It's easy to get high on life in Northern Virginia. You don't need liquor, drugs or est -- just a nice comfortable seat and a view that will knock your eyes out.
Some of the best vantage points on Washington and the Potomac are in glass-walled restaurants in Arlington, Alexandria and other Northern Virginia spots.
The views are most impressive in the dark of night, when candlelit interiors focus attention on the glittering lights and dramatically lit monuments of the capital and the waters of the winding Potomac.
There are spots from which to stargaze after work and ritzy showplaces to dazzle out-of-town guests. And you can have your view fricaseed, flambe'ed or family style, to the tunes of Barry Manilow, Tommy Dorsey or rippling waves.
Of course, not only restaurants offer panoramic vistas. For no charge, there are bird's-eye views from places such as Iwo Jima Memorial, the Custis-Lee Mansion, the George Washington Masonic Temple. And hundreds of apartments, hotel rooms and high-rise offices offer good vantage points.
For those who might want to venture into a room with a view for a special occasion -- perhaps during this holiday season -- the following is a sample of what's available: 10 views of views in Northern Virginia.
A few hints: Call ahead for reservations and ask for a table by the window. And remember, the National Park Services turns out the lights on the monuments at midnight.
* Alexander's Three Penthouse Restaurant
This may be the most hotly debated view in Northern Virginia.
A few years back, owner Alexander Inglese did all he could to stir up protest over construction of three Rosslyn high-rises that would block parts of his restaurant's panoramic view.
Inglese took his case to the Arlington County Board, but he lost. And though you can still see from Bailey's Crossroads to the Washington Cathedral here, the new towers partially hide the Capitol and the Washington Monument.
Surrounded by some of the highest buildings in the Washington area, the feeling in these glassed-in rooms is more like glamorous Manhattan than Northern Virginia. And the vista is still awesome, whether you have dinner (omelettes to beef Wellington) or just a drink.
The place is known for its big band music, including live radio broadcasts by WEAM, which makes for a very upbeat atmosphere. To the music of Glenn Miller or Frank Sinatra, you can gaze at the Kennedy Center, George Washington Masonic Temple or Georgetown -- or into each others' eyes on the dance floor.
Alexander's Three Penthouse Restaurant (1500 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 527-0100) serves dinner nightly except Sunday and lunch during the week.
* Alfio's La Bella Vista
Alfio's view has the Big Four: the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. A bonus is the dramatically lit Iwo Jima Memorial, which you can admire while dancing.
If you like your view with fettucine alfredo and antipasto, this is the place.
"I heard it was the best view in town," said Melanie Reid, a recent diner who had brought a guest from out of town to watch the parade of headlights across Memorial Bridge. She also liked the garlic bread (dinners start at $7.95).
This Italian restaurant tops the former Arlington Towers building, which has just been given the more trendy name River Place.
On a clear day you can see District Heights from La Bella Vista. But unless you're partial to ornate, burgundy decor for lunchtime dining, go at night when the candlelit darkness best showcases the glittering display outside.
Alfio's La Bella Vista (1011 Arlington Blvd., Arlington, 525-9195) is open for lunch and dinner daily except Sunday.
* Cruise Ship Dandy
If you're unabashedly addicted to the TV show "Love Boat," take the three-hour dinner cruise aboard the glass-enclosed Dandy. As you walk up the striped gangway at the foot of Prince Street in Old Town Alexandria, Capt. Al Futrell, in white uniform, will salute you on board.
And if you don't like the view on your way up the Potomac, you may love it on the way back. There are the standard monument sights and a waterside view of Bolling Air Force Base, National Airport, Hain's Point and the Torpedo Factory.
The trip ($29.70 a person, including dinner) will take one of two routes. Depending on tides, the Dandy cruises either up the Potomac to the Kennedy Center or up the Washington Channel, as close to the former presidential yacht Sequoia as many of us will ever come.
"We were looking for something a little different," said Jim Sperger, of Reston, who recently sampled the Dandy.
You can't abandon ship so you're forced to relax. And as the captain twirls co-owner Nina Wilson around the dance floor to a Barry Manilow tune and you look out over the waves to a myriad of sparkling lights, another episode of Love Boat on the Potomac draws to a close.
The Dandy offers dinner, lunch and Sunday brunch cruises, but the schedule varies from week to week. Call Potomac Party Cruises at 683-6076 for details.
* Galaxy II Rooftop Supper Club and Bar
They like to call this place the "Window on Washington." And although its 16th-floor window in the Sheraton National Hotel is a bit removed from the city, there is a nice, wide slice of sky to be seen. Two walls of glass reveal city lights and monuments as backdrop to the Pentagon, as well as the winding lanes of Rte. 395.
There are three parts to Galaxy II: a night-clubby atmosphere near the live entertainment, a more intimate corner dining area (with entrees $11.95 and up) and an attractive chrome-and-glass, upper-level bar that offers the clearest view in the place.
But unless you are up for lively, loud entertainment, which is clearly broadcast throughout, come before it starts at 9 p.m.
Galaxy II at the Sheraton National (Columbia Pike and Washington Blvd., Arlington, 521-1900) is open six nights a week for dinner; it's closed Sundays.
* River View Restaurant and Lounge
"If you come over here," said the Ramada Inn Old Town manager, walking to the farthest corner of the River View and stretching his neck, "you can see the Washington Monument."
One used to be able to see the famed obelisk from many more tables at the newly renovated second-floor River View, but an office building going up next door is slowly obliterating much of the place's capital vista.
Still, this is one of the few places with such a wide-ranging view of this part of the Potomac, plus Prince Georges County and Woodrow Wilson Bridge. It's also one of the few places with a view where one can enjoy the scenery over breakfast.
A few hints: The view from the dining area beats the one from the cocktail lounge. And don't ask about the large building directly across the river; it's part of the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant.
River View at the Ramada Inn Old Town (901 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria, 683-6000) is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Woodbridge is not known for its panoramic views.
But on King's House Hill, once an Indian lookout, the Gates family turned a 100-year-old farmhouse into a rustic country inn in 1956.
For those tired of looking at monuments and memorials from slick, big-city restaurants, Skinifatz at the Lazy Susan Inn offers a relaxed atmosphere with a roaring fireplace, assorted antiques and a panorama that is best enjoyed at sunset.
The attractions here, where the Occoquan River meets the Potomac, are Charles County, Md., Mason Neck and Featherstone Point.
It's the kind of place where a neighborhood piano player drops in to practice, where there are entrees under $5, late-night dancing and, of course, a lazy susan on every table. You can come just for a drink, too.
But don't drive to Woodbridge in your sequinned cocktail dress, looking for beautiful people and a big-time skyline. It's just "us folks" at the Lazy Susan -- and except for a few more distant lights, the view's the same as it always has been.
Skinifatz (Off Route 1 in Woodbridge, 550-7384) is open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays only during the winter.
* Sky Dome Lounge and Penthouse Restaurant
If you have 48 minutes and $4.99, you can take in a sweeping panorama atop a revolving lounge.
The Sky Dome, at the top of the Quality Inn in Pentagon City, has a great view at a great price, and there are no bad tables -- the outer part of the room makes a complete revolution every 48 minutes.
It's not a quiet place; there's a rather loud band and a crowded dance floor. But if you don't mind a little action, you can take in the massive Pentagon complex, the monuments, National Airport, Crystal City and a vast network of freeways.
You'll get a similar view from the Penthouse Restaurant on the floor below. It's just that dinner will cost $10.95 and up and your table won't move around.
A hint: Don't take your grandmother from Topeka to the Sky Dome. The cocktail waitresses wear shorts briefer than hot pants.
The Sky Dome Lounge in the Quality Inn (300 Army-Navy Drive, Arlington, 892-4100) is open every evening. The Penthouse Restaurant is open daily for dinner and for lunch Monday through Friday.
* The Top O'The Town
Top O'The Town ads claim that its view is to Washington what the Eiffel Tower's view is to France.
Perched atop Prospect House on a hill overlooking Rosslyn, the place has a lot to brag about. Here, whether you're savoring a $12.50 veal cordon bleu or sipping a $2.50 gin and tonic, L'Enfant's grand symmetry can be seen from its most spectatular angle.
The panorama improves as the glass elevator takes you to the 14th floor of the building. From here the Capitol, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial are lined up for a photographer's dream shot of Washington. And there are airplanes going to or from National, the Iwo Jima Memorial and, in the daytime, the Netherlands Carillon and Arlington Cemetery.
From the Top O'The Town, you see the Kennedy Center as the great big box it really is, and you can wave at viewers at many other Rosslyn rooftop restaurants. If you want a closer peek, there's a telescope in the lounge.
Since dinner here tends to be expensive, the owners get high marks for allowing patrons of the cocktail lounge to share the same view as diners next door. In fact, the lounge almost has a clearer view because the dining area has a glassed-in walkway between it and the outside that tends to reflect the lights a bit. There is also an outdoor lounge.
If the Eiffel Tower's out of the question, take it from the Top.
Top O'The Town (14th and N. Oak, Arlington, 525-9200) is open for dinner nightly, lunch during the week, and Sunday brunch.
* The Vantage Point Restaurant
The advantage of this vantage is that you are literally sitting on top of the world -- if the District of Columbia is your idea of the world, that is.
Crowning the 17th floor of the Rosslyn Westpark Hotel, the big windows surrounding the room give a panoramic sweep of the whole shebang: the Capitol, Washington Monument, Georgetown waterfront, Key Bridge, National Cathedral, Kennedy Center. If your favorite sight is the Lincoln Memorial, however, you'll be disappointed; another Rosslyn skyscraper has zapped that view from here.
The decor is pretty much "hotel moderne," but there's soft piano music and fresh flowers adorn every table. And manager Jeff Kruse says they will soon be remodeling. It will be worth it, since this spot is a gold mine.
Diners (entrees $9.95 and up) get the choice spots in this place. The view from the lounge faces Georgetown, not a bad nighttime festival of lights.
The Vantage Point (1900 N. Fort Myer Dr., Arlington, 527-4814) is open for lunch weekdays and dinner daily.
* The View
The View at the Key Bridge Marriott has a classy view.
But if you want to snuggle in a mauve banquette under their starry ceiling, nibbling pheasant galantine with blueberry sauce, brace yourself. The prices, like the view, are stratospheric: $24.50 for the prix fixe dinner or entre'es from $11.75 to $19.75.
Consider what you get for your money. No formica tables or scantily clad waitresses here; it's first class all the way. Fresh orchids, soothing colors of rose and gray, botanical prints on the walls. And, as a sweeping backdrop, the glimmer of thousands of lights from the Watergate to Kennedy Center, the Lincoln, the Jefferson and the Washington Monument.
The bronze matchbooks that The View hands out don't even mention that the restaurant is in a Marriott Hotel. But at The View Lounge across the hall, you'll be quickly jolted back to the reality of the usual hustle-bustle hotel atmosphere. In the lounge one can't expect to be coddled as the big spenders next door, and don't expect as fine a panorama.
The lounge, which features a sometimes-loud band, is just over the Potomac. So if you went to Georgetown University, the lounge will give you a great view of your alma mater; and if the George Washington Parkway is your favorite roadway, you'll be in heaven here. But the monuments are hidden from most of the tables.
The View (1401 Lee Hwy, Arlington, 243-0700) serves lunch on weekdays, dinner nightly and a Sunday brunch. The View Lounge (524-6400 ext. 2278) is open every evening.