. 301-963-4847. www.dogfishalehouse.com.

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