Here at Capital Spice, we’re not just about the high-end, multi-course tasting menus and the meticulously handcrafted cocktails. Sometimes we just like to relax and enjoy a casual date night, grabbing a bite to eat and seeing a show without breaking the bank.
We’ve got a few favorites that take it a step further, offering dinner and a show in the same location. Last month, we tipped you off to the Moroccan adventure (complete with a belly dancing performance) to be had at Marrakesh. We’ve also enjoyed our share of brunches that feature everything from jazz trios to drag queens, but that’s a subject for another time.
Today we’re focused on some of the places that always make us smile. These venues offer up quality entertainment and some darn good food, all without breaking the bank. And they all make great spots for low-key dates.
It’s a testament to the DC Improv’s reputation among comedians that it attracts bonafide celebrities like Kathy Griffin, John Oliver and Kevin Pollack to perform multi-night standup sets when there are theaters and other larger venues that they could just as easily be selling out. Those of us in the audience certainly aren’t complaining.
The Improv offers an intimate setting that puts you mere feet from the stage and its classic red brick backdrop. But do yourself a favor and arrive a bit early for the show. For one thing, seating is first come, first served. But the real reason to show up early is to give yourself a chance to take advantage of the Improv’s second biggest selling point (after the talent): California Tortilla!
Call it synergy or a shared co-owner. Either way, the audience benefits. When I first started visiting the Improv years ago, it was a safe bet that the two item minimum would be exclusively met through beverages…the food was an afterthought. But the addition of California Tortilla favorites like the Blackened Chicken Caesar and the Crunchy BBQ Ranch make the Improv a doubly-guilty pleasure…and a great place to get dinner and a show at the same time.
Dinner in a movie theater and dinner-as-theater after the jump.
Arlington Cinema N’ Drafthouse
You know there are some movies that just beg for a beer – Old School, Animal House, just about any comedy from the 80s featuring one or more of the Ghostbusters. The Arlington Cinema N’ Drafthouse is only too happy to oblige. This 65-year old theater space has been operating as the Drafthouse for more than 22 years, combining second-run films with a full menu and – better yet – a full bar.
Don’t expect to find cramped rows of seating inside the theater. The plush accommodations include padded swivel seating set up along several countertops and around low tables throughout the space. The grill menu features most of the standbys you’d expect: burgers, wraps, sandwiches and salads are available, though none are likely to blow you away. More impressive is the theater’s beverage list, which includes favorite national and local beers like Hook & Ladder available by the pitcher or the glass. Less impressive are the giant palm tree designs made out of colorful fabric on the walls.
In addition to the basic movie screenings (tickets are just $5.50, by the way), the Drafthouse occasionally hosts comedy acts and shows football games on their giant projection screen. They also host weekly wine nights on Thursdays that allow you to mix wine tasting courtesy of the Washington Wine Academy with your movie watching. If you’re the kind of couple that loves to just sit back and enjoy a comedy with a cold beer (or a few), this place has your name written all over it.
As our good friend, Benny Hana, will remind you: at Benihana, dinner IS the show! Started by Rocky Aoki 45 years ago, Benihana is a national chain of teppanyaki-style restaurants where your meal is prepared in front of you by theatrical chefs. The celebratory atmosphere and group teppanyaki tables make it a great choice early on in a relationship, and the good times will keep you coming back for more.
Sadly, Washington lost its Benihana outpost this year with the closure of their location in the Georgetown Park Mall on M Street. Thankfully, there’s another location up Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, and this one is bigger and more welcoming than the Georgetown location ever was. Walk in and you’ll see a sushi bar ahead on your right. Resist the siren song of sashimi and have the host seat you at a tabletop grill right away…you’ll thank us later.
Diners have their choice of proteins, which are sliced diced and grilled in such a way as to have everything coming off the cooktop at perfect intervals. And just to add some fun and excitement to the evening, your chef is likely to break out a few tricks of the trade along the way. Watch for his egg-tossing technique using only a spatula to prevent breakage. And whether you like onions or not, you’ll want to watch the chef build and then ignite a volcano made from raw onion rings.
The bill can get a bit pricier here, especially if you opt for one or more cocktails, but Benny Hana’s exhortation really does hold true. Dinner is a show at Benihana, and it’s one that consistently delivers on flavor and fun.