Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Hours vs. Happy Meals

He was seated in a highchair for mere seconds when, with lightening speed, my son lunged across the table and sent a ceramic bread plate crashing to the concrete flooring of the trendy bistro we had regrettably chosen for a celebratory lunch date. For our first time there, we made one helluva entrance. My husband was momentarily preoccupied with his broken watchband as I attempted to secure AS in a highchair that was missing one half of its lap belt. Thankfully, the drinking glasses and knives were out of reach. The bread plate had looked like a harmless white circle in my peripheral vision, not a discus. Our perturbed host balked, then snatched up the broken pieces with a measure of animosity. I surmised, they don't get children in here too often. The lack of a changing table in the bathroom supported this assumption. Normally, I would have offered AS a spoon, plastic straw, or napkin to keep himself entertained at a restaurant, but in this case I decided it was best nothing else hit the floor for the remainder of the meal. This is why, I realized, many frugal parents are happy to settle for a trip to MacDonald's, but I can't justify spending money on any food other than groceries these days if it isn't good quality.

So we don't eat out much despite living within spitting distance of the District's mecca for gourmands and carousers, Adams Morgan, except to observe birthdays and special anniversaries. We also make the occasional effort to swing by a Friday Happy Hour frequented by old friends. When I say "we", I mean all three of us. Bringing AS along means not paying for a sitter. It also provides him with additional sensory experiences and social opportunities. He loves an adventure and is a bit of a novelty at the cafes, eateries and watering holes where we were once regulars. On AS's first birthday we returned to the Indian restaurant where I went into labor nearly 24 hours prior to his birth (what they say about spicy foods is true, or maybe it was merely coincidence). The head waiter gave AS a tour of the kitchen as well as carried him from table to table as he took orders from customers in the dining area. He brought AS a complementary cup of mango juice and offered to take our picture as a memento. AS ate it up, the attention that is, but he also enjoyed the juice and the curry.

Restaurant employees often remark how well AS behaves, and aside from the occasional accident (such as the aforementioned bread plate) it is true. We attribute this to his exposure to bustling public places from a very young age. We took AS to The Diner at 2453 18th Street, NW when he was just three months old, assured that the din in the restaurant -a combination of music and vibrant conversation- would act as white noise to lull him to sleep. When he awoke and momentarily fussed, we could still enjoy our meal knowing that his mews wouldn't break any DC laws regarding noise limits.

The Diner is one of three successful sister establishments in the Woodley Park-Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC owned by super-savvy restaurateur Constantine Stavropoulis. Open City and Tryst are the other two. Stavropoulis has discovered the perfect formula for success; offer nourishing comfort food, coffeehouse amenities and a full bar in a cozy setting. There are many quality "home-cooked" meals on the menu for both adults and children, including to-die-for macaroni and cheese at The Diner, at prices that won't make you regret your choice to take a night off from cooking.

Coloring pages (or menus) and crayons are available for kids at The Diner and Open City, and all three restaurants have a changing table in the bathroom. Stavropoulis, I could kiss you!
The waitstaff is wonderful and have never hesitated to bring AS another spoon, plastic straw or napkin to play with even when it is apparent that these things will ultimately wind up on the floor. Animal crackers are routinely served with coffee drinks at Tryst and Open City (for adults, not kids), but our waitress at Open City brought a separate plate (another bread plate... this one didn't wind up on the floor) of cookies to our table to AS's delight.

Open City has both indoor and outdoor patio seating and is therefore our first choice when warmer weather permits. High chairs are available at Open City and The Diner, but Tryst's thrift store decor encourages snuggling up with your child on one of their well-worn couches. Board games are available at Tryst, but I can't vouch the boxes include all of the pieces. Better yet, bring your own game!

The hours are long at each place: Open City Sunday-Thursday 6am-midnight, Friday-Saturday 6 am-1 am. Tryst Monday - Thursday 6:30am - 2:00am, Friday - Saturday 6:30am - 3:00am, Sunday 7:00am - 2:00am. The kind folks at The Diner, God bless 'em, keep it open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! While these hours should accommodate any child's (or exhausted parent's) nap schedule, we recommend getting there early for a table whether it be for a weeknight dinner or weekend brunch. You will find yourselves seated more quickly and the servers more attentive during off-peak times.

On mild days we also love the child and dog-friendly environments found around 4 or 5 pm on the outdoor patios of Wonderland Ballroom at 11th and Kenyon Streets, NW, Adams Mill Bar and Grill at 1813 Adams Mill Road, NW, and Chief Ike's Mambo Room, 1725 Columbia Road, NW. Wonderland and Ike's have some healthful low-cost choices on their menus. We like the vegetarian options at Wonderland (usually served with a simple but tasty mixed green salad) and the gourmet grilled cheese sandwich at Ike's. None of these places has a kids menu, high chairs, or a changing table in the restroom. So bring some cheerios, plan to hold your child in your lap, and don't expect to stay too long! It may cost a couple dollars more than a McMeal, but on the patio parents can grab a cheap beer and a savory appetizer and enjoy a brief outing in a stimulating urban atmosphere with their child.


  1. Better warn Lebanese Taverna that we're coming! Shall I bring some paper plates??

  2. LOL! Actually, your suggestion to bring paper plates reminded me that there are many great parks and outdoor spaces in DC to picnic with your child. Bring a healthy home-cooked meal or takeout from your favorite restaurant and dine on a blanket in the grass! No need to worry about messy eaters, where to change a diaper, or disgruntled waiters.
    I have also heard that some parents choose to eat in during the cold months to save money but cook the foods they love to eat when they splurge and treat themselves to a night out at a restaurant. For instance, you could make a Chinese stir fry and top it off with fortune cookies for dessert or have a pizza night at home and watch a kid-friendly DVD.



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