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Don’t Fret Your Debt

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Tunnicliff’s Tavern offers a cheap late-night menu on Thursdays.

No matter what the negotiators working on the deficit deal say, you know the cold financial truth: You’re about to hit your own personal debt limit. 

But light-in-the-wallet syndrome doesn’t mean a sentence of ramen noodles and “Law & Order” reruns. Fret not, young cheapskate, we’ve got you covered with fun, food and libation on Capitol Hill at prices that even the stingiest deficit hawk could love. 

We’re talking free movies, cheap designer duds and a weekend’s worth of bottomless Bloody Marys. 

But cutting, capping and balancing your personal budget? That’s up to you. 


Luxe for Less

Yes, being a cheapskate often requires dining on boxed mac and cheese and shopping at Old Navy. But sometimes, even the most frugal among us craves something a little more luxurious. Here’s where to live it up without breaking the bank:

Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar — Usually pricey vino is just $5 a glass during the weekday happy hour at this House-side wine bar. The special price is available only in the sleek upstairs lounge, where low-slung couches and views of Pennsylvania Ave. make for excellent people-watching (oh hello, Mr Chairman!). 

223 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. 202-544-8088

Clothes Encounters of a Second Kind — Look beyond the racks of pricey St. John suits and other stuffy Hill-lady gear at this Eastern Market consignment shop, and you’ll find plenty of labels that younger Hill staffers might want to snatch up — and at prices that even the lowliest legislative assistant can stomach. A recent trip turned up Coach handbags for less than $100, a BCBG frock for $25 and a smattering of Lilly Pulitzer preppiness for less than $50. 

202 Seventh St. SE.

Charlie Palmer Steak — Most diners at the upscale restaurant are putting their tabs on fat expense accounts, but the prix fixe lunch at this airy, light-filled power spot is tailor-made for those who must pay their own way. A $25 lunch is certainly a splurge, but it’s worth it: three elegant courses, always with an entree steak option. 

101 Constitution Ave. NW. 202-547-8100


A Deal Every Day of the Week


Start off the workweek with a happy hour that’s low-key but classy: Zest American Bistro on Barracks Row offers an under-the-radar daily special that won’t wreak havoc with your budget. From 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., decent wines and rail drinks are $5, while beers are $4. And the food’s an even better deal, with a menu that includes a hefty burger on a buttery brioche and a side of fries for $6. 

735 Eighth St. SE. 202-544-7171


If it’s Tuesday, it’s taco night at the Argonaut. Seriously good fish tacos are $3 each (or $2 for chicken or tempeh), a bargain for cilantro-flecked, corn-tortilla-wrapped goodness. Bonus: Happy hours at this undersea-themed H Street pioneer knock a buck off draft beer.
1433 H St. NE. 202-250-3660


The Star and Shamrock’s Reuben sandwich, possibly one of the best sandwiches on Capitol Hill, is half-price on hump day. Five bucks for slabs of rye bread piled with house-cured corned beef and from-scratch sauerkraut? Yes, please.  

1341 H St. NE. 202-388-3833


Early bird specials are for retirees — or people who can leave work at reasonable hours. Save your appetite for later, when Tunnicliff’s Tavern’s late-night menu kicks in. Beer-sopping bar classics, such as burgers and pizza, are all $7 at this Eastern Market tavern.

222 Seventh St. SE. 202-544-5680 


On Fridays, Hamilton’s Bar & Grill offers one of the best beer deals with $1 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the beloved brew of hipsters and blue-collar workers. A party-like atmosphere and out-of-the-way location make it a solid spot to kick off the weekend.

233 Second St. NW. 202-347-6555


Nothing says, “Hello, weekend!” like a daylong Bloody Mary bender. At funky gas-station-themed Trusty’s Full-Serve Bar (dig the schoolbus-turned-bar upstairs), all the Bloody Marys or screwdrivers you can swill will set you back a wallet-friendly $14. 

1420 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. 202-547-1010


Nothing wards off the dread of another week of Congressional session — or cures a hangover from Saturday’s Bloodies — like (another) daylong Bloody Mary bender. And with the Pour House’s bottomless Bloody Marys and mimosas during its weekend brunches, you can imbibe among friends — and on the cheap. Endless trips to the Bloody Mary bar are $13; while all the mimosas you can (not should) drink are $15. 

319 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. 202-546-0779


Totally Free! 

We’ve all heard that adage about nothing being free. But whoever first said that must not have spent much time on Capitol Hill, where there are loads of freebies to be found — if you know where to look. 

Here’s what you can get without forking over a single dime:


So they look a little like something your middle school cafeteria might have served, but with a few shakes of hot sauce and a cold beer, the tacos that the Hawk ’n’ Dove offers up Friday nights are perfectly satisfying. The gratis food starts flowing at 5 p.m. sharp.

329 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. 202-543-3300



Settle in at the upstairs piano bar of the Banana Café during happy hour, and you’ll probably see platefuls of on-the-house nibbles emerging from the kitchen. Quesadillas, mozzarella sticks or zucchini sticks make great accompaniments to the drink specials ($3 margaritas, rail drinks and domestic beers are available from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.). 

500 Eighth St. SE. 202-543-5906

Fresh Produce

The vendors at Eastern Market might call those plates of tomato slices or peach wedges “samples,” but we sometimes call them “lunch.” Many of the farmers hawking their produce set out plates for tasting, and some even serve their veggies sprinkled with salt and pepper for your grazing enjoyment. We won’t judge if you come back for thirds.

225 Seventh St. SE. 202-698-5253


From Gershwin melodies to Sousa marches, military bands crank out some of the finest (and free-est) music in the land. The U.S. Navy Concert Band plays patriotic and popular tunes at
8 p.m. on Monday nights on the West Front of the Capitol.
The President’s Own also has weekly gigs around Capitol Hill: Catch the U.S. Marine Band on Wednesdays on the Capitol’s West Terrace and during their Friday parades at 8:45 p.m. at the Marine Barracks (both are free, but you’ll need reservations for the parade). Add a blanket and a few sandwiches, and you’ve got date night.



Forget the movie-industrial complex, which will rip you off with $14 tickets (and that’s without the “handling charge”) and $8 popcorn to go with those overly slick CGI effects. Funkier and cooler are the free movies at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. The roomy H Street theater screens films Thursday through Sunday in four different series: Gay 101 (featuring flicks such as “Milk” and “Victor Victoria”), musicals (everything from “My Fair Lady” to “Dreamgirls”), family (classics such as “The Goonies” and “Shrek”) and the oeuvre of Spike Lee. 

1333 H St. NE. 202-399-7993

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