Ask me my favorite night to hit any bar in D.C., and it’s probably going to be a weeknight. ¶ Yes, Friday and Saturday are the party nights. But they’re also when you have to deal with large crowds and long lines. Monday through Wednesday, everyone is more relaxed than they would be on a high-traffic night, from the bouncers to the bartenders to the people sitting a few stools over. And if you don’t have to shout to be heard, it’s much easier to catch up with friends — or chat with the cute stranger next to you.¶ There are dozens of options for anyone who wants to stay out late on a school night, and although it might be painful to get up at 7 a.m. after a night of vodka shots, there’s no harm in having a glass of wine at 9 p.m., right? In this guide, you’ll find live music, packed dance parties, wine and beer tastings, and multilingual karaoke, broken down by night.
Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra
If you’re a jazz fan in Washington, you’ve probably spent at least one Monday night in the grottolike basement of Bohemian Caverns, listening to the club’s jazz orchestra swinging the hits of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charles Mingus and Stan Kenton, as well as original material.
The 17-piece big band includes some of the city’s top jazz soloists, such as trumpeter Joe Herrera and alto saxophonist Marty Nau, and they can swing just about any other ensemble under the table. The crowd skews younger and hipper than at other mainstream jazz venues. No wonder the group recently marked its fifth anniversary at the legendary U Street jazz club.Advance tickets are recommended but not required, especially if you’re going for the second set, which begins at 10 p.m.
Either way, if you need to claim the unreserved seats, you’ll want to arrive early, lest you’re stuck standing at the petrified wood bar, or in a place where the Caverns’ decorative stalactites blocks your view. Show up early, grab a glass of wine or a delicious Belgian ale, and settle in for some of the best jazz Washington has to offer.
Weekly at 8 and 10 p.m. Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. 202-299-0800. www.bohemiancavernsjazzorchestra.com. $10.
Salsa lessons and dancing
Interest in salsa dancing spiked in Washington around the turn of the millennium; as with swing dancing, the trend eventually dried up. Clarendon Grill is one of the survivors, and it still offers a popular way to spend a Monday night in Arlington. Instructor Keith Givens offers a basic lesson from 7:30 to 8 p.m. and a more intense intermediate lesson from 8 to 9 p.m. He watches, counts beats and offers advice to the dancers: “At this point, the left hand should be on top. Can anybody tell me why?”
When the lesson ends, the floor fills with dancers trying out the combinations they just learned, and more advanced dancers whose intricate spins closely match the music. It’s not a serious practice session: Sometimes, there are more people waiting for cocktails at the bar than are on the floor twisting to El Gran Combo or Romeo Santos. (Hey, after an hour-long dance lesson, you’re bound to be a little thirsty.) But with contests and social dancing, newcomers have plenty to watch — and aspire to.
Weekly. Lessons from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Dancing from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Clarendon Grill, 1101 N. Highland St., Arlington. 703-524-7455. www.cgrill.com. $7.
Secret Monkey Social Club
The Secret Monkey Social Club isn’t secret, nor does it involve actual monkeys. But with those disclaimers out of the way, it’s actually one of the better ways to combine cocktails and music in Washington.
One Monday per month, the Dolcezza Gelato Factory turns into a party inspired by the classic cabaret lounges of the ’30s and ’40s. Actress/singer Shayna Blass and friends perform soul and jazz music all night while bartenders Lukas B. Smith, Dan Searing and guests serve glasses of punch from huge bowls. (For example, a concoction of bourbon, sherry, homemade pistachio orgeat and citrus for $9.) The atmosphere is more house party than formal gathering, which guarantees a good time.
One Monday a month from 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Dolcezza Gelato Factory and Coffee Lab, 550 Penn St. NE. 202-333-4646. www.dolcezzagelato.com. Free.
Motown on Mondays and the Main Ingredient
The weekend feels so far away on a Monday, unless you’re hanging out at 14th and U, when two neighboring DJ parties will have you ready to groove until the wee hours.
Motown on Mondays finds the resident DJs spinning “originals, remixes and close relatives” of their favorite Motown songs. That last part is your clue that MoM is different than an oldies radio station: You’ll probably hear obscure soul records and deep disco as well as Stevie Wonder or Smokey Robinson. Crowds at the dark, chill Den of Thieves can be hit or miss – sometimes it’s packed, other times it’s dead – but the music is always excellent.Next door, at Marvin, DJ Jahsonic’s “Main Ingredient” has been getting Mondays live since 2007, thanks to his superlative touch with ’70s funk, ’80s R&B and ’90s new jack swing, with heavy doses of soul and Afrobeat. The dance floor gets packed to Michael Jackson and stays that way for Fela Kuti; “I’ll just stay for one more song” becomes a dangerous mantra.
Motown on Mondays: Weekly at 9 p.m. Den of Thieves, 2005 14th St. NW. www.motownonmondays.com. Free.
Main Ingredient: Weekly at 9:30 p.m. Marvin, 2007 14th St. NW. 202-797-7171. www.marvindc.com. Free.
Monday Night Beer Club
Birreria Paradiso, the basement beer bar at Georgetown’s Pizzeria Paradiso, is officially closed on Mondays. But if you know to enter through the back door, in a parking lot reached through an alley off Prospect Street, you can tap into one of the coolest events in the D.C. beer scene on the first Monday of the month.
The Monday Night Beer Club began in November as a way to share some interesting draft beers from J.W. Lees, Oxbow and Evil Twin. The focus changes monthly, but expect rarities and beers that are not usually found in Washington; Last month, the stars were 3 Floyds and Surly beers that beer director Josh Fernands brought back from a recent jaunt to Chicago. Anyone is welcome to bring a beer they’d like to share with the crowd (Paradiso doesn’t charge corkage) and sample selections provided by other attendees. The key is to bring something that’s not on Paradiso’s regular menu. Generally, you just have to say “hi” and ask for a taste.
First Monday of the month from 5 to 11 p.m. Pizzeria Paradiso, 3282 M St. NW. 202-337-1245. www.eatyourpizza.com. Free.
As Port City’s brewers ready another batch of the Alexandria brewery’s award-winning Optimal Wit Belgian white ale, filling the warehouse-like space with the wonderful scents of orange and vanilla, another kind of zen is taking hold yards away: 40 women and men releasing a ringing “om” as they stand on brightly colored yoga mats.
For the next 45 minutes, yoga instructor Melody Abella guides the group as they flow from downward dog to warrior posewalking between the mats to offer suggestions and help to the assembled students, reminding them to breathe. When Abella’s all-levels class is finished, everyone gathers around long tables with pints of fresh Port City beers, which are included in the class fee. An hour after the class has finished, a majority of participants are still hanging out and chatting, even posing for selfies in yoga poses while holding their beers.
Combining beer and yoga is a rising trend at local breweries, but : Old Bust Head and Barley and Hops both offer weekend morning classes. But BeerYoga, which began at Port City in November, is the only one to offer a happy hour-style experience. The most common question from new participants, she says, is “Is it going to smell like beer?” Instead, she says, she compares the citrusy smell of brewing Optimal Wit to “beer incense.” She says the location has been good for luring in new participants:some newcomers have tried yoga for the first time just because this class takes place at a brewery. All of the classes have sold out since they began in November, but advance registration is easy: As soon as one Tuesday’s class ends, online signup for the next one begins.
Every other week at 7 p.m. (Next session: May 5.) Port City Brewing Company, 3950 Wheeler Ave., Alexandria. 703-797-2739. www.portcitybrewing.com. $15.
Cheick Hamala Diabate
Few D.C. bars can boast that they host a Grammy nominee every Tuesday, but that’s the case at Bossa. Malian griot Cheick Hamala Diabate, recognized for his 2007 album “From Mali to America,” takes the stage every week with a group of singers and musicians. Diabate plucks the n’goni, an ancestor of the banjo, and a guitar, taking turns with other vocalists.
Mostly, though, the music does the talking. There are blues and ballads, but the vibe picks up when the Afropop songs become percolating and insistent, fueled by djembe drums as well as a traditional kit, underpinned by funky electric bass. Some in the audience are moved to get up and shuffle around the dance floor; others sipping Caribbean and Mexican beers at the candlelit bar are content to smile, close their eyes and listen.
Weekly at 9:30 p.m. Bossa, 2463 18th St. NW. 202-667-0088. www.bossadc.com. Free.
Dram B. Grain
Dram and Grain, the basement bar under Jack Rose, has won plaudits for its wildly inventive cocktails and dimly lit speakeasy atmosphere, but the reservations-only policy on weekends can make it difficult to get in. Thankfully, you don’t need to call ahead on Tuesdays, when bartender Lukas B. Smith turns “Dram B. Grain” into his boozy playground.
Smith taps his passion for molecular mixology, experimenting with fermented sodas, carbonated juices and utterly unusual ingredients, like the aperitif Cynar, washed with bone marrow. (A few weeks ago, the Rickey Rucola a la Russell was a gin rickey variation with Aviation gin and a “lactic arugula limeade.”) The lactic acid in the fresh-squeezed limeade added a richness and roundness to the citrus, while the arugula provided an interesting vegetal note that played well with the floral gin.The menu changes weekly, but you can expect to pay $13 to $17 per drink, on par with Dram and Grain’s weekend cocktails.
Weekly at 7 p.m. Jack Rose, 2007 18th St. NW. 202-607-1572. Check for Instagrams of the latest menu at www.instagram.com/soignee_west.
Tuesday night open mike
Kaffa House, Bar Nun and State of the Union made U Street the nexus of Washington’s poetry scene in the 1990s, and that tradition continues with the long-running Tuesday night open-mike sessions at Busboys and Poets. The impeccable two-hour events are hosted by award-winning poets and published authors, who anchor the evening with gripping showcase sets. But the night also offers morale-boosting opportunities for first-time poets, whose raw rhymes come tumbling from their notebooks.
All six Busboys locations offer open-mike nights, but 14th and V is the mothership. Its popularity means it’s best to buy tickets in advance: The restaurant offers the option of buying tickets online beginning at midnight on the day of the event, and they can also be purchased in person in the restaurant as early as 10 a.m.Want to read? Sign-up begins 30 minutes before the first poet goes on.
Weekly at 9 p.m. Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th St. NW. 202-387-7638. www.busboysandpoets.com. $5.
Vinoteca wine classes
Vinoteca is one of the more user-friendly wine restaurants in town, with a stellar happy hour that offers 15 wines by glass for $5 each until 7 p.m. every day. But Vinoteca’s commitment to wine education extends to a Tuesday-night tasting series, held in the upstairs lounge.
Every other Tuesday, sommelier Kate Chrisman leads guests through five or six wines, which might be “softer” red styles from around the world, or a shiraz vs. syrah throwdown, all paired with snacks from the kitchen. Class size is limited, and tickets usually sell out in advance.
Every other week from 7 to 9 p.m. (Next session: May 5.) 1940 11th St. NW. 202-332-9463. www.vinotecadc.com . $45.
KGB Karaoke night
There are plenty of karaoke nights around Washington, but all have their own flavor. Player’s Lounge in Congress Heights is the place to go to belt out some old-school R&B and soul. Hill Country’s Rock ‘N Twang Live Band Karaoke lets singers belt out Taylor Swift and the Rolling Stones while fronting a quartet of actual musicians. And Mari Vanna’s KGB Karaoke is perhaps the most unexpected of them all.
Arrive between 9 and 10 p.m. and you may feel a little lonely, even as the eclectic downtown restaurant offers a free shot of housemade vodka to all comers. There’s a spinning disco ball, elaborate chandeliers, overstuffed couches – but few people are around to listen to the DJ’s upbeat pop mix, and fewer are singing.The room begins to fill around 11 p.m.: a group of suits who’ve lost their ties and opened a button or three; Russian-speaking women in short skirts and platform heels; guys in Capitals jerseys. (Mari Vanna is an Alex Ovechkin hangout, after all.)
The people-watching is as engrossing as the singing is unpredictable, with song selections swinging from a Russian ballad to Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” to Ukrainian pop-rock band the Quest Pistols to Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” Singers roam the room with wireless mikes while lyrics (in both Cyrillic and English) scroll over Soviet cartoons on flat-screen TVs. When the song’s over, the DJ cues up some Pitbull or Sak Noel for dancing before the next amateur is found.As the night goes on, the cocktails and shots flow more freely. It’s a miracle any work gets done on Thursday.
Weekly at 9 p.m. 1141 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-783-7777. www.marivanna.ru/washington. Free.
Hip-Hop Happy Hour
Anyone strolling down U Street after work can’t miss the Hip-Hop Happy Hour: Local fixture Nick Tha 1da sets up his turntables on a table in the huge window at Lounge of 3 and gets to work. You’ll hear Jay Z and Lords of the Underground, A Tribe Called Quest and Raekwon, the Jacksons and Next. (No wonder there’s always a cadre of local DJs and musicians hanging out.)
Bartenders sling $3.50 Bud Lights, $4 margaritas and $5 draft beers or glasses of potent rum punch. From the kitchen come $5 wings and chicken tender platters.After 8 p.m., the deals change to $5 Stoli drinks and $20 pitchers, but the crowd is content to hang out, nod their heads to new- and old-school tunes, and play one of the available board games.
Weekly from 5 to 11 p.m. Lounge of 3, 1013 U St. NW. 202-387-3333. www.loungeofthree.net. Free.
Front Page Bingo
Your grandma might recognize the bingo cards and ink daubers that Front Page’s bartenders hand out every other Wednesday, but that’s about all the Dupont Circle bar has in common with bingo played in local church halls.
You’ll see rows of bingo cards running the length of the bar or covering tables, and prizes for the three or four games range from bar tabs to Nationals tickets. But make no mistake: This is not a serious bingo competition. The hosts, Alex and Eric Heidenberger, spin dance music between rounds, and may stop calling numbers for 10 minutes as they decide to host a karaoke sing-off between four members of the crowd. Random? Certainly. But there are half-price drafts to be drunk and prizes to be won.
Every other Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. The Front Page, 1333 Connecticut Ave. NW. www.frontpagedc.com. 202-296-6500. Free.
Wonderland Ballroom hosts stand-up comics, musicians, burlesque dancers, improv troupes and who knows what else every week. Each Wednesday is technically a different event: The last of the month’s is the Wonderland Circus variety show, while the first Wednesday of the month is called Sometimes, a night of stand-up and improv run by comedian Michele Sometimes. The sheer number of acts means that a trip to Columbia Heights can be a mixed bag. One week might mean sitting through two guys trotting out some tired-sounding relationship gags, while the next visit might mean catching uproarious storyteller Reggie Melbrough or a witty, silly burlesque act.Wonderland’s reasonable drink prices and laid-back vibe mean it’s usually worth taking a chance.
Weekly at 8 p.m. 1101 Kenyon St. NW. 202-232-5263. www.thewonderlandballroom.com. Free; donations for artists accepted.
If you’re looking for the hottest new sounds in electronic music, you should be spending your Wednesday nights at Flash. The weekly Nu Androids party is introducing D.C. audiences to such up-and-comers as Hannah Wants, a new BBC resident DJ; the deep house grooves of Berlin’s LCAW; and Aussie producer Hayden James. (Upcoming highlights include LCAW on May 13 and the thunderous bass of UK producer Scuba on May 20.) But Nu Androids isn’t just about overseas talent: The monthly “Local Heroes” showcase puts the spotlight on a D.C. crew, such as Output Noise or Blisspop. Flash’s setting — laid-back club vibes with great sound and room to dance — make it a great place to spend a few hours getting down.
Weekly at 8 p.m. Flash, 645 Florida Ave. NW. 202-827-8791. www.flashdc.com. $5-$15.