Espionage, Craft Beer, Epic Dance Parties & More: Our Top Picks for Ringing in the New Year

While I’m big on festive parties and having any excuse to be dressed to the nines, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve often shied away from New Year’s Eve events over the years – not because they don’t look fun, but because they can break the bank for some of us. That being said, the District’s burgeoning creative and foodie scenes have grown so exponentially in the past decade that the options to celebrate seem limitless and span many budgets. We picked our top five ways to celebrate New Year’s Eve in DC this year – all around $100 and under and with much to choose from. From channeling your inner spy to finding the right 90s dance party for you, we’ve got you covered – so read on and find a unique way to ring in the New Year that speaks to you.

Espionage Awaits: Party Like a Spy
The International Spy Gala is an NYE mainstay in the District, with spy-themed everything: a mock casino (with prizes, of course), spy ice luges at the ice bar, spy gold girls and spy male dancers, and much more. Dressing the part is encouraged, so be sure to get into character as your favorite secret agent or femme fatale. Other perks include party favors, two balloon drops, a live band and DJ, and live feeds to the Times Square countdown. 9 p.m. – 2 a.m. Tickets start at $110. Washington Plaza Hotel: 10 Thomas Cir. NW, DC; www.fb.com/SpyGalaDCNYE

Beer-Centric: Party Like a Beer Head
This one’s for you, beer nerds. The Neighborhood Restaurant Group is offering two opportunities to celebrate that are 100 percent beer-themed. Head to Bluejacket in Capitol Riverfront for an open bar featuring all of the brewery’s drafts and casks – plus cocktails, a champagne toast with good bubbly (pro tip: it’s Chandon rosé, which is excellent), an all-you-can-eat menu including smoked salmon crepes and pulled pork sliders, and live music and DJ sets. If you’d rather stay put in Northwest, head to ChurchKey in Logan Circle for a similar and equally fantastic option featuring a full selection of the beer bar’s best offerings of craft beer, vino, cocktails and snacks, a very affordable four-course tasting menus at Birch & Barley downstairs, a DJ, champagne toast, and much more. ChurchKey’s party runs 9 p.m. – 2 a.m. and tickets start at $105. Bluejacket’s party runs 9:30 p.m. – 2 a.m. and tickets start at $110. Bluejacket: 300 Tingey St. SE, DC; www.bluejacketdc.com // ChurchKey: 1337 14th St. NW, DC; www.churchkeydc.com

Keep It Classy: Party Like a Jazz Lover
Feeling fancy but don’t want to drain your checking account? Get dolled up and sip some bubbly in style at the Kennedy Center’s A Jazz New Year’s Eve event featuring an evening of jazz music from Grammy nominee Branford Marsalis followed by a blowout in the Center’s Grand Foyer with champagne bars, dancing, a balloon drop, a photo booth, a countdown to midnight and much more. Pro tip: brave the cold and take some Instaworthy shots out on the terrace with killer views of the city. Starts at 7 p.m., tickets $75. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

Pick Your Decade: Party Like It’s…
If you want to dance the night away, the District has no shortage of high-energy concerts and dance parties. To keep your options open if you’re up for multiple stops in one neighborhood, we recommend heading to The Wharf or Shaw. At The Wharf, catch DC’s favorite 90s cover band White Ford Bronco at The Anthem (9 p.m. show, tickets start at $75) and/or an 80s dance party with rap, R&B, freestyle, new wave, rock and pop from DJ Marco at Union Stage (9 p.m. show, $30-$35 tickets). Over in Shaw, head to 9:30 Club for a concert that’s equal parts punk rock and hip-hop from Gogol Bordello and special guests (doors at 9 p.m., tickets $75 and check out our interview with frontman Eugene Hütz here) and then head next door to Satellite Room to celebrate 2020 like its 1999 at the Back in the Day 90s dance party (9 p.m. – 3 a.m., tickets start at $40). 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com // The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.theanthemdc.com; Satellite Room: 2047 9th St. NW, DC; www.satellitedc.com; Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

Keep It Simple: Party with DC Fray
Sometimes, the simplest option is the best. If you’re into low-key, affordable, fun celebrations, then look no further. Tickets to DC Fray’s two NYE options at Kelly’s Irish Times near Union Station and Grand Central in AdMo are a steal at $69 per person with live DJs, party favors, champagne toasts, specialty cocktails, quality beers and more. General admission to both events includes open bar starting at 9:30 p .m., appetizers until 11 p.m. and a champagne toast at midnight. Grand Central: 2447 18th St NW, Washington, DC; www.grandcentraldc.com // Kelly’s Irish Times: 14 F St. NW, DC; www.kellysirishtimesdc.com

Treat Yo’ Self: New Year’s Day R&R
For those of you feeling ambitious enough to leave the house, we recommend foodie spots with lots of options to cure your hangover (Union Market if you’re in the District, The Block if you’re coming from the burbs). Plus, check out our top cozy spots to nosh during wintry days. Or if you’re looking for some hair of the dog, read about some of our top picks for local winter brews and spots with unique bubbly offerings. But if you’re nursing an epic hangover and just want to binge-watch Netflix shows in your sweatpants, we totally get it (pro-tip: sprinkle a Pedialyte® Powder Pack in your water bottle and use the code [X] for a discount).

For a comprehensive list of NYE events to choose from, pick up a copy of our December issue or check it out here.

(Left to right) Justin Mark, Sinclair Daniel and Isabella Star LaBlanc // Photo: Tony Powell

The Story Of Peter Pan: From Beloved Classic To Contemporary Spectacle

Director Alan Paul likes to go big. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) associate artistic director has made a name for himself directing musicals and operas notable for their grand scale and lush scope. That experience will come in handy this winter as Paul tackles his biggest project yet: a re-envisioning of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, at STC’s Sidney Harman Hall from December 3 through January 12.

Peter Pan and Wendy will feature a fresh new script by playwright Lauren Gunderson, a cast of 20 and a creative team of 66 that will bring Peter Pan’s story to life through special effects, flying and ambitious sets. It is bigger than anything the company has produced before, and it’s all in Paul’s hands.

“I don’t feel like the director of this show,” Paul told me during an interview at STC’s rehearsal space last week. “I feel like the captain of the ship, like I’m orchestrating 50 people doing a million things, which I am.”

Paul envisions a show that is grand in both ideas and design. His team includes a roster of A-list artists including Gunderson, currently the most frequently produced playwright in America (American Theatre magazine), and Emmy Award-winning scenic designer Jason Sherwood (Fox’s Rent Live), who is tasked with creating the worlds of the Darling family nursery, Neverland and more.

Gunderson’s script calls for dazzling effects: flying bunk beds, midair fight sequences, Tinkerbell transforming from light to human and pirates tumbling from their ship while a giant crocodile lurks below, to name but a few. It also includes the familiar Peter Pan storyline – with some twists.

“Peter Pan already has his story,” Paul said. “The pull of it for me was Wendy and what happens to her. This is Wendy’s story, from start to finish.”

Paul felt that Gunderson, known for her plays that put women – often neglected historical figures – center stage, was the perfect person to develop a “robust, swashbuckling adventure” led by a smart, inquisitive heroine.

“There were a lot of people out there who could have written a post-modern riff on Peter Pan, but not in a big, crowd-pleasing, robust way. And that was the charge I had for her. It had to be robust.”

And it had to have the women take charge. Paul hopes Peter Pan and Wendy will do for theatre what Frozen did for movies: rewrite the rules and prove that female-driven adventure stories can attract large audiences.

Rewriting the rules “is the whole point, actually,” Paul said. “In the original Peter Pan, Peter wants to bring Wendy to Neverland to sew their socks and mend their buttons. That feels very different in 2019.”

In Gunderson’s version, Wendy is a budding scientist whose role model is Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist who won her first Nobel Prize in 1903.

Peter Pan was written in 1904, so we thought this was a great example of a very strong, very famous woman that Wendy could aspire to be.”

Wendy is joined by Tiger Lily, the Native American character that many productions of the still-popular 1954 Peter Pan musical cut due to its offensive characterization. In approaching the parts of the original story that may seem sexist or racist, Paul felt his and Gunderson’s job “was not to be apologetic, but to actively flip the script.” Rather than eliminating the Tiger Lily character, they wanted to make her voice powerful and real. She is now a driving force in Peter Pan and Wendy, a vocal sparring partner with Pan, and a leader in Neverland.

Paul enjoys mining the deep psychological undercurrents in the script.

“This is a play that is obsessed with time,” he observed, noting that Peter Pan and Captain Hook are both trying to stop the clock and avoid the inevitability of aging. “It’s not a subtle play. It’s about good and evil and a bunch of boys fighting off pirates and a girl who believes in science. The stakes are really high. These kids go to Neverland to discover who they are and to see the worst of the world. They come back having learned big things.”

The story plays out in five separate sets, each of them designed to dazzle by Jason Sherwood.

“When you do Peter Pan, you can either do Peter and the Starcatcher, which is a very slimmed down version, or you just go ‘Boom!” Paul said. “And I was like ‘Jason, it’s time for big scenery. It’s what people want. People want an adventure.’”

In his approach to scenic design, Paul draws from his experiences directing opera. He recalls advice he once received from Sir Nicholas Hytner, the former artistic director of London’s National Theatre.

“The secret to opera is that you have to create five images the audience will find spectacular,” Paul recalls Hytner saying.

That can be a set piece, like the pirate ship that makes an entrance in Peter Pan and Wendy’s fifth act.

“We played around with simple designs for the ship, but then I thought, ‘People are waiting for that pirate ship to show up. It needs to be great.’”

Or it can be a scene. Paul thinks the opening sequence in which Pan reunites with his shadow will be spectacular. He hopes that a scene featuring an aerialist mermaid in a sea cave will be a beautifully stark and memorable contrast to the rest of the show.

STC commissioned Peter Pan and Wendy as the first offering in artistic director Simon Godwin’s holiday family-friendly initiative. But Godwin and Paul believe Peter Pan and Wendy will speak to adults and children equally. Paul knows it is the visual splendor that will wow young audiences, but he also thinks back to the opening night of J.M. Barrie’s original 1904 play.

“The audience that night was full of adults. Adults keep coming back to this old play from 1904 because there is really something to it. We had to find a way to honor that and make it about really contemporary things.”

Don’t miss Peter Pan and Wendy at STC from December 3 to January 12. Times vary. Tickets are $35-$120. Learn more and purchase tickets at www.shakespearetheatre.org.

STC’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Photo: courtesy of the NSO

National Symphony Orchestra Brings Holiday Sweaters & Classical Music to The Anthem

It could be argued that ugly sweaters are one of the best traditions of the holiday season. From Santa riding a unicorn under a peppermint moon to “Let’s get lit” menorahs, it’s impossible not to have a good time in an ugly holiday knit. Looking to bring some of that fun to the classical music world, the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) will showcase its Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert on December 11.

Hosted at The Anthem once again, the second-ever themed concert will see the NSO dressed in their best unsightly sweaters as they play holiday tunes both popular and traditional. Audience members are also encouraged to don their favorite ugly holiday pullovers.

“This isn’t your uptight, stuffy concert hall kind of deal,” says Nick Hersh, the NSO’s conductor for the Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert. “It’ll be a really exciting and powerful show, but it won’t be as loud, say, as you would get for a true rock show.”

Further separating themselves from some of the “stuffier” aspects of classical music, playing at The Anthem has allowed the NSO to perform in a more relaxed setting and reach an audience who might not have seen the symphony orchestra otherwise. It also makes this performance one-of-a-kind for the DC area, Hersh says, as the combination of a world-class orchestra playing holiday tunes in a more accessible venue like The Anthem can be hard to come by.

“It’s great fun to be there [at The Anthem],” Hersh says. “I always really enjoy when the audience can do things like take a beer to their seats, which is not something you generally get to do at a hall like the Kennedy Center.”

The attire and venue may be different from the symphony orchestra’s usual style, but Hersh is quick to point out that the audience can expect the quality of the orchestra to hold up to the NSO name.

The audience can also expect a wide variety of music, ranging from classical to more traditional holiday pop songs. The orchestra will play a medley that features seasonal favorites like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” to name a few.

“What we like to play is familiar holiday tunes, and use arrangements of them in a way that really features the orchestra,” Hersh says. “You’ll hear familiar carols but beautifully orchestrated, and we’ll also play some classical standards that have come to be associated with Christmas.”

For example, this year’s show will have a “main course” featuring several pieces from Duke Ellington’s album The Nutcracker Suite, the jazz musician’s take on the classic score from Tchaikovsky. Hersh says this is one of his favorite arrangements from the show as it takes the beauty and familiarity of the original pieces and spikes them with high-energy jazz.

There will also be a choral component performed throughout the show – a new aspect of this year’s concert – featuring DC a cappella group The Capital Hearings. Hersh mentions that the moments the a cappella ensemble come onstage to perform will be a great chance for concertgoers to sing along as well.

“I was learning all the words to the songs [for last year], all those songs I knew essentially the opening words for, but I had to really delve in and learn all the words to, like ‘Frosty the Snowman,’” Hersh exclaims. “Honestly, there’s a lot of stuff I forgot!”

In addition to working with The Capital Hearings, Hersh hopes that the NSO can continue to partner with other local musicians on the Ugly Sweater Holiday Concerts to come, and continue to reach out to audiences of all kinds.

“This is really a concert for anyone, nondenominational of course, and it’s just a really fun time. You’ll clap when you want to clap and you’ll have fun just like you would at any other concert. So if you haven’t seen a symphony, this is really the kind of concert you want to try out.”

Put on your favorite ugly holiday sweater and catch the NSO Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert at The Anthem on December 11. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets start at $15. For more information about the NSO, visit www.kennedy-center.org/nso. For more information about The Capital Hearings, visit their website at www.thecapitalhearings.com.

The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; 202-888-0020; www.theanthemdc.com

Photo: Courtesy of Carolyn Becker

Finding Your Good Podcast Launch Brings Faces of DC Fashion Together

When thinking of a fashion event with the who’s who in DC’s fashion scene in attendance, what comes to mind? Is it a Goodwill in Fairfax, VA at 8 a.m.? That is exactly where DC’s most stylish sustainable fashion bloggers and influencers converged to celebrate Goodwill of Greater Washington’s first podcast, Finding Your Good.

Finding Your Good aims to be the “go-to” podcast for everyone from fashionistas, DIY enthusiasts, and the sustainable fashion community. Each episode features a different guest sharing their expertise and experiences, and is hosted by media personality Sarah Fraser, with new episodes released weekly.

DJ Reggie Volume and Chef Roro // Photo: courtesy of Carolyn Becker

The podcast launch party, held at the 9960 Main Street location in Fairfax on November 16, featured a special curated shopping event, featuring hand-picked selections from local sustainable fashion influencers as well as shopping discounts to use in-store.

Guests were also treated to breakfast bites from podcast guest, Chef Roro of Roro’s Lebanese Food Truck, and most recently, Bubbies Plant Burgers & Fizz. To add to the shopping experience, DJ Reggie Volume provided the perfect tunes and vibes to shop to.

I had the chance to chat with Carolyn Becker, who does the digital marketing for both DC Goodwill and Finding Your Good, she’s a bright light who stands out in any room she’s in, despite her petite frame.

“My style embraces my petite stature with flair and sophistication, while staying true to my punk rock, no-rules roots,” she says when asked to describe her style. 

Her favorite thing to thrift is vintage, “…Because I love vintage, my style has leaned on the more vibrant pattern-heavy side.”

Similarly, podcast host Fraser describes her style as “bold and getting bolder. I want to be a mix of Celine Dion meets Liberace when it’s all said and done.” An amazing combination if you ask me!

Vivi and Carolyn Becker // Photo: courtesy of Carolyn Becker

Vivi, of Heart, Print and Style, was one of the local sustainable bloggers who had a hand-curated rack that guests in attendance could shop from, and is also a featured guest of the podcast. Vivi has been blogging for nearly 10 years, and specializes in plus size, sustainable style.

I asked her how sustainability and thrifting has affected her style over the years, she enthusiastically replied, “It has made me more aware of the amount of clothes I tend to have in my closet. For the past few years, I make sure to purge every month or so to truly enjoy the items in my closet. Also, the affordability aspect is nice, too. These days when I shop retail, I think twice about buying the item because the first thought that comes to mind is, ‘I’m pretty sure I can find something similar at a thrift store.’”

Allison Zupancic and Kelly-Lynne Russell // Photo: courtesy of Carolyn Becker

The launch party and shopping event drew a diverse crowd of both bargain shoppers and local influencers, including Allison Zupancic, curve model and plus size thrifter. In addition to secondhand shopping for her personal wardrobe, Zupancic also runs her own Poshmark shop, Salvaged Chic.

Of the increasing popularity of secondhand shopping in the DC area, she explains that, not too long ago it used to be taboo to say you got something at the thrift store.

“If it took a Macklemore song or a few generational bloggers to make popping tags trendy, then the more the merrier!”

For more on Goodwill of Greater Washington and Finding Your Good, visit www.dcgoodwill.org and www.findingyourgood.org.

Photo: Smithsonian National Zoo

25 Of The Most Fun Things To Do in DC this December

Christmas, Chanukah and New Year’s celebrations – plus everything in between – await you in this busy, chilly month! Stay warm and have fun, DC.

Sunday, December 1

All Levels Yoga Flow x The Yards Local
Start your week off with an all levels flow at your local Lululemon. Grab your mat and water bottle and prepare to be guided into a practice that will set a peaceful tone for your week. (The Yards Local lululemon // 9:45 a.m. // FREE)

Monday, December 2

Rachael Ray
Come celebrate as the queen of the kitchen shares 125 new recipes and 25 new essays reflecting on her life and storied culinary career. Seating is first come first served so plan to arrive early! (Sixth & I // 6 p.m. // $25+)

Tuesday, December 3

The Illusionists: Magic of the Holidays
More than just magic, The Illusionists’ mind-blowing holiday themed performance will give you much to talk about even after the season has passed. Don’t miss this opportunity for sophisticated winter fun unfolding before your eyes. (The National Theatre // 7:30 p.m. // $54+)

The Second City’s Love Factually
This twist on the Christmas classic includes audience participation, so if you’ve ever dreamed that the Love, Actually cinematic universe was real, now’s your chance to live out that fantasy. Don’t miss this fun new twist on the beloved film that will also incorporate parody, original comedy, music and improv into its retelling of the romantic tale. (The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts // 8 p.m. // $49+)

Thursday, December 5

She & Him – Christmas Party
Cute and quirky indie rock duo She & Him, comprised of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, bring you festive fun to kick off your December at this Christmas singalong party. (The Anthem // 6:30 p.m. // $46+)

Friday, December 6

All Crafts Considered 2019
Pop into NPR HQ for gifts and goods handcrafted by local artisans from all over the DMV. Whether you’re rounding out your holiday shopping or looking for yourself, you’re sure to get everything on your list at this shopping soiree. (NPR HQ // 3-8 p.m. // FREE)

Georgetown GLOW: Light Art Exhibition
Walk through scenic, historic Georgetown to experience the wonder of GLOW, the only curated outdoor public light art installation in the region. These artist’s glowing creations are awe-ispiring AND insta-worthy. (Georgetown Park // 5-10 p.m. // FREE)

Saturday, December 7

Wolf Trap National Park Holiday Sing-Along
The United States Marine Band will lead a sing-a-long of your favorite Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs with the help of local singers. (Wolf Trap’s Filene Center// 2:30 p.m. // Free to attend)

Dear Black Santa: A Black Owned Holiday Market
Support local black entrepreneurs and the PERK Consulting NextGen Scholarship as you shop through exciting vendors and listen to DJ 3X Dex play your favorite holiday songs. Plus, raffle giveaways and photos with Santa add to the merriment. (Smith Public Trust // 1-4 p.m. // FREE)

SPIN DC – Community Ping Pong Lessons
Want to hang with table tennis masters at Spin but unsure of where to start Join in on this comprehensive 2 hour class to get the lowdown on this dynamic sport. Donations go to ATTYO, an organization supporting youth learning table tennis, leadership, fitness and more. (SPIN DC // 1-3p.m. // Donation-Based)

Santa Bowl
This 7v7 co-ed flag football tournament gives you the opportunity to compete in friendly football competition and be crowned the most generous team, as prizes will be rewarded to both. Each team is asked to bring at least five bags of groceries and other items to benefit Bridges to Independence. Check out the site for a full list of items needed, and compete for both titles! (Long Bridge Park // 8 a.m. // $450 per team of 12 or more)

Wednesday, December 11

The PR DC Ugly Sweater Run powered by New Balance
Throw on your ugliest sweater and get ready to run through some beautiful Christmas trees and light displays. Get your ‘Gram on and use the hashtags #FearlesslyIndependent and #RunDC in front of your favorite tree to enter and win New Balance prizes! (Potomac River Running Store // 6:30-8 p.m. // FREE)

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 12

BrewLights at ZooLights
This boozy version of ZooLights gives you an opportunity to see the zoo’s spectacular light displays while sipping on craft beer samples and enjoying food from local restaurants. Proceeds from the event support the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, so you can enjoy one of the District’s favorite holiday traditions knowing you’re giving to a good cause while having a great time. (Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute // 6-9 p.m. // $65)

Friday, December 13

Wired Cycling: Cycle & Twirl @2028 4th St NE
Come check out Wired Cycling, ”a 60-minute class that combines the physical and mental benefits of Jump Roping & Cycling to give you a “kick-ass” full body workout,” for free! This unique workout is sure to inspire and set an active tone for the rest of your weekend. (Cycle & Twirl // 6 p.m. // FREE)

Saturday, December 14

Crystal City Winter Wonderland
Enjoy an immersive holiday experience in Crystal City. Shop at the GRUMP holiday market, partake in Fairytale Tea Time at Synetic Theater, and prance through an all day Winter Wonderland with heated igloos, pop up bar featuring unique holiday cocktails, holiday crafts and more. Stick around through the evening for s’mores and a silent disco under the stars. While the event is free to attend, you can purchase a VIP wristband for $20 which allows you access to an open bar. (Courtyard at 1901 S. Bell St. // 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. // Free-$20)

Die Hard
Die Hard is a classic, and undoubtedly a Christmas movie. If you want to rewatch it, or perhaps drag someone in your life who is wrong and doesn’t believe it’s a Christmas movie along, you can catch it on the big screen at this special screening as part of the Smithsonian Theater’s holiday film festival. (National Museum of American History //  3:15-5:30 p.m // $10)

Sunday, December 15

DC AF – Meet Your Maker(s) | Holiday Pop Up Shopping
This artfully curated pop up shop features local makers and big brand names, giving you the opportunity to find something perfect and thoughtful for everyone on your list. Plus, sip on cocktail, beer and wine samples while you get your shop on. (Union Market // 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. // $5-$15)

Monday, December 16

Hot 99.5 Jingle Ball
Pop lovers rejoice – Hot 99.5’s Jingle Ball returns this year with faves like Halsey, Charlie Puth, Niall Horan and French Montana serenading you into the holiday season. (Capital One Arena // 7:30 p.m. // $40-$200)

Tuesday, December 17

Speed Dating at Pinstripes
Put down your phone and look up! The love of your life (or maybe your new BFF) could be right in front of you at Fray’s latest speed dating event. In addition to enjoying the lovely company of all your fellow speed daters, you’ll enjoy food, drinks, extended happy hour and the opportunity to win great raffle prizes. This is a 21+ event. (Pinstripes Georgetown // 7 p.m. // $25)

Wednesday, December 18

A John Waters Christmas
Baltimore native and king of kitsch John Waters is bringing his beloved Christmas themed one man show back to town. Don’t miss is off-the-wall takes on the holidays during this hilarious evening. (Birchmere Music Hall // 7:30 p.m. // $62.70+)

Sunday, December 22

The National Menorah Lighting
Celebrate the first night of Chanukah with the tradition of lighting the beautiful National Menorah! Join to experience the lighting in person, complete with Chanukah songs, hot latkes and donuts and free dreidels and menorah kits. (President’s Park // 4 p.m. // FREE with ticket)

Sunday, December 29

Enchant Christmas – Light Maze & Market
In addition to being home to champions, Nats Park is now a winter wonderland. Stroll through the world’s largest Christmas light maze, a food and Christmas market featuring 60 vendors, a festive ice skating trail and so much more. (Nationals Park // 4:30-11 p.m. // $21.99 – $36.99)

Big Night DC
There’s never a dull moment at this annual soiree, featuring 15 party rooms, five dance floors, live music and DJs, party favors, food and more. Since it’s at the scenic Gaylord National Resort, you can grab a discounted hotel room in addition to your ticket so you can relax in peace after you’re done ringing in 2020. (Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center // 9 p.m. // Various ticket options available) 

Monday, December 30 

ICE! at Gaylord National
Christmas Day may be over but you can still celebrate the season with this year’s Gaylord ICE! attraction, featuring the classic film How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This is the last day to check out 2 million pounds of ice in action at this favorite holiday attraction, so don’t miss it! (Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center // various times and ticket prices)

Tuesday, December 31

DC Fray New Year’s Eve
Fray is giving you not one but TWO awesome opportunities to say “new year, who dis?” to 2019 at two great bars in DC. Dance into 2020 at Grand Central or Kelly’s Irish Times as you enjoy an open bar, appetizers and champagne toast at midnight. Just pick your location and get ready to ring in the new year, #FrayLife style! (Grand Central OR Kelly’s Irish Times // 9 p.m. – 1 a.m. // $69+)

When Friends (And Family!) Visit DC

Many of my friends from Southern California, where I was born and raised, still question what I love about DC. That is until they come to visit. It isn’t until they see the beauty of the leaves changing in fall, realize how awe-inspiring the monuments are up-close, eat cuisines they’ve never heard of before, and attend a concert or sporting event at our world-renowned venues, that they truly understand all that the nation’s capital has to offer. I love having friends visit and it’s easy in spring and fall to show friends around when the weather cooperates. But if you’re like me you may have friends who show up any time of year, so I’ve made a list of (mostly) indoor activities you can do with your out-of-town friends during winter that are sure to make them fall in love with the city like you have.

Friday

Assuming your friends get in to town early in the day and you can clock out of work in the afternoon, head straight to Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab near the White House for their Cocktail Hour. While Joe’s is fancier than your average happy hour spot in DC, the location and prices can’t be beat. Their deals run from 2:30-6:30 p.m. every day in the spacious bar area, which includes wrap-around seating as well as multiple high-tops. Food specials include oysters, sliders, fried chicken, lobster deviled eggs, and my personal favorite, mac-n-cheese sticks. Signature cocktails, wine and a great selection of local draft beers are all half priced.

The classic decor, outstanding service and the high possibility of seeing a DC celebrity means Joe’s is sure to impress your out-of-town peeps.

Close out your tab at Joe’s and head to the Capital One Arena to see the Stanley Cup Champions, your beloved Washington Capitals hit the ice. Anyone who has been to an NHL game knows how great the sport is to watch live and even if your friends aren’t Caps fans, any sports lover can appreciate the energy of a championship winning team. 

#FrayLife Tip: Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, but I prefer checking StubHub day-of to see if you can get a better deal. Once inside, be sure to give your friends a heads up on why the fans scream “O” and “red” extra loud during the National Anthem.

If you or your friends are still hungry, there are plenty of great food options in the arena. While you can never go wrong with nachos or popcorn, recent renovations to the arena mean there are new food and drink options everywhere. I’d recommend the chicken at Fuku, a burger from Lucky Buns, a platter from Rocklands BBQ, or Jane Dough Frozen Cookie Dough if you’re in the mood for something sweet. 

Saturday

Saturday morning head to Union Market, which is a short walk from the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro. Described as an “urban village,” Union Market has a long history as a terminal market and home to wholesale operations. In its current form, the market serves as a trendy gathering place that includes local food stalls, fashion pop-ups, a multi-screen cinema and a Michelin star restaurant. 

#FrayLife Tip: No need to split a bill, and your friends can eat exactly what they want! This is the perfect spot for brunch with friends because each person can pick up food from a different stall and everyone can come back together to eat at the common area tables. 

Buffalo & Bergen is a favorite of mine for bagel sandwiches and knishes. They also serve classic egg creams and a killer bloody mary, if you are looking for something stronger. Arepa Zone’s Venezuelan sandwiches will cure any hangover, and DC Empanadas will fill you up with their unique flavor combinations. Check out Peregrine Espresso for your caffeine fix – ask the baristas for a recommendation and let them do their thing; they are great at what they do!

Once you’re done eating, I’d suggest circling back one more time to pick up some snacks for your afternoon activity: hitting up the distilleries in the area. I recommend a baguette from Lyon Bakery, some charcuterie from Red Apron Butchery and some dips from DC Mediterranean Corner.

After you’ve stocked up on snacks and had an extra glass of water, make the short walk to One Eight Distilling to start your distillery and brewery tour. The tasting room is open from 1-10 p.m. on Saturdays and there are three tours offered throughout the day. They’re releasing a new whiskey this fall that I cannot wait to try! Next head to Republic Restoratives, a woman-owned distillery with a bright and welcoming tasting room serving classic cocktails. They’re open 12-11 p.m. on Saturdays with three tours in the afternoon. After two distillery tours, I am sure you’ll be glad you picked up those snacks at Union Market!

If you’ve had enough liquor for the afternoon, finish your tour with some beers at Atlas Brewworks, a 100 percent solar-powered brewery. Their tap room is open from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. on Saturdays and they offer four tours for you to choose from. The 1500 is my favorite Atlas beer but the Rowdy Rye or Damn Good IPA may be more up your alley. 

You’re going to need a serious dinner after a long day of drinking and you’ll wow your friends by taking a quick Uber, Lyft or taxi to Panda Gourmet. Well, your friends might be a bit hesitant at first as Panda Gourmet is hidden in the side of a Days Inn Motel off the busy New York Avenue, but they’ll be pleased as soon as you sit down and look at the menu. Far from your trendy American fusion restaurants in DC, Panda Gourmet serves up authentic Szechuan dishes sure to please a group. It’s best to share plates here so everyone can try some of their standard favorites as well as some more adventurous dishes they’ve never tried. After dinner here you’ll be full and happy and ready for bed.

Sunday

On Sunday you should have your friends participate in the most sacred millennial tradition: brunch. My current favorite is Succotash in Penn Quarter. Here, James Beard Award nominee Edward Lee combines Korean and southern American dishes in a stunning setting (a former bank!) in the heart of the city. There is something for everyone on this menu, and the combination of cuisines means all of the dishes have a bit of a twist. If you love spice, I recommend the Dirty Chicken Cobb or the Gochujang Bloody Mary, which will leave you sweating. The Chicken & Waffles and Belle’s Punch will be better for your friend with a sweet tooth.

After brunch head a block east on F Street to the National Portrait Gallery. One of the smaller Smithsonians, this museum is home to Barack and Michelle Obama’s official portraits that were revealed last year. Take your friends here so they can selfie with the portraits and pick up some Obama swag in the gift shop. 

#FrayLife Tip:  The two portraits are on different floors and the line is usually much longer for the former President’s.

Next, you’ll do something your friends definitely can’t do where they live: ice skate at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. The outdoor rink is open to the public and costs under $15 per person including skate and locker rentals. Ice skating on the Mall is one of the cooler, no pun intended, experiences you can have during wintertime in DC.

Hopefully everyone in your friend group stays on their feet and is ready for the next adventure. Take the Green Line from Archives-Navy Memorial to the Waterfront metro stop. From there you’ll walk to DC’s hottest development: The Wharf. While this particular development is new, this area of the Southwest waterfront has been a major hub of development in the city for centuries because of its access to both the Potomac and Anacostia rivers as well as railways. The recent redevelopment of this area juxtaposes flashy new condos and high-end restaurants with the oldest operating fish market in America, the Maine Avenue Fish Market.

Warm up before walking around the shops by visiting Dolcezza or Blue Bottle for some coffee. Be sure to check out Politics and Prose, an independent bookstore that is a great place for your friends to grab souvenirs. You have quite a few options for dinner but I’ve been wanting to try Kith and Kin, the city’s only Afro-Caribbean restaurant. Chef Kwame Onwuachi’s restaurant has garnered a ton of attention lately. 

After a Sunday Funday full of activities, your friends will be sad to leave DC and you’ll be glad you were able to finally show people just how much there is to love about this city.

What are some of your favorite spots to take your friends when they visit the District? Leave us a comment below or tag us in your adventures using #DCFray or #FrayLife!

Photo: courtesy of Gaylord

6 Holiday Activities At National Harbor

For those looking to get in the holiday spirit, look no further than National Harbor, where a host of attractions and events take place at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. Opportunities abound for shopping and dining – complete with picturesque views of the Potomac River and hordes of twinkling lights to add to the festive evenings. Below are some of the must-see things to do as part of the 12th annual Christmas on the Potomac.

ICE!

Each year, approximately 35 artisans from Harbin, China travel more than 6,000 miles to National Harbor to create a stunning ICE! exhibit, bringing a Christmas tale to life with over 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice.

“This year, guests will be greeted by more than a dozen scenes from Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas in bright vibrant colors,” says Jennifer Cerasani, director of marketing at Gaylord. “Guests will not only enjoy this classic story, but also four ice slides, interactive photo ops and the breathtaking nativity complete with a 12-foot-high angel.”

To create the theme, the artisans carve 2 million pounds of ice for 30 days within 12-hour shifts, and nearly 6,000 ice blocks are used, each weighing about 400 pounds.

“This is a beloved classic Christmas tale, which appeals to everyone,” Cerasani says. “It reminds us all that the true meaning of the holidays is not the presents under the tree, but the love we feel in our hearts.”

Tickets are $25-$33 for ages 4-11. Kids ages 3 and under are free.

Outdoor Winter Square

This year marks the debut of the Outdoor Winter Square, which overlooks the Potomac River and includes an outdoor ice-skating rink and an ugly sweater-themed bar called the Tinsel Tavern.

“We knew that we wanted to add an outdoor experience for our guests,” says Jenna Buck, director of special events and entertainment at Gaylord. “The question was: what, where and how? Since Gaylord National’s pool deck is underutilized in the chilly temperatures of winter, we thought, ‘Why not move our ice skating rink outside?’ Once the location was decided, we added Tinsel Tavern to the experience that will warm up our guests with hot chocolate and festive holiday cocktails.”

Scheduled throughout are Silent Disco on Ice nights where guests can dance, twist and shout, and skate to an array of holiday tunes delivered to personal, wireless headphones.

Ice Tubing

Another brand-new attraction is the Reindeer Rush Ice Tubing in the Christmas Village.

“Different from snow tubing, our guests will speed down one of four two-story-tall slides while overlooking the Christmas Village visitors,” Buck says.

The cost is $20.99 for unlimited rides on the day of purchase.

The Garden Atrium

One of the highlights of the visit will be the 55-foot suspended Starlight Christmas tree boasting the nightly Christmas Miracles laser, light and music show, located inside the Garden Atrium. This is also the setting for the Cirque Dreams Unwrapped atrium show, a 25-minute Christmas fable featuring breathtaking artistry, music and showmanship from around the world.

Cirque Dreams Unwrapped journeys into the holiday-inspired dreams of a child,” Buck says. “Audiences will be mesmerized by the breathtaking specialty acts, costumes, and creativity.”

Tickets for Cirque Dreams Uwrapped are $17.99-$19.99.

Feast with The Grinch

In keeping with the Dr. Seuss theme in the ICE! attraction, people will have the chance to meet the stars of the special at a special character buffet breakfast. “Families can look forward to sharing special moments with The Grinch and Max,” Buck says. “Guests will be able to sing along to holiday favorites as well as take part in interactive activities as they enjoy their yummy meal.”

There’s also the Grinch’s Wonderful Awful Idea Scavenger Hunt, an adventure inviting kids to follow clues through the resort looking for riddles and puzzles dreamed up by The Grinch as he attempts to steal Christmas.

$40 buffet for those 12 and over; $27 for ages 4-11; Scavenger Hunt is $9.99.

Other Holiday Treats

Other holiday goodies you won’t want to miss include the Gingerbread Masterpiece, where Gaylord’s pastry team spent around 1,000 hours creating an original, 1.5 million calorie gingerbread house, which will be on display in the hotel’s lobby; the Christmas Village, featuring fun shops and the Village Express, where guests can take a magical ride on the classic children’s train; and Sounds of the Season, including special musical performances by regional ensembles.

“Christmas is a time for bringing friends and family together to wish, dream, play and make memories,” Cerasani says. “Young and old, and anyone in-between, will find something to delight and entertain them at Gaylord National’s Christmas on the Potomac.”

There’s plenty more to do and see as well. For a complete schedule of events, which will take place through December 30, visit www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com.

Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center: 201 Waterfront St. National Harbor, MD; 301-965-400; www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com

Photo: USDA

5 Thanksgiving Meal Alternatives

Let’s face it: Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of work. Between the preparations, inevitable family tiffs and the clean-up process, it’s a downright exhausting evening, especially if you’re the one responsible for the cooking. Though wine refills can help you get through it, #FrayLife has other ideas.

Save yourself from holiday trauma by dining out at any of the following DMV restaurants offering Thanksgiving dinner. The chefs will do the heavy lifting in terms of cooking and clean up, and the added bonus of being in public forces your family members to be on their best behavior.

Seven Reasons

2208 14th St. NW, DC

Getting a reservation here might be tricky given the recent attention Seven Reasons has gotten from being named “The Best New Restaurant in America” by Esquire just last week. But with most people leaving town for the holiday, you probably have a pretty good shot at securing a table here for Thanksgiving dinner.

From 4:30-9 p.m., Chef Enrique Limardo will offer a curated a special occasion prix fixe menu for $85 a person. The menu hasn’t been released yet, but expect Limardo’s artful dishes to include his signature Latin American-inspired contemporary flair. 

The Mansion on O Street

2020 O St. NW, DC

Not only is The Mansion on O Street serving a Thanksgiving feast for $70 a person, but they’re letting you work off the calories afterwards by exploring the hundreds of rooms in search of the mansion’s 70+ secret doors.

You get a lot for the price, and not just because it includes the mansion tour. Turkey options alone include traditional, fried, smoked and cajun. Turkey not your jam? There will also be a hot dog station, barbecue brisket, brown sugar ham, wild mushroom pasta and fresh whole salmon. And those are just the entrees!

Medium Rare

515 8th St. SE, DC

This choice isn’t exactly where you will get served a Thanksgiving meal, however, it’s worth noting because it sticks with the theme of “doing as little work as possible” on the big day. 

If you bring in a whole bird to the Barracks Row location of Medium Rare between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, the team will fry it FOR FREE. Just make sure it’s fully thawed and weighs less than 10 pounds.

American Son

1201 K St. NW, DC

For $45 per person, American Son is offering a three courses for Thanksgiving dinner. In addition to turkey, its menu includes crab bisque, barbecued heirloom carrots, pork chops and pecan pie. Since American Son is located inside the Eaton DC hotel on K St., there’s always the option to stay the night in case you get of a sudden onset of food coma. 

Modena

1100 New York Ave. NW, DC

Modena’s chef John Melfi is offering a $60 prix fixe, Italian-inspired Thanksgiving menu with tantalizing options like foie gras ‘creme brulee’, marinated burrata and red bourbon turkey. Other options include grilled New York strip steak, risotto and crispy skin salmon. Desserts include warm amaretti bread pudding, chocolate mousse or honeycrisp apple and quince strudel. The Thanksgiving offerings will be served between 11:30 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Heading out for Thanksgiving? Let us know by tagging us on social using #DCFray and #FrayLife.

4 Date Spots To Try This Winter

The weather is finally beginning to cool down, but not enough that you’re forced to run inside to avoid the temperatures. DC is in that wonderful, fall season where outdoor activities mix together with indoor fun to create the best of both worlds. This leads to exciting opportunities for unique dates for someone special. Below are five spots sure to make an impression, whether it’s the first date or a date night with a long-time partner.

H Street Country Club

1335 H St NE, Washington DC

This gem nestled in the heart of the H Street corridor is perfect for a casual night out. There’s nothing worse than running out of topics to discuss during a date, so that’s why activities are always a great option to keep the conversation going. When you finish some tacos and margaritas, be sure to head upstairs to the second floor, where there’s a full indoor mini-golf course. Not a fan of mini-golf? There are other games such as shuffleboard and skee-ball to keep the fun rolling, as well as a rooftop bar with gorgeous views of the city.

Whiskey Charlie

975 7th St SW, Washington DC

Perched above the Wharf sits Whiskey Charlie, an upscale lounge with one of the best views in the entire city courtesy of their outdoor rooftop, which makes it an ideal date spot on the Wharf. Grab a bougie cocktail from their lavish drink menu and take in the almost 360 degree views of the Wharf and surrounding areas. This spot is an essential date locale for any couple trying to get a last taste of the rooftop bar scene before the coldest weather sets in.

Old Town Alexandria

Old Town, Alexandria, VA

Dates in the city can sometimes get repetitive after a while, so switch it up and venture out to Old Town Alexandria. This delightful Virginia destination is located roughly 20-25 minutes from DC. Cobblestone streets will meet you in this quaint city for a great day or night out. Take a stroll with your significant other up and down King Street, but make sure to stop in to the shops and restaurants along the way. Pop’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream and the views from the Old Town Alexandria Harbor are always crowd pleasers.

#FrayLife Tip: Be on the lookout for events on the river or at the Torpedo Factory

Photo credit Capo Deli

BackRoom Speakeasy at Capo Italian Deli

715 Florida Ave NW, Washington DC

There are plenty of speakeasies around DC, but there’s few that involve talking a walk through a faux freezer door to get in. Situated in the bustling corner of Shaw that also houses 801 and Takoda is Capo Italian Deli. This fully functional deli does more than just serve sandwiches, it is home to one of the coolest spots in the city for a drink and a date night out. Make sure to call ahead to put your name on the list for the speakeasy, as it’s by list only. Once inside, enjoy a swanky drink in this hidden lounge that’ll make you and your date feel famous for infiltrating such a scene.

Have other go-to date spots? Let us know by tagging us on social using #DCFray and #FrayLife

Looking for another option? Mintwood Place just upgraded their happy hour menu!

5 Reasons to Kick Off the Holidays with DC Fray’s Santa Bowl

‘Tis the season for holiday-themed events, so get ready to ho ho hike at the Santa Bowl! On December 7, This fifth-annual flag football tournament is a surefire way to kick off the winter season, so grab your friends and start prepping for the best event of the holidays. Need help convincing your social circle to join you? We’ve got you covered. 

1. Benefits charity 

The Santa Bowl will benefit Bridges to Independence, a nonprofit that helps individuals and families overcome homelessness. So, not only will you have a blast with DC Fray, but you’ll be helping your neighbors get back on their feet. 

2. Prizes 

You have not one, but two opportunities to win prizes at the Santa Bowl. All teams are encouraged to bring at least five grocery bags worth of items for Bridges to Independence, but the team that collects the most nonperishables, toiletries and gift cards will receive a bonus reward. A prize will also be given to the tournament-winning team. If you can’t win on the field, step up your game off the field for a great cause – or win both! 

3. Bragging rights

Double the awards means double the chances for bragging rights, right? Teams of 12 or more are accepted for this event, so gather your toughest pals and get ready to win. 

4. Prepare for your fitness resolution

After the holiday season has passed, you’ll be looking for a New Year’s resolution, and it’s no secret that gym subscriptions spike at the beginning of each year. Why not get started before the gyms are packed? The Santa Bowl will have you training prior to the event and will leave you wanting more when your team finishes in first place! 

5. Get into the holiday spirit 

The Santa Bowl will get you ready for next Sunday’s watch party as well as help you prepare you for the meaning of the season – giving back! Plus, the Santa Bowl is a great reason to gather your pals, which will encourage your friend group to stick together for the holidays.

If these reasons don’t convince your friend group to join you at the Santa Bowl, then maybe you need new friends! Get out there and rally for a great cause. 

Tag us in your food collection and game prep with #DCFray #FrayLife. 

Looking for other ways to get a jump on your New Year’s fitness goals? These places will help you get on the right track!