D.C.-area nightlife, events and dining

Got Plans?: Salsa dancing, dinner dates and the perfect bar

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The Going Out Gurus
of The Washington Post's Going Out Guide
Thursday, March 18, 2010; 1:00 PM

The Going Out Guide staff discussed salsa dancing, dinner dates and the perfect bar on Thursday, March 18, at 1 p.m. ET.

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washingtonpost.com: Rhome here, and I wrangled up as many Gurus as possible who didn't play hookey to run around in the park barefooted. It is now time to chat.

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Rockville, Md.: Thanks for your suggestion of going to Nando's before seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors. I didn't write the original question, but I passed along your suggestion to my friends anyway. We went last night, and everyone really liked it! The exhibit was great too, and I would definitely recommend it.

Rhome Anderson: We try not to praise chains a lot but those sauces at Nando's have taken on a serious role in maintaining my sense of well-being.

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One of your friendly patio servers: Now that warmer weather is here, can we send out a public service announcement that patio cocktail servers and waiters often have "sections." Just because there is an empty seat across the patio, doesn't give you license to move it for your companion who hasn't arrived yet. You may think it's just a bar, but that bar probably has rules.

That's all.

Rhome Anderson: Good point. And it's always good to remember that not complicating your server's job will increase the likelihood of getting good service. Sometimes you do need to move from where you were seated. I always make sure to ask first and confirm that the servers have done the necessary hand-off.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hello, Gurus! I've been itching to take in an arts festival during the nice spring weather. Any coming up this weekend or soon after?

Stephanie Merry: A sure sign that spring is in the air: Art festivals are coming back. Start things off with Artfest in Arlington this weekend.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Gurus,

I am looking for a place to go out and grab a table with a friend for a drink, conversation, and some interesting live, music (type not really important). The catch is that I am looking for something early evening (happy hour?) as opposed to bands that come on at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. Any suggestions?

Fritz Hahn: I'd say live jazz at 701 (if you can get a seat at Mo's bar), accordion/polka/piano music at Cafe Mozart, or maybe the live music at the Black Fox in Dupont, which I recent wrote about. Decent cocktails, good live jazz or classical music starting at 7 or 7:30 during the week and 9 on weekends.

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Arlington, Va.: Got any ideas about where to take a shortish hike (under 6 miles) kind of near here (under an hour away) that isn't the Billy Goat Trail? I think it will be packed this weekend...

Stephanie Merry: I haven't been there in ages, but Difficult Run strikes me as a good alternative to Billy Goat. The trail has some nice views and I believe it's in the 5-mile range.

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Flying in a 'friend': Hi GOGs!

Long time reader and occasional poster; I'm flying a friend into town over the second weekend of the Cherry Blossom festival. We've known each other for quite sometime and mutual feelings exist between the two of us that taking the next step seems appropriate.

We are both frugal. I'd like to take her to a nice D.C. restaurant that offers privacy so we could talk, enjoy each others company, but not feel rushed should we choose to linger. The night will probably be a Sunday evening after doing the National Park Cherry Blossom ride. (Do you know if one must sign up for the ride in advance?) A relatively inexpensive place ($10-$20 per plate) known for using locally grown food is preferred as she's big proponent of the buy local ideology.

Thanks for all the ideas!!

Julia Beizer: Hi there, entrees between $10 and $20 are becoming rarer and rarer downtown, sadly. I'd consider coming back uptown to a place like Bistro La Bonne or 1905.

Re: reservations, it depends on which tour you're doing. Reservations are not required for the tours hosted by the Park Service but are suggested for Bike the Sites tours.

Good luck!

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Washington, D.C.: So it's my friend's birthday tonight and he just decided that he wants to go to Russia House/Capitol Club St. Patrick's Day Event. Problem is that we have tix to the Bluebrain as well. Do you know what time they'd be expected to go on? We were thinking on going to Russia House first, buying tix, staying for a little then catching the show when they go on. Do you know what time that would be? Is there a better way to go about this? Help!

Fritz Hahn: I would expect them to go on around 10:30-11, but am waiting for confirmation from U St. Music Hall. It should be easy enough to get between the two spots -- a straight shot down Florida/U -- and Bluebrain *is* only $5.

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Washington, D.C. : So I'm realizing that the perfect bar is as much a myth as the perfect man... looking to go out for my birthday, on a Saturday (I know), with probably 15-20 friends. I'm hoping for a place slightly swankier than a dive, but not uber-posh and club-like, anywhere in the District. Pretty open-ended, you would think, but I'm drawing a blank. I've gone to Science Club and Napoleon in the past, which both worked out well. Any suggestions? Thanks gurus!

Fritz Hahn: The perfect bar is not a myth -- it's just that in a situation where you want to bring 20 people on a Saturday night, it becomes much harder to get your entire crew in. (I've started telling my friends who are planning get-togethers that if they're invite 15 or more people, they need to make some sort of space/table reservation.)

Considering you liked Science Club and Napoleon -- two of my go-tos for things like this -- I'd also suggest the Passenger, Iron Horse Tap Room, the upstairs wine bar at Bistro D'Oc, maybe the downstairs of Social depending on the time of your event.

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NOVA: Quick one for ya: When does the Ballroom's rooftop open up?

Fritz Hahn: It will be open on Friday night -- sort of.

Because of the snow and swings in temperature, the Ballroom's staff hasn't been able to work on the bar or the bathrooms up there. (And if they turn the water on and we get a freezing spell, the pipes would burst.) They're planning on fully opening the rooftop in early-to-mid-April.

But because the weather is so nice, they'll have the space open and available to patrons on Friday. You'll have to buy your drinks downstairs at the main bar, but you can take them onto the roof.

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Arlington, Va.: Where can I go to hear Cuban salsa and AfroCuban music here in D.C.?

Rhome Anderson: Most of the salsa nights have a wider focus, from Cuban to Nuyorican, from salsa dura to salsa romantica. So if you're tolerant of your specific tastes mixed in with other flavors you'll have a good time. Tonight there are salsa classes starting at 7 p.m. at Indulj followed by dancing to a live band and there's no cover charge. There's also a bi-weekly event next week at Tabaq promising salsa, timba and rumba that I've been meaning to check out. Stay tuned to Nightlife Agenda for more on that.

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Washington, D.C.: Gurus - Need your help! My cousin and I are big drag queen brunch fans but it seems that our Sundays keep getting booked and we have been unable to get there. Are there any other drag shows/spots for us to visit this weekend?

Fritz Hahn: All the drag brunches I know -- Perry's, Freddie's, Nellies -- all tend to be on Sunday mornings.

The best drag shows in town (I think) are at Town on Friday and Saturday nights. They run from 10 to 11:30. Cover is $5 on Friday, and $12 on Saturday.

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Vienna, Va.: Please help! We (two 40-somethings and an 8-year-old) are in a restaurant rut. We frequently go to Artie's, Sweetwater, and Dogfish Head. What are some other places with a similar vibe and food -- fun, casual but not slobby, varied menu -- preferably in Fairfax Co.? Thanks all!

Julia Beizer: If you live in Vienna, you absolutely need to go to this place I wrote about for the Weekend section last week: Maple Avenue Restaurant. Small -- but super good. And a cute couple running the show. Other ideas: Hooked (subject of this week's First Bite), Church Street Pizzeria, The Counter.

PassionFish and Mediterranee might be more formal than you're looking for, but I dig both spots.

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Washington, D.C.: I would love to sit outside in the gorgeous weather this week, while still being able to watch basketball games. Know any bars with TVs on their outdoor patios/terraces?

Fritz Hahn: I mentioned three on the blog today -- Public Bar and Cleveland Park Bar and Grill have TVs on their roofdecks, and Grevey's has a large outdoor patio with a dozen TVs and a full bar.

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Logan Circle: I just wanted to follow up from last week's chat because I saw many questions about where to have a birthday party and I have been stressed about this before! I went to a friend's party at the Passenger a couple weeks ago, and I do not know the details, but she had rented out the back area (I think they called it the Train Car) and it was perfect! The bar was a ton of fun and the space was really nice. I hope that helps!

Fritz Hahn: Yeah, I've seen people reserve the Train Car before. But I've also seen groups of at least a dozen meeting up and snagging the window booths.

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For the Cuban music...: The live band you mentioned isn't Cuban salsa.. not a good recommendation.

The bi-weekly party is hot and you should get there. DJ Asho is awesome.

Once a month there is timba at Salsalicious in Bethesda. The reader could go to the salsacasinoindc.blogspot.com for more information. There is also a Cuban band playing at The Salsa Room on April 24th - that is huge and I hope the Post covers it!

Fritz Hahn: The Salsa Room is definitely on my radar for live music -- they've got Oscar D'Leon, Tito Rojas and Groupo Niche coming up in the next few months, for starters. Such an intimate venue for big names.

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PlayingHookey: This was probably a Tom question, but I didn't have my act together yesterday...A close friend will be returning to D.C. next weekend for her birthday. She's attending a conference for most of the weekend, so we thought a dinner in D.C. on Saturday night might be the most appropriate celebration. She relocated about 2 years ago, so we'd like to try something fresh and new. There will be about 6-8 of us and birthday girl and most are true foodies, although no one in the group are huge steak/meat eaters. Where would you recommend for a lively birthday dinner somewhere in DC that's a little funky and has an excellent drink selection - wine/beer/cocktails...we don't really care.

P.S. - When playing hookey from work, sitting on the roof patio -- how early is too early to open up a beer?

Julia Beizer: I'll answer your second question first: Never. As for dinner, I love Sei for a girl's night out. Proof is more classy than funky (and probably not as new on the scene as you want), but I think that's a definitely crowd pleaser for food fans.

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Kayaking the Occoquan: This is in response to last week's question from a chatter regarding kayaking in the Occoquan. Pohick Bay Regional Park does kayak rentals. I hope this helps!

Stephanie Merry: Occoquan kayaker, are you out there?

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D.C. proper: Go Terps!!! Other than the ones in College Park, at which bars in D.C. could a non-college-age person find other like-minded Terp fans watching Friday night's game?

Fritz Hahn: I have to say that I don't see many Terp-centric game-watching parties in D.C. proper, though there are always a good number of Maryland alums at Cleveland Park Bar and Grill. But the bars in Bethesda -- Rock Bottom, Caddies, BlackFinn -- are full of Terps.

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Sports bar for Saturday afternoon?: How parent-friendly is Public Bar during the day? My parents are in town this weekend, and we'll probably do touristy-stuff downtown earlier Saturday, but want to catch the late afternoon games. Would Public Bar work (haven't been there)? Any other suggestions in the District?

Fritz Hahn: I think it's perfectly parent-friendly -- before 10 p.m. or so, it draws a mixed-age crowd, and really only gets 20-something-heavy on weekend nights.

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Washington, D.C.: Bike tuning question. I heard last summer the Mt Pleasant farmers market had a bike tuning stand that was offering free bike tune-ups. Do you know if that's still around -- is the Mt Pleasant farmers market even open yet? Or do you know of any other place that offers free bike tune ups?

Thanks for the help!

Rhome Anderson: Chain Reaction in Shaw was so great for helping folks learn bike maintenance. What a loss to the community. The Mt Pleasant farmers' market doesn't start until May. The only information I found on the bike tuneups was from last year. But since it was so popular and that zip code has one of the highest concentrations of cyclists in the city, I'd assume it will continue.

I can't think of any other similar services in town. Maybe some chatters can chime in? You'll rarely get a free lunch, so most places offer to teach you skills and lend you tools rather than do all the work for you. City Bikes has classes. I should also plug the Mount Rainier Bike Coop since it's in my 'hood and it's convenient if your toolbox isn't fully outfitted like mine.

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Eastern Market: Last night I really enjoyed myself at Molly Malone's with their cover band (playing a variety of popular songs from the past 10 years or so). Do you have any advice for great cover bands preferably in the District (and with minimal cover -- but I assume that's a lot to ask with live music)? Thanks!

Fritz Hahn: Most of the real cover band action is in Northern Virginia, though you do get some playing at Molly Malone's, the Rookery and Gin & Tonic. (Two that frequenly pop up are White Ford Bronco, which does all '90s hits, and, by coincidence, are playing tonight at the Rookery, and the Winn Brothers Band.)

The ones to really watch are the Legwarmers (all '80s shows), Gonzo's Nose and Kirsten and the Noise. I'm also a big fan of Toxic Mouse, which pays tribute to leather-clad metal bands like Judas Priest, Whitesnake, Motley Crue and Van Halen.

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Re: Myths : Hey Gurus,

I think the "perfect bar" might be more of a myth than the "perfect man." Anyway, "perfect" caught my attention because I'm not in town and in my old neighborhood, I left the "perfect bar," which I already miss a lot. I haven't found anything that even comes close.

Here are my specs for the perfect bar: I really like low- key, no-name type places that don't feel generic. I also like where the bartenders know their stuff (be it beer, wine or cocktails) and I like that usually there are locals and non-locals but not obvious as to which person is which and a place where people can mingle casually without being a meat-market scene or just plain creepy. Also important is that the bartenders make you feel like a regular, even if you're not.

Any places around here that fit the bill?

Thanks

Fritz Hahn: I'll throw this one out to the readers, because I can think of about 20 places like this in D.C. alone.

So, readers?

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Washington, D.C.: Hello Gurus,

A friend is celebrating his 30th birthday and I'm looking for a place for about 10 people in Arlington to organize a happy hour. I don't go out in this area, so I'm looking for a little help on where to go. THANKS! Keep up the good work!

Fritz Hahn: Places to consider in the Clarendon-Ballston-Rosslyn corridor, all of which have good happy hour deals:

Continental (pool, games, darts, etc.), Gua-Rapo (good South American food/drinks, a little pricier), Ireland's Four Courts (nice Irish pub), Whitlow's on Wilson, Caribbean Breeze (good mojitos and food), Union Jack's ...

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"perfect bar": It's not D.C., but big fan of Rustico for the low-key, bartenders know their stuff, casual mingle, feel like a regular sort of place. Especially on a Sunday or Wednesday night.

Fritz Hahn: Agreed. That's one place on my list.

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Crabs are delicious sea creatures, USA: Hi Gurus! I am thinking about hosting a crab boil (live in No.Va.), and am willing to drive (or order online) far and wide to get the best blue crab in the area and bring it home to serve to friends.

Two questions for you: Where are the best places to get blue crab? Can you even get it yet or is there a season? Thanks for your help!

Julia Beizer: Blue crab season doesn't start around these parts until summer. (Fritz, much smarter about all-things-Md. than me, tells me you can't even catch blue crabs here until April 1.) So, you can get out-of-state ones at the Maine Avenue fish market if you're in a pinch. Come summertime, I think Fritz would agree with me that the best place to get crabs is on the side of the road out in Md., along Route 4 going toward Prince Frederick or Route 301. Obviously, finding a dude with a truck and some crabs is a little more challenging when you're trying to plan a party, so go the Wharf route, or call up Blue Ridge Seafood. They might be able to hook you up with a big order come summer time. (This Gainesville spot is where I used to eat crabs as a kid. My Md.-bred husband finds this hysterical. "A crab house?! In Virginia?!")

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Hey Gurus!

I know there are tequila bars in LA, but do we have any here? Or do you know of any bars that do tequila flights?

Thanks!!!!!

Fritz Hahn: Oyamel has a fantastic selection of tequilas at the bar (and discounted drinks at happy hour). Red Rocks out in Centreville had over 100 last time I was there.

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Downtown Washington, D.C.: Hey! Can you guys suggest a place that would be good for an office Happy Hour in the Farragut Square area of D.C.? We are looking for suggestions where staff from two different offices can get to know each other better after work, say 5:00p on a weeknight? Many thanks!

Fritz Hahn: Mackey's Public House or the Black Rooster would be my choice. They fall between the divey (Recessions) and fancy (The Reserve). Science Club if you want something with hipper music. Maybe the new Madhatter if you can get the upstairs areas so people can mingle.

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Bike repairs: A friend sent me this the other day: 5th Street Hardware (on 5th St. NW between K and L) has a monthly free bike clinic where they'll make minor repairs. The next one is Saturday, April 3.

Rhome Anderson: Nice one.

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Toxic Mouse: I really would love to see them but their myspace page is never updated : (

Fritz Hahn: Yeah, follow them on Facebook instead:

http://www.facebook.com/ToxicMouse80sMetal

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Washington, D.C.: Perfect bar: Bedrock Billiards is the first bar that came to mind. I think Bourbon fits the bill as well.

Fritz Hahn: Two of my favorite places in D.C., both fit the description perfectly, especially if you don't try to go to Adams Morgan on a Friday or Saturday night.

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washingtonpost.com: Who has time for staring at computer screens when it's time to get outside! Go enjoy that sunshine these next few days, and then tell us what you did when we meet next week.

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The Going Out Gurus write about restaurants, bars, movies, the arts, special events and visitor attractions, and they're out every night to keep you on top of the D.C. entertainment scene. Check in with them throughout the week on the GOG Blog or join their live Q&A every Thursday at 1 p.m.

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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