Updated December 16, 2022. Whether you want to plan a casual night out with a small group of friends or are looking the perfect spot for a first date, we’ve got you covered on the NoVA social scene.
By Megan Herr, Alice Levitt, Kelly Magyarics, Jesse Rifkin, and Stephanie Shipman
The Big Group
So you’re getting the whole gang together. When you’ve got more people than a group text can handle, these are the places for you.
When you have a really big congregation, head to Ballston’s German-style beer hall — with 6,000 square feet, there’s plenty of room to spread out. The walls are decorated with authentic early-20th-century German posters and art prints of vintage alcohol ads, and 16 televisions span the venue, perhaps showing the Bayern Munich soccer game if you really want that Deutschland authenticity. Entrées include schnitzel, currywurst, bratwurst, and pierogies. 4100 Fairfax Dr., Arlington —J.R.
Touting itself as a “24,000-square-foot fun factory,” Punch Bowl has karaoke so you can belt out your best version of “Livin’ on a Prayer” at the top of your lungs. (Don’t forget the key change near the end.) It has eight lanes of bowling, two foosball tables, and a vertical version of the classic word game called “wall Scrabble.” It has not one, not two, not three, but four bars positioned across three floors. In short, this pleasure palace inside Ballston Quarter is the ideal destination for a group outing because there is truly something for everyone. Plus, did you ever notice that sipping a cup of punch by yourself just isn’t that fun? Get your friends and family together, order a bowl of the Watermelon Polo or I’m on a Whiskey Diet, and rediscover the joys of sharing. 4238 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 1180, Arlington —J.R.
NoVA’s first licensed casino opened in January 2021. As with the five other Rosie’s locations throughout the state, the gambling comes with a twist: The venue, which allows you to bet on simulcast horse racing, features slot-machine odds and payoffs tied to actual historic horse-race results. The 54 games include ones with eye-catching names like The Big Green Money Machine, Double Luck Panda, Hangman’s Revenge, Murder at the Museum, and Polly Wanna Jackpot, . The website updates with live jackpots, and recently, one of the penny slots — a game called Hooah! — posted a jackpot of $219,679, a return on investment that would make even GameStop stock owners jealous. 18069-E Triangle Shopping Plz., Dumfries —J.R.
A Casual Hang
Alas, Central Perk is fictional. If you want to relax and have a laid-back night out with your pals, here are three spots in the real world.
The buzziest but also chillest new place in town for drinks — elixirs with cheeky names like the Can I Cheaper Than Therapy — is in Ballston Quarter. WHINO, a bar, restaurant, and art gallery, has food that’s better than it needs to be, like the popular ricotta gnocchi or the wagyu beef sliders, in portions made for sharing with friends. Make an entire evening of it by meandering through the art gallery’s newest exhibit. You’ll already have noticed the huge lowbrow/pop-surrealist mural installations around the dining room, but there are six more unique areas to check out, so what are you waiting for? 4238 Wilson Blvd., Second Floor, Arlington —M.H.
You’ve probably played cornhole before — at football tailgates, maybe, or at Fourth of July barbecues. If your gang is on the competitive side, head to The Continental, just a few beanbag throws from the Rosslyn Metro station, where there’s an entire cornhole league on Tuesday nights. The Technicolor-hued lounge also features a gaming area with seven billiards tables, shuffleboard, table tennis, Skee-Ball, darts, and arcade games. And its outdoor beer garden, which appears to fit 200 to 300 people between the tables and standing room, even welcomes your dog. The Continental also has gained notoriety as an enclave where reporters at Politico, with its headquarters located just down the street, have been known to meet with sources. (Although it’s perhaps not quite as important a location as the parking garage up the hill where Bob Woodward met late at night with his FBI informant source to help The Washington Post break the Watergate story.) 1911 Fort Myer Dr., Arlington —J.R.
As soon as you walk in the door, you see bad ’80s movies playing on the television. That’s part of the charm of Spacebar, where cheesy astronomical decor pervades: Illustrations on the walls depict rabbits blasting off in rocket ships, and its logo evokes NASA’s iconic one circa 1975–92. With seating for only about 50, you won’t have to shout in order to actually talk with your friends. Billing itself as a “grilled cheese emporium,” Spacebar offers at least 17 different riffs on the sandwich, all of which can be made vegan if you so order. They’re open until midnight — or 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, for the college student with late-night hunger pangs who still lurks inside you. 709 W. Broad St., Falls Church —J.R.
On A First
You both swiped right! Your online chat went great! You need to find a place to meet in person! These three spots are hip without trying too hard.
It’s a first date. You probably want to keep things chill and find a place to grab drinks that matches that vibe. Look no further than B Side. Located in the Mosaic District in Fairfax, this distinctive bar and eatery with a reliably solid soundtrack offers a relaxed atmosphere that is frankly unparalleled and really sets the mood for the evening. Between the rustic feel of the interior, the stiffness of the drinks, and the jams flowing from the vinyl turntable, there’s no doubt about it — you’re going to groove here. 8298 Glass Aly., Fairfax —M.H.
There’s something about walking down a staircase and entering an underground bar that just screams “speakeasy” and offers a bit of a thrill. And Baba cocktail bar in Arlington, tucked below the popular restaurant Ambar, is no exception. The chic, intimate setting with dark walls covered in dozens of small framed paintings and outfitted with cushy tufted-leather chairs is like your really cool grandmother’s basement, the perfect laid-back spot for getting to know someone over an interesting sipper, with options ranging from light and refreshing to spicy, smoky, or sour. Not ready for the night to be over? You’re in luck. Baba features a mix of live musicians and DJ sets with parties from Wednesday to Saturday nights. If things are going well and the conversatrion is still sparkling, stick around for some entertainment and dance the night away. 2901 Wilson Blvd., Arlington —M.H.
Whether you opt for stools at the stylish main-floor bar, or head upstairs for perches on the candy-colored couch and easy chairs in the Sofa Lounge, you’re assured of pretty surroundings and, should the conversation be progressing nicely, Sicilian-style rectangular pizzas perfect for sharing. The happy-hour deals here from 3 to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, are not to be sniffed at; we especially like the inventive cocktails marked down to $8, and the $5 sangria with a bite. 100 King St., Alexandria —K.K.
Pick Up A New Skill
When you’re thinking of a great night out, you might not be thinking of educational endeavors. But learning is fun! Especially when it’s something you’re interested in — good food and beer, anyone? Check out these informative sessions, all great for a different type of Friday night.
They say creativity takes courage. And sometimes, courage takes a glass of wine. Why not combine the two and channel your inner Picasso at Muse Paintbar? The paint bar offers appetizer-style food options ranging from boneless wings and pretzel bites to a veggie platter, as well as shareable cocktails, wine, and beer. Sign up for a step-by-step session on how to paint, no prior experience necessary. And if your finished “masterpiece” ends up a letdown, well, after a couple glasses of prosecco, no one will be the wiser. 2920 District Ave., Ste. 100, Fairfax —M.H.
Gazing at the stars is a free, romantic activity. But if you want to know what you’re looking at, you’re in luck — Turner Farm Observatory, in conjunction with the Analemma Society, a nonprofit astronomy group, hosts free celestial observation sessions at their roll-top observatory. BYOB (bring your own binoculars) or use one of the mounted telescopes to look at and learn about astronomy every Friday night from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., weather permitting. 925 Springvale Rd., Great Falls —S.S.
Go out for beers, but also glean some info on how they’re made, and maybe even leave with a souvenir pint or tasting glass. Brew Republic Bierworks offers tours of its facility — just call ahead to nail down a day and time and let them know the tour size (even groups of just two) so they can make sure a member of their staff is available to lead the tour. 15201 Potomac Town Pl., Woodbridge —S.S.
Your Bedtime Is 9 p.m.
Don’t worry, Cinderella. A night out on the town can end at a perfectly decent hour. Here are three options for a fun evening that won’t compromise your beauty sleep.
For a great girls’ night out that gets you home by a reasonable time, head to Magnolia’s on King, a restaurant and lounge smack dab in the heart of Old Town Alexandria. In addition to cocktails, it specializes in Southern comfort food such as country fried chicken and shrimp and grits. The ambience of the place is just as alluring: Located in a historic 200-year-old building, the eatery provides three floors of dining options — the Magnolia Room, the Palm Lounge, and the Nest. They close their doors by 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, but you don’t mind, do you? Start the party early and swing by for a round of the signature drink: an Old-Fashioned made with pineapple syrup. 703 King St., Alexandria —M.H.
In the words of stand-up comedian Steven Wright, “I find it unfair that only one company makes the board game Monopoly.” The Board Room, in Clarendon, features more than 100 board games for you and your friends to play, including 18 different types of, yes, Monopoly. Those include versions themed around the ’80s, the Air Force, NASCAR, The Phantom Menace, and even a takeoff version (definitely not licensed by Hasbro) called Anti-Monopoly. Other games in the collection include eclectic titles like Don’t Drink and Draw, Stick the IRS, and a Desperate Housewives–themed game called Dirty Laundry. To be sure, they also include many of the classics, so bring your Boggle, Operation, and Pictionary skills to the table. Alcoholic offerings are often named after games, lines you say when playing games, or components of games, such as the Czech Mate, the Deuces Wild, and the Pass or Play. Beware: “Trivia Tuesdays” are taken very seriously here. 925 N. Garfield St., Arlington —J.R.
Part of a trend that’s been popping up across the country, Mount Purrnon provides a safe place for cats to spring free from cages and socialize while meeting potential new families. The cafe encourages visitors to order some food or a drink while relaxing and spending some time stroking adoptable kitties (an instant de-stressor if there ever was one). If you’re still #WFH, you can even buy a day or monthly pass, hunker down with the free Wi-Fi, and telework from Mount Purrnon for nonstop feline fun. With events such as guided meditation, wine tastings, and ghost-story night, the cafe is the cat’s meow. 109 S. Alfred St., Alexandria —M.H.