It’s time for more great evenings out

Just in time for the fall season and with some time to plan your holiday-season fun, Just the Ticket: The Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington DC, Oct-Dec 2016 edition, has been released.  At 42 pages, it’s a quick, easy read and an excellent resource for fun lovers, foodies and culture vultures who have some free time in the Nation’s Capital this fall and want to spend it well.

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A great evening by design

As post-modern Americans, we live largely in a built environment. Because of that, appreciation of design has become a big part of our life. We notice and care about the design of our mobile phones, our clothing, our gardens. An evening from Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC provides many opportunities to evaluate and discuss different disciplines of design.

  • The décor of your restaurant, both outside and in, gives you a chance to think about and talk about the visual and audio design of the place.
  • Mixology or cocktail crafting is its own realm of design.
  • The chef designs the dishes for flavor, aroma, and visual appeal.

It can be fun to consider how these different disciplines of design articulate with one another during your meal. Do the sound and sight of your surroundings support or distract from the culinary design elements? Are the general themes of the design around you saying anything to you? Are you and your companions picking up on the same things?

If you stay for dessert, pastry chefs do some of the most elaborate and playful design, with bold graphics in sauces, jewel like colors, and intentional contrasts of sweet and sharp. Did this final course remain in conversation with the rest of the meal or did it make its own separate statement?

When you get over to the theater, there are many recognized disciplines of design all working to craft your experience.

  • The architect who designed the lobby and auditorium probably hits you first.
  • Your playbill is the work of several authors and a graphic designer who probably also had a hand in any posters you saw in the lobby.
  • If there is music or other soundscape playing in the auditorium, the sound designer for the show probably chose it – the same person responsible for sound effects and incidental music in a non-musical play.
  • Curtains being rare, you’re probably able to glance over what the set designer has done to help create the world of the play.
  • Eventually, the lights will go down and come up again, as chosen by the lighting designer whose job it is to color emotional tones and direct your attention where the play wants it from moment to moment.
  • When actors enter the stage they will be wearing things chosen for them by the costume designer and carrying things picked by a props designer.
  • With greater frequency, live plays are supported by projected images or videos which are assembled by a projection designer.
  • A playwright has designed the words to be spoken and much of the action to be carried out.
  • The director designs the whole experience much in the way that the executive chef did for you earlier in the evening.

Most of the same questions we brought up for your dining experience also apply to the play. Are the elements of design working together to enhance your experience of the play? If things stand out or clash, is that an error, or is there content in the clash? Do elements of the design draw your attention to specific places or moments? Are those the places and moments you wanted to pay attention to? In what ways did you feel a unified experience of design, experience, and story? Delivering that whole package, or thwarting the whole package to make some kind of point, is the primary work of the director.

In the bar after the show, you can both appreciate most of the same elements we talked about for the restaurant and have some great conversation about how the different disciplines of design throughout the evening have contributed to your enjoyment. Do you see yourself as a connoisseur of design in daily life? What kinds of design interest you the most? Please let us know with comments below or a note to peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

Great Evenings – Closings and openings

DC’s theatrical summer is in full swing now! One great evening from Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC finishes up this weekend. Three more just got going. Don’t let summer’s heat make you miss these wonderful opportunities.  Get your copy of the guide for the full details now!

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We’ve linked to the show websites below for your convenience, but don’t forget that there are lots of options to save a few bucks on tickets for most of these shows.  See our rundown here.

Great evening #2, featuring Another Way Home at Theater J, has just three nights left – tonight, Saturday, and Sunday. This play takes you to camp Kickapoo with the Nadelman family to help find their missing boy. Picnic in Dupont Circle before and drink at Duke’s after for the whole experience. (DC JCC at 1529 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20036. 202-777-3210. washingtondcjcc.org)

Great evening #4 with Hand to God at Studio Theatre kicked off (because there’s a sock in the play) last week and continues until August 7th. We hear the set design puts the audience right into the church basement with the kids and the mad puppet. Look for a review of this any day, but you might want to pick a night and get tickets before that happens. (Studio Theatre at 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005. 202-332-3300. studiotheatre.org)

Great evening #5 encourages you to have an adventure at the Capital Fringe Festival. In the guide, guest writer Trey Graham offers his recipe for fun fringing. Several of the online resources he mentions are full of good information about shows you won’t want to miss, and the overall guide is at capfringe.org. Indulge in a wacky evening of theatrical delight.

Great evening #6 takes you to the cool, subterranean environs of Crystal City for Synetic’s Twelfth Night. We took our own advice last month and saw Synetic’s Man in the Iron Mask. These people can put on a show. If you enjoy high voltage spectacle with incredible acrobatics, beautiful sets and costumes, and, let’s be honest, a very attractive batch of performers hie ye to Illyria! (Synetic Theater at 1800 South Bell St, Crystal City, VA 22202. 866-811-4111 synetictheater.org)

Have a great weekend, and please share your adventure stories with us at peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.

Neighborhood restaurants – do they make the “Great” grade?

Do you know the category “Great Neighborhood Restaurant”? These are the places that rarely act as destinations for people from far away, but they’re faultlessly comfortable and welcoming. The food is always good enough that dinner there sounds like a plan if you live down the block. Maybe they sponsor an adult kickball team or something like that. When you go to yours, you’re likely to see someone you know almost any time. The whole menu looks tempting, but there’s this one dish you’re probably going to get every time. These are, in their own way, great places; and they add a lot to the texture of a neighborhood.

So far, we’ve mostly steered clear of this when pulling together plans for Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC. They just struck us as a little mundane for the kind of elevated date night we’re hoping to send you on.

But a few weeks ago, we tried to take ourselves to dinner before a show in Bethesda and learned that Food, Wine, and Co, which had been our preferred dinner place in that area, and we found out that it had closed its doors for good. As we cast around for a replacement (which was critical not just to feed ourselves but because we had recommended Food, Wine, and Co for great evening #9 in the just released edition) friends directed us to Persimmon (7003 Wisconsin Ave, Bethesda, MD 20815 301-654-9860 persimmonrestaurant.com) which turned out to be very much a Great Neighborhood Restaurant, with super-tasty seafood and friendly service, and definitely a good locals vibe.

We had a very nice meal, and decided we could use it for the evening in the July – September edition, particularly since it was right around the corner from the play. (Sara has updated the Kindle and PDF versions of that edition, so please update yours if you’ve already pulled it down.)

Our question still is, as a matter of general policy, should Neighborhood Restaurants like this be part of a great evening out? They don’t offer the kind of stand-out qualities we’re usually looking for (and which we’ve written about before). Persimmon, for example, has acoustic tile ceilings and absolutely generic booths and tables.   But the service was great, the food was better than fine, and the atmosphere was so much that of a gathering of friends, it was special in its own way.

So we’re putting this out as a question that I hope you’ll help us answer in the comments to this post below. Why should we or shouldn’t we include comfortable neighborhood restaurants in the book? How do they fit or fail to fit into your concept of a great evening out? If you’d like to send a private answer, you can also send it to peteandsara@greateveningsout.com. Thanks!

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.

Gallery Place Neighborhood Overview

Business suits stride by cargo pants to the rhythm of bucket drums amidst a swirl of activity.  Daytimes bring tourists, office workers, shoppers and neighborhood residents, while evenings bring sports fans, culture vultures and gourmands.  Whether day or night, come to the Gallery Place neighborhood to be at the nexus of local, national and international Washington. You’ll be joining the fun and people-watching all of the visitors, residents and workers buzz up and down the sidewalk.

“Gallery Place” is named for the three art museums that are part of the neighborhood, with the primary axis running along 7th St NW.

If you’re headed to Gallery Place for a Great Evening, you can ease the transition from a day of touring by putting one of the museums here on your late afternoon to-do list and therefore have only a short walk to supper and the rest of your fun.

To the north, between F & G Sts NW, sits the stately building that houses two museums: the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, both full of fascinating stuff with lots of timely, of-the-moment exhibits.  The marvelous interior courtyard is a wonderful rest stop for the active visitor, with its year-round fountains and covered atrium. Four blocks to the south at Constitution Ave NW is the National Gallery of Art with its companion sculpture garden. A world class art collection shelters in two buildings, one neo-classical and the other post-modern, while giant sculptures grace a fenced enclosure around either a fountain or an ice rink depending on the season. Well worth a few hours browsing during daytime hours.  And, like most museums in Washington, all three of these are entirely free.

The National Archives is the other major national museum in the neighborhood, at Pennsylvania Ave and 7th Streets NW. In addition to serving as the almost sacred home for important documents in our nation’s founding, a small exhibition space usually has some engaging show on about a facet of American history.

Other similar attractions in this museum-rich neighborhood charge a fee:  the Newseum and the Spy Museum.  We would recommend either one, with the Spy Museum being particularly worth the cost of admission for families and lovers of Disney-type attractions; the Newseum is more hit-or-miss especially given the steep price tag.

In between all of these museums are three major theaters – Woolly Mammoth’s below-ground ground jewel box and the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s two stages, the Harman and the Lansburgh – which often figure in editions of Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC. and in evening-out info on this website.

Celebrity chef Jose Andres holds a lot of territory in these blocks with Jaleo, China Chilcano, Zaytinya and Oyamel all dishing up delicious meals. We would point you to any of these for a lively, tasty dining experience, along with Graffiato or Rasika.  Any of these places will require both a reasonable-sized wallet and probably an advance reservation:  save a lot of cash and time at fast-casual choices Protein Bar, Teaism or Merzi.  Sweet teeth can be satisfied with the counter service at Pitango Gelato, Bakers and Baristas, or Red Velvet Cupcake. Thirsty travelers can hydrate at the District Chophouse, a brew pub whose bourbon barrel aged stout is a special treat, or Proof, an above-average (if perhaps too loud) wine bar.

If you’re surrounded by Capitols or Wizards jerseys, you can feel sure there’s a game on at the expansive Verizon Center. If you’re surrounded by families with kids in tow, then there’s probably a circus or Disney on Ice filling the enormous arena.

Two Metro stations serve the neighborhood, Archives/Navy Memorial to the south has Green and Yellow line trains while Gallery Place/Chinatown, with entrances in several spots in the neighborhood, has Green, Yellow and Red Line service.

Oh, and don’t be fooled by the “Chinatown” moniker — though there is a substantial and attractive Chinese-style “Friendship Archway” at 7th and H Streets NW, locals dismissively refer to this area as “China Block” (since it is hardly large enough to merit “town”), and pretty much none of the Chinese restaurants here are better or more interesting than what you’ll find in a strip mall closer to home.

Insider tip: If you’re yearning for some quiet moments, there are benches along a pretty pedestrian area just north of the Navy Memorial proper that are a great place to take a load off for a while and watch the passing scene, perhaps with a cup of tea from nearby Teaism or a pastry from Paul’s French patisserie.

This is the first in a series of posts in which we’ll provide a little more detail and context about the neighborhoods we send you to for Great Evenings Out. Please let us know if you’ve discovered anything in Gallery Place we should have mentioned either by commenting below or writing to us at peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.