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Posted at 4:16 PM ET, 07/21/2008

After Hours in Arlington

By Julia Beizer

Domaso's terrace is a pleasant place to enjoy an after-work cocktail -- if you don't mind the sound of planes overhead. (Julia Beizer/washingtonpost.com)

We're fans of Arlington -- we spend most of our work week here -- so we were as psyched as anyone for some new happy hour options nearby. Here's our take on the after-work scene at Domaso and Spider Kelly's.

Domaso
Domaso has been serving contemporary Italian meals in Rosslyn's swanky Hotel Palomar since the fall, but last month, the restaurant opened an outdoor terrace for lunch, dinner and happy hour. Tables and chairs (including a few padded seats) are set amid flower boxes on a big patio that stretches between the Palomar and a nearby office building.

The current cocktail menu consists of refreshing summer drinks made with fresh fruits and veggies, including the Breva, which finds cucumber muddled with cucumber-infused Hendrick's gin and topped with apple juice -- think of it as a vegetable-themed gin-and-juice -- and the Raspberry Crush, where crushed basil and raspberries add a savory edge to Milagro tequila.

As you might expect from a place that's primarily a restaurant, happy hour snacks -- small plates called stuzzichini -- are of higher quality than you'd find at most bars. The caprese fritta dish was a refined Mediterranean take on mozzarella sticks, with fried cheese rounds sandwiched between roma tomatoes, roasted peppers and capers. We also sampled a delicious dish of gorgonzola-and-caramelized-shallot-topped crostini. The stuzzichini are $5 from 4 to 7 on weekdays, and the entire dinner menu is available as well for those looking for more sustenance.

The Palomar's location affords it a lovely view, but you can only catch a glimpse of it on Domaso's terrace. The tables are penned in close to the dining room, so even though you can see the Georgetown skyline in the distance, you can't see the water unless you leave your table (and Domaso's portion of the patio) and walk over to the edge. Flights on their way to National Airport roar overhead on a regular basis, though for cocktails and food, we can live with the noise.

Spider Kelly's
Spider Kelly's is promoting itself as the antithesis of the polo-and-khakis Clarendon scene. "come as you are," encourages its Web site. "no dress code. no cover. ever." (Or capital letters, it seems.) Under an artfully distressed logo and photos of dope graffiti, Spider Kelly's manifesto promises to be open until 2 a.m. daily.

So were surprised to discover that Spider -- tucked onto the same block as Clarendon Ballroom and Liberty Tavern -- is about as punk rock as Urban Outfitters. Slick leather booths and tall tables with leather chairs are arranged along the slate-gray walls, and the dining room is covered with a soft Bordeaux-colored carpet. The place's attempt at counterculture is to display graffiti -- in framed photographs -- above some tables.

That's not to say it doesn't have its good points -- the leather stools are comfy, the large, curved gray couch in the back is a great option for a big group, and the "seat yourself" policy means you can choose your whether you want a cozy booth or a larger table for your crew.

The menu's heavy on snacks, including burgers, salads, po' boys and sides like fries and mac and cheese. Burgers -- especially the Spider Burger, which is cooked in pork fat -- are great, though beware of the upsell: cheese and your better toppings are an additional $1 each. The pulled chicken flautas were a particular treat; the avocado/cilantro cream sauce was so good, Julia found herself sopping it up with french fries.

What we found, though, is that the place isn't set up to handle congestion well, which means a Thursday or Friday happy hour can turn chaotic. Most of bar is positioned right across from the front door, which leads to logjams as new customers enter into the pile of people trying to get their beers and cocktails. Seeing the "seat yourself" signs, customers wander back into the dining room to see if any tables are available, then head back to the thin bar area. The staff tries to help by setting up a waiting list -- look for someone with a clipboard -- but there's really not enough room for more than a few couples to wait if there aren't stools.

Prices also seem high -- $6 for a bottle of Anchor Steam, burgers over $12 once you add a few toppings -- so you may want to stop in for happy hour. Monday has half-price burgers all night, and there are drink specials Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 8, including $3.50 microbrews (Tuesday) and $2 Budweiser, Bud Light and Miller Lite (Thursday).

Have you been to these places for happy hour? Add your thoughts in the comments below.

-- Fritz & Julia

By Julia Beizer  | July 21, 2008; 4:16 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs, Restaurants  
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Comments

I enjoy happy hour with fun people and good food. Note which characteristic came first. Happy hour, for me, is more about unwinding with friends (old and new) and while I appreciate your opinions on Domano and Spider Kelly's, you made no mention of the type of people that visit such establishments. Since a good menu guarantees not a good happy hour, can you provide any insight about the patrons of these and other Arlington establishments?

Posted by: It's not just the food | July 22, 2008 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Alternatively, you could skip the happy hour and volunteer, read a book, visit a senior, exercise, go on a hike, talk to someone, play a board game, go to the library, learn another language, take a photograph, or tell your spouse how much you love him/her. You know, like, do something meaningful with your time. Just a thought.

Posted by: Don't Waste Your Life | July 23, 2008 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I was at Domaso for Happy Hour a while back. This was before the terrace opened. The bar area had a great look and when I was there we were almost the only patrons there. There were 3 in my party. Even with few people there and two bartenders the service was terrible! I was even sitting at the bar. Drinks were very slow and we had to remind them about our orders. Food was even slower. When it arrived it was good, but so small and not cheap that it was diappointing.

A few other parties came in sitting in the lounge area, but they didn't seem to have any better luck on service. Some of them kept coming to the bar to try and improve their rate of service.

My party was fustrated enough to change venues to Cafe Asia for real food and drinks. We all said we wouldn't return for Happy Hour since it really didn't seem to be worth it. We would like to try the restaurant, but hope the service is better there.

Posted by: Lovisa | July 24, 2008 1:22 PM | Report abuse

In response to the above poster,Happy Hour doesn't have to be--and often isn't--about getting drunk and wasting your life. In fact, I've done a lot of the things mentioned AT happy hours. I've talked to people by reconnecting with friends, classmates, or old coworkers while meeting new friends; read a book on a great outdoor patio with a cheap(er) glass of wine; played many games including board, card, and word games; met with my French club from college; took many many photographs; and, yes, even volunteered and signed up to volunteer (DC Cares). Restaurants and bars that have happy hours are just a venue, they aren't necessarily the activity.

Posted by: RE Meaningful life | July 24, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

So 4 of us went to Spider Kelly's last night. Your reviews are spot on. We wouldn't go back, but we can now say we've tried it. We were hoping for the anti Clarendon ballroom, but it's pretty much the same and dare I say not as good as Ballroom.

The service was sporadic, the food options were limited and expensive for what they were, the happy hour specials were lacking and the ambience was just trying to hard to be "cool." Ever since Dreamo's closed I've been hoping for a place like that to reemerge in the orange line corridor. I thought that location would be a perfect spot for a "dive bar" that had cement floors, wall graffiti, and peanut shells and a pool table in the back. Instead, it's like any other Clarendon, Wilson Blvd "trendy" bar. Oh well.... at least I work near Trusty's in the District. Love, love, love that place.

Sorry... Spider Kelly's just tried too hard.

Posted by: lsac | July 25, 2008 11:17 AM | Report abuse

@Don't Waste Your Life: So you think those of us who go to happy hours *don't* "talk to people" -- we just go by ourselves and sit sullenly? Hmm.

Posted by: Mike | July 25, 2008 6:35 PM | Report abuse

I'm just a bit confused. If you're not interested in happy hours or reviews of restaurants/bars why exactly would you read this blog?

Gurus, thanks for providing us with always interesting and accurate information. For those few critics who posted there are ten times as many fans.

Posted by: What's with all the aggression, people? | July 28, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse

i was really disappointed with spider kellys, living in the neighborhood i welcomed the advertised local hangout bar, however in visiting it was not as advertised. Feels like a upscale hotel bar, food, prices, layout, and decor (carpet) were a miss for me.

Posted by: bank | July 31, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

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