OLD TOWN Alexandria can be a bit precious, but there's something about this time of year that suits lower King Street. Shops stay open late, wafting potpourri and spiced cider into the street, and those three-figure tchotchke galleries that deal in the fantasy nostalgia of "authentic" brass and gentry Americana suddenly acquire a Victorian gleam. (The basement-cutaway window display of the Gourmet Cellar, which combines English country estate wheels of cheese with 18th-century coal-cellar historicity, is a good example of this mixed-metaphor tradition.) And in the haze of warmish rain, shadowy wooden bars made rosy with wine bottle reflections seem particularly inviting.
Amid this brass-button glitter, the sturdy nookish Quarterdeck Lounge, the upstairs bar/jazz room at the Wharf restaurant, seems almost humble, like an honest farmer in merchant alley. But its simplicity comes as a sort of relief, and the unadorned exposed brick walls (temporarily draped with tinsel and lights) and the intriguing French doors into nowhere (no balcony, just view) provide an easy frame for the music that is its draw.
The Wharf offers a range of blues, R&B, jazz and a little jump and swing over raw oysters and Remy (well, that's how some of us think of it). Covers are reasonable, usually $4 or $5, and the intimacy of the seating -- about a dozen banquette tables for two, and the same number of tables and booths for about four -- encourages comfortable couples and old easy friends.
The bar area itself is smallish, neat and old-fashionedly comfy, not showy but fairly well-stocked; a medium range of beers but no local brands. (No TV, either, which almost makes up for it.) Music generally starts after 9; come a little early and say hi to Sam.
This is an especially good weekend to pull up to the Wharf, because Baltimore jazz guitarist Carl Filipiak and his group make a rare showcase appearance there Friday ($4; 703/836-2834).
Filipiak, who recently released his second album, "Blue Entrance," is a controlled, fluid performer whose fretwork is rapid, sometimes gleeful but never edgy. His writing is curious, inquiring but controlled, ruminative rather than exuberant. His often synthetic, electronic tone suggests a preference for fusion, but his sense of melody is relatively classic; and on the gentle "Just My Wish," by bassist Jimmy Charlsen, Filipiak demonstrates a warm, mellow restraint.
LITE, BRITE AND TIGHT?: Elsewhere in Old Town, it's a case of good intentions in advertising. King Street Blues has commissioned the folks at Old Dominion Brewing, who make the Virginia Native golden lager sold at the Union Street Pub, to supply them with an unfiltered version of Dominion lager trademarked for the restaurant as "Virginia Native Brite." KSB's owners tagged it as advertisement for the lager's luminous edges, although that's somewhat in the eye of the consumer.
The confusing thing is, "brite" -- that is, "bright" -- in the brewing sense refers to clarified, filtered brew; the bright tank is the last one in line, just past the tax-revenue vat. And the Blues isn't really on King Street, it's on North St. Asaph. And they don't play blues, either -- it's a restaurant, described as a '50s roadhouse, although it bears about the same resemblance to a real southern roadhouse as the American Diner or Studebaker's do to a real soda shop.
But for all that semantic difficulty, King Street Blues is a fine joint. It offers a sort of new-age South'un menu: "pig salad" (chopped barbecue with white cheddar, tomatoes and sour cream), pinebark stew (a sort of waterfront Brunswick stew with shrimp, catfish and ham), white beans rather than kidneys and a po' boy of popcorn shrimp and andouille sausage that makes New Orleans natives forget their homeland. The only obvious bluesy connection are the choice of barbecue sandwiches: Jake's is sliced, Elwood's is chopped. Leave room for the cobbler, and say hi to Sparky.
IT'S A MADD, MADD WORLD: The folks at Oscar Taylor's in Rockville protest that their eliminating happy-hour nibblies may seem short-sighted, but is really a socially responsible sacrifice, designed to turn away drinking patrons in favor of dining customers. That's also the reason live entertainment has been eliminated. (The Friday happy-hour young mob scene continues, albeit heavily policed.)
The Chicago grill-cum-traiteur currently gets a little more than a quarter of its revenue from liquor sales; management would prefer to match the 20 percent liquor/80 percent food balance they have at Pat & Mike's in Gaithersburg. They believe the lack of food will turn heavy drinkers away; we're not sure it won't just produce a smaller crowd of concentrated consumers who aren't diluting their drinking. Still, it's a gutsy idea; we reserve judgment.
STOCKING STUFFER: Here's a great gift for the jazz lover in your life. The Henley Park Hotel is hosting a Monday-night series of jazz evenings arranged by the Smithsonian that include lectures and demonstrations by Washington pros and performers, Ron Holloway, Ron Elliston, Rick Harris and Pam Bricker among them. Each of the 6 to 8 p.m. sessions (starting Jan. 14 and ending March 18) ends with a reception; subscriptions are $135, $95 for Resident Associates; for more information call 202/357-3030.