The view from the top of the Washington Monument is spectacular, but just try ordering a meal or even a cocktail up there, much less staking out a fireworks-watching spot.
Conversely and perversely, many of Washington's best restaurants are in windowless basements. But if you want it all -- to eat, drink, view-gaze and enjoy fireworks -- there are some interesting possiblilities, if you act quickly.
Some of the best points of view are in Arlington, whose high ground along the river commands much of the city.
La Bella Vista means "the beautiful view," and this northern Italian restaurant on the top -- 11th -- floor of the south building of River Place condominium (formerly Arlington Towers), does have a lovely vista of the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Netherlands Carillon, the Potomac and -- if you get to sit in the "T Section" -- a rather long-distance view up the Mall. The menu emphasizes pasta and veal, and there's a dance band on weekends. Window tables are reserved for diners, but there are some tables on a raised platform, where you can just drink. ALFIO'S LA BELLA VISTA, 1011 Arlington Boulevard. 525-9195. Open 11 to 11 Monday through Thursday, 3 to 2 Friday and Saturday. Top O' the Town actually is the top -- 12th floor -- of Prospect House, atop Arlington Ridge. The view begins in the glass-sided elevator and is probably the most spectacular panorama available. Unlike some establishments that save the best vista for the full-dinner patrons, Top O' the Town actually offers a better view from the cocktail lounge. With the naked eye or with the aid of a telescope provided by the management you can see the Kennedy Center, the top of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the Capitol, Memorial Bridge, the Pentagon and other landmarks. On fireworks night there will be a five-course dinner for two for $100 including p.at,e, salad, champagne sherbert, lobster, filet mignon and Independence cake and includes valet parking. You can pick out your own table in advance -- if there are any left. TOP O' THE TOWN, 14th and North Oak streets, Arlington, 525-9200. Variable hours. The view from the elegant Roof Terrace Restaurant in the Kennedy Center takes in the Potomac, the spires of Georgetown University and the ever-taller Rosslyn skyline. On July 4, however, you'll be able to step out on the terrace after dinner and enjoy an excellent view of the fireworks over the Washington Monument. ROOF TERRACE RESTAURANT, open daily 11:30 to 3 and 6 to midnight. There are two views from The View, on the 13th floor of the Key Bridge Marriott: one of the river, the Three Sisters, rowing crews, the Washington Canoe Club and Roosevelt Island from the cocktail lounge and one of the Mall from the restaurant. On July 4 there'll be a seven-course dinner with wine at $59.95 per person. THE VIEW, Key Bridge Marriott, 1401 Lee Highway, 524-6400. From the vantage point of The Vantage Point, on the 17th floor of the Rosslyn Westpark Hotel, you can see National Cathedral, Georgetown, Key Bridge and -- if you get a table on the south end -- the Washington Monument. Window tables are reserved for diners. The July 4 dinner is $99 per couple. THE VANTAGE POINT, 1900 Fort Myer Drive, Rosslyn. 527-4814. If you like really loud music and don't grow nauseated from rotating slowly and unceasingly, the Sky Dome on the 14th floor of the Pentagon City Quality Inn is the place. Many must like this kind of music and motion, for on a recent Saturday night there was a long waiting line. You'll have to dance in circles to have a continuing view of the fireworks if you go on July 4. Or, you can have a stationary view from the 13th-floor Penthouse Restaurant. Fare for the Fourth is a $32.50-per-person dinner, with reservations and deposit required. SKY DOME, Quality Inn/Pentagon City, 300 Army-Navy Drive, Arlington, 892-4100. Open daily 4 to 1, weekends until 2. PENTHOUSE RESTAURANT, open daily 6 to 11, Friday and Saturday till midnight. To get to Skylights, on the 18th floor of the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, you take a glass elevator through a spectacular atrium. Once the elevator leaves the lobby and goes outside the view is less edifying, taking in the part of South Arlington that's been blighted by Crystal City. The restaurant-lounge itself offers a spectacular view of landings and takeoffs at National Airport and, from the north end of the restaurant, a distant view of the Washington Monument. For fireworks night, Skylights will stick to its regular menu -- heavy on exotic drinks, such as the Budget Balancer (blue Curacao, vodka, cream, pineapple juice and coconut milk), meat-and-potatoes main dishes, and gooey desserts. All of the window tables were spoken for as of this writing, but customers at the inside tables will be allowed to stand up and cheer the fireworks -- provided they don't drip their Budget Balancers and Congressman's Secretaries over the lucky folks at the window tables. SKYLIGHTS, Hyatt Regency Crystal City, 2799 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington. 486-1234. Open daily 11 to 2:30, 6 to 1:30. But for some intense lobbying and negotiations between the District Commissioners and the federal Commission of Fine Arts back in 1917 we might not have the delightful Sky Terrace atop the Hotel Washington. In going over the plans for the hotel, District officials discovered that the rooftop structure extended 17 feet above the maximum 95- foot height limit decreed near important federal buildings. After numerous meetings, the officials decided that the structures would not, after all, overshadow the Treasury Building across the street any more than would a mansard roof -- which the law would have permitted. The white-marble Treasury Building -- though not overshadowed -- is one of the sights overlooked from the outdoor, awning-topped terrace. Other sights are the White House, including the round window in the family quarters, the Executive Office Building, the Red Cross Building, the Ellipse and, if you sit on the north side, even Rhodes Tavern. A great time to visit the Sky Terrace is on a rainy summer night, when you can relax on the chintz-covered rattan settees, sip brandy-and-soda, listen to the patter of rain on the awning and watch the fog and lightning getting closer. Sandwiches are available outdoors, but for a full meal -- and a view of the fireworks -- you have to retreat to the glass-enclosed Two Continents in the Sky restaurant, which offers vaguely French cuisine. Dinner on July 4, including wine, is a set $35 per person (plus tax and tip). SKY TERRACE, Hotel Washington, 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, 638-5900. Open Monday through Friday, noon to 1, weekends, 4 to 1. TWO CONTINENTS IN THE SKY, open Monday through Friday 12 to 3 and 6 to 11, weekends 6 to 11. Both open for the season on Mothers Day and close sometime in October, depending on the weather.