Five dollars seemed unrealistic, even by a cheapskate's standards. After all, you can barely get an ice cream cone, a drink, a burrito or a movie ticket for less than $5 these days -- and never mind the cost of transportation.
My friends were equally skeptical, although they were much less diplomatic than I, calling my assignment "stupid," "ridiculous" and "impossible," among other things, particularly as the night wore on and their rowdiness levels escalated, causing them to rebelliously violate the rules by downing $8 mojitos.
But I digress.
My Saturday night out lasted 10 hours, and I did, in fact, manage to stay within my paltry means. I packed in a lot of entertainment using a combination of free events and self-discipline at bars and restaurants. In the end, I came away understanding the economic draw of the early bird special. I also realized that taking advantage of early evening deals and events with more conventional start times makes for a long night.
So what did I get for my Abe Lincoln? I watched orangutans spoon after a literal roll in the hay at the National Zoo, had a couple of beers at a biker bar, took in some Shakespeare, sampled some Latin American fare, listened to bad karaoke and got an impromptu salsa lesson.
The Saturday night drink special was the draw at Asylum, a saloon on the 18th Street strip in Adams Morgan that attracts an eclectic mix of leather-clad bikers, laid-back barflies, tattooed heavy metalers and wannabe hipsters. Starting at 5, the bar stages a "Miller High Life Countdown," during which beers are 25 cents during the first hour, 50 cents more the next hour, and so on.
Since it was Memorial Day weekend, when hordes of motorcyclists converge on the District for Rolling Thunder, a biker bar seemed like the perfect place to begin. En route, my friend and I decided to stop by the National Zoo. For the price of free admission, we spent 45 minutes walking around the park. We saw everything from the multihued tropical birds and fish in the Amazonia rainforest to a pair of snoozing cheetah cubs, and enjoyed some fascinating people-watching as well. Since you can't very well go to the zoo without getting a treat, I dipped into my funds earlier than I had planned and shelled out $1.95 for a sno-cone.
We had to skip the long line to view celebrity pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian to get to Asylum by 5:30 p.m., where we met another friend. Despite the plethora of Harleys parked outside the bar, it was a bit too early to catch any biker rowdiness. The three of us polished off two rounds, one during the 25 cent hour, another during the 50 cent hour, leaving a 25 cent tip and bringing my bar tab to $1.
We changed gears and headed to the annual Shakespeare Free for All at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre, where we spent three hours watching the Shakespeare Theatre's free production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" under the beautiful night sky. It was about intermission when our hunger pains began, sparked by a family in the row behind us eating delicious-smelling homemade Indian food. We headed to the snack bar only to conclude that the $3 jumbo hot dogs were way too expensive.
After the show, my friends roundly vetoed my plan to go to downtown Silver Spring to get a free chicken sandwich at Chick-Fil-A with a coupon I had received in the mail. Instead, we went back to Adams Morgan and headed to El Tamarindo, a Latin American restaurant at 18th and U streets. It was amid the savory smells of enchiladas and fajitas that my friends immediately stopped playing the $5 game and ordered tacos, burritos and margaritas. I, on the other hand, got a $1.50 cheese pupusa and drank ice water. To my happy surprise, the pupusa came with a side of coleslaw, and I supplemented the meal with complimentary chips and salsa. I spent a whopping $2, including the tip.
I was still hungry when we headed up 18th street to Peyote Cafe, a karaoke bar with no cover charge. I had heard decent amateur singers there in the past, but on this night it was too painful to stay. Fleeing the bar full of patrons yelling out the words to "Bust a Move" and "Tainted Love," we walked to nearby Cafe Toulouse, another bar where there's no cover, to listen to live blues and jazz. The crowd was dreary and the music was too loud, so we fled once more, this time to Rumba Cafe -- third time's a charm? -- and danced the night away to live Latin music. A lovely, ponytailed Mexican gentleman, Arturo, showed me a few steps when my friends disappeared to the bar to get their mojitos. (Full disclosure: They brought me one on their second round. I tried to refuse for the sake of my work, but how could I let that sugary, minty Cuban mixture go to waste?)
It was nearing 1 a.m. and my friends showed no signs of slowing down, so we decided to go meet some others at a nearby watering hole, Adams Mill. On the way, I decided to spend my remaining 5 cents. Too bad it wouldn't buy me a much-needed Red Bull or one of the popular food choices of Adams Morgan's late-night revelers: a jumbo slice of pizza, an empanada, falafel or even something from the McDonald's dollar menu.
So, we dropped back in at Asylum -- where Miller High Life was now up to $3.75 -- and I contributed my last nickel to the pot so we could play a $1 electronic trivia game. My friends and I spent a good 10 minutes guessing at questions such as "Someone with alvinolagnia is into mice, beards, stomachs or teeth?" (We chose right on that one: stomachs.)
On that note, I decided to bail on watching inebriated twenty-somethings bumping and grinding at Adams Mill and called it a night at 2 a.m. The next morning, still hungry, I met up with one of the friends I had gone out with, and we had brunch at my neighborhood diner. I doled out nearly twice my $5 budget from the night before for the best omelet and hash browns I've ever tasted.
NATIONAL ZOO -- 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-633-4800. nationalzoo.si.edu.
ASYLUM -- 2471 18th St. NW. 202-319-9353. www.asylumdc.com.
CARTER BARRON AMPHITHEATRE -- 16th Street and Colorado Avenue NW. 202-426-0486. www.nps.gov/rocr/cbarron.
EL TAMARINDO -- 1785 Florida Ave. NW. 202-328-3660.
RUMBA CAFE -- 2443 18th St. NW. 202-588-5501. www.rumbacafe.com.
PEYOTE CAFE -- 2319 18th St. NW. 202-265-6665.
CAFE TOULOUSE -- 2431 18th St. NW. 202-332-2550.
ADAMS MILL -- 1813 Adams Mill Rd. NW. 202-332-9577.
Sara Gebhardt is a Weekend staff writer covering Prince George's County.