Your DC Winter Bucket List: 16 Things You Have to Do This Winter

Published On 12/21/2015 Published On 12/21/2015
Courtesy of Joy Asico

It’s time to bulk up and strip down because winter’s here (you’ll see what we mean). Here’s what you need to make the most of cold times, from long-awaited openings, insane feasts, and ice sculptures to a four-day Mardi Gras celebration. Also, if you thought dining al fresco was over, it’s not.

Courtesy of Bourbon Steak

Go literal at Bourbon Steak

December marked the launch of a mouthwatering special at Georgetown’s beef and brown liquor boss. You can now try “Bourbon & Steak, Literally,” a selection of three rare, small-batch bourbons paired with dry-aged beef available in three weights (from 18 to 40oz). While you may think this special is designed especially for a recently retired NFL player, you can handle it. We have faith in you. Expect to see bourbons like Eagle Rare 17yr, Orphan Barrel Barterhouse 20yr, and Elijah Craig 23yr, all selected by bar manager Torrence Swain. Pricing depends on your meat selection, but duh, don’t expect a deal. Bourbon & Steak, Literally is available in the dining room only.

Laura Hayes/Thrillist

Dine al fresco despite frigid temps

Crane & Turtle is getting extra mileage out of their quaint patio this winter by serving traditional Japanese hot pot. Dress like you just skied off the mountain, wrap yourself up in blankets, and thank whoever invented propane. The $35 per person, two-hour hot pot experience is offered for groups of four on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s a little intimate, so think best buds instead of that guy at the office you tolerate. We won’t spoil it, but expect to be put to work cooking your own meats and veggies in a caldron of spicy broth (a vegetarian option is available). Tickets.

Courtesy of Rey Lopez

Fall in love with mezcal

We have a lot of bars that slay it at one type of booze, but none that mess exclusively with mezcal. That will change come January when DC gets its first mezcaleria. This is crucial because we’re betting on 2016 to be the year of the agave spirit infused with sultry smokiness. Espita Mezcaleria is headed to Shaw and will feature not only mezcal, but also other flavors from Oaxaca including mole. Expect to fill up on sopes, ceviche, and tacos paired with a rotating selection of mezcals served neat, in flights, and in cocktails (including some in pitchers). Master Mezcalier (that’s a word Webster, we swear) Josh Phillips is running the show, while Alexis Samayoa will handle the regionally famed food.

Courtesy of Perretti Photography

Try new ‘cue

We found BBQ worth crossing the river for, slick roads and all. You’ll see what we mean when you try Matt Lang’s St. Louis-style spare ribs at Texas Jack’s Barbecue. Matt may look more like a guy who invented pour-over coffee than a pitmaster, but boy, can he manhandle meat. Grab a seat at one of the long communal tables with all of your friends and tear into pulled pork cochinita pibil-style (slow roasted with citric juices in banana leaves), beef brisket, beef short rib, chicken, and sausage served with sides that fuse Mexican and German culinary approaches. You’ll want to pair all that with whiskey and beer. They excel at both, housings kegs of 12 solid local drafts. The Arlington newcomer opened in December.

Laura Hayes/Thrillist

Get lit

This may be the closest thing to a real speakeasy in DC. Tucked in the back of Petworth Citizen is the Reading Room, now separate from its host bar. The dimly lit, book-lined octagon is the perfect setting for Chantal Tseng to whip up her literary-themed cocktails at what the bar has brilliantly dubbed #GetLit. Chantal nerds out during the week perusing the novels that English Lit majors were married to for four years. Watch candles flicker as you kick back with a good book (in liquid form). She’s there Friday and Saturday nights, and you know it’s a solid venture because Derek Brown digs it.

Courtesy of Iron Gate

Cozy up at Iron Gate for less

Dupont Circle
Many of us never see the inside of the Iron Gate carriage house because of the tasting menu price tags. But no one’s complaining because the more casual bar and patio menu is boss. This winter’s different because the restaurant is transitioning its seasonal agriturismo dinners inside. These multi-course feasts offered on Sundays and Mondays run a reasonable $40. Chef Tony Chittum will take you through rustic Italian dishes, such as oak-grilled Virginia bison with cippollino agro dolce, until you tap. And, you can make it boozy by ordering $25 bottles of Iron Gate’s proprietary wines. Call for reservations. 

Courtesy of Heritage Brewing

Eat game food & drink that's worth the stadium prices

The Verizon Center is a special case in stadium offerings because there’s food you actually would want to eat (and we’re not talking about mustard-yellow, guilty pleasure nacho cheese). You won’t miss out on the best bet if you find the small bar serving Bone BBQ and Heritage Brewing craft beer. The Manassas brewery will have you forsaking all the banquet beer in the arena in favor of 16oz cans of American Expedition Honey Ginger wheat ale or Freedom Isn’t Free IPA. Find the bar by sections 106 during Caps and Wizards games (and concerts), and wait for the envious stares to start once you make it back to your section.

Courtesy of Hadi Dimachkieh

Tour a chocolate factory without leaving DC

The doors to DC’s first chocolate factory, Harper Macaw, opened on December 12th. The husband and wife team behind it produces three types of dark chocolate and one milk chocolate, all from Brazilian-sourced cocoa beans -- hence the name combining two rainforest birds. Sarah Hartman is a veteran chocolatier, while her husband is a veteran of the US Marines. Visit the factory for tours and tastings Saturdays and Sundays from 12-6pm. Tours run on the hour.

Courtesy of Taste the Nation DC

Judge chefs on their cocktail skills

Penn Quarter
What happens when you remove chefs from the kitchen and put them behind the bar? Snow cones with charred olives, a tuna sashimi skewer garnish, and a whole lot of bacon. See for yourself at the next installment of Chefs Behind on Sunday, January 17th. The contenders include chefs readying debut new restaurants, like Jennifer Carroll (Requin), Matt Baker (Gravitas), and Hamilton Johnson (Honeysuckle), as well as Andy Clark (Eat the Rich), John Critchley (Brine), Liam LaCivita (Bar Civita), and Yuki Nakandakari (Ocopa). Sample their cocktails as judges pick the winner at Prequel from 2-4:30pm. Tickets.

Courtesy of Sips & Suppers

Sip something special

What if there was a cocktail party with all of your favorite bartenders, AND they were joined by every chef whose name you know in the city? Meet Sips: an annual affair benefiting DC Central Kitchen and Martha’s Table that takes over the Newseum. This year’s event is Saturday, January 23th. Choose from VIP ($200) and general admission ($95 early bird) tickets here. The same weekend also features the counterpart to Sips, known as Suppers. These intimate dinners pairing two talented chefs are typically held in someone’s intimidatingly gorgeous home and cost $600. More info.

Courtesy of Greg Powers

Summer in the winter pop-up at Garrison

Barracks Row
Gather a gang of six to eight hungry buds and bundle up. Hot newcomer Garrison is throwing whole beast parties on their patio in winter pop-ups on Sundays throughout January and February. The restaurant will roast a pig or a goat, and pair it with mac and cheese, roasted apples, seasonal veggies, and a heaping pile of the chef Rob Weland’s parker house rolls for $65 per person. Splurge and pay $75 for a personalized punch. S’mores are also a possibility. Call for reservations at least four days in advance. Smaller parties can also book a feast, but expect smaller proteins like brisket. 

Courtesy of Joy Asico

Attend an Adult Winter Wonderland

Navy Yard
Ice Yards means DC gets one more beer garden experience before everything freezes over. On Saturday, January 23rd, Yards Park will be converted into a winter festival with a frosty beer garden, ski lounge, hot tubs, themed cocktails, adult snow cones, and video games from 2-6pm. Fire pits and picture-worthy ice sculptures just add to the haven-like atmosphere. Navy Yard restaurants like TaKorean, 100 Montaditos, and Ice Cream Jubilee will provide the eats. Bring cash for food and drink, but admission is free.

Courtesy of Penn Social

Go crate digging

Penn Quarter
The DC Record Fair returns to Penn Social on Sunday, January 31. This is the place to start or boost your vinyl collection with plenty of card-carrying vinyl enthusiasts around to help you spot the classics and rarities (good luck convincing them to let a novice have those instead, though) from more than 40 vendors while a DJ spins and beer is served. This year the event from The Vinyl District, DC Soul Records, and Som Records runs from 11am-5pm. Tickets are $5 before noon and $2 after that.

Courtesy of Black Jack

Four days of Mardi Gras, NOLA style

14th Street 
Black Jack and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace feel a four-day party is needed to do Mardi Gras justice, and who’s going to argue with that? The festivities kick off on Saturday, February 6th (look out for a New Orleans funk band) as a lead up to Mardi Gras on Tuesday. Go for the Cajun specials, like boudin blanc sausages wrapped in Addie’s rolls, gumbo, po’boys, crawfish, and hot oyster plates, but stay for the Hurricane slushies, Sazeracs, and Hand Grenades. No tickets necessary; start the party at 3pm on Saturday and Sunday, and 6pm on Monday and Tuesday.

Courtesy of Alicia Griffin

Hit a Chinese night market

The Source always brings it for Chinese New Year, and the night market is back for 2016. Stock up on dishes symbolizing luck and prosperity at stations scattered throughout the (recently sexed up) dining room. Just don’t trip on a lion dancer because that will likely bring the opposite of luck and prosperity -- like a losing football team. This year’s celebration goes down February 11th. Tickets will be available on The Source’s website.

Courtesy of Devin Maier

Sign up for Cupid’s Undie Run

Time to strip down, DC. America’s favorite race, at least for toned and tanned millennials, is coming to the District again. Maybe you caught its founder on the cover of December’s Runner’s World? The placement wasn’t for his body, but for the fact that the bare-all race has raised $8 million for charity. As usual, the February 13th race date is perfectly timed with Valentine’s Day, so you can find a date at the after party. Be a part of it by pillaging Victoria’s Secret and signing up here with a group or go solo.

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Laura Hayes is a DC-based food, drink & travel writer who also contributes to Washington City Paper, Food Network, Arlington Magazine, and others. She’ll be cheering on undie runners and patio eaters in her insulated parka and UGG boots. Follow her on Twitter @BTMenu.



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