Fireworks, onstage and in the sky

This post goes out especially to all of you who will be visiting DC for the upcoming 4th of July weekend. There will be scads of things to do and legions of people here to do them. Popping in to one of these three plays from Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC would be a great addition to your DC visit.

The following Great Evenings, described in greater detail in the book, are all available this weekend. Some of the schedules are altered a little for the holiday, so there are details below.

Chalk (We Happy Few at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 7th St SE, Washington, DC 20003. no box office phone whfchalk.bpt.me) shows you a new take on a classic custody battle on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, and has a Saturday matinee at 2 PM if you want to escape the heat.

Another Way Home (Theater J 1529 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20036. 202-777-3210 washingtondcjcc.org) takes you to summer camp with a twist on Thursday and Saturday nights with a 1 PM Sunday matinee for day campers.

Born for this: The Bebe Winans Story (Arena Stage at 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024. 202-488-3300. arenastage.org) hits all the right notes on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights with a 2 PM matinee on Sunday for the after-church crowd.

Bonus insider tip from Great Evenings Out central: If you’re on the mall Monday night for the fireworks, you’ll have a better time if, after the last sparks fade, you continue lounging wherever you are for a while and let the bulk of the crowd take a head start. Metro stations fill to overflowing in the half hour immediately after the celebration, and where you’re sitting is probably more comfortable than shuffling slowly in a giant line.

Have a great Independence Day weekend in DC, and please share your adventures with us by comment on this post or at peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

Metro, still better than driving through gridlock, but not as good as usual

Strange things are definitely happening with DC public transit, and unfortunately it’s not fun for visitors or residents. A couple of weeks ago, on our way home from The Who and the What at Round House Theatre, our conductor abruptly announced that all passengers should get out at Woodley Park Station. We emerged and determined this looked like it might be a big delay, so even though it was raining we decided to take our chances on walking home as it only added one mile to our walk. As we went up the stairs from the platform, we saw smoke curling in from the southbound tunnel and the station manager was rushing people out of the station. That was a completely new experience for us, and still rare but more common than it should be.

In Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC we extol the virtues of the Metro system, especially Metro Rail, as a speedy and convenient way to get around the area.DC has some of the worst traffic in the country, and Metro is especially valuable during the otherwise gridlocked after-work hours when you’ll be wanting to get to your neighborhood for a great evening out. To a large extent, Metro still deserves to be your #1 travel choice for speed and reliability.

However, you may have picked up on news coverage that parts of the system have been discovered to need unusually high levels of maintenance. The operators of the system have announced “SafeTrack Surges,” or week-long periods when entire parts of the system will have reduced or no service. There’s one in progress right now that has two stations in SE DC completely closed until July 3rd.

That is clearly a huge inconvenience for thousands of locals.  For visitors, unless you are staying near one of the closed stations or outward from them, these closures shouldn’t have much impact on your enjoyment of the city.

Along with these Surges, some lines trains are running less frequently or “single tracking” at night and on weekends. While this is frustrating, the trains should still be able to get you home, you’ll just be waiting longer.

What can you do?  We suggest, first, doing a little bit of advance research:

  • Metro’s website: this web page has information on scheduled work that may disrupt your travel, through the end of the calendar year
  • Google: type “transit stops near [street address of your hotel or apartment]” into Google’s search field to learn more about public transit nearby
  • Your local hookup: call or email your concierge, Airbnb host, or a friend to ask for some backup transit advice
  • Your smartphone: download and set up Google Maps on your phone, which offers the best up-to-the-minute advice on transit options when you are on the ground in its Directions feature.  These include walking, Metrorail, buses, driving and hailing an Uber; speaking of which, download and set up the Uber app on your phone if you haven’t already.
  • Your wallet:  Of course, Uber and taxis are more expensive than public transit.  You may need to adjust your travel budget upwards for your trip this year — and invest in a decent pair of walking shoes, which will give you much more flexibility in this immensely walkable city.

Once you’re here in DC, you can use Google Maps/Directions, the Uber app, and the kindness of bartenders and theater house  managers to navigate the terrain.  And remember, in most neighborhoods in DC and almost all the neighborhoods we’re sending you to, you can hail a cab on the street or at a hotel as well (Shirlington is the main exception, and hailing an Uber works fine there).

Even with these delays, if you need to get on a weekday night from your just-closed museum on the Mall to a 6 PM dinner reservation in Bethesda, for instance a Metro Rail train is still a WAY better bet than trying to make the drive with thousands of homeward-bound commuters on the road. Hopefully, we’ll pass through SafeTrack Surges by the end of the fall, and get back to the more normal state in DC, which is of having one of the most useful and reliable transit systems in the USA.

We’ll always have that great evening out in DC

One of our big goals in curating evenings for Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC is to put together a series of experiences that will be memorable. At the risk of waxing philosophical, a human being consists fundamentally of a string of memories. Participating in activities that are easy to remember is basically a way to live more or bigger. We think there are three main things that make an experience especially memorable.

First, it is helpful if the experience includes strong and distinct sensory experiences. Visual appeal, texture, flavor, scent, and sound anchor memory. Sometimes, the sensory experience can be so strong it survives the rest of the memory. “Honey, where were we when we had that really incredible key lime pie?” Usually, though, stimulating the senses helps pin the memory to other facets of the experience and keep them fresh. We try to take advantage of this factor by choosing tasty food and drink in elegant surroundings, and leaning towards plays with an element of spectacle.

Second, we remember the exceptional better than we remember the routine. To a very large extent, things we do repeatedly like driving a commute or taking a favorite walk, get averaged together into one mega-memory. Even in those cases though, a sudden break from the script can anchor a memory. Pete has a regular walking route, around our neighborhood and through the National Zoo, that he does a few times a week for exercise. Two weeks ago, the Zoo was suddenly full of sculptures of sea creatures made of beach debris intended to dramatize the problem of ocean pollution (information here). That change to his expectations made that an especially memorable version of that walk. In our evening plans, we hope we’re showing you slivers of the DC area that aren’t already familiar to you, so that surprise can help rev up memory formation.

Finally, experiences you process in conversation lodge in memory. Inside the brain, when you remember something you really are telling yourself a story or putting on an internal play of what happened. Talking about the experience shortly after it happens lets your brain rehearse for later remembering. That’s why we recommend making some time toward the end of your evening to chat about the experience and start drafting the script for what your memory will perform for you in years to come.

So when it comes to crafting an evening out, we’re helping you make memories with sensory stimulation, novelty, and conversation. Please let us know what else makes an evening stand out in your mind at peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

Open Table App

As we’ve written before, your smartphone can be a key traveling companion, helping you get around and find cheap theatre tickets. Today, we want to share a useful app for assuring your table will be ready at a restaurant from Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC.

OpenTable is a phone app with associated website that more and more restaurants use to allow diners to reserve a table without a pile of phone calls.  When you open the app, the first thing you see is the reservation form — expecting you to search for a table for two at 7 PM nearby.  All you have to do is hit the button, and a list of restaurants that are available then, usually sorted by how close they are to you. There are also ratings and reviews from other users of the app.

We like the impulsive, last-minute nature of Open Table’s system and do use it when on vacation.  However, as is true in many places, the best restaurants favored by locals in DC do tend to get busy at dinnertime.*

When used in tandem with our  suggested Great Evening Out, the OpenTable App shines as your own personal secretary, making your restaurant reservation and keeping the details handy for you.

When you open the App, enter a restaurant name, date and time (generally speaking, we recommend 6 pm dinner reservations if you’ve got a 7:30 pm or 8:00 pm showtime), and you’re off.  Even if you’re planning your visit from far away, the App should be able to find the restaurant in DC just from the name, but if not, click on the button that has the name of your location, and type in “Was” — the form will auto-fill to “Washington, DC” so pick that.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to do plan ahead or the restaurant is really one of the hottest spots in town, your first choice might not be available; OpenTable will also give you suggestions for other places nearby with availability, basic price and cuisine info, and diner reviews so you can make a good second choice.

Once you’re happy with the time you’ve chosen, pick Complete Reservation and you know your table will be waiting for you.  The App will keep track of the details, and will include a map and link to Google Maps handy, so you can wait until the day of your reservation to sort yourself out.

You’ll need to set up an account with OpenTable which is free and which only wants your name, phone number, and email, so it isn’t much trouble. If you’re a Facebook user, you can also log in that way. You accrue some kind of points for dining out with the app, but we confess, we’ve never figured out what those points are good for. If you learn, please let us know at peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

Whether at one of our suggested restaurants or anyplace else, your smartphone can help make sure you don’t go hungry or wait a long time for a table when you’re away from home.


*We’d estimate that about half of the “nice” table-service restaurants we’ve listed require reservations many nights of the year; almost all of them in Penn Quarter/Gallery Place do, as this entertainment hub draws the biggest nightlife crowd in DC.  So if you’re considering making a nice restaurant a part of your Great Evening Out here, our Insider Tip is to get a reservation beforehand if you can’t take advantage of another route to the most in-demand restaurants, like eating very early or fairly late, and/or on a Tuesday or Wednesday.

Why Washington, DC is one of the friendlier towns around

There’s no getting around it for visitors:  DC is a large city, sometimes it can be confusing, and it isn’t cheap.  However, as Insiders we want to reassure you with a few tips about the local population, and let you in on one of our best secrets: Washingtonians are actually pretty friendly.

One of the great things about the Washington, DC area as a destination, whether to visit or to live, is that most of the people here like to meet and get to know new people.

Because so many people visit our nation’s capital, or live here for just a few years while being, or working for, an elected official, the whole population is used to new faces.  Many remember the time when they were new themselves, and appreciated the kindness of strangers. Whether you’re at a bar or hanging out in a theater lobby, many people around you will welcome a greeting and some conversation.

It is true that DC can be obsessed about work. “So, what do you do?” is a common conversational opening here. Like most conversational openings, the goal is to establish some common ground. Two government employees or two lawyers exchanging answers to this question can quickly get on to sharing the kinds of stories about parallel experience that so often lay the foundation for friendships.

You can jump right in with how you earn your daily bread, or you can playfully subvert the script by answering with something other than a profession, which is one of the gambits we like to employ. “I coach my daughter’s soccer team.” “Today, I stared at French impressionist paintings for about an hour.” “I sit on this stool and wonder when the bartender will notice me.” An unexpected answer like this will almost certainly amuse the DC native and take the conversation someplace interesting.

An awful lot of Washingtonians are interesting and interested in the world — it’s what brought them here in the first place.  “How long have you lived in the area?” is a typical way to either start a conversation or redirect someone who is maybe going on a little too long about their pet project, so we recommend it, and be sure to share some information about your hometown and reasons for travel in exchange.

Some of us are even natives of the area or the city (an important distinction to some people, for whom being “from DC” means being born and raised within city limits).  Washington-area natives have what we like to think of as an ideal mix of Southern hospitality and Northern forthrightness — we’re friendly and outgoing, and we also like to get to the point.  So if you’re stuck for conversation, you can always ask someone to describe the area’s character, and see if it matches what you’ve gleaned in your time here.

During your vacationing daytime rambles around museums and monuments, you’ll be surrounded mostly by other visitors from around the country and around the world. Asking them what they have particularly enjoyed can start a pleasant conversation, and might even tip you to something you’d like to do.

So while you’re around the nation’s capital, make your way through your personal pilgrimage list, take that photo where your companion seems to be holding up the Washington Monument, have a few great evenings out, and don’t forget to meet some people beyond your fellow travelers and glimpse the place through their eyes as well.

Great Evening Extra: Mischief in Dixie, Gallery Place

We knew that eventually we would discover a great evening opportunity well after our Kindle e-book for the quarter had been published. It just happened, and this blog seems like a great place to make up our oversight.


An Octoroon performs Wed – Sun through June 26. Top ticket price $83.

A meaty meal and a play full of guilty laughs make for a memorable evening in Gallery Place. This is one of Washington’s most varied entertainment districts with theaters, a cinema, a giant sports venue, and dozens of bars and restaurants drawing people here on many different quests. (Metro: Archives/Navy Memorial)

Start with dinner at The Partisan. This stylish yet comfortable restaurant is kin to its neighboring butcher and deli Red Apron. As a result, the menu is liberally supplied with mouthwatering meaty dishes. The menu is organized around the type of creature at the center of the dish and further broken down into small, medium, and large. When they say large, they mean it with some of the large dishes sufficient for 4 diners. There is also a good variety of vegetarian dishes that can serve as sides to a mixed meal or as a whole meal for those avoiding meat. We know them mostly as a bar, where they shine whether in cocktails, beer, or wine. Service is friendly and helpful. (709 D St NW, Washington, DC 20004. 202-524-5322. thepartisandc.com)

Enjoy the same great ingredients without all the trappings and with significant savings by picking up sandwiches at Red Apron. There’s a little bit of seating inside, but on a nice evening, you’d do well to head across D St NW and step down the pedestrianized section at the end of 8th St NW for pleasant bench seating either north of or on Navy Memorial. Take selfies with the sculpted sailor, find your home on the huge map, or just eat your dinner then pop into Plan B (just outside the northwest curve of the memorial) for a drink before heading to Woolly. (709 D St NW, Washington, DC 20004. redapronbutchery.com)

An Octoroon at Woolly Mammoth takes on racial issues in a bunch of different ways. We open with a side-splitting monologue from an actor playing playwright Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins about his frustration at only being encouraged to write race plays. He goes on to star in and show us his adaptation of a melodrama from 1859 about a southern plantation in financial difficulty with a love story on the side. The original play went to a lot of trouble to distinguish good slave owners from bad slave owners, a concept that is offensive all on its own in 2016; then Brandon layers on more unsettling elements in the form of people playing characters not their own race by slapping on make-up and two women playing slaves who provide running commentary in contemporary language very different from how other characters speak. Somehow, though, with the wonderful acting and brilliant design, most people are finding they can overlook all that and wrestle with the fascinating question of what made someone want to put this play on stage in just this way. It made us think, and you’ll likely enjoy it too. (641 D Street, NW Washington, DC 20004. 202-393-3939 woollymammoth.net/octoroon/)

You’ll have a lot to discuss just around the corner at the bar of Oyamel. We’ve used this Mexican restaurant for dinner in other Great Evenings. The strongest suit is cocktails made with tequila and mescal. We’re still learning about mescal, and so sometimes order a sampler flight. The bartenders are great and will talk you through any of their offerings. Beer and wine are also good. There are often classic Mexican action movies on the screen. Did the show make you uncomfortable? Was it in a good way? Why does it break so many rules? (401 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20004. oyamel.com)

Latest Edition, Hot Off the [Virtual] Press!

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We are pleased as punch to announce the release of the Jul – Sep 2016 edition of Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC.

This edition is a bit different from our prior offerings.

First, it’s out in plenty of time to read through it and make some plans before any of the shows start up. It’s taken a lot of new discipline to tighten up our schedule. If we didn’t crow about this a little bit, we’d pop.

We’re particularly excited that the Capital Fringe festival will flood July 7th – 31st with scores of thrilling shows.  Rather than trying to select particular shows to suggest, we’ve asked one of our favorite local writers, Trey Graham, to create a special roll-your-own Great Evening Out from the offerings of the festival and restaurants and bars nearby, entitled “How to Fringe Without Losing Your Mind.”  Thanks, Trey!

Unlike many cities where lots of the live performing arts take the summer off, Washington has a real year-round theater scene.  Fortunately, many locals also head out over the summer, so you will likely find it a bit easier to get into the incredibly popular restaurants and bars here in town.  Win-win for the visitor looking for a Great Evening Out!

In another big change for this edition, you can grab a PDF of the book to print out  (it’s just 26 pages) or read on your computer or iPad.  We also continue to make it available through the Kindle store at Amazon if you want the convenience of getting it loaded automatically to your Kindle or the Kindle App on your device. Our passion for this project has always been to enable more people to enjoy the wonderful restaurants, theaters, and bars around DC. Offering more ways to get it out to people advances that cause and makes it even easier for you to share with friends. Please do!

As ever, we’re eager to hear from you. Let us know how you feel about the new edition by dropping us a line at peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

14th Street Neighborhood Overview

During the day time, the 14th St NW neighborhood is sleepy, with local secondhand stores, doggie daycare establishments, boutique grocers and the like open for business, but few reasons for visitors to stop in. Around 4 PM, though, this starts to change as some of Washington’s hardest-to-book restaurants and most-hopping-at-happy-hour bars warm their ovens and chill their cocktail shakers. By pre-theatre dinner time, the sidewalks fill up with a youthful and energetic crowd ready to shed workday attitudes and cruise into an evening of fun.

You will also spot the sadly numerous DC workaholics dodging along the sidewalks, a loosened tie or perhaps athletic shoes in place of heels the only concession to departure from the office. They stop in Trader Joe’s or takeout restaurants to collect sustenance for their second shifts on their kitchen tables or couches. Pity them, pity them. A better evening awaits you here.

14th St NW runs through several entertainment zones, but the one that bears its name runs from Thomas Circle NW at its southern border up to U St NW where it overlaps for a bit with the U St NW Corridor. Logan Circle bounds it on the east, while 16th St NW to the west marks the transition into the Dupont Circle neighborhood. The whole area is liberally supplied with nightlife, shops, restaurants, and bars. The best Metro stop for the northern end of the neighborhood is the 13th St exit from U St/Cardozo (Green and Yellow lines). For the southern reaches of the neighborhood, either this station or Dupont Circle (Red line) are equally good.

Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC will frequently send you here for three theaters. At the corner with P St NW Studio Theatre Company rises with large photo murals of DC acting greats and dynamic posters for their current or upcoming work in all the ground floor windows. Studio has three similar auditoriums with 200 seats each plus one smaller flexible space that usually accommodates about 100 audience members. At 16th St and Q St NW, Theater J has a beautiful 200 seat auditorium inside the DC Jewish Community Center Building. Since it sits on the border, we’ll either call it a 14th St evening or a Dupont Circle evening depending on where we recommend dinner. Just south of the corner with T St NW, the Source Theater, which is home to Constellation Theatre Company and a few other arts groups, has a 100 seat auditorium and the most crowded lobby in town.

Music and burlesque acts perform at The Black Cat just a few doors south from Source. Many people eating and drinking on 14th St NW will also be heading to other nightlife spots in the U St NW and Shaw neighborhoods.

Interesting shops are scattered around the neighborhood. Here are a few good samples. Salt and Sundry offers household related gifts in case someone at home would like a tea towel or some fancy bitters. Filson offers hipster fashion from Seattle.   Batch 13 is the spot for exotic liquor. Miss Pixies, a neighborhood institution where we’ve furnished about a fifth of our home over the years, offers quirky domestic goods from all the best estate sales. Monarch Novelties, towards the southern end of the strip, looks more like a haunted property or a crime scene than an operating business. It’s a fun window to look in.

Restaurants are the big drivers of traffic to the area. Scanning roughly from south to north, we’ll highlight a few of the gems. The Pig serves satisfying meals enriched with porcine products. Birch and Barley is an elegant destination with the option of a tasting menu with beer pairings. Etto with its crisp pizza and succulent antipasti feels Roman enough we half expect our bill to come in euros. Le Diplomat has a stellar raw bar and great French entrees, and prime time tables book up weeks in advance. Barcelona is as Spanish as its name with marvelous charcuterie and tapas. El Centro D F is an excellent Mexican restaurant, specializing in a different Mexican city or state every 6 months. Busboys and Poets in all honesty is about a block north of the neighborhood, but we can’t walk this close to it without mentioning this next-wave bohemian diner powerhouse with a lefty bookstore and a dynamic little stage.

There are also a few exceptional spots for more casual, less expensive dining. The Whole Foods Grocery on P St NW has an extensive prepared foods section, draft beer, and a mezzanine full of seating. Amsterdam Flafalshop serves up those yummy lumps of chickpea with a culinary rainbow of accompaniments. Taylor Gourmet offers high tone sandwiches and salads alongside a funky soda machine that lets you mix your own flavors.

If you’re looking for a more dedicated bar experience: Church Key, upstairs from Birch and Barley, is a beer lover’s wonderland. Stoneys, across the street from Wholefoods, is the place to go if you’re just looking for an American neighborhood bar. 2 Birds 1 Stone is the hippest dive in DC. Bar Pilar greets the drinker with cozy charm.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with gelato from Dolcezza or fancy coffee and biscotti at Peregrine Espresso.

Between these businesses, and many more, sit some of the city’s best located loft apartments – most of them purpose built since DC never really had heavy industrial buildings. If you look closely, though, you’ll see the neighborhood’s heritage as Auto Row in the unusually tall and wide shop windows and the giant elevator at Studio. Enjoy your wander around 14th St NW. Whether you’re on one of our Great Evenings Out or exploring on your own, there’s plenty here to keep you happy.