3185 Wilson Blvd.; 703-469-2244
Friday night on the main dance floor at Clarendon Ballroom can feel like adult prom, but that’s not necessarily bad. With spinning lights and a Top 40–heavy playlist, it’s a welcome break from the experimental-music parties in DC. Avoid lines and cover charges—usually $10 or less—by arriving early (by 9 on nights with bands, 10 on nights with DJs; special events excluded). The rooftop is a great place to relax before the party starts.
3181 Wilson Blvd.; 703-312-8888
Spider Kelly’s is a crowd pleaser. Pool, shuffleboard, darts, and Big Buck Hunter keep sports fans entertained during commercial breaks (the sports bar has 31 TVs), and the better-than-average menu has a sandwich for every taste. The couches in the back lounge areas are a great place to sip the generous cocktails ($4 from 4 to 8 on Fridays).
4000 Fairfax Dr., 703-532-7665
Another good spot for games is CarPool. This auto-themed Ballston bar has 12 billiard tables, two patios, and plenty of TVs to huddle around for football games.
2854 Wilson Blvd.; 703-276-9693
This year’s addition of a tiki-hut rooftop bar has only increased the popularity of Whitlow’s on Wilson, a come-as-you-are Clarendon staple. Drink specials include a weekend Bloody Mary bar ($6 to make your own) and Thursday Mug Night, when Miller Lite, Yuengling, and Blue Moon refills are $2 after you pay $5 for the initial stein.
2051 Wilson Blvd.; 703-525-3600
Ireland’s Four Courts is a Courthouse institution. The wood-panneled pub is friendly and unassuming, showing American and European soccer matches on nine big-screen TVs. People also pack in for Monday-night trivia.
4075 Wilson Blvd.; 571-384-1820
With sleek wood interiors and industrial pendant lights, Rustico is a great place for a date. Food is so-so, but the spacious bar boasts an extensive beer list—42 on tap and more than 400 in bottles, all selected by Greg Engert, the brew expert behind DC’s ChurchKey.
3100 Clarendon Blvd.; 703-600-0500
Newcomer Mad Rose Tavern offers more than 50 varieties of Scotch as well as 15-plus craft beers on tap. Come happy hour, a well-dressed after-work crowd fills the popular patio.
1041 N. Highland St.; 703-351-1311
Off-Wilson hangout Eleventh Street Lounge has small plates, lounge seating, and a low-lit basement dance floor. The shabby-chic decor gets mixed reviews, but regulars say the spot is a respite from rowdier bars in Clarendon.
2711 Wilson Blvd.; 703-525-8646
Laid-back Galaxy Hut has 20 beers on tap, old-school Ms. Pac-Man, and killer chili dogs and tater tots. Indie-music fans fill the small venue for Sunday and Monday concerts, when the cover is never more than $5.
2832 Wilson Blvd.; 703-522-8340
Up-and-coming acts and local musicians play at the intimate Iota Club & Café. Come in early Wednesday for coffee or dinner (the kitchen expanded its menu and hours last year), then stick around for a free open-mike night.
2903 Columbia Pike; 703-486-2345
Fun comes cheap at Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, a quirky venue that’s part restaurant, part movie theater, and part standup-comedy venue. Fresh-off-the-big-screen flicks are $1 on Monday, $2 on Tuesday, and $5.50 Wednesday through Sunday. Weekends see a mix of free open-mike nights and $20-to-$35 sets by more established comedians, such as Craig Robinson of The Office on November 17.
1550 Wilson Blvd.; 703-528-1502
Pizza joint Piola brings the Italian aperitivo to Rosslyn Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 8: With the purchase of a drink, you can nosh on a free spread of small pizza, pasta, and sandwich bites.
4238 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1256; 703-516-7688
Recent college grads flood Ballston’s Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery every Wednesday, when $1.50 brews are available from 11 am to 9 pm.
This article appears in the November 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.