Hugo's restaurant in the Hyatt Regency-Capitol Hill is closed for the summer and will not be open on the Fourth of July. The annual Joe's Record Paradise music show is scheduled for July 7. Information to the contrary was incorrect in Weekend yesterday. (Published 6/30/90)
WELL, OKAY, so there is a certain democratic satisfaction to getting in on the Fourth of July celebrations at the ground level. Squirreling away quarters for the subway fare (75 cents each person, each way; subway runs till 1). Packing up lunch, dinner, drinks, blankets, wet-naps, sunblock, travel-pack games and emergency rain gear. Plotting the shortest route to the portajohns. And finally, picking out the perfect picnic room with a view -- just you, the kids, $75,000 worth of fireworks and 500,000 close, personal friends.
No, seriously, going down to the Mall on the Fourth can be fun, especially with a congenial group (and preferably without too many pooches, no matter how friendly or Frisbee-wise). It's more fun if you're into middle-American music or can get close enough to the Capitol to hear the National Symphony Orchestra over the boom boxes. It's particularly fun if it's neither hot, humid nor rainy; but that's asking a lot of Foggy Bottom.
But once the kids get a little older -- once you get a little older -- it's sometimes nice to sit back and have the pyrotechnics brought to you on a silver platter, so to speak. And this year, since you have to go right back to work on Thursday, taking the more restful route may be worth it.
Among the greatest views of the fireworks, doubled in the water, is from either side of the Potomac. The roof of the Kennedy Center (and its parking garage, fortunately) opens at 6 Wednesday evening; but you must obtain a ticket in advance: National Park Service rangers will be distributing them, maximum five tickets per person, beginning at 10 Sunday morning in the Kennedy Center's Hall of Nations. The tickets are free, garage parking is a flat $5. BYO chairs and picnic; or there will also be refreshments for sale on the roof.
For those who want a full-service seat, the new Sequoia restaurant in Washington Harbour has opened just in time (944-4200); and the newly renovated Top O' the Town, just across the river in Rosslyn, has the panoramic advantage of a glass wall the length of the restaurant (525-9200). (The folks at Donatello's, who are working to renovate the old Windows site in Rosslyn, have reluctantly conceded they won't make it this week, so stop asking.)
At the other end of the Mall is the Hyatt Regency-Capitol Hill, which has a view angling down across the museums from its rooftop restaurant Hugo's (737-1234); some of the hotels in Crystal City also have clear shots around or over the airport.
However, if you're hankering for the best of both worlds -- the picnic and music, but a little farther from the madding crowd -- head to Meridian Hill Park. Neighborhood activists dedicated to restoring the park to its former dignity are holding a cleanup from 9 to 1, followed by a picnic and concert with Bo Diddley Jr. & Co., Billy & the Crawdads and Image; the music lasts till the fireworks. And from the rise of the park, the true fires will be self-evident.
ROLL WITH IT: The dictionary defines the armadillo as any of a number of warm-blooded animals encased in body armor that under duress roll up into a ball. We don't wish to speculate too heavily on the clientele at Armadillo's in Annapolis -- but the other night there were a number of presumably warm-blooded creatures encased in varying shades of tropical camouflage threatening to roll up under the pressure of repeated margaritas. But then, maybe they were just trying to make space for the band.
Armadillo's is a thoroughly cheerful, albeit a trifle cramped, Tex-Mex bar-cum-nightclub on the waterfront that has apparently decided to ignore its tight space budget and book a restless free-range of talent from all points on the Wash-Balt circuit: One Nite Stand, Juke Joint Jokers, Johnny Monet and the Impressionists, Tom Principato, Harry Traynham, 10 X Big and, this weekend, D.C. Motors. Entertainment is free on Wednesdays and Thursdays and only a few bucks on Fridays and Saturdays.
The bands are pinned up against the wall upstairs, where there are tables for about 30 and stand-up bar space for another 15 or so; but with some ingenuity and a lot of tolerance several times that many people can fit. (If you have the J. J. Jokers on stage, and Marcus Esposito props his keyboard up on the ironing board, it gets even tighter). Remarkably, the sound is not intrusively loud in the restaurant downstairs, a simple but attractive room decked out Southwest patio style in terra cotta and blue and stained wood.
The fare is fair, though not terribly fancy: The kitchen experiment of the night was a shrimp fajita platter, which involved several otherwise blameless shrimp swimming in bottled barbecue sauce better suited to a rack of ribs. And for a restaurant only yards from the water, having no grilled fish or seafood, or veggie dishes, is a little disappointing.
But the freehand chips and salsa are very good, and the black beans are a tasty step up from the still too-common refried adobe. And the coffee is Cooper super. It's all hearty -- it makes you wonder who survives to challenge the all-you-can-eat Mexican lunch offer on Mondays. Armadillo's is on the east side of the harbor circle at 132 Dock St. (301/268-6680).
Downtown Annapolis, incidentally, has become one of the busiest live music neighborhoods since the west end of Georgetown went dark. And when we admired the bar at Middleton Tavern recently, we forgot to mention that it too offers live entertainment all week long, including Annapolis Music Scene double showcases on Mondays; support your local musicians.