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The Going Out Gurus
of the washingtonpost.com City Guide
Thursday, November 30, 2006; 1:00 PM

Every Thursday at 1 p.m. ET, washingtonpost.com's City Guide experts share their best bets for local flavor, great dates and family fun. Got plans? Great. Need plans? Just ask. We have the skinny on the bars and clubs, concerts, kitchens, theaters and special events that keep life interesting. We're going out gurus, and we're at your service.

Of course, we're happy to answer questions about local entertainment, but we need to hear from you, too. Introduce us to the coolest DJ or the fastest bartender you've encountered. Sound off on the week's best concert or the city's best burger. Tell us about the best place to amuse little kids or a big art fan. Together we can plan fun ways to spend weekdays, weekends, dates and holidays. The pleasure is ours, and yours.

Each week a different guru will act as host or hostess, but the entire staff is at your service. If you're looking for more ideas, see the City Guide or read transcripts of past Got Plans? discussions.

The transcript follows.

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washingtonpost.com: Word on the street is that we're at December's door, but who'd know? If you're itching for winter, go skating. Otherwise, there's a ton to do outdoors today and whenever tomorrow's rain ceases. I'm Erin and I've got Janet, David, Rhome and Julia.

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Washington, D.C.: What is a good restaurant (in DC) that will be open Christmas Eve dinner and another for Christmas Day dinner? Maybe with a buffet? Some place that would be nicer and festively decorated. Thanks!!

Erin: Someone recently posed a similar question in our Holiday 911 blog. From what I've found, the best bets will be restaurants in hotels. Cafe MoZU is offering a traditional dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day from 6-10 p.m. and Seasons in Georgetown's Four Seasons Hotel will also serve dinner beginning at 6 p.m.

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Markets and Crafts fairs?: Hi GOG's,

Which crafts fairs and markets operate throughout the winter, in DC and VA in particular? It seems those are the best places to find one-of-a-kind, affordable gifts! Also, will the Black Cat host the Rock and Roll garage sale again? I was sad to miss it last year!

Gracias!

Erin: You can't miss the Holiday Crafts Show at Showbar Presents the Palace of Wonders. It's next Sunday, 12/10.

David: Rock 'n' Shop at the Black Cat is the following Sunday, 12/17. Between those two you should be able to find all the kitschy, kooky gifts you need.

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Washington, D.C.: I don't know if you guys are the ones to ask, but....do you know anyone in D.C. that sells salted caramels? I have someone coming into town who would love to try them and I'd like to find them for her!

Erin: Can you make it out to Alexandria? Artfully Chocolate in Del Ray carries them.

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LIVE MISTLETOE???: HELP ME! Big party planned for Saturday night, and we are in desperate need of some fresh mistletoe. I have called everywhere in the city I can think of, to no avail. Any suggestions? Cost isn't really an object. Thank you!!!

Erin: I don't have any solid knowledge, but I would check the Christmas tree farms. I usually nab some as an afterthought. A few farmers markets 'round town are already offering trees, so you could stop there. Otherwise, call around. Chatters have better ideas?

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Fairfax, Va.: My girlfriend and I have an anniversary coming up. We've got dinner covered and we are going to stay the night in the city at a hotel. I was wondering what we could do the next day? I thought a spa would be nice, but they tend to get pricey, especially for two. Thoughts?

Janet: Is there a spa attached to your hotel? Maybe you could get a discount for one of the services. That's a possibility. Spa services are not cheap, especially if you wanted to get, say, a couples massage which could run you north of $150. Don't know if you had anything else in mind for the day, but why not go to a museum -- admission is free. Or else, how about ice skating?

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Downtown, Washington, D.C.: Dearest Gurus - Please help. I work 9-5, I go out on the weekends, but I'm really bored. I want to take some non-credit class or anything. I've looked at USDA, but I'm not super-impressed with their non-language classes. Do you have any suggestions for institutes, or places that offer classes on a regular basis?

Thanks!

Julia: Hey Downtown, I like your initiative. The Smithsonian Associates Program has a ton of seminars and lectures that might be up your alley. Many of the lectures are more one-night-stand than recurring-class, but they might have something you're interested in. If you're artistically inclined, check out classes at Glen Echo or the Art League Gallery.
Look into programs that interest you at the local universities. I have a friend who is sitting in on a night lecture at Johns Hopkins' SAIS program; maybe something like that is a possibility.

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Washington, D.C.: Happy Thursday GOGs!

Do you know of a place in DC that sells the best sticky buns ever? The tender, flaky dough (not eggy), lots of sticky cinnamon-caramel goo with generous amounts of pecans?

Thanks -

Erin: That could get into controversial territory. The best I've found are the "I can't believe it's really vegan" delicacies at Sticky Fingers, now thankfully reopened in Columbia Heights.

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Bethesda, MD: Can you recommend a fun reggae venue in DC or Baltimore? I used to go to 13th Floor on Friday nights (Bmore) but the place is hot or miss. Some of the places I've heard of seem more like a restaurant but I'm really looking for dancing and drinks. Thanks!!

Rhome: Crossroads and Zanzibar are the big dogs. There are a bunch of smaller spots around that the real reggae heads know about that I have to say I'm not always up on. There is a new weekly event called Sleng Teng Lounge at Cafe Nema every Wednesday. I'm going to check that out soon.

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Bethesda, Md.: Alright. I'm submitting way early. I have a conference tomorrow so, I am submitting now. It's my fiance's 39th bday this weekend and I'd like to take her somewhere fun with great atmosphere, good music, good food, etc. on Friday or Saturday night. Help a guy out would ya? Please? Maybe Indebleu? Cafe Milano?

Erin: You won't find great food at Milano, but it's surely a scene. You should call Rasika, Blue Duck Tavern or give IndeBleu a shot. I sometimes feel that it's more of a scene than a restaurant on weekends, though.

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Washington, D.C.: Can you all suggest a good place in DC to get fun pastries for a baby shower? Thanks!

Erin: Patisserie Poupon in Georgetown would be my pick. You can nab amazing macaroons and things in those pale blue/pink/yellow hues.
If you're willing to venture into Virginia, I'm a huge fan of Pastries by Randolph.

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Glover Park, Washington, D.C.: Did you gurus happen to see the NY Times fashion piece on the Black Cat?

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/30/fashion/Runway.html

Looks like lazy reportage to me. Where do you guys go to play hipster bingo?

David: Hmm, I guess that's who was taking pictures in the Red Room at the Hold Steady show on Saturday night. They wanted no part of me and my hoodie and cords. Imagine that. Guess I should've worn my checkered pants and pirate hat. Oh, right. Actually I do have a Pittsburgh Pirates hat, but that probably wouldn't have helped me fare much better. I don't know if I'd call it lazy reportage, just a photo spread with some token text, not much reportage to it.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm looking for a Russian doll for a gift. I know I've seen them around but I can't remember where. Any ideas where I can find one? Thanks!

Janet: Try Marjorie Merriweather Post's former digs, where the Hillwood Museum and Shop carries an assortment of dolls ranging in price from $7 or $8 to $300.

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Washington, D.C.: Where does a group of 15-20 late 20/early 30s coeds go out dancing on a Friday night at a not too posh but not too gritty place with good hip hop and top 40 music? This would be for our friend's 30th birthday and we'll have a group of about 15 people. We are open to getting ourselves on lists, paying for table service, etc.

The birthday girl has already vetoed H20, Dream, Platinum, and 1223. We're running out of ideas, but I thought that you could help us.

thanks!

Rhome: Run these by your birthday girl and see if she pulls the stamp out again: Avenue, Ultrabar, Lima, Cloud.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi gurus! Hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving holiday!

My boyfriend and I are looking for a nice place to have a holiday dinner, price is not really a concern. We'd prefer something in DC, but would be ok with other suggestions in the metro area. Here's the dilemma: He's a vegetarian and I cannot stomach Indian food (which seems to be the most veggie friendly). We regularly have trouble coming up with nice restaurants that accommodate vegetarians. Most menus I've looked at have, at most, one vegetarian option and it's usually along the lines of a roasted vegetable sandwich.

Can you, oh wise gurus, suggest a nice restaurant for us that would have some interesting offerings we both can enjoy? Thanks much!

Erin: My heart sank when I saw that you can't stomach Indian food -- it's one of my favorite cuisines. Anyway, have no fear. If price isn't a concern, try Nora. There's a vegetarian tasting menu there. Lots of places have a single entree, but many appetizers that will work. I usually prefer the apps to mains, so you could have fun experimenting with a few things somewhere.

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Washington, D.C.: Jeans help...I am asking for a gift certificate to buy my first pay of $200-plus jeans for Christmas. I don't think I am quite hip enough for Denim Bar, so I am thinking a department store. But which one? Nordstrom, Bloomies, Saks or NM? Any advice? Thank you SO much!

Janet: Nordstrom has a wide variety of labels and so does Neiman Marcus. I've never bought jeans at Nordstrom, but when I bought a pair at Neiman's, the salesperson was excellent. She was savvy about fit and brand. The store also does alterations and doesn't charge for re-hemming. You should also check out Barney's. Their sales staff is knowledgeable as well. They also carry Cheap Monday, which is a fairly inexpensive brand of skinny jeans. If they fit and look good, you've got yourself a real bargain.

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Union Station, Washington, D.C.: GOGs,

Do any of you know of a release date for the Washington, D.C. area for Pedro Almodovar's new movie "Volver" starring Penelope Cruz? Thanks.

Jen: Yes, "Volver" comes out Dec. 22.

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Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Submitting early due to a meeting. My mother, sister and sister-in-law have planned a somewhat impromptu "girl's weekend" here in DC. I think I have dinner set for Friday and Saturday and we'll be spa-ing Saturday afternoon. I'm kind of struggling for options Saturday morning/day (any must-see exhibits?) and Sunday morning (was thinking of brunch at Perry's). Any other ideas would be welcome!!

Julia: I think brunch at Perry's is a great call.
As for Saturday, there are a bunch of great exhibits in town. My top picks are the "Societe Anonyme" and the "Streets of New York," but if neither of those is up your alley, you can check out my run-down of the season's best exhibits here. The National Gallery might be a bit crowded on Saturday morning, they're offering free hot chocolate and free ice skating at the rink.
If you gals are starting to get into the holiday spirit, the Scottish Christmas Walk is a great Old Town tradition. If you're a crafty bunch, this wreath-making workshop looks like it could be fun too.

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Cleveland Park: Where can I find a tropical vacation style, fishbowl sized alcoholic beverage in the DC area? Rough week... Thanks!

Rhome: Like a big ol' dragon bowl with long straws? Hope you're sharing. I definitely need some chatter input on this. Maybe Island Jim's?

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Non-Indian Vegetarian: For the poster looking for non-Indian vegetarian restaurants, try the vegetarian tasting menu at Butterfield 9. It was spectacular! (And my boyfriend loved his non-veg tasting menu too.)

Erin: Good to know! Butterfield's already penned into my calendar, so I can confirm that one at next week's chat.

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Old Town, Alexandria, Va.: I am looking for a place that has a happy hour special on sushi and drinks. We used to enjoy HH specials at Pauli Moto's in Tyson's Corner but since their going out of business we are at a loss. Please help!

Erin: Have you ever been to Flying Fish in Old Town? From 5-7, they have $1 sushi and drink specials.

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Re: pasteries: If the poster is willing to travel to Oxon Hill, Desserts by Gerard is awesome. He makes pasteries in regular and mini sizes. We tend to go for the minis, as you can try several different types. His web site is dessertsbygerard.com.

Erin: That's a great suggestion. If you like minis, but don't like suburbs, there were some minis at Breadline that looked above-average the other day.

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'Burbs, Md.: Help! Does a girl have to go into the city to get her dance on? I would love to find dance club(s) in the Gaithersburg/Rockville/Bethesda area. Where do all the party people go in this area, or do we HAVE to venture into the city!?!?

Jen: To be honest, your best bet probably is to go into the city. However, Juste Lounge in Bethesda could make a solid substitute. It's near the Landmark Theatre and Thyme Square restaurant; I believe they host free salsa lessons on Saturday nights. Worth checking out, especially when you don't want to trek to D.C.

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Rio de Janeiro, D.C.: Do you know anything about the horror movie "Turistas" in DC? Is it only opening in NYC? My friends in Brazil are REALLY upset about it, and how it portrays Brazil (which of course makes me want to see it, so I can be upset about it too!).

Jen: "Turistas" is opening nationwide tomorrow. So you can see it for yourself in less than 24 hours.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello All-Mighty Gurus,

My B.F. and I are looking for new activities as the weather grows cooler and biking along the C&O canal is becoming toe-numbing. I was thinking maybe a winery tour with hiking or cross country skiing in the area. A romantic inn or B&B would be a plus. But we are still in the stage where we could stay in a cardboard box and find it romantic. Any ideas?

Julia: There are a bunch of places to go cross-country skiing in the region, but I think you might be a little early for it to be any fun. Blackwater Falls State Park, Elk River Touring Center, and White Grass Touring Center are some of the best places to go in this region, so I'd advise giving them a call to see what the conditions are like. The rates for cabins at Blackwater Falls don't look bad at all!
If you don't mind a bit of a drive, I'd check out Deep Creek Lake as well. I think it's a great year-round destination and I think there are B and Bs in the area.
If you are up for other winter sports activities, check out our interactive Ski Guide for tips on the region's best slopes.

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re: Perry's: Is drag brunch on both Saturday and Sunday? Or just one of the days?

Thanks.

Julia: Only Sundays.

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Arlington, Va.: Helpful Gurus and especially Erin,

I am planning on getting married in the summer, and my fiancee and I decided on a small family affair of around 30 people. We are in search of a restaurant to host us, preferably with a private room (so I don't feel like a moron in a wedding dress in the middle of a restaurant). Looking for DC or VA places. I am NOT in search of a chi chi place that charges $90/person for filet, when their regular menu charges $45 for the fillet dinner. I just don't want to feel like I am getting ripped off. Any place with a nice atmosphere or view gets bonus points.

Thanks for your help!!!

Erin: You mean you won't seek an elevated platform in the restaurant's center with a spotlight or two?
I wrote a list of rehearsal dinner venue ideas for our Wedding Week in June. Most of these are more than suitable for your cause. Of those, Evening Star Cafe, Artie's, Ardeo and Olives stand out to me.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you guys think of the news that D.C. might get a House of Blues concert venue?

David: I'm working on a blog post about this that I hope to have up later today, but I'm not a huge fan of the news. Put me in the corner that believes anything that's Clear Channel-related can't be good. I'm no socialist (well, that's debatable I suppose), but Clear Channel's basic MO is conquer while limiting your options, as evidenced by their radio dealings where they take over stations and shrink the playlists. The 9:30 club would obviously be the venue most affected, and it certainly would take a hit, but it's hard for me to see bands abandoning it completely. I mean, sure, maybe Hinder and the Dan Band would play House of Blues, but your Thievery Corporations, Yo La Tengos, New Pornographers would still be at 9:30. I dunno, it might make 9:30 more of an underdog again, which would be interesting.
Competition's almost never a bad thing, and if this was one of the bigger HOB venues, closer to 2,500 capacity instead of 1,000, maybe it will actually fill a need for that place that's halfway between a club and an arena. Lots of things need to play out still, we'll see.

Rhome: I just hope that HOB doesn't try to hook up exclusive booking on major artists. Actually, that probably couldn't happen in DC because there are already established venue brands that couldn't so easily be shut out. I can't really call it.

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Washington, D.C.: Was thinking of going to Zaytinya for the first time on a Saturday night - I have never been - does this place get a lounge vibe to it or does it stay a restaurant - as we are only looking to eat some good food! Thanks.

Erin: It remains a restaurant, but a fast-paced one. Since it serves small plates on a large scale, you'll get things served in rapid fire. Don't be afraid to take a little time enjoying your food.

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Weekend Trip: Thanks for the great chats. I want to plan a one or two night quick trip for my boyfriend and I, within a two to three-hour driving radius. We love outdoor stuff, and staying at a B&B would be ideal, but not necessary. We've already done Charlottesville. Any other ideas?

Jen: There are plenty of options. Quick rundown: Williamsburg, Cape May, St. Michael's, Shenandoah Valley, maybe New Hope, Pa.? Check out the Escapes columns for more ideas.

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Arlington, Va.: I need help for a Christmas gift! I want to take my mom to high tea (or at least tea time - with the scones, pastries and finger sandwiches). Where in the NoVA or downtown DC is this still done??

Janet: In Tysons, there's the Ritz-Carlton, which serves a wonderful high tea. Unfortunately, my other favorite spot, the Mandarin Oriental no longer serves tea, although they are bringing it back but couldn't say when that would be. An alternative is
Downtown, the Willard, which serves tea every afternoon from 2:30 to 5 p.m. And in Georgetown, the Four Seasons serves tea every afternoon from 2 to 5 p.m., too.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you know anything about cooking classes in the area? I have taken the ones at L'academie de cuisine, but was wondering about the ones with chefs. I think Todd Grey, Michel Richard and Roberto Donna teach them. Have you done any of these? If so were they any good? Are there other chefs doing classes that I should try?

Erin: The Food section publishes out a list of classes. I participated in a class with Donna and had a great time. He gets very into the pasta rolling and encourages people to consume wine, so it can be quite a day! Otherwise, I adore Richard and imagine any class he hosts would be a hoot. If you're able to pick up any of the skills he mentions in his new cookbook, it'll be more than worth the high cost.

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Too hip for Denim Bar: No way! I am the least hip person and I love Denim Bar. They are knowledgeable, have good hours, and do a great job with any jean alterations. Department stores are good, too, but I wouldn't miss out on Denim Bar, plus I hear they are now in Bethesda, too. When will they open a store in the District?

Janet: Thanks for the input. Denim Bar has a new store in Bethesda on Cordell. As far as I know, there are no plans at present to open in the District.

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Washington, D.C.: For the savory candy seeker: Cowgirl Creamery on F St. has salted caramels.

Erin: Gee, thanks. As if I didn't have enough reasons to visit CC.

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Fishbowl Drinker:: Mango Mike's in Arlington (Duke Street) has a fishbowl drink and has some other pretty fun drinks, you even get to keep some of their island themed cups. Restaurant/bar, and has some space for a small dancing area around the bar after hours.

Rhome: We might have a winner.

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Washington, D.C.: Are there any places to go bowling around here that aren't super-expensive and have a dress code? Some friends and I are looking to go bowling, but don't want the atmosphere at Strike Bethesda or Lucky Strike. There must be some place where the 75-year-old men with high-waisted pants have their bowling leagues, no? We'd even be willing to drive out a bit in VA if such a place exists.

David: I'm sure there are plenty, but I took my little brothers to Bowl America in Falls Church and it was your typical sorta dingy bowling alley. Nobody goes there "to be seen," I can guarantee you that. It was nice, we simply got our bowl on. I even broke 150, which is pretty good for me since I'm a straight roller.

Julia: There are definitely a bunch of places around. If the Falls Church place doesn't work, check out this list of nearby bowling alleys. They're the old-school kind. The way Strike Bethesda used to be before it was Strike Bethesda. Sigh.

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Re: Cleveland Park: Yenching Palace has fantastic scorpion bowls, and good, cheap, family-style food too. Try the cashew chicken.

Rhome: A couple of folks sent in this one. Liquor for everybody!

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Arlington, Va.: My boyfriend has a birthday coming up and we are going to a Christmas Carol at Ford's Theatre. Is there a nice restaurant nearby to eat beforehand? Hopefully under $20 per person? Thanks!

Erin: Lots of good ones. Matchbox nearby is deliciously affordable and doable if you go when it's not too packed. If you're there during pre-theater, Bistro D'Oc couldn't be much closer. Cafe Atlantico's one of my favorites in that region, though.

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Home Decor?: Submitting on time due to no meetings. Just moved into a new condo; very cute, very small. I'm planning to hit the home furnishings shops on U Street this weekend for a dining table, and bedside tables & bedside table lamps that will fit small spaces. Any other suggestions for places to look for nice furniture that will fit tight spaces? Not interested in putting together furniture from Ikea anymore...but don't have a Roche Bobois budget(more like Storehouse, but alas, it's no more). Thanks!!

Julia: Check out Vastu! I just interviewed Jason, one of the owners, for a story I'm doing about condo decorating and he's got a background in design and is very knowledgeable about small spaces. Many of their clients are condo-dwellers so they have a bunch of cool small-scale stuff.

Janet: Also, try Urban Essentials. They serve the same kind of market as Vastu, with a more modern vibe.

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Anonymous: This question may be a bit odd ... but the new Leonardo DiCaprio movie being released in a few weeks, "Blood Diamond," is a very charged occasion for me, as I do development work in Sierra Leone's diamond sector. I'd like to make viewing it into an occasion, or at least be part of any local discussion around it. Do you know if there will be any release parties or other sorts of hype for the film in the D.C. area?

Jen: Truly, no question is too odd for us.
Actually, "Blood Diamond" comes out next Friday, Dec. 8. I know that there is an advance screening and Q&A with director Ed Zwick next week, but that is an invitation-only event. We actually will have Mr. Zwick online next week to take questions (Tuesday at noon is the time) so that might be a good opportunity to throw some questions his way.
Apart from that, I don't know of any special events surrounding the film. But perhaps you can start your own conversation with some of your colleagues.

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Re: non-credit classes: I had the same feeling with my 9-5 job, fun weekends, and lame weeknights! I took an introductory tax class from H&R Block this fall, 2 nights a week for 3 hours, and actually LOVED it. Something different that I'll be able to use in the future (might even work for them for pocket money now). Two caveats: they're only in the fall, and they're not for those who are looking for an artsy class (calculators and homework!).

Julia: And now for a message from your local H&R Block....

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Washington, D.C.: Most vintage stores seems to cater to women's clothing - any ideas on shops with a decent selection of men's clothes?

Julia: I think Meeps does a pretty good job. They have a bunch of cool tops for men....I guess you just call those "shirts."

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Black Cat Fashion Plates: I meant to say "lazy" because the obvious choice to see Buddy Holly glasses would be the Black Cat. But aren't there (newer) places where people try harder to look effortless and quirky?

David: Yeah, probably, but you'd still be hard pressed to find a better example than a Saturday night at the Cat when you've got the Hold Steady upstairs and Bliss downstairs, y'know? That's a perfect storm right there.

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White House X-mas Tree: Do you have any info on when they play music, etc. I guess going anytime would be fine but it would be more festive and Christmas-y with music!

Julia: The performances take place nightly between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.

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RE: Christmas Night dinner: I'm not really excited about either option of MoZu or Seasons- any better restaurants that aren't so pricey serving dinner that night?

Erin: Well, if you have a favorite hotel restaurant, give them a call. For example, Dupont Grille and Palette will be open that day. Daily Grills are also usually open.

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Washington, D.C.: I know this isn't a going out question per se, but do you guys know of a place to take French lessons? I think I will be going to grad school abroad but I don't speak a lick of French. Preferably not too expensive, but I'll take any suggestions.

Janet: The Alliance Francaise offers a wide variety of classes -- from beginner to advanced. I took a conversation class there several years ago. It's very professional. Alas, I don't know about prices.

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Washington, D.C.: Please, Please Help me! For many years I have wanted a Gingerbread house for my place with all the decorations. Do you know where I can buy one?

Erin: Specialty markets are your go-to place for one. You can pick one up from Balducci's. Trader Joe's usually has them, as does Dean and Deluca.

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Alexandria, Va.: My husband and I will be attending the Choral Arts Society's Christmas concert at the Kennedy Center Dec. 18 and are looking for a tasty non-bank busting dinner. What fits the bill in the Kennedy Center's vicinity?

Erin: How about Notti Bianche or sushi at Kaz Sushi Bistro?

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Cathedral : Greetings GOG's My ex-dj friend and I have been craving some amazing house music? Where can we find some around here?

Rhome: Five on Fridays and Saturdays. Dragonfly on Sundays.

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work holiday lunch: Any ideas for a festive restaurant for a work group? We're in Pentagon City but anywhere nearby would be fine. Thanks!

Erin: Crystal City's Bebo might still surround itself with red and green Italian flags for the holidays to get you into the spirit. Jaleo next door is another delicious bet.

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GB houses: Wagshall's in Spring Valley/Tenleytown also does them. (Or at least they did a couple of years ago)

Erin: Thanks.

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Mandu?: Have you been to Mandu? Have heard good things about this new Korean spot and thinking about hosting a party there...beyond the food, is the atmosphere amenable to a cozy, relaxed, nice dinner w/ 10 close friends?

Also, we are in a brunch rut...where's an off-beat place you'd recommend checking out in NW DC? Or any fun ideas of alternatives to brunch such as packing a lunch and going on a hike?

Also, went to the Phillips collection modern art exhibit...it was great.

Erin: I'll take the first bit. The upstairs back of Mandu would certainly be a good place to host a mid-sized party. It can get a bit noisy, so not as cozy when it's crowded up there, but it's a nice atmosphere.
I love the idea of brunch and a hike, but you can vary it up by hanging out on the waterfront in Alexandria, meandering on the mall or taking a sandwich to the zoo.

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West Hartford, Conn.: It's that time of the year again and I'd like to buy some "experiences" for my brother and his fourteen-year-old-son to celebrate the holidays. Past years gifts have included theater tix, Cirque du Soleil, Harlem Globetrotters tix, restaurant and Amazon gift certificates... I want to give something new and interesting. As I'm up in New England, I'm hoping that you and your local readers might help to guide my gift certificate choices. I've located two companies that have indoor rock climbing classes, one in Alexandria and a newer company in Maryland. Is anyone familiar with these facilities? In addition to rock climbing, my nephew could benefit by being exposed to meal preparation. I'd like to get him a gift certificate to prepare some frozen meals to be enjoyed by father and son at a later date, at a franchise called Dream Dinners in Rockville. Anyone have any experience with this franchise?

If you have any other interesting ideas for gift experiences for under $100 for this wonderful D.C. father and son duo. I'd love to hear them. Happy Holidays from New England!

Julia: I think indoor rock climbing is a GREAT idea -- particularly for a 14-year-old and his dad. Sportrock is probably your best bet locally.
I don't have any experience with Dream Dinners, but you could look into a Flavors for Kids class. I believe they only run in the summer, but it's another option.

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washingtonpost.com: That wraps it up for us today. Enjoy lingering warmth and report back next Thursday.

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