In September 2008, I wrote about our favorite weekend places in Washington. What constituted “favorite” for us centered on seeing a movie, visiting a bookstore, and having a good selection of restaurants, cafes, and retail nearby.
Four summers on, the game has changed a bit. Bookstores in Georgetown and Silver Spring have bit the dust.
So, let’s see how that affects my updated rankings, or if any new factors are involved.
Here is what I wrote before with an update, followed by the new rankings.
Theater: Bethesda Row
What I wrote before:
It takes about 40 minutes to drive to get there, but Bethesda is more than worth the effort. It is our crown jewel, not only meeting our every need, but exceeding them. The area has been praised by Smart Growth in Action.
The theater, that has the best behaved audiences (quiet) of all the ones I’ve ever been to and stadium seating, is situated right across the street from the main gathering square and the Barnes and Noble. A handful of great restaurants are right there, as well as a bagel shop and two places to get ice cream and coffee places.
Bethesda has a true sense of community with several different languages heard on the streets and an asymmetrical design of the roads. The parking garage is right there and free, and they have a Metro stop. Sidewalk cafes, brick sidewalks, trees and plazas beautify the experience.
The only ding, and it is a nit pick, is the intersection at Bethesda and Woodmont is too large. Cars that run the lights don’t realize this and they don’t make it through sometimes before the pedestrians start walking.
Rating: Five Stars
What I Think Now
We haven’t been going to Bethesda as much, probably due to the HOT lanes construction. We also don’t feel the need to go to their Barnes as much. They are replacing books with games and such, something that does not appeal to us. Plus, I am now mostly getting books from the library.
I still like Bethesda, all the things I said stay true, and Elm Street has sprouted even more restaurants. I’m wondering though, if it will retain my number one slot. We’ll see.
E Street Cinema
We should take Metro to the E Street Cinema) but we usually don’t. Traffic into the city is usually ok on weekends and they have an underground parking with a discount for movie goers.
Barnes and Noble is one block away as well as the offerings of the restaurants in the Penn Quarter area. We’ve even parked here for events on The Mall.
Rating: Four Stars
What I Think Now
Boy, did our panel just have a knock down, drag out fight over the Penn Quarter’s rating and what constitutes “nearby.” One of our judges, reminding me that I recently said PQ is Washington’s best neighborhood, said it deserves a five.
There’s no doubt Penn Quarter has blossomed into a beauty, and we love Luke’s Lobster and all the choices, so we’re bumping it up to a four and a half stars. Their Barnes is great for local books.
When I was kid growing up in Greensboro, one of the neatest things was going downtown to the Carolina Theater on Saturday afternoons. It was a big treat, a real movie going experience.
Going to the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring reminds me of that experience with the box office located right by the sidewalk and the street. Stepping inside, it is a little cramped but you get that instant cinematic vibe going. It’s a feeling in great contrast to the suburban theaters with their wide open lobbies where a plasma TV is blasting out some bombastic new blockbuster, and gaudy colors splashed all around. In the classic movie theaters, you feel a kinship with your fellow movie-goer.
Silver Spring has really come on in the last several years with a slew of restaurants all in the same area, a large Borders and a grocery store. There are also a couple of parking garages with free parking.
The only downside for Silver Spring is that the location is not apparent when you walk from Metro, and the whole set up is a little confusion. Visit google earth for sure.
Rating: Four Stars
Last year we went to AFI for “Catching Hell,” and were reminded how much we love the place. Unlike most other theaters, where the previews seem to go on forever, AFT limits them and they cherish the art of movies.
We also love the public square where pedestrians rule, and what’s not to like about the public bathroom between the Parking Garage on Wayne Street and the public square?
Also, the water fountain is quite the enchanting place in the summer time. There’s a good number of excellent choices for eating, including Panera and Chick-Fil-A. Silver Spring loses Borders but gains The Fillmore. Their new Transit Center is going to be great for the citizens, but the long delay is unfortunate.
AMC Loews 7
Arlington, an urban county just across the Potomac River from the District, is an interesting bird. It's considered a Central City by the Census Bureau and has two smart growth areas, both recognized by Smart Growth in Action. The Rosslyn-Ballston Metro Corridor has a bevy of great spots, but as far as movie theaters, the main one there is in the Ballston mall. In a sure sign I've gone too anti-70s and 80s, that is not my idea of a pleasant experience. To the rescue is The Village at Shirlington.
There are drawbacks, no Metro and it still has the old-style, pray-no-one-tall-sits-in-front-of-you-type theater with one bathroom upstairs. But Shirlington has transformed into a very desirable and attractive mixed use area. In addition to excellent restaurant choices, it features a new library, new parking garage, new Harris and Teeter, new Busboys and Poets, new Caribou Coffee and other new mixed-use. The really great thing is the very close proximity of everything. After eating, watching the movie and sipping our coffee, we can drop in at the Harris Teeter which is right by the parking garage. The drawback for this place is no bookstore, the theater is not stadium style seating and no Metro. There are plans, however, for rapid bus and possibly light rail.
There is also a potential danger at the main intersection. The tables at the Caribou Coffee are too close to the street. If someone were to turn and lose control, they could injure someone.
Rating: Three and a Half Stars
What I Think Now:
Last year their Octoberfest drew large crowds, a sight to behold and a bold statement for this community. I have come to appreciate libraries more, so it’s great the one here is right in the mix, and Harris Teeter, oh la, la.
The on-going question for Shirlington Village is when are they going to get out of the ice age and get seating that doesn’t require you to be a Giraffe to see the screen.
AMC Loews 14
Georgetown sells itself but the problem is no metro and its riverside, fortress like location that produces a lot of traffic. For movie goers, they lessened this problem several years ago by building a new theater and underground parking garages two blocks south of busy M Street. They have one of the better Barnes and Nobles in the area and the usual excellent restaurants. The design of the theater is really cool, lots of glass and built into the bedrock.
Rating: Four Stars
What I Think Now:
Perhaps because of a greater appreciation for its history, I love Georgetown now more than ever. Some of it is the closer proximity to our house. Despite the traffic snarls on M Street, there’s something transformative about Georgetown. They’ve finished the lovely new waterside park and added a new Apple store.
They have lost the Barnes but are supposed to be re-configuring their mall shops.
Proximity was not a factor last time, as I ranked Bethesda number one. It is more of a factor now. The loss of bookstores had less of an impact than I thought. Of course, we still use the one at Potomac Yard.
1. Georgetown 5
Despite losing the Barnes, Georgetown is our new number one. The new park is a huge plus.
2. Shirlington 4.5
Everything right there, great restaurants, great people and dog watching. Fingers crossed for a new theater with more than one bathroom!
3. Bethesda Row 4.5
Defending champ drops but it is still a jewel, with the best audiences as far as being quiet. Disappointing to see the Barnes have fewer books and more games and such. Maybe when the HOT lanes are done, we’ll go there more often.
4. Penn Quarter 4.5
I know, our DC friends are screaming - Metro! Metro! Metro! We should take it more.
5. Silver Spring 4.5
All eyes on the new Transit Center. Keep wanting to see a concert to the Fillmore.
We love going to the movies, and appreciate the above places as great places to see them. On the downside, seems like there are now even more previews. I say four is enough!
A small bone to pick with our fellow movie lovers. Some people continue to turn on their devices during the movie. The eye catches the light and is distracting.
Still, there’s still nothing like going to the movies, a real bargain for the $8 or so bucks we pay for a matinee. Enjoy the show!