Although Washington has long been known for its high cost of living, you can still have a social life without breaking the bank — unless you mean the piggy bank. For those who are minding their pennies but still want to have a night on the town, we came up with several ways to enjoy the area's offerings with what amounts to loose change. Nothing on this list of things to do, eat and drink will cost you more than $10 and a few coins, yet you can still count on having an enriching evening.
The similarity between the National Gallery of Art's free movie series and the neighborhood multiplex begins and ends with stadium seating. In place of blockbusters and popcorn, the museum's East Building Auditorium hosts an eclectic, ever-changing program of retrospectives, restored classics, art documentaries and contemporary films thematically related to exhibitions. Shown this summer: Sofia Coppola's 2006 "Marie Antoinette," in conjunction with "America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting." Coming up Sept. 24 at 4 p.m.: a restored version of the 1931 comedy about tabloid journalism, "The Front Page," with an introduction by film preservationist Heather Linville.
— Michael O'Sullivan
Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW, 202-842-6799.
How does a month's worth of current movies for less than 10 bucks sound? That's what MoviePass is offering for the flat rate of $9.95 a month: up to one movie a day, every day, at the theater of your choice. There are a few strings attached. You can buy only single tickets, so if it's date night, you'll have to go Dutch. Certain boutique chains are excluded (e.g., Landmark and ArcLight). And the subscription plan doesn't cover Imax or 3-D offerings. But you really can't beat this deal. Download the app, sign up and the company will send you a debit card that automatically loads the exact amount of your ticket to be purchased every time you "check in" to a theater using your smartphone.
On Friday and Monday nights between 6 and 9 p.m., the District's Westminster Church transforms into a place for fellowship through music. Chartered in 1853, the church held its first Friday jazz concert in 1999, adding one in 2006 on Monday nights for the blues. On Sept. 30, it will host the 16th Annual D.C. Jazz Preservation Festival, a free day-long event featuring performances, exhibits and food vendors. Admission to all shows is $5.
— Macy Freeman
400 I St. SW, 202-484-7700.
The Red Derby is one of the few bars left in the District where you can wander in any day of the week and buy a beer with the change you found in your couch cushions or at the bottom of your purse. Known for stocking dozens of cans of craft and domestic beers — as well as its cash-only policy — this hipster-ish neighborhood bar sells a selection of what it calls "Your Old Man's Beer," including Stroh's and National Bohemian, for $2 each. The magic happens between 5 and 8 p.m. daily and the entire night on Thursdays, when everything in the house is a buck off. Do you need a better excuse than $1 Natty Bohs to spend the evening on the rooftop deck?
— Fritz Hahn
3718 14th St. NW, 202-291-5000.
The knock against craft beer is that it's expensive. Why pay $9 for a fancy IPA when you can get two Miller Lites for the same price? That's not a factor at Glen's Garden Market. Both locations have a small bar area where all craft drafts are $4 all the time, whether you're enjoying a pint of Port City Optimal Wit, a chalice of Right Proper's Berliner weisse or a half-pint snifter of Ninkasi's potent double IPA. Selections rotate, rewarding frequent visits.
Two locations: 2001 S St. NW, 202-588-5698; 1924 Eighth St. NW, 202-939-2839.
You won't get tipsy enough to, say, call an ex, but sweeping the tastings that happen most weekends at Ivy City's distillers will give you a decent buzz at a discount — or even free. At One Eight Distilling, sip samples of D.C.-made whiskey, gin and vodka gratis. New Columbia Distillers pours out tastings of its gins at no cost. Joseph A. Magnus offers free samples of its bourbon, gin and vodka. And at Republic Restoratives, $12 gets you a small, branded rocks glass and half-ounce tastings of the distillery's vodka, bourbon and rye, as well as a few barrel tastings of yet-to-be-released spirits.
— Holley Simmons
New Columbia Distillers, 1832 Fenwick St. NE, 202-733-1710.
Joseph A. Magnus & Co., 2052 West Virginia Ave. NE, 202-450-3518.
Republic Restoratives, 1369 New York Ave. NE, 202-733-3996.
This French restaurant in upper Georgetown — a mecca for D.C. oenophiles for 22 years — offers free tastings at its upstairs wine bar every Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. The knowledgeable sommelier on duty doles out heavy pours of two styles of wines, accompanied by an intelligent conversation about what you're sipping. Hit on something you like? Take 20 percent off a bottle, as well as off any other bottle on the extensive list.
1736 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202-333-0111.
It took 15 bites to finish a very filling, very satisfying falafel sandwich from this teeny Georgetown restaurant. At $3 per sandwich, that amounts to a mere 20 cents per mouthful. Even better, a portion of proceeds goes to help feed refugees. Founded by social entrepreneur Ahmad Ashkar, the shop also offers falafel bowls ($4) and side salads ($3) inspired by recipes from Ashkar's Palestinian mom. Top your meal with homemade garlic sauce. Spend what money you saved on a pack of breath mints.
1210 Potomac St. NW, 202-333-4265.
Devour multiple pieces of soft white tuna, fresh salmon belly and eel cooked in sweetened soy sauce without the worry of an exorbitant tab. This Japanese spot in Bethesda's Woodmont Triangle offers more than 25 types of nigiri sushi — cuts of fresh fish served over hand-rolled, seasoned rice — at $1 apiece daily. You won't have to rely on cheap California rolls to get full. Even the usually expensive uni (sea urchin) is the same price. Pair that lightly briny and golden delicacy — often considered an acquired taste — with the quail egg.
— Winyan Soo Hoo
8003 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda, 301-652-1400.
Indian fast-casual restaurant Spice 6 has often been compared to Chipotle, and that's mainly because, like the popular Tex-Mex food chain, it offers a modern take on regional cuisine. Among the menu options are a variety of bases, including naan pizza, rice bowls and salad. Diners can top those with a choice of chicken, lamb, tofu or roasted veggies, as well as their choice of chutneys and curries. The menu's highest-priced item: $10.85 (opting for an entree with lamb).
Two locations: 5501 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville, 301-209-0080; 2674 Avenir Pl., Vienna, 703-641-0080.
A yeasty aroma, soft and inviting, permeates the air inside this Vietnamese deli in Falls Church. It's a reminder to customers that Banh Mi D.C. Sandwich bakes its own miniature baguettes daily. The bread is what distinguishes the banh mi here, even though the baguette's flavor is, all by itself, fairly neutral. The loaf's appeal lies in its texture and airiness, a thin, fragile shell that holds your preferred meats and fillings. No matter what sandwich you select — from a menu that offers more than 20 options — your first bite will shatter under tooth, warm and crackly. That sensation alone is practically worth the price ($4.20 to $5.10) of your made-to-order sandwich.
— Tim Carman
3103 Graham Rd., Suite C, Falls Church, 703-205-9300, no website.
Piola is practically giving away free food. For example, along with veggie rolls and other finger foods, their Italian-style pizza — made with a thin, bubbly crust — comes complimentary with a drink order at the bar during the Arlington location's Aperitif happy hours (Monday to Friday from 4:30 to 8 p.m.). Pan pizzas there range from $6.78 to $7.89 until 6 p.m. More weekly happy hour specials abound: On Mondays, it's half-priced bottles of wine; Tuesdays, $3 draft beers (Allagash and Bell's on tap); and on Wednesdays, ladies drink 99-cent house wine.
Two locations: 2208 14th St. NW, 202-986-8729; 1550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-528-1502. Discounts vary by location.
Parked at 14th and North Quinn streets near Route 50 in Arlington, the El Chilango food truck manned by owner Jesus Santacruz and his family has served their popular $2.50 soft tacos for years. Order the asada (beef), al pastor (marinated pork), pollo (chicken), chorizo (sausage) or, for 50 cents extra, lengua (beef tongue). The "mixto" (mixed) is a must-try; it features a savory combination of beef and pork. A generous helping of cucumber, cilantro and radish provides a refreshing, verdant crunch. For an extra kick, request the spicy onion topping and wash it down with a Jarritos grapefruit or tamarind soda.
Two locations: 14th and N. Quinn streets, Arlington, 571-236-0355; storefront at 1119 V St. NW, 202-986-3030, no website.