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Beach-theme happy hours without going to the beach

By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2011; T06

Though I was born in January, I'm not a fan of winter. I enjoy a warming cocktail in front of a crackling fire. But freezing rain and bitingly cold wind? No thanks.

Although the temperatures are starting to show some promise of warmer weather to come, I know it's still a long time until we can cross the bridge for Memorial Day weekend. And so, to help us get to that point,

I decided re-create some of my favorite beach experiences now.

Step One: Beach drinks

On the Delmarva shore, no drink is as synonymous with summer as the Orange Crush. The recipe varies with the bar, but it's usually a mix of orange vodka, triple sec, Sprite and juice from a whole orange. (Of all the variations, I'm partial to the ones that substitute fresh grapefruit.)

In search of fun beach drinks instead of the more ubiquitous Trader Vic-style tropical cocktails, I headed for Mango Mike's in Alexandria. Mango Mike's boasts a sister bar on the boardwalk in Bethany Beach, where you can watch the waves roll in from the second-story deck while sipping frozen drinks. I've been to the Duke Street bar before, but I'm more used to visiting in patio-friendly weather, when it's possible to sit outside on an Adirondack chair under a palm tree and sip a pina colada from a coconut husk.

The interior has the campy beach-vibe atmosphere - a corrugated metal roof over the bar, plastic leis, aquariums filled with brightly colored fish - though the lighting was a little dim for a Friday night, and the only seats friends and I could find at happy hour were near a large fireplace in the lounge, which wasn't exactly what we were looking for. At least the drink menus are roughly the same: The frozen, electric-orange Mangorita, which is $2.95 from 4 to 7 p.m. on weeknights, is a sweet, fruity mango-based margarita with no hint of the tequila therein. (Despite the name, the ones we tried on a recent trip could have used more mango.) The Orange Crush is respectable, though, if a little thin. The fiery jerk wings and coconut-covered shrimp didn't disappoint, and the drinks offered just the kick we needed.

Mango Mike's

4580 Duke St., Alexandria

703-370-3800

www.mangomikes.com

Step Two: Pounds of shrimp, pitchers of beer

Whether you're in Ocean City or Rehoboth, one of the most popular happy-hour themes revolves around a pound of steamed shrimp cooked in Old Bay, served with a pitcher of beer. (Pepper's Tavern on the Ocean City boardwalk is a favorite.)

I'd been looking for a similar deal in the District, but hadn't found anything until I stopped into the freshly reopened Argonaut. A devastating fire last summer took out the kitchen and most of the downstairs bar at the English-inspired pub, and as part of the reconstruction, the owners have made a number of improvements - moving the bar to open up the dining area, adding new draft lines and increasing the size of the kitchen.

The new menu includes "steamer baskets" - a pound of steamed shrimp comes with two ears of corn on the cob and a small pile of red potatoes for $23. Throw in a pitcher of the house beer (Redhook IPA) for an additional $12 and you've got a good-size happy-hour feast for three or four people.

Service was an issue when the Argonaut fully reopened last month; I'm not sure the staff was ready for the rush of people who wanted to welcome the bar back. It can still be a little slow, especially if your table is upstairs, but it's not a deal-breaker - especially with a pile of shrimp in front of you.

The Argonaut

1433 H St. NE

202-250-3660

www.argonautdc.com

Step Three: Taco happy hour

If you've ever spent any time in Dewey Beach, you know that the Friday night Taco Toss at the Lighthouse is the quasi-official start to the weekend. For the uninitiated: It's not a food-fight mess, but rather a happy hour with dirt-cheap tacos and nachos and $2 draft beers.

Several D.C. bars have themed taco nights. The cheapest are later in the week: At the Bottom Line and the Front Page, they give the food away if you buy a couple of cheap drinks.

The Front Page is legendary for its Thursday intern party scene; the bar is slammed with 20-somethings jostling to grab Corona and Miller Lite bottles for $2 each, then heading into another room to wait in line for a plate of tacos. DJs spin from 10 p.m. on, and drink specials go until 12:30 a.m., making it one of the city's choice spots to welcome the weekend.

I suppose when you get older, you look forward to making it halfway through the week instead of just to Friday. The Bottom Line, which shares owners with the Front Page and Dewey's infamous Starboard bar, celebrates hump day in an atmosphere that's a little less frenetic: Stop in between 4 and 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and get free tacos along with $3 margaritas and Coronas. As long as you keep buying drinks, you can keep heading back for another plate of tacos loaded with salsa and cheese. The crowd is older than the Front Page, with more suits, but proof that you're never too old for a taco-themed happy hour.

The Bottom Line

1716 I St. NW

202-298-8488

www.thebottomlinedc.com

The Front Page

1333 New Hampshire Ave. NW

202-296-6500

www.frontpagerestaurant.com

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