City Winery Has it All

Our fair city has lots of bars and restaurants, but City Winery wins the title of megahub of entertainment. This Ivy City gem — back in the day, Dream/Love — delivers four floors of fun and festivity with a wide selection of food, drink and live performances.

Here, you can get a drink, a meal, see a show or attend (or host!) a private party.

On the night we visited for a grand opening event (never mind it’s been open for a year), the first floor bar was featuring maple rickeys, along with a tasting bar, chocolate and wine pairing, a wine station and assorted hors d’oeuvres.

Attendees also had the opportunity to meet some wine makers. City Winery encompasses a working winery, and visitors can arrange a tour and tasting, and even make their own wine with their own label! Grapes are sourced from Napa, Oregon and as far away as Argentina. The night of the event, City Winery was featuring red and white sangria on the first floor — my favorite!

The venue offers a wide menu of Mediterranean-inspired food, borrowing from Italian, French, Spanish and Middle Eastern culture. Three cheers for the portion size — described on their website as “large plates” — because we’re tired of having to stop at Domino’s after dinner at one of the many ubiquitous small-plates venues in the DMV. Created by executive chef Brandon Ingenito, the menu at City Winery’s Barrel Room Restaurant includes shrimp piri piri, pork chop Milanese and pulled lamb.

The night of the event, the private dining room had a wine and cheese station, and in the main area, Caesar salad, prime rib, pork belly and Ivy City wings.

The venue has separate menus for happy hour, late night and those attending shows. On Thursdays, City Winery offers select bottles of wine for half price.

Little Red & the Renegades

Attendees listened to City Winery founder and CEO Michael Dorf give opening remarks on the second floor, and then the party started, with Little Red & the Renegades pulling out the accordions and washboards to create their New Orleans-style funk and swamp rock. Upstairs on the third floor, Secret Society played R&B and hip-hop classics that kept the audience on its feet. City Winery has great talent for bringing in new acts while staying true to the area’s roots.

The featured cocktail on the third floor was the Porch Crawler, a killer combo of beer, vodka and gin. We needed it to wash down the desserts, in the form of a chocolate fountain, ice cream sundae bar and pie station.

Lauren Calve

The party doesn’t stop at City Winery when they run out of floors — the celebration continues on the roof. Known as the Speakeasy, this level has its own bar as well as games such as a giant Jenga. Rooftop party-goers were treated to Orange Crush and Frosé cocktails while they listened to the twangy blues originals of local Lauren Calve.

Local vendors, including Filibuster, Supreme Core Cider, Atlas and Sprinkles Cupcakes brought their wares to this shindig as well.

We love this great addition to the Ivy City Neighborhood!
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City Winery, 1350 Okie St. NE, (202) 250-2531

Where to Indulge in March Madness

If you watch the NBA and think, “I guess this is cool, but these players are just too darn GOOD at basketball; I’m looking for something more along the lines of watching dudes play at the Y,” then you’re in luck! The final phase of March Madness is here, so pull up a stool and watch the suburban personal trainers and insurance salesmen of tomorrow get dunked on by guys who, best case, will be playing in China next year. Sound like fun to you? Yeah, me neither.

But guess what? There’s money involved, by which I mean gambling, by which I mean you’re going to lose all the money you gamble. But maybe not! (Keep telling yourself that.) And as underwhelming and, yes, mediocre as college basketball is, gambling can make anything exciting.

Or if that’s not your bag, how about bragging rights in your office bracket pool?  For God’s sake, someone’s got to break Vicky in HR’s winning streak. All she does is pick the top-rated team every year to win and she’s started calling herself a “tournament guru.”

Anyway, here are a few places where you can monitor your investment — er, take in the games.

FRANKLIN HALL

This massive Florida Avenue establishment has nine big-screen TVs, so no matter what game you want to be bored by, you can be sure it’ll be playing here.

They’re also running some pretty sweet specials; pints of Narragansett are $4, and liters (!!) are $8. Just reading the phrase “liters of Narragansett” gave me a splitting headache.

THE BLAGUARD

The runaway favorite for the annual “D.C. Bar with the Most Letters Obviously Missing from Its Name” award is running some truly insane specials during games — $3 Bud Light/Natty Boh, $6 Crown Royals and $6 Tullamore Dew vs. Tito’s.

Yes, it’s on 18th Street, and yes, the crowd can get a little, uh, intense, but come on — for $3 beers, I’d drink in an abandoned nuclear power plant, and you wouldn’t hear a complaint out of me.

THE MIDLANDS

This Parkview beer garden is showing every game of the tournament, and they have outdoor fire pits that you can fling your comically bad bracket into.

IVY & CONEY

Everyone’s favorite 7th Street baseball bar is also a decent place to take in some basketball games. They open at noon, so if you call in sick to work to watch the tournament, maybe call ahead to make sure your boss isn’t already there after doing the same.

Best part about drinking in a baseball bar is that if you lose your rent money betting on underdogs, you can make yourself feel better by starting a fistfight with some guy in a Cubs jersey by pointing out that simple demographic shifts in the U.S. population mean that baseball will probably disappear as a cultural force in his lifetime. (If that doesn’t do the trick, follow up with, “Actually, soccer’s already more popular.”)

 

Go Fly a Kite!

You’ve got a week to buy or build an amazing kite so you can take part in the Blossom Kite Festival on the National Mall next Saturday, March 30, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Rain date Sunday, March 31.)

The kite festival — near 17th and Constitution — is a perennial favorite and showcases some of the most talented kite flyers, who come from far and wide to perform tricks for the crowd and compete for prizes.

You may think the wind doesn’t discriminate, but beware, cheap kites can sometimes be frustrating to fly. What’s worse than a kid with a kite that eternally spins and crashes is a second kid with a kite that works fine. So if you do buy cheap kites, maybe get an extra. Or bring some supplies with you like material to make a heavier tail, which can sometimes help with an unbalanced kite.

Other fun alternatives include having your kids makes their own kites at an activity station on the mall. This option is available only while supplies last, so get there early. Kites will also be for sale at the festival.

If you or your kids made your own kites, you can enter one of the kite-making competitions.

Registration for the Youth Kite Makers Competition starts at 10 a.m. on the Family Field. You can start practicing flying your kites and work out the kinks at 10:30, and the competition runs from 11 a.m. to noon. Awards will follow the competition from 12 to 12:30 p.m.

Preregistration for the adult handmade kite contest starts at 10:15 a.m., and the contest runs from 11 a.m. to noon on the Competition Field.

Demonstrations will be held from noon to 4 p.m., and prizes will be awarded from 4 to 4:30. The grand prize winner in the adult category gets a Samsung Galaxy S10+ phone.

All that kite flying is sure to make you hungry and thirsty, so check out this list of restaurants and bars participating in food and drink specials throughout the Cherry Blossom Festival.

 

St. Patrick’s Day in NYC

This year, I skipped town for St. Patrick’s Day and headed to New York, where this much-loved holiday is celebrated the same as it is in cities throughout the world — by drinking (too much).

Why, you may ask, would you leave D.C. to travel to a place four hours away and 10 degrees colder? Because it’s New York, that’s why! It’s also my hometown (Bushwick wasn’t hipster when I lived there, but whatever). Plus, we here at Bhlen are planning to expand to other cities, so I was, ahem, doing some research.

So I packed some green and hopped on the Amtrak, bound for a St. Patrick’s Day parade in which the bagpipes play for six hours. No kidding, this parade starts at 11 a.m. and goes until 5.

The revelry started early, as hordes of drunken youngsters used the crowd control barrier to assist them in staying upright. The alcohol probably helped desensitize them to the presence of cops on patrol with automatic weapons.

St. Pat’s Bar Crawl

I shelled out $15 on Groupon to get a map of area bars participating in the St. Patrick’s Day Bar Crawl. (Look forward to Bhlen revolutionizing this paper map nonsense by showing you the participating venues on your phone.) I started with Connolly Pub, 121 W 45th St. But the line was so long that after about 30 minutes of waiting and no movement, I left. It was like Dupont Circle on Halloween.

I headed for Johnny Utah’s, 6939, 25 W 51st St., where they had a mechanical bull and a guy running around on top of the bar pouring cheap shots of tequila. The patrons looked like baby birds, all with the mouths open and heads tilted back, waiting their turns.

At other bars on the map I met some fun locals, like Pedro, 65, from Brooklyn, who has been coming to the parade for the last 30 years. After hours of partying and a good nap, I was ready for my final destination, Public House, at 140 E 41st St. After a few shots of Jameson and tall glasses of beer, my day was over I headed back to my hotel.

Cheap Trip

One of the great parts about this trip was how cheap it was. I took an Uber ($18) to my Amtrak to NYC ($50), and I took the Vamoose bus back to Rosslyn ($20), for a grand total of $88 roundtrip transportation costs.

Even better, I got home in time to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day again in Clarendon.

 

How to Celebrate St. Pat’s in D.C.

Washington D.C. is not the first city you’d associate with St. Patrick’s Day. Irish immigrants flooded into Chicago, blessing it with a green river, and Boston, home of the Celtics.

But in fact, we have our own Gaelic cred — one of George Washington’s best friends was Irish, Col. John Fitzgerald, who helped fight the revolution and proposed the first Roman Catholic parish in Virginia, on St. Patrick’s Day 1788. Washington made the first contribution to what is now St. Mary’s Basilica in Alexandria. (Irish tenor Mark Forrest will be performing at Mass this Sunday, in case you want to get into the spirit before you head a few blocks to Old Town to get blitzed.)

Old Town can even offer the convenience a designated driver in the form of a trolley. Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub seems to celebrate St. Patty’s Day year-round, with traditional Irish music and dancing every day — the only difference is that this Sunday, you’ll have more company. The biggest draw to the dining room is the huge roaring fireplace and authentic Irish cuisine at affordable prices. A brunch will be offered Sunday.

If you get out early. you can squeeze in with friends in one of only five cozy “snugs” at  Daniel O’Connell’s Irish Restaurant for a fun and more intimate experience, enhanced by shepherd’s pie, fish n’ chips, and of  course, corned beef and cabbage. Not to ruin the secret, but O’Connell’s doesn’t have anything scheduled for March 17, meaning it could be the place to avoid a crowd. Just keep mum.

Heading north to Arlington, you can enjoy a traditional Irish breakfast at Celtic House. Pat Garvey, a regular performer, will take the stage at 3 p.m. Sunday (a busy guy — he will play at midnight at Murphy’s) and breakfast will be served at 9 a.m. Reservations are recommended: It’s a popular attraction, probably because it was voted best traditional Irish pub by Irishcentral.com. This is the destination for green beer and leprechaun hats.

If you want to celebrate the holiday the way they do in Ireland, you can get an early start Saturday morning with Six Nations Rugby, broadcast live at O’Sullivan’s Irish Pub. Established by an Irish family in 2006, O’Sullivan’s has the distinction of serving as not only a “locals” pub, but the proud carrier of 130 types of whiskey. Irish Happy Hour starts at 4 p.m. Five music acts will perform on Sunday, including the Boyle School Irish dancers.

Down the street, Ireland’s Four Courts will launch the holiday with a toast to Himself, St. Patrick, Friday at 7 p.m. With its cheery red exterior, emblazoned with the Gaelic words for food, drink, music and conversation, Four Courts seems to have been plucked right out of Dublin and dropped in Clarendon. Karaoke will commence as always at 9 p.m. and last until 1 a.m., giving you ample opportunity to sing “Danny Boy” to a dutifully weeping audience.

Finally, crossing the bridge into D.C., you can celebrate The Dubliner’s 45th anniversary with a 45-cent Guinness — as supplies last, one would presume. Founder Daniel Coleman, a white-haired gentleman pictured on the website looking very much the Irishman, named the pub after the James Joyce novel. Boasting chef Hugo Malone and an exclusive brew, Auld Dubliner amber ale, The Dubliner is the place to take either your Irish mother or a very special date.

So this Sunday, drink a pint to the Irish that helped us forge this nation. In the words of George Washington, “We find the Irish a bit odd. They refuse to be English.” That, of course, was a compliment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga is Relaxing, but so is Wine

When you walk into Crystal City Sports Pub, you’re greeted by a three-level bar packed to the gills with sports memorabilia. A framed T-shirt gracing the stairway says: “Win or lose, hit the booze.” On the third floor, a signed Caps jersey hangs above a ticker running around the perimeter announcing March Madness scores in neon lights.

This is nothing like any yoga studio I’ve ever been to, but Erin Sonn, owner of Eat Yoga Drink, manages to transform it into a sacred space of mindfulness.

“I wanted to take yoga out of a traditional setting and make it more accessible,” said Sonn, who founded the organization in January 2016. “Everyone, no matter their life circumstances, can benefit from yoga.” She teaches at a diverse line-up of locations, including a variety of breweries and bars.

The atmosphere was laid back as I unfurled my yoga mat. People gave each other hugs and caught up with their friends, many of whom were strangers before they began attending Sonn’s classes.

Each week, Sonn picks a theme and reads meditations that apply to it. My class was all about being present for yourself.

Credit: eat.YOGA.drink

“I know that many of you are in helping professions,”  Sonn said in a calming voice as we began our opening sequence. “We need to focus on filling ourselves up first before we can be there for others.”

While encouraging mindfulness, Sonn still managed to keep the tone light-hearted and approachable. At one point, she joked that “gluteal cleft” was the scientific term for butt crack.

Sonn was not always a believer in the power of yoga. Her first love was running, and her trainer suggested yoga to help her with recovery and stretching. She was instinctively skeptical.

“I didn’t want to say ohm,” said Sonn. And as a runner, she was used to more intense, cardio-driven workouts. But she took her trainer’s advice and tried it, and it was more of a challenge than she expected.

Beyond that, it created some unforeseen improvements in her life. “I used to be so Type A,” said Sonn. “With yoga, I’ve learned to let things go.”

After class, we all received drink tickets and grabbed two long tables. Over Irish coffees, mimosas and impressively inexpensive brunch specials, I talked with the fellow yogis as if I’d known them forever. We discussed what drinks were best to order in New Orleans, which were our favorite concert venues in D.C. and much more. Sonn has created a community that is a friendly, easy-going and makes even the nonbelievers behold its power.

And what would she say to those who don’t think yoga is for them?

“Try it once. It’s a practice, not a performance.”

Baltimore Looking Forward to Welcoming CIAA in ’21

Last weekend, Virginia State University became the CIAA Men’s Basketball Champions by defeating the Shaw Bears, 77-66, Saturday afternoon at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. That same day, Virginia Union University won its second consecutive CIAA Women’s Basketball Championship, 75-41.

This yearly, weeklong CIAA celebration is a party that many on the East Coast look forward to. Tens of thousands of alumni, families, celebrities and sports fans in general flock to this event, attending reunions and hitting parties, restaurants, shows, live music events and more in between games.

Locals in the DMV are excited that the tournament will be moving to Baltimore in 2021. Charlotte has been home to the CIAA for 13 years, but next year will be its last, when the tournament, held among smaller Historically Black Colleges and Universities from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, heads north for at least three years. Originally named the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association, the organization was founded in 1912 when African-Americans were not allowed to play in other leagues.

Big Crowds

An article in the Baltimore Sun predicts tournament attendance of up to 150,000. As host, Charlotte has enjoyed an estimated $50 million boost to the local economy each year. Baltimore expects the tournament will bring 25,000 tourists per day to the city and will help sell 10,000 hotel night stays. These tourists will also spend money on restaurant meals, shopping and entertainment, adding to the city’s coffers.

Tournament organizers said they chose Baltimore over Norfolk, Va., and Charlotte, based in part on Baltimore’s accessibility, with BWI airport and Penn Station both nearby. The city, home to the Ravens and the Orioles, also has a strong base of sports fans as well as a large African-American population.

Bhlen.com is primed fill a void when the tourists come flocking to Charm City for this major event.

Rely on Bhlen

Bhlen (pronounced \‘blen\) is an innovative platform that connects both travelers and locals to a diverse array of events and festivities all year long. The first of its kind, Bhlen is an app designed to alleviate the inconvenience of finding things to do whether you’re home or traveling for work. Based out of the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, Bhlen will be the go-to source to find the big CIAA tournament week parties in 2021 and beyond.

With one of its co-founders being a proud graduate of a CIAA school, Bhlen is looking forward to welcoming the CIAA Tournament to the DMV, while making tournament parties easier to navigate for hosts and patrons.

 

Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler!

Although the Mardi Gras celebration stretches for months in hard-partying New Orleans, in the DMV it’s today, March 5. Our festivities focus more on drinking than on hitting the streets clad mostly in paint and beads, but we still have fun.

Don’t miss the fabulous and festive specials at bars and restaurants throughout the area:

City Winery, 1350 Okie St. NE, 6:30-8 p.m.: Enjoy a sampling of wines paired with traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras treats — king cake, pralines and beignets, $35.

Central Michel Richard, 1001 Pennsylvania Avenue NW is offering a three-course price fixe dinner and specialty Cajun cocktails, $48.

Mardi Gras Extravaganza, The Showroom, 1099 14th St. NW. Local bartenders will compete for the honor of having their creation named Best Hurricane Cocktail, and chefs will face off for the Best Chef Bite prize. Top off your night of hedonism with cake, doughnuts and milkshakes. From 6 to 10 p.m., beads and masks included, $55.

Brookland’s Finest Bar & Kitchen, 3126 12th St. NE. Try this neighborhood favorite for a three-course meal including frogs’ legs, beignets and specialty cocktails, $35.

The Whittemore House, 1526 New Hampshire Ave NW. Join the upscale party at this historic mansion, featuring live music, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, 7 to 11 p.m., $65-$100.

The Park at 14th, 920 14th St. NW. Empty pockets? This party is free! Beads, masks and music from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. You must RSVP and arrive by 10 p.m. to receive free cocktails.

The Bottom Line D.C., 1716 I St. NW. This popular watering hole is featuring specials on hurricanes all day long and Louisana’s Abita Beers for $4.

Tastemakers, 2800 10th St. NE. Not into mindless debauchery! For shame! No, seriously, join other area foodies for a productive and fun Mardi Gras cooking class at 7 p.m., where you’ll make barbecued shrimp, chicken & andouille sausage gumbo and beignets, $75, includes welcome snack, dinner and a wine/beer of your choice. This venue is also offering a special trio of Mardi Gras cocktails through Sunday.

Due South, 301 Water St. SE. On a budget? For $30 you can get a drink and then hit the all-you-can-eat buffet, including shrimp and chicken jambalaya, Cajun fried chicken, barbecued spare ribs, three-cheese mac-n-cheese, bacon-braised collard greens, fried green tomatoes with corn salsa, Mardi Gras king cake and more. The fun starts at 4 p.m. and includes live music.