NEW YEAR'S '99 is turning out to be even more bewildering than we thought -- and we're not even talking about computers. The glitch has turned out to be not too much glitter, but too little. Nobody's quite sure what to do. Some of the biggest parties and six-figure hotel packages announced have been canceled for lack of interest; super-concerts, from Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden to Roger Daltrey at the Ronald Reagan Trace Center, have gone bust; racks of rhinestone gowns and Y2K watches are going begging and restaurants are still accepting reservations. Whether it's a pseudomillenniaphobic reaction, or a conviction that Everyone Else is already going out (and you might be trampled in the crush), or financial paralysis brought on by some of the ticket prices, an awful lot of Washingtonians are still answering Whatyagunnado with Uhdunno -- and time really is running out.
Well, get it together, guys. Here's a sampling of celebratory suggestions that range from the admittedly expensive to the cleverly cut-rate; from the orchestrated to the spontaneous; from the sportin' life slick to the sport-shirt slummin'; and from the romantic to the ridiculous. Some are package deals, which means you won't have to exercise that mall-mauled brain; some are fill-in-the-blanks ideas; some are just folks getting together who'd be happy to have you join in. But surely something in here will light a spark of excitement in your soul. After all, if this does turn out to be the "Party of the Century," you don't want to be the one without a good story.
The sound and light show is obviously the piece de resistance, so if you can pull off a party with a view, you're about to be a real hero. (Remember weather is unpredictable, and these fees mostly unrefundable, but that's the same risk you take every New Year's.)
The most expensive and luxurious "seat" is a package deal, the Hay-Adams Hotel's rare wines/champagne/caviar/live music/limo extravaganza: It goes for $3,000 a couple, but the rooftop view, with champagne toast, will be hard to beat (202/638-6600).
The Potomac River cruise ships are another, albeit less stable, viewpoint (though if you take advantage of the open bars, you may assume the sway is in your own feet). And since they hold several hundred passengers, chances are good you can still get in the queue. The Odyssey, for instance, (888/822-5990), has a black tie, open bar, caviar service, butler'd hors d'oeuvres and five-course dinner with live entertainment and fireworks views for $399 per person, inclusive. You board at 8, cruise from 9 to 1 and have till 1:30 to disembark.
The Spirit of Washington's (202/554-8000) Millennium special is $300 a head, covering five-course surf-and-turf dinner with open bar, bottle of champagne, souvenir photo, live band and fireworks, starting at 7. And its sister ship, the Potomac Spirit, has a more modestly priced package that includes heavy hors d'oeuvres, an open bar, DJ entertainment, a bottle of champagne and souvenir photo for $350 per couple. If you think you may not want to drive afterwards, the Spirit folks have arranged hotel accommodations at three Executive Club Suites in Northern Virginia for an additional $400, but that includes boat-to-lobby transportation and a two-night stay, so it will last you until Sunday, when presumably it's safe to drive again. For hotel rooms, call 703/739-2582, Ext. 1405.
Christmas can be the very Dickens -- and how long has it been since you've toasted the spirits in the Victorian fashion? There are lots of tickets left for the New Year's Eve performance (7:30) of "A Christmas Carol" at Ford's Theatre, and the two-hour staging will give you plenty of time to walk over toward the Mall or Lincoln Memorial in time to join in the fun. God bless us, every one. (Tickets $30-40, service charges added; 703/218-6500.)
Have you heard what the hot new business networking game is in Korea? Not golf -- bowling. And with all those pseudo-blue collar/post-grad group home/twentysomething TV shows around, you know retro-hip beer and bowling parties are back, big time. (And so is "family game night.") Some Bowl America lanes will be throwing "Cosmic Bowling" parties: Three hours (11 p.m.-2 a.m.) unlimited games, champagne toast at midnight, buffet at 1 and various festive prizes and surprises, $24.95 adults, $14.95 ages 10 to 15 with parents and youngsters free. And don't worry about the two-tone shoes: Only brown ones clash with black tie. (Call the Bowl America nearest you to see if they are participating.)
Or, if you're ready to kill the next person who mumbles "millennium," you can pick your poison, as they used to say, at Mystery on the Menu's murder dinner ("Start the New Year with a bang") at the Savoy Suites Georgetown hotel in Glover Park. The $99 tab includes dinner and the play, a DJ, party favors and a champagne toast, plus tax and tips; but the rest of the bar is cash. For reservations call 202/333-6875. (Some of those suites, incidentally, have Jacuzzis, and for $299 a couple, you can stay over, whirlpool your hangover away and enjoy a champagne breakfast. For room reservations, call 202/337-9700.)
Dave & Buster's in White Flint Mall (301/230-5151) is throwing a play party including $50 power card for the virtual and arcade games, live band and dancing, strolling magician, midnight champagne toast and all-you-can-eat Mardi Gras buffet for $150 a person. It lasts from 7:30 to 2, so if you don't want to risk driving, you can take a refreshing stroll up to the White Flint Metro.
DO IT YOURSELF
There is still time to invent your own celebration, and we'd particularly recommend you adhere to the old Greyhound bus advice: Leave the driving to, well, somebody. There are scores of limo companies in this area, offering cars, vans, stretches and vintage conveyances for lease; and with a little patience with the phone book, you can find a limo or two. (Hint; try the ones in smaller type; they don't get called as often.) 24 Hour Limo (202/347-2890), for instance, still has stretch limousines for a bit over $1,000 (for the 10-hour minimum), which, especially if your party is two doubles or more, isn't a real budget buster. Genesis (301/877-2220 or 703/519-9087) offers a regular stretch (8 to 10 passengers) for $900 for the first six hours, and a super-stretch (12-14 riders) for $1,200.
So now that someone else is driving, exercise your imagination: How about packing a gourmet snack, stocking up on champagne and laying out a course that includes some of the huge light displays in the area. You might start at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, come back through Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro and then glide through the grounds of the Mormon Visitor Center in Kensington; you have until 10 to see them all, then head toward town and the Pageant of Peace on the Ellipse. (If traffic is bad, you can tell the driver to pull up somewhere while you stroll around and come back.) You can probably hear the music from the Lincoln Memorial concert as you admire the display. Then you can get back in the car and have the driver cruise along George Washington Parkway, Maine Avenue or pull over onto one of the scenic overlooks in the area so you can watch the "official" light show over the Washington Monument.
If you'd like someone else to do the picnic shopping, put in a call to the Bread Line (1751 Pennsylvania Ave NW; 202/822-8900) and schedule a pick-up of the special celebratory box treat: sevruga caviar, smoked salmon, housemade foie gras, brioche and baguette toasts, sausage and brioche, focaccia rounds stuffed with grilled veggies, pears, a choice of Stilton, Camembert or chevre cheeses and torta ebraica, an Italian Hanukah treat of buttery pizza-like bread studded with dried and candied fruit. Boxes are $45 with caviar per person, $37.50 without; you need to order in advance, but you can pick them up until 6 New Year's Eve. (The Bread Line can't sell wine for carryout.) Then grab your portable CD player, bring "your song" along, and pull it out in time to dance together as the clock strikes midnight. Nobody ever remembers the words to "Auld Lang Syne," anyway.
If you've waited this long for a toast, stroll back over toward 19th and K NW; once the clock strikes 12:30, you can mingle with the costumed crowds at Ozio Martini & Cigar Lounge (202/822-6000) and enjoy the open bar and nibblies for only $25.
SIP AND SWAY
Like to duck that Y2K bug by traveling to a gentler time? The Old Ebbitt Grill (15th St. NW; 202/347-4801) is clearing the floor, at least partly, for dancing to the 18-piece Tom Cunningham Orchestra. Staffers will pass the hors d'oeuvres (lamb chops, shrimp, cherrystones), and dancers can drop by food stations for oysters and crab claws, Mediterranean fare (charred octopus-potato salad, marinated chicken, lentil salad, crispy onion pizza, white bean salad with grilled tuna, etc.) modern-America (roasted beef filet, saddle of veal, soy-glazed salmon, roast pheasant, fricassed chicken and lump crab cakes; desserts we won't mention and the open bar). Taxes, tips and valet parking included in the $300 a head tab.
And if you're really slick, shimmy on down to Clyde's of Tysons Corner (703/734-1901), where for a $75 entertainment surcharge (non-refundable; reservations required), you can dine to the inimitable Doc Scantlin and His Imperial Palms Orchestra. If you don't need to eat, you can head to the bar after 9, for a $25 entertainment charge.
DOWN THE HATCH
Multi-course indulgences are de rigueur, of course; and your platinum card is apt to get a good polish sliding in and out of your wallet. Marcel's (2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW: 202/296-1166) offers a five-course main dinner with champagne toast for $175 per person; there's the $650 dinner at Sandro Gamba's Lespinasse (16th and K streets NW: 202/879-6900); and so on. But if your New Year's resolution is to chop down those credit card bills, try booking the big dinner on the lighter side by dining off hours, and enjoying the festive atmosphere for free.
The gaudy-glorious-Carnivalish new Teatro Goldoni (1909 K St. NW; 202/955-9494) from Fabrizio Aielli has a classic Venetian masquerade that runs through hors d'oeuvres with sparkling wine and live harp music through the eight-course dinner, more music and so on for $275 a person -- but early seatings stick to the a la carte menu. D.C. Coast (14th and K NW; 202/216-5988) has a five-course menu starting at 8 for $300 a person, but its earlier four-course menu, minus the caviar service, is $175. The Mark (410 Seventh St. NW; 202/783-3133) has a five-course dinner/dancing menu starting at 8:30 for $135 a person, but starting at 5, you can have a three-course dinner for $65. (What's even cooler is that the restaurant commissioned three American University students to put together a 45-minute silent film capturing the last century, which will run continuously.) Similarly, Cafe Atlantico has a six-course dinner for $120, but an early-bird version for only $40 (405 Eighth St. NW: 202/393-0812).
You might also try asking about alternative menus. At Melrose in the Park-Hyatt Hotel (24th and M streets NW: 202/955-3899), the six-course Dom Perignon dinner -- seven courses paired with '64, '75, '78, '86 Rose, '90 and '93 vintages -- is $500 a person. But if you settle for a simple magnum of Moet & Chandon Millennium label (which, you should remember, is from the same winemaker), and one dessert apiece instead of two, you could just about halve that bill, to $550 a couple.
But for one of the great sit-down bargains -- as always -- try Capitol Hill's longtime French country fave, La Colline (400 North Capitol Street; 202/737-0400), where any entree on the menu, five or six meat choices and an equal number of seafood options, will be $19.99. With that sort of bill, you can party like it's, well, 2000.
THERE HAS TO BE
A MORNING AFTER
Whether you go with the program or host your own private party (a little candlelight, a little champagne) consider a sunrise walk and what will no doubt be dubbed the first meal of the Millennium. Cafe Milano in Georgetown (3215 Prospect St. NW; 202/333-6183) is serving a sort of continental breakfast to the max, a buffet with croissants, eggs Florentine, omelets, etc. for $20 per person starting at 7 a.m.
New Year's Eve diners at T.H.A.I. in Shirlington (4029 S. 28th St.; 703/931-3203), which has a special $50 dinner planned, will get a little something to carry away with them: an old Thai herbal hangover remedy. Plus, if you wander back in on New Year's Day, the famous Hangover Soup, a really potent rice-based stew with shrimp, ginger, salted cabbage and fried garlic, will be on the menu.
If you'd prefer a nap and a hair of the dog, the area Austin Grill restaurants are going to close early New Year's Eve, but will reopen at 11 on New Year's Day and serve up a "Texas Blues Brunch" guaranteed to cure you or kill you: Famous Weed Killer Bloody Marys; eggs with corn tortillas, tomatoes, onions, melted cheese and mild green chilies; cornmeal pancakes, poached eggs on tortillas with black beans and chipotle sauce; grilled shrimp "Benedict," etc. And one dollar of every sale will be turned over to the D.C. Central Kitchen, starting you off right for charities 2000.