Thursday, March 1, 2007

Rock Bottom prices during Wednesday Happy Hour

I think most people of the district do believe that, yes, beer is expensive when you are out and about with friends. For those of us that prefer this alcoholic beverage, we can also probably agree it is much easier to go to the local Giant/Safeway/Wegmans to get your precious beer. However, I got a nice reminder of a place that refuse to follow this trend this past Wednesday, as followed my co-workers who desperately needed a happy hour.

Luckily in the middle of the work week, there is a throwback to age-old college times with a surprisingly good "happy hour" special. Dollar drafts (or as they refer to them, pints) from 11am to 9pm Wednesday at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery inside the Ballston Commons mall. For those that have just left the college scene, and now struggling to find cheap beer again, this place is amazing. WARNING: This is not a dive bar, but a nice (you could say yuppie since it is in NoVA) restaurant that decided to serve cheap, good beer on Wednesdays. Don't ask questions, just go....

Easily accessible in the heart of Ballston, Rock Bottom is located on the main floor of the Ballston Commons mall. It is a very short walk from the Ballston metro. It is a few turns off of U.S. 50, Arlington Blvd (for the Google map to quickly find your way there, click here). While there is a lot of traffic in the area, thankfully the mall has a large parking complex with $1 parking for the first three hours. While getting there might be fairly easy, getting in can be difficult, especially the longer you wait after 5-6pm. After 5pm, it becomes hard to find an open table, and much after 6-6:30pm, there's a growing line that starts to snake across the mall.

But don't let that distract you! It is still amazing. Rock Bottom in Arlington produces many fine microbrews to whet your palette. They have very good version of popular beer styles. These include a Pale Ale, a Brown, a Red, a Hefeweizen, a Porter, and their award winning Mother Martha’s Kolsch-style Ale. I am definitely a fan of their Radio Tower Red, if you need some help. Regardless, this is not your usual American fizzwater, so you might be pleasantly surprised. (And no, I am not a beer snob. There is a time and a place for Miller Lite, just not right then, and right at this moment... maybe Friday night.)

For those of you that prefer to eat food with your beer, or just famished after a long day of "work," Rock Bottom has a great extensive menu of the usual, casual American fare - burgers, chicken dishes, a few Tex-Mex things in there. It is not cheap (nor prohibitively expensive), but with the money you are saving in beer, you can definitely put a few more bucks to good food. I personally like the Smoked Chicken Enchiladas and the Mahi Tacos.

On a personal note, I'm not being paid for this review. I just like the place and want to give them some good press. Hopefully not too much, as I don't want to wait in line near the Starbucks about 50 yards from their entrance.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Dancing the Evening away at Glen Echo

If you sick and tired of the same ol' grind (whether it be at work, or at the local bar/club :)), like swing music, and feel a bit adventurous, then I highly encourage you to step on out to Glen Echo Park on a Saturday night. Every Saturday, Glen Echo Park, run by the National Park Service in Glen Echo, MD, close to the Potomac and just north of DC border, holds a swing dance in their beautiful Spanish Ballroom. The easiest way to get there is from Clara Barton Parkway that follows the Potomac, and there is signage that leads you to McArthur Blvd., and then Oxford Road to park your car. Unfortunately, there is no close metro station, so driving is the only option. Glen Echo used to be an amusement park, and at night still has the neon lights on from its old park buildings. It is definitely a step into the past.

The Spanish Ballroom is an amazing venue with an awesome floor (not too slippery, but enough to get around), great acoustics for live bands, very good lighting, with sometimes even a working disco ball. Unfortunately, it doesn't have air conditioning or heating. But during the winter, as soon as you get warmed up from the band swingin' and a bit of dancing, you will definitely have to take off that jacket. Though there is no coat check, there are coat racks and I would say fairly safe.

I went with a friend this past Saturday to see Dr. Zoot, an amazing band from Pittsburgh, play at Glen Echo. Like most Saturday nights, there was an one hour lesson which is generally slow enough so a beginner can at least do something, but generally a special move or two for those that are familar with swing. Cost of admission is generally $13-15 (That day's cost was $15). Today's lesson was done by Tom and Debra from Gottaswing, and I was fairly impressed. They are known for their six-week long, one-hour a week lessons all over the DC area, whether it be at Nick's in Alexandria, the Clarendon Ballroom, Chevy Chase Ballroom, and the Dulles Hilton. Tom does like to talk... a lot..., almost to the point of doing too much. They also went extremely quickly, so if you are a guy just learning... it might have been too much. However, I stress the almost and the might, since I think they did a great job. There was a huge number of people there for the lesson. So, many that the circle we made around the ballroom had to a few lines thick around the corners, and there was little room to manuever while practicing. Tom and Debra did a great job showing off a basic step, and a number of other flashy moves like the Charleston. When it comes to teaching swing, they did very good for the hour that they had.

When Dr. Zoot got started, the lights dimmed and the disco ball started. The ambiance was a good swingin' time. The ballroom was filled with people and there were people along the sides so you can find someone to dance with. Tonight, I could sense that there were more women than men (at least interested in dancing), making it easier for guys to find someone to dance with. However, the other time I was there, you could sense the opposite, meaning that women just had to be standing alone for a second on the side and would be immediately asked to dance. Please don't feel that the asking to dance has to be one sided. While it is traditional for most swing dance venues for the guys to ask, women can and should ask guys (especially the shy ones) if they want to dance. I've always been impressed with the quality of people on the dance floor at Glen Echo Park. You will find the beginners struggling along, but there are a number of people that definitely cut a rug. Plus, most people are friendly there too; you will not be rejected that often if you ask someone to dance (those cases are usually when someone's waiting for their significant other to come back... I think that's just people no fun. :)).

As to the band, Dr. Zoot has a good swing beat and make great music. They do not have a separate vocalist, like some swing bands, but they do a pretty good job still. While catering mostly to the swing group with traditional sounding up beat swing, they also put in a few latin and even a waltz number, which shows the range and abilities of the group. (And also the flexibility of the dancers at Glen Echo to know the difference to change to the other dance.) As well, there was a pretty good mix of the slow and fast swing songs, to give yourself a break. I prefer having more fast ones, but that might be just because I have trouble dancing so slowly (especially if you are with a new person you just met).

Overall, I had a good time and the venue is amazing. If only they could put in some heating or air conditioning... You should definitely check out their calendar for the details on the next swing dance or other events they hold there.

And on a side note... this is absolutely ridiculous, and by this I mean the flurries. This area just got itself out of snow and ice, and I thought it was going to be clear. But this is just ridiculous, all of this new snow coming in random blasts! I guess it's time for a snow angel. Yes, I am not from the area, I'm from the Midwest.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Indoor Skating in NoVA

I have always been a fan of ice skating. While I admit that I'm not the most spectacular ice skater, I can at least get around on some ice skates, once I remember how to use them.

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to go indoor ice skating in Northern Virginia, the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston, and the Fairfax Ice Arena, in Fairfax.

Starting with the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the practice rinks for the Washington Capitals, getting there was actually not too bad. It is located right on top of the Ballston Mall. Therefore, it is close to the metro and getting there when it isn't rush hour, isn't too bad. It was confusing navigating the parking garage to get to the eighth floor where the Iceplex is. However, after making a lot of circles, finally got there. The parking situation was not bad at all, either right by the Iceplex or inside the mall's parking garage. Upon walking in, you can definitely tell the Iceplex is newish and definitely well kept. I went during their Wednesday evening adult public skate (7:45pm to 9pm). I was a little relieved that I did have to work extra to avoid skating into little kids (and a friend was glad that she could say cuss words with abandon as she struggled along). The skates available looked as if they were new and were very nice in comparison to any other place I've seen. Tickets for adults at $7, with $3 for the skate rental, but I would suggest if you could get a group of ten people, and just pay $6 each to get in and to get a skate rental, too! Plus, it is best to go in a group anyway, especially if you are not doing it for practice or a workout. Your ticket will need to be worn as a sticker, which isn't too bad. They had a raffle for a pizza depending on your ticket number on that Wednesday. The public ice rink (not the one used as practice for the Caps) was in my opinion pretty big, in comparison to most public ice rinks you find. My guess is that it probably about the regulation size for NHL. And the number of people there that evening was a good number, not too many make it too navigate or too little to make it look barren. The music choice was pretty standard fare for ice rinks (similar to that for swimming pools, mostly just pop music from the 90's). Also, I have no complaints in regards to how often they did the zamboni. The wear on the ice was kept fairly even. I did wish they had more lockers. They had a few that were hidden. Luckily leaving my stuff in the general area was not too dangerous. Nothing stolen. Speaking of the general area, it was nice, but there could have been a little more seating and there were these tables and seats that are a good bit higher than normal seats and tables. Those just took up room. Regardless, the Iceplex was a great place to go.

For those that are in the hinterlands of Fairfax outside of the beltway (no bias here obviously...), the Fairfax Ice Arena is a quick place to get to, by going off onto Pickett St. south from Rt.50, Arlington Blvd. (that intersection is just to the east of Fairfax Circle). The Arena has a lighted sign so you can easily find it off of Pickett. There is plenty of parking behind the building. There is no easy transportation by metro, so driving is the way to go. The Arena charges for an adult on weekends $7.25, or weekday $6.75, with figure skates at $2.50, and hockey skates at $3.50. The group rate here is for seven people, at lowers the admission cost to $5.75 ($5.00 for weekdays). There is no adult skate like the Iceplex, so you will find people of all ages there all the time. The rink is a normal size to what I have seen, you can sense it is smaller than the Iceplex. The wear on the rink was noticable in certain spots after some time. The zamboni was able to clean it up, but it quickly got worn down again in those same spots. Maybe I didn't remember that from the Iceplex. The music was similar, with no general complaints from me. The nice advantage here was that there were more lockers here for putting your stuff away, and plenty of seating for taking ice skates on or off. Overall, a nice place to go.

In comparison, I think I prefer the Iceplex due to the metro access, how new the ice skates were (the ones at the Arena were very good, but still there is a difference), and how big the rink and how they took care of it. Just add some more storage and easier to use seating and we are good. For those in Fairfax, the Ice Arena is a great place to go, if you don't want to go too far inside the beltway, and it is a great place especially as a high school hangout.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snow day?

Having been in the environs of DC (NoVA to be specific), for about six months, I will say that I have much to learn about the area and the District. But the one thing that is bothering me now is this area's reaction to snow and supposedly inclement weather. A little snow, a little freezing rain, and I got an "early dismissal" yesterday and a "snow day" today from work (not high school, but work). You've got to be kidding me! (Though I don't mind it... :))

I'm originally from Southwestern Ohio and lived in Pittsburgh for a while. When we got snow (and by getting snow, I mean more than a dusting), it was a few inches and we would still go about our business. There was the salt and plow trucks that we all are used to seeing, but people knew what to do when driving. You would be a little more careful, go only a bit slower, stay in the tracks of the car in front of you. It would definitely take up to 5-6 inches and a delayed clearing of the snow that could bring a 2-hour delay or close schools and businesses.

However... here in DC... Apparently the rules are a bit different. Let's start with the driving. I will acknowledge that rush hour traffic where I lived is no comparison to DC Beltway traffic. But the commuters of this area take caution to an unsafe level. Yesterday, a lot of people were let out of work early due to "deteriating" conditions. Yes, there was rain, and yes, I could tell that it was in the process of attempting to freeze. There was no snow, but you could tell there was a bit of slush on the highway. However, there is no reason to slow down to 40 mph or even less without any traffic in front of you. There is no reason to swish back in forth in your lane when you just need to get into the tracks of the car in front of you. It's amazing. Following the leader on the highway. A novel concept.

I will say that drivers generally in Ohio get better and better driving in bad conditions. But, when it was barely bad at all, DC has this. Hmm. I guess there is a lot of room for improvement. Or maybe not. :)

Oh well, back to enjoying the "snow day!"