Democracy Dies in Darkness


A day of eating and drinking in D.C. on less than $30 is possible. Here’s how to do it.

May 23, 2018 at 7:13 PM

Thinkstock/Express illustration

D.C. is a city of $500 tasting menus and $175 theater tickets, but also of happy hours on every corner and more free museums than we know what to do with. For as much luxury as the District boasts, it’s easy to find free or cheap beer, art, snacks, music and adventure. How easy? We decided to challenge ourselves to create a perfect D.C. afternoon/evening on less than $30. The ground rules: Each itinerary had to include food and drink, a cultural activity and a way to enjoy the outdoors. One-night-only events or specials were ruled out, as was sweet-talking your way into a deal. And to keep things interesting, we made Smithsonian museums (all free of charge) off-limits. Armed with our D.C. knowledge and paltry sums of cash, three of us set off in search of fun, food and free stuff.

Kristen Page-Kirby

A. Litteri
517-519 Morse St. NE
To fuel up, I started my afternoon at A. Litteri. The market looks like it’s been around for a hundred years, mostly because it probably took them that long to load in all the wine bottles. (It’s actually been at this location near Union Market since 1932.) The front of the shop is dedicated to specialty Italian foods, at the back there’s a deli counter, and all around the rest of the place is wine — which makes for a great way to kill time as you’re waiting for your sandwich or salad. I went for a 6-inch sub with turkey and capicola (big spenders can add specialty meats and toppings for 50 cents to 2 bucks more). I threw in a bottle of iced tea, grabbed a bench on the nearby Gallaudet campus and watched a highly competitive game of Ultimate Frisbee.
Cost: $8.29

National Archives
700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Perhaps I was inspired by “National Treasure” when I decided to get one of our nation’s founding documents as a souvenir at the National Archives, though I opted for the Constitution instead of the Declaration of Independence and I didn’t steal it. Heading right to the gift shop — because, as all kids know, the best part of any educational experience is buying something — I picked up an envelope containing a document that looked just like the one tourists were gawking at upstairs, only this one had to be folded a lot. When I paid, the cashier asked if I was interested in rounding up my purchase to donate to the National Archives Foundation. I said yes, and that’s how my $4.95 Constitution became $5. I felt quite generous doing this.
Cost: $5

Congressional Cemetery
1801 E St. SE
I had never been to Congressional Cemetery, though I am fond of judging what people put on their tombstones. The walk would have been a bit long, so I Metro’d from the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter station to Potomac Avenue (cost: $2.25) and then had a three-block walk to the gates. Membership-holding dogs are allowed off-leash inside the cemetery, and there were many friendly pups frolicking around the monuments. The winning gravestone belongs to John Frey and Peter Morris, whose joint monument looks like a picnic table, complete with two benches. The cemetery is free, but there is a box for donations. I dropped in $2; between this
and my contribution at the Archives, I felt like quite the benefactor.
Cost: $4.25 (with Metro fare)

415 Eighth St. SE
It was another easy (and free!) stroll to EatBar, which has a solid lineup for its happy hour (4-7 p.m. weekdays) — and the most comfortable bar stools I’ve ever sat in. There are beer and wine specials, but I went for the spicy Dig for Fire, a cocktail made of vodka, habanero, ginger and citrus, for $4. EatBar was nicely dark and quiet this day, with a TV silently playing some show about yachts — yachts that belong to people who can definitely spend more than $30 in a day.
Cost: $6 (including tax and tip)

Total spent: $23.54

Farragut Square yoga
17th and K streets NW
Only after I thought about how grateful Future Lori will be did I opt to begin my afternoon with a workout. Instead of trudging into a gym, however, my yoga mat and I headed at 5:30 p.m. to Farragut Square, where, amid weary commuters on the surrounding streets, the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District offered a free yoga class. It’s part of the BID’s series of golden-hour fitness classes throughout the summer, featuring yoga on Tuesdays, barre on Wednesdays and Pilates on Thursdays. The best part is you only have to register online once to take advantage of the classes all season.
Cost: $0

DC Reynolds
3628 Georgia Ave. NW
I spent the half-hour Metro ride (cost: $2.45) that followed dreaming of the beers I planned to drink after my yoga class. Good thing I was headed to DC Reynolds, home of — in my opinion — the best happy hour deal in the District. Go to the Park View bar between 5 and 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, choose your beer, wine or cocktail and receive a second one afterward for free. The only catch: You receive the same drink the second time — no switching it up. Good thing I love the Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout enough that I’d order a second one even if it weren’t free.
Cost: $11.45 (including Metro, beers, tax and tip)

Heritage Trails
Tour maps available at; audio tour available at
Visiting the monuments at night? How boring. Why not visit some of the monuments of D.C.’s local history instead? Cultural Tourism DC offers 17 Heritage Trails: self-guided tours of D.C. historical sites. The tours, outlined on the Cultural Tourism DC website, are all over the city, with each site marked by signposts. I chose to take in the U Street east loop, mostly because I know shamefully little about the history of the buildings I pass on that street every day, and because it comes with an audio tour accessible on your smartphone, so you can walk the sites with guidance in your earbuds. Touring the eastern side of U Street takes you to such big sites as Ben’s Chili Bowl and The Lincoln Theatre, but also to the former home of Lillian Evans Tibbs, a D.C.-born opera singer who became famous around the world in the 1940s.
Cost: $2 (for Metro fare)

The Hamilton
600 14th St. NW
From U Street, it’s not a far walk to The Hamilton, where I strolled right past the fancy dining tables up front, followed the hallway toward the kitchen and headed upstairs to The Loft, a cozy bar with a small space for free live music. There was plenty of room up front near the roots band playing, but I made a beeline for the bar: I came with the specific purpose of appeasing my late-night sushi craving. The Loft, in addition to offering sandwiches, bar snacks and entrees, serves up its enormous sushi rolls at half price from 3-6 p.m. and after 11 p.m. daily. Thanks to being thrifty all evening, I could afford to splurge on a yellowtail roll with jalapeno and a shrimp tempura roll.

Cost: $15 (with tax and tip)

Total spent: $28.45

Rudi Greenberg

Tudor Place
1644 31st St. NW
I started my afternoon with an uphill climb through Georgetown, from M Street NW to Tudor Place, a historic home and 51/2-acre garden that’s a hidden urban oasis. The estate was purchased by Thomas Peter, a descendent of Martha Washington, in 1805 and has been preserved as a relic of the past. But I wasn’t there to view the house. For $3, you can take a self-guided tour of the lush garden surrounding the estate. First I stopped by the visitor center, where I browsed the quaint gift shop (full of tea, jam, honey, mugs and more) before paying the fee and picking up a map of the garden. I was struck by how calm I felt as I took it all in: the blooming flowers, the grand water features and the playful sculptures. I could have stopped and pondered the meaning of life for hours in solitude but the garden closes at 4 p.m., so off I went.
Cost: $3

Falafel Inc.
1210 Potomac St. NW
After working up an appetite, I walked (downhill, thankfully) about three-quarters of a mile to get a late lunch/early dinner at my favorite cheap-eats spot in Georgetown. The bare-bones Falafel Inc. — the walls are mostly unfinished plywood; seating and tables are limited — sells falafel sandwiches and salads at ridiculously low prices (no item is more than $4). I opted for a $4 sandwich — a house-made pita stuffed with several small and lightly fried falafel balls, hummus ($1 upcharge), lettuce, cabbage, pali salad and the restaurant’s house tahini sauce and hot sauce. For $4 it’s a surprisingly filling meal that you can scarf down while walking, if needed. Plus, the restaurant says proceeds from each purchase help feed refugees around the world. If you want to splurge, add the lightly fried zaatar fries ($3), dusted in Falafel Inc.’s salty house-made Palestinian spice blend with a kick.
Cost: $4.40 (with tax)

Pizzeria Paradiso
3282 M St. NW
After killing some time window-shopping on M Street NW (good luck finding something under $30), I grabbed a spot in the bar area of Pizzeria Paradiso overlooking the dining room for happy hour. Mondays through Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m. at the bar, this location of the local pizza chain offers $3 off each craft beer draft or glass of wine (appetizers and pizzas are also discounted). As I sipped on a tasty double IPA from Virginia’s Solace Brewing, I moved downstairs to the restaurant’s new game room (which has its own bar), where I was tempted to blow the rest of my budget on skee ball, classic arcade video games or the “Pirates
of the Caribbean” pinball machine. Next time, I told myself.
Cost: $5.40 (with tax and tip)

Gypsy Sally’s
3401 K St. NW.
To finish the evening, I headed down to the waterfront for a quick stroll before making my way to Gypsy Sally’s — a live music venue underneath the Whitehurst Freeway. On most nights, the jam band- and Americana-friendly venue hosts free performances by singer-songwriters or bands in the tucked-away Vinyl Lounge. Records and Grateful Dead photos line the walls of the long, L-shaped space and there’s an Instagram-friendly VW bus to hang in. A tiny stage is tucked in one corner where, on this night, singer-songwriter Jeff Tucker was playing acoustic tunes to a handful of attendees. Gypsy Sally’s also hosts a weekly open-mic in that room on Tuesdays with drink discounts (including $3 PBRs). Who says you can’t have fun in Georgetown on the cheap?
Cost: $0

Total spent: $12.80

Lori McCue is the arts and food editor at DCist. Previously, she was a features editor at Express.

Rudi Greenberg is the features managing editor at Express and writes about comedy, music, beer and D.C. life.

Kristen Page-Kirby joined Express in 2010 and covers film, arts and entertainment. Her weekly film column, The Reelist, has run in Express since 2009.

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