Be my Valentine.
The suggestion calls for a romantic setting. You're not like the others and you want to say so. Or you're like the others and know you don't have to admit it. What you're looking for is a hideaway with atmosphere.
This is romance. The time is anytime you're near me and the place is candlelit, or out-of-the-way. It has a view or a fireplace or curtained booths. Romantic is not predictable: To some women, it's a restaurant like The Palm where most diners are men. A cafeteria is not romantic. Gypsy violins should be, but may distract.
Where does love go in Washington? Love walks along the canal. It palpitates at the rush of Great Falls, so much so that one feels drawn to stop for refreshment at Old Angler's Inn, 10801 MacArthur Blvd., on the way back in to town. Here's gemuetlichkeit, snuggling to warm each other up in front of the fireplace and easing down into overstuffed green velvet sofa cushions with some hot cider.
Romance is a candlelit dinner in the country, out past farmland where sunflowers' heads hang heavy with snow, where life's suspended waiting for sping.
In Great Falls, Chez Francois acquired a lot more atmosphere when it moved from downtown to 332 Springvale Rd. It also acquired more popularity: Weekend dinner reservations should be made two weeks in advance. By the way, they brought those charming tile-topped tables with them. They also transported the tropical fish tanks, so if you can't stand to eat while looking at live fish be forewarned and request different seating. From almost any table you can see the central raised fireplace. Add this to the view of the country outside and maybe your prospective Valentine will get the point.
Farther west, you drive through other worlds, poor farms and Hunt Country; the two of you have a lot to talk about and before you know it, you're in Middleburg, and hungry. On Route 50, The Red Fox Tavern has been a way-station for travelers since around 1728. During the Civil War, Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart met there with Mosby's Raiders. Stuart spent the night there and so can you, and probably have more fun that he did. Upstairs are six bedrooms that can be reserved for the night, each with its own fireplace and queen-size canopy bed where breakfast is served on request. There's a lounge with two fireplaces where an all-but-invisible waitress will bring beverages to you - hot buttered rum, coffee - while you and your friend pick out patterns in the fire, talk or daydream.Downstairs the dining room offers simple fare: well-executed steaks, ham, crabmeat, pork chops, a liverwurst-like pate, fresh vegetables, too-heavy cake. From a candlelit table by still another fire-place, you can look out at the sometimes-snowy streets of Middleburg.
Too soon you return to reality. It seems that romance is more likely out of town. But love pops up in unlikely places, when it's inconvenient to flit away to take care of it.
One would think, with all the fuss about pollution, that there would be no fireplaces in downtown Washington restaurants. After work on Valentine's Day you can disprove this assumption, too.
The lounge in the Tabard Inn, 1739 N St. NW, is dark and cozy, a place to meet and be left alone in front of the fire.
Across the street nestles the Middle Eastern Iron Gate Inn, a converted old stable. It has two fireplaces.
Two more fireplaces are found in Petito's, a new pasta restaurant like a comfortable townhouse at 2653 Connecticut Ave. NW.
Hey, find your own!
There are people who say music and food don't mix, and if you're adding love to the concoction, something's definitely going to waste. Be that as it may, the gypsy violinist coming to serenade you at table is a sentimental stereotype to be explored. Old Budapest, 10101 Lee Highway, has such entertainment. Another Hungarian restaurant, Broadmoor Apartments' Csikos restaurant, 3601 Connecticut Ave. NW, offers gypsy mood music, mirros and chandeliers, a kind of old hotel atmosphere, and tables far apart. But there are minuses. From the underground garage, you walk up a treacherous and chilly back stairway, walled in basic gray brick. Not suitable for necking.
The menu offers cold cherry soup, spicy Hungarian sausage and a meat pancake that tastes like an enchilada. Some entrees are roast squab, rabbit or veal paprikash, beef goulash, and wienerschnitzel.
But when you're in love, who cares about food. A musician plays the cinbalom, or Hungarian gypsy dulcimer, from dolce for sweet. One recent evening, eyes glowing, she was playing "Ochi Chorniya" ("Dark Eyes"), "Those Were the Days," "The Poor People of Paris," various waltzes and schmaltzes. She grinned broadly al the while at a pair of male patrons seated across from her in front of a mirror. A hammer in each hand, she struck out requests on the trapezoidal array of strings in front of her, and, on her break, dropped by the table at the customers' signal - even when it turned out they were just signaling the waiter.
To out-of-towners - tourists when they don't sleep at your house - romantic Washington means Capitol Hill when it's someone else's love affair and Georgetown when it's theirs. The most intimate spot in Georgetown may be Le Steak, 3060 M St. NW, cozy and enticing in red and black and candlelight. Its fixed-price, one-entree menu is so reassuring. You know before you get there not only what you're going to eat (steak, potatoes with a reputation, salad, desert and beverage) but what you're going to pay for it ($12.95). No annoying little surprises to detract from St. Valentine's delights.
By the way, there were two St. Valentines, and the annual custom has no connection with either one of them. The lovers' festival probably derives from Lupercalia, celebrated by hte Romans on Feb. 15. (Pope Gelasius pushed it back a day and gave it a Christian name in 496.) On Lupercalia, priests went to a cave called the Lupercal to sacrifice goats and make goatskin lashes. They would then bound on to the hill above them, flailing at any ladies fool enough to be in the neighborhood.
Over dinner, ask your lover if he or she prefers this origin to the sweet legend that birds choose their mates on Feb. 14. Write down the answer and think about it on Feb. 15.
People actually can be alone in Georgetown - if it's raining. You can dry off together in front of a blazing fireplace while eating French food, at 1789 on 36th Street, or Jour et Nuit on M.
A stroll along the canal leads to The Foundry, at 1050 30th St. NW, a breezy restaurant in oak, brick and plants. Stairs lead to curtained booths with tables inside. Lechers are forewarned that off to the side of the booth is a little window where the waiter can look in.Also in the Foundry Shops in a new, apparently yet-undiscovered, well, Polynesian restaurant, Orchid 7. Flowers being terribly appropriate on Valentine's Day, there's no reason you shouldn't have them in your drinks. Aside from that, Orchid 7 offers booths fenced off in intimate bamboo.
Back outside, ice luminesces around the barge it holds captive in the canal. In the darkness, lovers walk dreamily on the cobblestone path that by day becomes a bicyclists' freeway.
Up on Wisconsin at Billy Martin's Carriage House, two visitors pass up the disco and ask to be seated in the Snuggery. The maitre d'says, "Okay, if that's what you're into," and with an accommodating shrug shows them to the piano bar. It has possibilities, some of which can be guessed at. A warm room for clandestine meetings: gold wallpaper, red carpets, black leather, candles, and really only one sour note, from the tipsy customer beside the piano.
In Sicily, on Valentine's Day a maiden rises before dawn to look out her window. She will wait for hours if necessary until a man passes by. Legend holds that she will marry, before the year is out, the first man she sees. Or someone who looks like him.
Perhaps this was an early version of looking at the view. Breathtaking is romantic. Across the river in Rosslyn, perched on the 17th floor of 1500 Wilson Blvd., Alexanders III restaurant commands an incredible view of Washington's shoreline and skyline. A drink and a listen to the combo soothe. If it's windy outside, the cracking of picture-window panes may unnerve. The decor's a bit kitschy, if you notice: orange and purple, sterile like the strange new town below and you try to recall when last you saw two people walk arm in arm together in Rosslyn.
On the eleventh floor of the Hyatt Regency, 400 New Jersey Ave. NW, you'll find Hugo's - a restaurant in brown and rust push, with a piano - and a gargantuan view of the Capitol. It's a powerful turn-on for someone who came to Washington to work on the Hill but instead went with a government agency. The elevator ride to Hugo's is half the fun. Imagine your Valentine's surprise when he or she discovers - too late, of course - that one elevator ploy and sequester yourself downstairs in the Spy's Eye. It's so dark you can't see where you're walking at lunchtime.
Pretty is romantic. The atmosphere at Cantina d'Italia, 1214-A 18th St. NW, is so warm and suggestive that even lunchtime seems a waste without your mate. Another nearby Italian restaurant, Nathan's II at 1211 Connecticut Ave., has all the trapings.A crystal chandelier hangs over a small central bar flanked by booths. Fresh irises and long tapered candles grace the tables, pale blue tablecloths complement crushed green velvet seat cushions. There's airiness and freshness about the place.
Where does love go in Washington? It wanders the Botanical Garden. It hides among the scheffleras under the fishtail palms in the garden courts of the National Gallery of Art. It watches the city from overlooks on the G.W. Parkway. It's at a corner table, anywhere. CAPTION:
Illustration 1, Where to go in and around town to find the candlelight, the welcoming, cozy hearth, the violins and flowers, and all that neat stuff when the mood strikes you. By Annie Lunsford for The Washington Post.; Illustration 2, no caption; Illustration 3, no caption; Illustration 4, no caption, Smithsonian Institution Photos.; Illustration 5 to 8, no caption, By Zarko Karabatic for The Washington Post.