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Destination Guide

During the day Washington appears to be a city of gray suits and serious politics, but after dark, there is plenty to offer in the way of nightlife and cultural activities. Locals and visitors alike flock to first-rate theatres, concerts or to dance the night away in the many clubs and ballrooms. In the summer, a constant schedule of outdoor events, many of which are free, brings people together to relax while watching a Shakespearean play or listening to the US Navy Band. Politics aside, Washingtonians can enjoy their evenings in a truly nonpartisan manner.

Stage and Screen

Washington is home to several fine theatres presenting everything from big Broadway hits to smaller productions featuring local playwrights and covering topical issues. The Kennedy Center is a showcase for classic theatre, both old and new, performed in the large Eisenhower Theatre or the more intimate Terrace Theatre. The National Theatre is Washingtons answer to Broadway, presenting many touring companies and occasionally premiering musicals here before they hit the Great White Way in New York City. Warner Theatre has a multifaceted past ' opened in the 1920s as a vaudeville house, it became a classic movie palace until the 1960s when it hosted big rock bands before it closed. Reopened in 1992 it now features big name plays and other entertainment acts.

Fords Theatre has carefully preserved the tragic history that took place in April of 1864 when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Plays are produced on the very stage onto which John Wilkes Booth jumped after delivering the fatal shot. A visit to the theatre is both a historic and cultural experience.

The Arena Stage, Source Theatre and the Gunston Arts Center are a few of the more eclectic and innovative theatres in the Washington area that are dedicated to the celebration of the dramatic arts. Many offer programs meant to educate and inform as well as entertain.

Movie theatres throughout the metropolitan area show the latest offerings from Hollywood and the international studios. The Uptown, with its giant screen, is the place to see newly released epic films. Located at the Kennedy Center, the American Film Institute features documentaries, classic movies and studies of film history, for example, through the works of a particular director.


The premier venue for classic opera in Washington DC is the Kennedy Centers Opera House. This grand stage is the home of the Washington Opera which performs seven operas in the November-March season; all in their original language with English supertitles. For something different, Lisner Auditorium performs less-know works, many by familiar composers.

The National Symphony Orchestra calls the Kennedy Center home as well, performing here in the Concert Hall regularly from September?June. In the summers, the acclaimed orchestra can be heard at Wolf Trap Farm Park and, on special holidays, playing from the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Outdoor concerts are popular in the warmer months when Washingtonians and visitors often bring picnics to hear free music on the National Mall, in Rock Creek Park or at the National Zoo. The official bands of the US Armed Forces often give concerts featuring patriotic and popular tunes.

The Capitol City draws popular, contemporary music as well. The Nissan Pavilion, Merriweather Post Pavilion and Wolf Trap Farm Park all bring in big name artists for summer outdoor concerts. Constitution Hall and the 9:30 Club have year-round shows with a variety of rock and roll, jazz, blues and pop. Washingtons international makeup has provided a diverse variety of music from around the world. The ever-popular Irish folk music can be heard nightly at several pubs including Murphys and Irish Times. Cuban, African and Zydeco can often be heard at the Birchmere Music Hall as well as country and bluegrass.


Whether its salsa, swing, ballroom or the latest hip-hop, Washington has many great clubs to dance the night away. Habana Village gives Latin dance lessons before the evening gets under way with three stories of dancers doing the salsa and tango. Coco Loco, D.C. Live and Lulus are also popular Latin dance venues. Swing has experienced a revival and Washingtonians are kicking up their heels to music from the Big Band era. Classes are held at many places throughout the city - Chevy Chase Ballroom and America at Tyson Corners both give drop-in group lessons before opening up the dance floor with live bands. The Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, holds lessons and dances throughout the week including Cajun, Swing, Contra and an elegant Sunday afternoon tea dance often featuring the waltz.

Contemporary dance clubs are numerous in the Metro area, many staying open until the wee hours of the morning. From the posh MCCXXIII and Republic Gardens, both of which have a dress code, to hip-hop and reggae at State of the Union, theres something for everyone. Club Heaven and Hell has a unique theme with an angelic atmosphere in the upstairs dance room and a darker, pool hall downstairs.

For the latest information on happenings around town, check The Washington Post Weekend section, which comes out on Fridays, or check their website at www.washingtonpost.com.

Louise Baxter