Show Your Love — for Chocolate — at This Sweet Festival

With February rapidly approaching, you’ve likely got one of two things on your mind:

1) What the heck am I going to get my significant other?

2) How much chocolate will I need to get me through every rom-com on Netflix?

For both scenarios, this weekend’s Chocolate Lovers Festival in Fairfax has got you covered.

At Taste of Chocolate, local chocolate shops including Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates and Capitol Chocolate Fountains offer you the opportunity to indulge in decadence. Event-goers can purchase $1 pogs — coupons to trade for chocolate — to make checkout smoother.

If you like watching cooking shows, you’ll love the Chocolate Challenge, where you can observe the impressive work of local cake decorators. There are categories for professionals, amateurs, and even kids!

If you’d rather show your appreciation in beverage form, head to the Liquid Chocolate Tent from 6-8 p.m. Friday or 1-6 p.m. Saturday. The Wine House will be pairing wine with chocolate and Adroit Theory will be pouring their chocolate stout.

As a bonus, you can grab your sweetie for a photo op in front of Virginia’s LOVE statue in Old Town Square.

After the festival, stop by High Side for an imperial chocolate milk stout from Commonwealth Brewing. They’ll also be serving up Cakebee’s famous Chocolate Malted Pretzel Cake with a beer pairing option.

Chocoholics rejoice!
Chocolate Lovers Festival, 6-8 p.m. Feb. 1, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 2, noon to 4 p.m. Feb. 3; Old Town Fairfax, various locations; free.

Shake off Winter with Margaritas at Mexicali Blues

There’s no use trying to resist that funky hot-pink-and-aqua building with the West Coast vibe on the corner of North Garfield and Wilson Boulevard in Arlington. Mexicali Blues, a Mexican/Salvadorean restaurant, fairly beckons to passers-by to stop in and take a break from winter — whenever it snows, margaritas are only $3. Our future neighbor in Crystal City doesn’t even deliver used books at those prices.

The small dining room was just beginning to fill up when I was seated for happy hour at 5:30 on Friday. Word about the end of the government shutdown was buzzing, but that wasn’t the only reason I immediately decompressed. Salsa music, bright colors and boho murals made me feel I was in a cozy neighborhood bar in Key West. The staff was attentive but not pushy. My waiter, Isaac, said the family-friendly atmosphere was what he most appreciated about working there. Right on cue, two guys came in with toddlers in baby carriers.

Isaac swiftly brought me a menu, chips and salsa — and not the standard big-red-bowl/little-green-bowl-with-basket-of-bland-salty-triangles. This serrano pepper salsa had a smoky mesquite flavor and sturdy chips that actually tasted like roasted corn. The aforementioned margarita ($5 at happy hour when skies are clear) also defied convention with its pleasantly surprising Key lime flavor.

The menu has a wide selection of Mexican and Salvadorean dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The priciest entree is the shrimp fajita dinner at $21.95, with the average price being $9. Happy hour prices are a great deal, with two-for-one appetizers and $4.95 guacamole.

Mexicali Blues is known for its pupusas ($3.50) — stuffed corn tortillas — so I ordered the two vegetarian options: the loroco, made of a Salvadorean edible flower, and the bean and cheese. They were delicately browned and delicious, served with an equally tasty side of cabbage and carrots marinated in vinegar —very fresh and very spicy. My Salvadorean-American guest said she enjoyed her plantanas fritas (served with sour cream and refried beans for $11).

The closeness of the tables allowed for easy mingling with other patrons. Caitlin, a 20-something woman who just moved from Boston, was celebrating her escape from two catastrophes — the shutdown and her home city’s quasi-prohibition.

“In Boston, happy hour is illegal, so I’m sold on the $5 margaritas,” she said.

She was seated with Raven, visiting from Newport News, who sang the praises of both the margaritas and the fried onion rings with chipotle ranch sauce.

Other eye-catchers on the menu: yuca con chicharron, $11.95, is yuca (a South American root plant similar to cassava) boiled or fried and served with fried pork, marinated cabbage, tomato and pica crema. Breakfast features the Placido Domingo, sautéed home fries with melted cheddar, fried eggs and ranchero salsa with a side of tortillas, and an option to add steak or chorizo. Huevos rancheros are also on the menu, of course.

Mexicali Blues celebrated its 20th anniversary with a party last summer, which Isaac said was a rousing success. Mardis Gras and Dia del Muertos are also big draws, as is Sunday night karaoke. The biggest crowds are in the summer, when the sidewalk patio is opens. But I, along with many others I’m sure, don’t intend to wait that long. When the polar vortex hits in a couple weeks, I will be taking my seat at one of those umbrella-covered tables buried in snow, drinking my $3 margaritas and not feeling at all cold.

Mexicali Blues, 2933 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Virginia 22201; hours, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.



Family-Friendly Breweries in NoVa

The transition to parenthood is exciting. You love noticing your tot is cutting their first tooth and sitting up on their own. It’s right around this time you remember that you haven’t been to a bar in a while, and you’re thinking that you wouldn’t fit in with a baby strapped to your back, drooling in your hair.

How wrong you would be!

Many parents of young children resort to drinking Miller Lite Chuck E. Cheese. But you don’t have to. Here are a few local breweries serving up craft beverages you can enjoy with your family in tow.

  • Lake Anne Brew House (Reston) is a lakeside small-batch brewery. It’s in the same plaza as a used book store with a whimsical children’s section and is easily accessed from a paved walking trail. Try the Live-Work-Play IPA, which references the motto of Robert E. Simon (founder of Reston). As you spend time with your family overlooking the lake, you’ll be living out his vision!
  • Solace Brewing Company (Sterling) has a separate area for families divided by a half-wall. Because, hey, sometimes you want to be able to let your kid run around and only crash into people who know your struggle. Try Lucy Juicy, a fruity beer that still packs a heavy 8% ABV punch.
  • Caboose Commons (Fairfax) in the Mosaic District is the more child-friendly sister brewery to Caboose in Vienna. There are three floors, including an extra-comfy top level complete with couches. They have a kids’ menu that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy, and smartphone ordering makes everything easier. They’re hosting an upcoming Caboose Kidz event Feb. 6, featuring crafts and hot chocolate. For a citrusy, floral treat, try the Citra Session IPA.
  • Mustang Sally (Chantilly) has old-school arcade games and funky vintage couches that make it feel like a blast from the past. It’s near Dulles airport, so it’s perfect on your way in or out of town. For a malty classic beer that’s easy to drink, try the Article 1 Amber Ale.
  • Port City (Alexandria) offers public tours and ample seating even if you’re rolling deep. You can entertain your younger crew (or yourself, for that matter) with fun games like Jenga. Try the Optimal Wit, a crisp beer with hints of orange and coriander.
  • Chubby Squirrel (Fairfax) opened in 2018 as the first nanobrewery in Fairfax city. They have board games as well as chubby squirrel outlines for coloring. It’s an easy walk over to Old Town Square, with a splash pad for the summer months and Rock the Block every fourth Friday from May-October. A rotating food menu features delicious, unexpected treats like poutine fries and pierogies. Most of the house-brewed beers have charming, squirrelly names. Give the Black Squirrel a try — it’s a rich stout that’s sure to warm you up.

Is Your D.C. Life All Work and No Play? The Board Room Has a Solution.

The Board Room is a real game-changer for bars in the DMV. Instead of hearing discussions about what the government has — or hasn’t — done lately, you hear:

“Colonel Mustard, in the conservatory, with a wrench.”

“Hit and sunk.”

“With a hotel on Park Place, that’s $300.”

The idea at the Board Room, a theme bar with locations in D.C. and Arlington, is that only childhood classics such as Trouble, Clue and Monopoly can rival the allure of social media. They have a full selection of games on hand, or you can bring your own.

As manager Jamie Walther puts it, “We wanted people to put down their smartphones and interact and have fun playing games together.”

It’s working, and not just for the expected millennial hipster crowd, Walther said. Gen-Xers and older crowds also enjoy traditional games on weeknights, and parents bring kids in for family entertainment during the day.

At 9 on a recent Saturday night, the three spacious rooms at the Arlington Boardroom were packed with lively groups gathered around tables playing Risk, Yahtzee and poker. The din of animated conversation rose just above the soft fusion jazz, with the occasional squeals and shouts that go along with a lucky roll of the dice. TV screens over the bars are all but ignored and no one was using a smartphone.

With its Gatsby-esque décor, full kitchen and brewery, the newer Arlington location is “billiard room” to Dupont Circle’s more informal “pool halls.” Opened in November 2017, Board Room Arlington is testament to the success of the DC location, which opened in 2012. A dramatic chandelier made of red dice adorns the main entrance.

Ms. Peacock’s Champagne Lounge is the most elegant of the rooms, a rich cobalt blue with cream curtains and small white globe light fixtures. Pink-lit champagne bottles in shiny buckets sit on the mirrored bar — a bar you will become well-acquainted with if you arrive after 8 on Saturday night as my party did. If you want a table, I strongly recommend getting there by 6 p.m.

Fortunately, the cushioned stools were as soft as sofas and the staff was friendly and accommodating. Bartender Mladen Stojilkovic, originally from Serbia, gave us a dining menu, which features more casual American cuisine than the brunch menu. After about a half hour, a small group of card sharks left with their winnings and let us take their place at a four top.

Stojilkovic recommended an Italian pinot grigio (Bertani, Velante) at $8 a glass. The wine was mellow and fruity without that sour aftertaste whites sometimes have. It went well with my choice of the veggie flatbread, a generous portion covered in crème fraiche and toasted perfectly with a light sprinkling of mushrooms and caramelized onions. For $10, I was stuffed.

Wine connoisseurs and craft beer enthusiasts Coco and Marc Piard of Reston were appreciative of the selection. Coco ordered the Boardroom brew Operation Citra (5.7%, 40 IBU) for $5. She said it was balanced and citrusy. Her husband Marc had a Battleship IPA (7.5% 75 IBO), brewed in nearby Warrenton, for $7.  He described it as “bitter and hoppy with citrus notes.” My own favorite was a cocktail my guest Evita Belmonte ordered and let me sip, a S*M*A*S*H, which was named for a game. The concoction of Bulleit bourbon, peach liqueur, lemon, mint and simple syrup had a comfortable blend of sweet and savory with an unpredictable herb-y finish.

Coco also enjoyed the shrimp po’ boy Stojilkovic recommended — lightly fried shrimp, cheddar cheese, coleslaw and aioli on a brioche bun, with an accompaniment of fries.

“I know my fries, and I can tell the fries are very fresh. This is definitely not freezer food,” she said.

The Board Room(s) encourage reservations. Bocce and dart teams compete on Tournament Tuesdays, and each location is also are available for private parties and special events.

This Thursday, Jan. 24, the Board Room is hosting a special event open to the public, Bourbon and Bubbles, in Ms. Peacock’s Lounge at 7:30 p.m.

Head out to the Board Room in Arlington or Dupont Circle, and play like it’s 1972 again.






Women’s March Comes to D.C. This Weekend

Don your pink pussy hat, paint your favorite slogan on a poster board and head downtown. It’s time for the 3rd annual Women’s March.  

The event highlights and helps organize the fight against the struggles women face, such as domestic violence, discrimination, wage disparity, sexual harassment and more.

The organization’s website says it “is committed to dismantling systems of oppression through nonviolent resistance and building inclusive structures guided by self-determination, dignity and respect.”

While the original march in 2017 drew a crowd in D.C. estimated at more than 100,000, this year expected attendees number in the tens of thousands. The Washington Post pointed out the group has been beset by controversy of late, and this, coupled with the fact that midterms are over and excitement around the upcoming election is still down the road, means a smaller crowd is likely. The rain/snow mix expected on Saturday may further impact crowd size.

Credit: Silvia Maresca

If these predictions prove to be false, the streets of D.C. will be bursting at the seams with marchers, since the event has been moved from the National Mall to Freedom Plaza this year. Marchers will gather at 10 a.m. with an expected 11 a.m. start to the half-mile walk. A rally will follow from 1 to 4 p.m., including guest speakers and performers.

While the Women’s March in D.C. gets a lot of ink because it is the seat of our government, other marches will be held in solidarity in hundreds of cities across the U.S., as well as nine cities in Europe, and one each in Bermuda, Costa Rica and Japan.

Looking for a place to eat or drink after the Women’s March? Just use the Bhlen app.

Some of our suggestions:

Furloughed? There’s a Drink Special for You!

Aaaaaand the shutdown continues.

Sure, the government of the most powerful country on the planet has been shuttered because someone can’t tell the difference between a marketing slogan and a campaign promise, but look on the bright side – there are drink specials!  

If you’re a depressed government employee who’s not being paid, Lord knows you need some cheap drinks. Some people might say that depression and alcohol (a depressant) don’t mix, but to those people I say BLEARRRRGH, as I vomit onto their mailbox and then pass out in their front yard.

Without further ado, here are the best places to drink during the shutdown.


This bar’s shutdown cocktail menu made waves on social media, with offerings like the “Nothing Else Mattis” (Mad Dog 20/20 and vodka, ugh), “Mexico Will Pay For This” (tequila, orange juice, grenadine), and the “Border Wall Banger” (tequila, Galliano, orange juice). Each is $5 with a government employee ID, which is a pretty good deal if you’re into crippling hangovers.

Of course, people on Twitter started suggesting cocktail names – for example the “Moscow Mueller” and “Kavanaugh Beer.” I’m disappointed no one came up with the “Benedict Arnold Palmer.”


This downtown establishment is offering happy hour specials including $6 bourbon all day until the shutdown ends, and from 2 to 4 p.m. every weekday, furloughed federal employees get a free order of meatball sliders. “I have a master’s degree in public policy so why am I eating charity meat sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon,” is what you’ll think shortly before you lock yourself in a bathroom stall to cry it out and then Google “best MBA programs.”



Furloughed feds get a discount based on how long the shutdown goes on; on day 20, you get 20 percent off, on day 30, 30 percent off, et cetera.  If Trump follows through on his threat and this shutdown goes on for years, after about three months and 10 days, DC Brau is going to be paying you to drink there. At the 300-day mark, they’ll be paying you $10 to drink a $5 beer! I don’t care what the manager says, the math is on my side.


This P Street place is extending Bottomless Mondays to Bottomless Monday through Fridays, as long as the shutdown lasts. That means that every weekday, you can get bottomless mimosas or Bloody Marys for $15. It’ll be just like that special existentialist episode of “Sex in the City” where the girls drink themselves to death.



This Shaw Mexican eatery is offering half-priced margaritas to furloughed workers for as long as the shutdown continues. (Bonus offer: Make an unironic comment about “building the wall” and pay double the normal price!)


This Ivy City restaurant and live music venue is offering $1 glasses of wine to government workers. For less than the price of a movie ticket, you could wake up tomorrow with several texts from your ex saying, “Is that you screaming outside my apartment?” or “You better pay to fix my window — where did you even find that dead possum?!”


Mmmmm, Restaurant Week!

Forget your New Year’s resolution to lose weight — the DMV is brimming with restaurant week specials through May. Resolve to not care when you have to start using the last hole on your belt and consider it money and time well-spent.

Restaurant weeks are traditionally held after the holidays because it is a slow time for the industry. Consumers see their bills from Christmas start rolling in, they start their diets again and they just don’t want to go out in the cold. So the restaurant industry lures us out with irresistible specials.

With the government shutdown and so many employees furloughed, more people have time on their hands to go out for dinner and drinks. Unfortunately, they don’t have much money. Fortunately, that’s what restaurant weeks are about — special deals. Eat more, spend less!

We compiled a list for you of restaurant weeks that will keep you ordering off the menu through May 2.

Baltimore Restaurant Week (Jan. 11-20): When it comes to Baltimore versus DC, each city has a long list of merits, and for this reason, it’s absolutely worth it to drive out to Baltimore next week to try out one of their restaurants. Many have $12-20 specials for lunch and $20-$35 specials for dinner, so go with your sister or your buddies or for date night.  

Bethesda Magazine Restaurant Week (Jan. 11-20): Bethesda is all about restaurants, so don’t miss the opportunity to try some special prix fixe menus. Take a picture of your meal, post it on Instagram with #BmagRW in the caption and tag @BethesdaMag to be entered in a contest to win a gift card from one of the participating restaurants.

Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week (Jan. 14-20): This event includes over 250 of the most sought-out restaurants in the DMV with prix fixe menu items ranging from $22-$35 for lunch or dinner. Some restaurants offer brunch as well. Check out the Diner Rewards Program.

Baltimore County Restaurant Week (Jan. 18-Feb. 2): Baltimore County Restaurant Week is different from Baltimore Restaurant Week, as it is organized by the Baltimore County Office of Tourism and Promotion, which includes the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce. It runs a little longer than most restaurant weeks (16 days) and encompasses a larger area.

Alexandria Winter Restaurant Week (Jan. 18-27): Down and around historic Alexandria, you can choose from among 65 restaurants featuring a $35 three-course meal for one OR a dinner for two in Old Town, Del Ray, Carlyle and Eisenhower and the West End. Just over half the participating restaurants will also offer lunch menus at $15 or $22 per person. Brunch will be offered at the same price at 10 restaurants.

Harford County Restaurant Week (Jan. 18-27): Just north of Baltimore County, Visit Harford is promoting a week of delicious dining throughout Harford County, Maryland.

Howard County Restaurant Week (Jan. 21-Feb. 4): Howard County Restaurant Week includes more than 25 restaurants in and around Howard County, Maryland for 15 days in January and February. Text “HOCORW” to 555888 for the chance to win a gift certificate from a participating restaurant.    

National Harbor Restaurant Week (Jan. 26-Feb. 1): Indulge in some of your favorite foods from local eateries, including celebrity-chef owned restaurants. Enjoy other special offers during this event such as 20% off Capital Wheel Tickets when you mention Restaurant Week or free cover at Bobby McKay’s Dueling Piano Bar with same-day receipt from participating restaurant.

Maryland Vegan Restaurant Week (Feb. 8-17): Vegan dishes are becoming more common, but it can be hard for followers of this diet to find delicious 100 percent plant-based dishes. Maryland Vegan Restaurant Week is the perfect opportunity for vegans to discover new restaurants that accommodate their preferences.A number of Maryland restaurants will participate in this challenge by offering vegan specials, and you can vote for your favorite one. Check the website for a voting link early next month.

Annapolis Restaurant Week (Feb. 24-March 2): Participating Annapolis restaurants offer a two-course breakfast or lunch or three-course dinner for a special price throughout this event at the end of February. Reservations recommended.

Frederick Restaurant Week (March 4-10): Check out one of the many restaurants in Downtown Frederick and the surrounding area participating in their restaurant week at the beginning of March. Reservations recommended.

Talbot County Restaurant Week (April 7-13): The annual Talbot Restaurant Week, sponsored by the Talbot County Office of Tourism and the Talbot County Tourism Board, is in its 10th year. Participating restaurants will offer prix fixe menus with special dishes and menus.

Salisbury Restaurant Week (April 8-14): Participating restaurants will offer 2-3 course, fixed-priced menus throughout the week, with chefs showcasing their best dishes and testing new recipes.

Ocean City Restaurant Week (April 28-May 11): Participating restaurants will offer fixed-price menu options for $10-$40. Reservations recommended.


Try These Sensible Resolutions

My New Year’s resolution is to openly mock my friends when they fail at their New Year’s resolutions in, like, three weeks. And they will fail, because everyone fails at keeping their New Year’s resolutions. (I’ll fail too; I can’t resist a good mocking.)

But why do we fail? Is it because we lack discipline? (Yes.) Is it because since the day we were born, genetics and history have locked us into a predetermined future in which escape, control or self-improvement is nothing more than a delusion? (Again, yes.)

But it’s also because your resolutions are kinda bad. No one’s going to notice even if you do lose that 10 pounds. Quitting smoking is just going to turn you into a vaper, which is arguably even worse. There’s no point in trying to cut your screen time if you don’t treat the social anxiety that’s making you constantly want to escape into your phone in the first place.

You don’t need more discipline, you just need better resolutions. So here are some resolutions that will actually make your life better, if you manage to stick with them for more than two weeks, which you won’t.


I’m always amazed at how many adults actually take advice from their parents. A friend of mine recently had two job offers in two different cities, and made her choice based on which city her mother thought would be better for her. This is a woman who accidentally filmed her daughter’s entire wedding through the front-facing camera of her phone, so all she got was a 45 minute closeup of her own quivering tear-streaked face. And you’re going to consult her about a major life decision? She watches network TV!

Your parents’ values and worldviews were formed in an era that’s been paved over and replaced so many times that at this point they might as well be from ancient Egypt. If you really think “the old ways are the wisest,” how about next time you get sick, you go see a Civil War-era doctor who uses leeches and tongs? It’s 2019 — if you need life advice, you’d be better off asking a high-schooler.


Coffee is just hot bean water that’s crappy Adderall from before they invented Adderall. You’ll have so much more respect for yourself (and lose so much weight) if you just drink it black. I mean, if you want a milkshake, have a milkshake. But if you want coffee, have coffee.

The only exceptions: you can have milk in it if you’re some kind of goatherd getting by on 800 calories a day, and you can have a little sugar if you’re 9 years old or younger. That’s it. And if you put flavored syrups in your coffee, you should absolutely go to prison, and not like a cushy, minimum-security prison where they send white-collar criminals. You should be sent to the type of prison where they keep El Chapo.


It pains me when I see someone on the internet trying to argue with someone who thinks, for example, that climate change is a conspiracy. You could show that person all the graphs and tables and scientific reports you want, but they won’t budge an inch. You can’t reason with someone whose position is motivated by emotion. And you know who’s motivated by emotion? Everyone.

We all just follow our gut and then retroactively make up some shaky intellectual justification for our position. Trust me, your life will be so much better and easier if you accept that no one’s reasonable, you can’t change anyone’s mind and our differences are profound and unresolvable.

Happy New Year!