Put Some Sparkle in Date Night

Posted December 10, 2008 at 4:42pm

As Congress prepares to take its holiday break and parts of the city dim, some of D.C.’s treasures light up for the season.

Use the opportunity to take that special someone on a moonlit (or tree-lit) date and enjoy all that Washington, D.C., has to offer this time of year.

Another Kind of Power Hour. There are at least two “power hours” in the city that involve great values and romantic settings.

The Corcoran’s Power Hour honors the “Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power” exhibit, combining admission, two glasses of wine, and a cheese and appetizer platter for $25. And when admission to the museum is normally $14, that’s an amazing deal.

The exhibit contrasts images of government and media personas with counter- cultural activists and ordinary citizens. It’s just about as quintessential Washington as you can get.

Beyond the familiar Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan portraits, the exhibit features more than 200 photographs, including quite witty portrayals of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Power hours take place 5:30-7:30 p.m. select Thursdays through January. For tickets, call 202-639-1786 or register online at corcoran.org.

Then take a short walk over to Morton’s, strolling past the White House Christmas Tree in all its magnificent glory.

The steakhouse features a late-night Power Hour 9:30-11 p.m. The menu is a new take on traditional bar food, including a quartet of petite filet mignon sandwiches, a trio of mini-cheeseburgers (a total of more than half a pound of prime-aged beef) and chicken goujonettes (in other words, chicken strips) for $5. To top it off, shrimp cocktail and oysters on the half shell are $1 to $2 each. The midtown location is our preferred choice (1050 Connecticut Ave. NW), as you can sit outside on the restaurant’s all-weather patio nestled above the street and under the moonlight.

Animal House. The National Zoo is at its brightest after dark in its second-annual ZooLights LED extravaganza.

You may ask, “How romantic can an animated ant hill and giant anteater be?” Well, taken altogether, quite a bit. More than 50 light sculptures, made out of thousands of light-emitting diodes, sparkle in the night.

Snuggle with your honey on brisk D.C. nights as you stroll past 25-foot lighted species, including naked mole-rats and blue crab (some of the new features this year).

Plus you can sip hot cider and cocoa while watching the “dancing trees” light up in time to your favorite holiday tunes at Panda Plaza and Lion/Tiger Hill, or take your picture in front of a 10-foot-tall snow globe.

To avoid the throngs of people, go mid-week and skip the main-stage performances.

ZooLights takes place 6-8:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday and every night Dec. 18-30 except Dec. 24-25. Tickets are $12; zoo members can purchase tickets for $6 or a family four-pack (read: double date) for $20.

After the zoo, take a walk to any number of romantic restaurants nearby: Radius in Mount Pleasant has some of the best pizza in town, a great wine selection (get a free bottle on Wednesday nights), cozy seating and funky music; Adams Morgan isn’t really known for romance, but Tryst mixes up snazzy cocktails with low lighting and loads of couches, plus live jazz on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights; or tiny neighborhood gem Siam House in Cleveland Park for very affordable Thai food.

Moonlit Wine and Sundaes. As the only Smithsonian museum that remains open until 7 p.m., the National Portrait Gallery makes for a fantastic start to a romantic night.

Before or after browsing the gallery, make sure to find a seat in the stunning “canopied” Kogod Courtyard among the “shady ladies,” otherwise known as the 16 black olive trees that make the expansive space feel close and homey. The rolling roof, made up of nearly 900 glass panels, allows the moonlight to filter in with soft, cool lighting perfect for a long talk over wine, or for fun, a sundae made for two.

The Courtyard Cafe, open until 6:30 p.m., offers some of the cheapest wine and beer selections in the city and a large array of desserts — including ice cream to eat in the heated indoor courtyard.

If you want dinner and some more inexpensive wine options, cross the street to Proof and try their 2-ounce tasting pours available in 14 white and 15 red varieties, priced from $2 to $6. It’s a fun way to order a few different selections and share.

Ice Picks and Spiked Cocoa. The ice rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden ice rink offers a classically Washington evening in a great, affordable one-stop date venue — and the late hours (open until 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday) mean that you can be encapsulated by the moonlight while not having to worry about little ones on the ice.

For a break between laps, go to the Pavilion Cafe, where you can get hot chocolate or coffee with a shot of Jameson, Baileys, Kahlúa or amaretto for a little bit of extra warmth (and courage). The cafe hours are shorter, however; some nights it closes as early as 7 p.m.

Rates for a two-hour session are $7 for adults and $6 for students. Ice skate rental is $3.

And More. For a great excuse to get dressed up and into the holiday spirit, visit the Willard InterContinental when it goes all out decorating for the season and it has live music almost every night from 5:30 to 7:30 in the famed and festive lobby. Get a cocktail from one of the most infamous bars in town, the Round Robin, and take in all the warm woods and old-world charm. Then, to cap off the evening, take a late-night romantic walk along the Mall.

• Can’t afford $150 for tickets to the Kennedy Center’s production of “The Nutcracker”? For a different holiday experience just down the hall, the Millennium Stage offers free concerts at 6 p.m. daily, and for the rest of the year, they are seasonally inspired. After the hour-long performance, take a hand-in-hand stroll along the waterfront, watch the lit-up boats and then duck inside for dinner.

If you want what seems like a $100 dinner for only a quarter of that, check out the three-course dinner with wine special at J. Paul’s, Neyla or Paolo’s.

• Just steps from the Capitol, the Botanic Garden goes all-out for the holidays, turning the Garden Court into a glowing mini Mall, with magnificently detailed organic copies of D.C.’s most famed buildings. A 21-foot fir covered in LEDs and hundreds of ornaments is the central attraction, but as the sun sets outside, the lighting becomes warm and dreamy inside, making the walkways feel like the streets of Paris. Though the gardens usually close at 5 p.m., on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the end of the year it is open until 8 with live music and a fun train exhibit for kids of all ages.