By Fritz Hahn
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Updated Monday, Nov. 17, 2003
It's holiday party season, and that means one thing: In offices across the area, some poor soul has been assigned to find a place for the annual holiday party. It can be a stress-filled ordeal.
The upstairs lounge at the District ChopHouse, including pool tables, clubby sofas and microbrews, can be all yours for a price.
With that person in mind, we've created this list, which we will continue to add to in the coming weeks. Please keep in mind prices can change depending on the number of guests, the day of the week, menu items and whether or not guests pay for their own drinks. Additionally, the art of negotiation cannot be understated.
Also, some bars and restaurants can take a wide number of guests -- Buffalo Billiards, for example, will reserve rooms for either 20 or 150. We've put locations under the headings where they seem to fit, but some can jump categories, so read carefully.
These reviews are not just for office or holiday gatherings -- you can use them for birthday parties, anniversary celebrations or wedding dinners as well.
Under 50 Guests | 50 to 100 Guests | More Than 100 Guests
Under 50 Guests
There's no charge to reserve the bar's back room (the More Lounge) as long as you schedule the event in advance. The room, which holds 20 to 50 people, is available from 6 (opening) until 8:30 or 9 -- Aroma will put a "Reserved" sign on the door until then. Aroma doesn't serve food (you can bring your own), and there are no drink discounts unless you bring in a large group (ask a manager for details) or host a charity fundraiser.
This underground pool hall has two options for private gatherings. For a smaller crowd (under 35), Buffalo Billiards offers the Victorian Room, a cozy space decked out in red from the walls to the felt on the pair of antique pool tables. There's no private bar, but you get your own wait staff. All drinks are put on a single tab. During the week (Sunday to Wednesday), the first two hours are $175; on weekends, they're $250. Additional hours start at $100. Call 202/331-7665 for more information.
Chief Ike's Cosmo Lounge
Located upstairs from Chief Ike's Mambo Room, the Cosmo Lounge is a bare-bones two-room space with a pool table and bar. There's no charge to reserve one or both rooms, but your tab should come to at least $10 per person -- for example, if there are 35 people, your tab for the night should clear $350. (You're allowed to bring your own food.) If there are less than 50 people, you can have one side of the space to yourself until midnight or so. Bring more and you can have the whole lounge, but the minimum will be higher. In either case, your private reservation might only be secure until midnight. Depending on how many people are still hanging around at that point, the management might open the lounge to the public.
Gordon Biersch has two private rooms that hold between 35 and 40 people for lunch or dinner (either plated or buffet). If dinner isn't required, Gordon Biersch will arrange happy hours with appetizer menus for 15 to 250 people. Payment can be per person in advance or on a cash-and-carry basis. There's no fee to reserve the two rooms, and the rooms are available every day.
The downstairs party room at Larry's Lounge is like having a shindig in your parents' finished basement, but that's all the regulars at this cozy neighborhood bar require. The space isn't huge -- ideally, it's suited for 45 to 50 people -- and the fewer people you bring, the more chances you'll have to play on the vintage Ms. Pac-Man machine. Beyond popcorn and mixed nuts, Larry's doesn't offer food, so bring your own. While Larry's license doesn't allow DJs or live music, bartender Lamont Proffit says you're more than welcome to bring a boom box and some mix CDs. Sunday through Thursday, the room costs $50 for the evening -- or just have your group run up a bar tab of at least $200. Fridays, Saturdays and holidays require $80 or a $300 bar tab. Reserve in advance, as it's popular with community groups.
Mie N Yu
The sumptuously decorated theme rooms at Mie N Yu make attractive settings for small groups -- a Turkish Tent holds cushioned seating for up to 35, the mirrored Venetian Dining Room and Bar holds a few more -- but you'll pay for the luxury if you're not booking a dinner party. For an open bar, there's a fee of $26 per guest for "premium brands" (Absolut vodka, Jack Daniels, Cuervo Gold tequila) for the first hour, and $18 for each additional hour. Better brands (Belvedere vodka, Bombay Sapphire gin, Makers Mark) cost $10 more per hour. Either way, you also pay $20 per hour for a bartender in addition to a $25 security deposit per guest up front. The cocktail food menu consists mostly of passed dishes like hibachi beef skewers and tandoori chicken kabobs (between $3 to $5 per piece) and platters ("artisan cheese,"$50).
Union Street Public House
There are two party spaces at this Old Town pub, and both comfortably hold about 50. The smaller is the George Washington Room, which is more formal and decorated with paintings and etchings of the former Alexandria resident. There's room for 50 to sit, room for more to mingle cocktail-style. A wide selection of appetizers is available; most platters serve 10 to 15 people and cost $15 to $20. For drinks, you can choose between a cash bar and open bar. Depending on the number of people, the open bar averages about $20 per guest for the evening.
Located in the back of the pub, the Oyster Room is a pleasant place with a tiled floor and a nautical theme. There are two distinct areas: a dining room and a bar with an oyster shucking station. Tables seat 56, although you can have more people for a cocktail-style reception. Available Monday through Thursday, the room rents for $100; there's a $2,500 food and beverage minimum.
50 to 100 Guests
There are three options for parties at the historic 1789 in Georgetown. For small events (up to 16 people), you can book the intimate Garden Room. For mid-size events, there's the Middleburg Room, which seats 56 or holds 75 for a stand-up reception. You can also rent F. Scott's, which has a large bar and a dance floor and holds up to 150 people. Prices vary by day, room and menu, so call 202-965-1789. By the way: Jackets are required in the restaurant.
Groups of 50 to 150 can occupy the Adirondack Room, decorated like the ultimate mountain lodge game room, with six pool tables, dart lanes, shuffleboard and a private bar. It's a great place, but not cheap -- the first two hours cost $400 Sunday through Wednesday, $600 on weekends. Additional hours are $175 and up, and the room isn't available after 6 p.m. on Friday. Drinks can be included, with plans ranging from $6.50 to $10 per person, or you can just run a cash bar -- although you have to pay the bartender an hourly fee. Catering is available. Call 202-331-7665 for more information.
Monday through Thursday after 6 p.m., Cafe Citron's large, loungey basement room can be reserved without a fee by groups of 40 or more. There's a two-drink minimum per person. If you want to make a reservation for Friday or Saturday, book it early in the evening -- the room is opened to the public around 10. Smaller groups (10 to 30 cocktail-style, or 20 seated) can reserve the small mezzanine-level bar, which has either a bartender or waiter service.
There's no private area, but this Arlington pool hall and bar allows groups to reserve blocks of tables in advance, no charge. Also, you can pre-order food from Rocklands Barbecue and Grilling. Because of the size of the venue and its popularity on weekends, Carpool recommends that you reserve tables on Sunday through Thursday nights or keep the guests to a few dozen. Here's another plan: For a minimum of $150 per hour, not including food and drink, Carpool will open early just for you. Restrictions apply, so call for more information.
The Childe Harold
The Childe Harold's private Byron Room has no rental charge, as long as your party reaches a $500 food and drink bill. The room has its own full-service bar, and the restaurant's dinner and late-night menus are available. The Byron Room holds up to 75 people for a seated dinner and 125 for cocktails. The restaurant has contracts with several DJs.
Up to 100 people can have cocktails and shoot pool in the Brewer's Lounge at District ChopHouse. The mezzanine-level lounge has its own full-service scotch and bourbon bar, a few couches and a cigar lounge. There's no charge to reserve the room, but your party must spend at least $650 per hour on food and drinks to keep the room private, and you must reserve it for a minimum of two hours.
The Exchange Saloon
The Exchange Saloon renovated its dining room and party room this year, adding amenities like a large-screen projection television for sporting events. There's seating for 60 and standing room for up to 100. Best of all, there's no charge to reserve the room. "You bring the party in here and spend some money, and you can have it for free," says manager Brad Gamble, although a minimum of 30 people is requested. Gamble says management is flexible about negotiating dinner and bar arrangements (cash or open), but he's seen more companies asking about giving drink tickets to employees in order to encourage responsible drinking.
Felix Restaurant and Lounge and the Spy Lounge
When Felix Lounge opened in 1995, "the trend for holiday parties was to do a big sit-down dinner," says owner Alan Popovsky. "Now it's all about standing and heavy hors d'oeuvres." His adjoining bars, Felix and the Spy Lounge, can hold about 100 people each, and the Groove Lounge upstairs adds an additional 125. During the week, Felix and Spy's room rental fees are $500 and $300, respectively, plus food and drink. On weekends, parties need to meet a much higher guarantee, spending at least $8,000 to keep the room private. Budget not that high? "We're not the kind of place that says, 'Oh, we have this package for this amount of money,'" Popovsky says. "If someone comes to us and wants to plan a party but only has $1,000, we'll pick a night that's not too busy and work with them on food and drinks." He does, however, recommend spending between $30 and $70 per person for two hours. (Sample packages for that time include a premium open bar at $30 per person and a rail open bar with beer for $15 per person) You can bring your own band or DJ at no extra charge, and the lounge is happy to recommend various acts.
With its sweeping art deco bar, fantastic martini list and red-topped pool tables, Lounge 201 is Capitol Hill's coolest martini bar. There are two private areas available for rent: the rear Executive Private Room, separated from the main bar by a pair of glass doors, and the Billiards Room, which is actually just an area off the bar with couches, booth-filled nooks and two pool tables. Each holds roughly 60 people and requires a group to spend a minimum $1,000 on various food and drink packages. The most popular so far is the "Call Package with Appetizers," which costs $38 per person and includes the full wine and beer list, better-than-average liquors and (this is key) a full martini list, as well as selection of appetizers like spring rolls and beef kabobs. There are other selections, too, which range from a basic beer and wine list ($15 per person) to a complete open bar (everything in the house, $40 per person). All prices are for two-and-a-half hour reservations, and rates are negotiable if you need more time.
Rock Bottom Brewery - Bethesda
The cozy upstairs bar at Rock Bottom, known as the Brewer's Lounge, can accommodate up to 75 people for drinks or 24 for a sit-down dinner. It has its own full-service bar and four pool tables, and there's no rental charge. The catch: You and your guests have to spend at least $600 per hour on food and drink and reserve the area for a minimum of two hours. (This doesn't include tax or tips, however.)
South Beach Cafe
South Beach Cafe's upstairs room, a sunny space with a Miami theme, can hold between 60 and 120 people for a cocktail reception or about 80 for a sit-down dinner. Guarantees vary by day of the week, time (lunch, happy hour or evening) and what kind of food you want (passed hors d'oeuvres, an hors d'oeuvres buffet, sit-down main courses), meaning you could spend between $20 and $70 per head, including alcohol. It's always cheaper if you book a Monday or Tuesday. If you book a Thursday through Saturday night, the price of a DJ is figured into your cost. You can also bring your own, but you must provide the equipment.
The upstairs bar at the cozy, low-key Stetson's costs $350 for the night, including a private bar and bartender and dart lane. (There's a pool table, but, sadly, it's still $1 per game.) The room holds 50 or more people, but there have been as few as 13. If you want food, Stetson's has four platters available: quesadillas, Buffalo wings, hummus and pita bread or veggies. Each serves about 20 people and costs $50.
Top of the Hill
The top floor of Politiki and the Penn Ave. Pour House has been transformed into a comfortable, clubby bar and lounge that's often booked for private parties and happy hours. However, there are a dizzying number of rules and clauses, so make sure you read the entire contract. If you want the full room, you must have at least 50 people and purchase a beverage package (minimum $16 per person for two hours) or food and beverage combo package (minimum $22) in addition to the room rental fee, which can range from $100 (happy hour on Monday) to $500 (three hours plus, beginning after 8 p.m. on Friday or Saturday). Groups between 25 and 50 people can book half the room, and also must purchase a food and beverage package or negotiate a minimum bar tab with the management. Either way, use of the pool table and Internet jukebox is included.
More Than 100 Guests
If you're planning a large party, listen up: The Clarendon Ballroom holds up to 1,000 people on its two floors. If that's too big, you can have 250 people (seated) in the ballroom or 150 (seated) in the lower ballroom. The huge art deco bar and dance floor are available every night except Thursday and Friday, when they're open to the public.
The charge for renting the Clarendon Ballroom varies from $1,500 to $4,500, depending on the night and the size of the crowd. However, the rental fee can be negotiated if you guarantee the bar a certain amount of sales. (Call 703-469-2244 for more information.) If more than 300 guests are coming, the ballroom will add the cost of security to check IDs and manage crowds.
You can bring in outside DJs or bands, as long as the management has heard of them. Otherwise, Clarendon Ballroom has a variety of DJs and bands to suggest; it also has its own chef and caterer.
Eighteenth Street Lounge
One of Washington's most exclusive nightspots can be yours Sunday through Wednesday, often without charge. The key is to book early in the evening -- a Wednesday happy hour for 100 with a cash bar would have no reservation fee, for example. You'll pay more for reserved space later in the evening, but if you purchase an open-bar option, the fee is waived. The open bar doesn't come cheap, though -- for premium level (any drink in the house), it's $19 per person per hour; rail liquor, $15; beer and wine only, $12. ESL can accommodate 50 to 400 people; small groups can take over one of several rooms. Advice from the events staff: If you've never been, visit before you book, so you can see the space for yourself. Proper attire is always required.
If you're planning a private event on a budget, you should consider Garrett's. There's no room rental fee, and a cocktail reception for up to 250 people could cost just $50 -- if you get a cash bar. The only fee you're required to pay is for bartenders: $50 per night, plus tips. (Warning: If you have 150 people in the bar and just one bartender, things won't be pleasant.)
There are three rooms that can be rented, ranging from a private dinner in the restaurant (up to 50 people) to the entire upstairs (up to 250 people). Thursday through Saturday, events need to be finished by 10 p.m., when the entire bar is open to the public. You won't be kicked out, but you will need to settle your bill.
Maggiano's Italian Restaurant is popular for wedding dinners and other sit-down events. Both the Friendship Heights and Tysons Corner locations can host up to 300 people for family-style three-course meals, which cost $29.95 per person. For smaller cocktail-style events, make arrangements with the catering department. If you want entertainment, you can bring your own band or DJ.