We Washingtonians learned long ago to rise above the summer weather, literally. Rooftop dining is a great way to lift the spirits and put the workaday world into the proper, small perspective. We climb the stairs, and look across at the other rooftop restaurants and nod, and smile.
It's even fun for those passing by on the sidewalks below, when the tinkle of glass and the glitter of lanterns from a couple of stories up filter down over the city.
Other evenings we offer ourselves up as scenery, lounging together under the umbrellas of sidewalk bistros as if awaiting the blood-orange juice and Negroni cocktails of Rome, dismissing the tedium of the traffic, toying with cell phones and cocktail-glass stems and lazily arguing over the menu.
Sometimes we wander down to the wharves along Maine Avenue, and to Old Town Alexandria, Va., hoping the breeze carries away the mosquitoes and diesel and traffic din in favor of a pretense of salt and crab.
Sidewalk cafes and rooftop restaurants are quintessentially urban experiences, compromises with the city's energies--not getaways but get-alongs. And one evening, suddenly, they are not enough.
We recall garden parties of the past with a nearly desperate desire. What we need are the hide-outs, the secret gardens, the patios and terraces where the sidewalks end and where, for just a couple of hours, we can pretend to have left the city not merely below or beyond, but truly behind.
Here, then, are some of the hidden treasures, the courtyards and concealed piazzas of the capital city, places that will take only a few minutes to reach, but which will carry you as far away as you want.
Tabard Inn, 1739 N St. NW; telephone (202) 833-2668; Iron Gate Inn, 1734 N St. NW; tel. (202) 737-1370.
The rear walled garden of the Tabard and the wisteria-braided patio of the Iron Gate across the street are both beauties. Even the tables along the Iron Gate's brick alley have an ambience that would do a New Orleans courtyard proud.
Washington Monarch Hotel, 24th and M streets NW; tel. (202) 457-5000.
There is a garden at the heart of this hotel complex, and although the pavilion-like Colonnade at its center is primarily used for private functions these days, it is open to the public for Sunday brunch (request outdoor seating when making reservations). The hotel's deceptively relaxed but sophisticated Bistro, tel. (202) 457-5020, also opens through to tables in the yard.
Galileo, 1110 21st St. NW; tel. (202) 293-7191.
This famously indulgent restaurant not only has a great trompe l'oeil mural leading you into an eternity of Renaissance courtyard, it also has a garden patio secreted behind the restaurant so that you can be visually as well as sensually transported.
Coco Loco, 810 7th St. NW; tel. (202) 289-2626.
This famously self-indulgent and brilliantly colored spot has a tropical courtyard out back, tented in case of rain, with a riot of neon to match the hot-night music.
Little Fountain Cafe, 2339 18th St. NW; tel. (202) 462-8100.
This Adams-Morgan spot gets away with an exceptional mention because although the garden is in front, it's visually removed--a half-story down--from the sidewalk and because the fountain helps hide the street noise.
Zuki Moon, 824 New Hampshire Ave. NW; tel. (202) 333-3312.
It's probably the second-tiniest nook around, but we have a personal yen for Zuki's patio, especially when we glimpse it from the equally intimate bar over a preliminary bottle of fine cold sake.
Mr. Smith's of Georgetown, 3104 M St. NW; tel. (202) 333-3104.
The oldest garden dining spot in Georgetown is also the largest: Two gardens seat some 200, and there's a retractable roof.
Vietnam Georgetown, 2934 M St. NW; (202) 337-4536.
The patio in back, with its lanterns and brick, makes this a neighborhood favorite.
Tahoga, 2815 M St. NW; tel. (202) 338-5380.
The rear garden here takes the well-bred genteel approach.
Sea Catch, 1054 31st St. NW; tel. (202) 337-8855.
You can cool your soul by slipping cold seafood and sauvignon down your throat while watching the mimosa fronds drifting down the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.
Music City Roadhouse, 1050 30th St. NW; tel. (202) 337-4444.
The canal-side terrace here tends to be loud, but looking out at the Park Service barge, the birds and the occasional child running wild can be oddly charming.
Busara, 2340 Wisconsin Ave. NW; tel. (202) 337-2340.
For sheer escapism, it's hard to beat the rear garden at this glitter-wok Thai stop, which resembles a silk scroll painting brought to fragrant life, and where the fine spicing will put a purely sensual sheen on your candle-lighted skin.
Washington Harbour, on the Potomac River at 30th and K streets NW.
Despite my general reservations about riverfront dining, consider the patios of this complex's waterside restaurants: Sequoia, tel. (202) 944-4200; Tony & Joe's, tel. (202) 944-4545, and the Riverside Grille, tel. (202) 342-3535.
Out of town
Santa Fe East, 110 S. Pitt St., in Old Town Alexandria; tel. (703) 548-6900.
If you could build yourself an Old Spanish hacienda cottage, with a patio that was as much dining room as garden, it couldn't look much different from the Indian-palette courtyard here.
Taverna Creketou, 818 King St., Alexandria; tel. (703) 548-8688.
If you like your stucco with a more exuberant atmosphere, the Taverna's courtyard is among the oldest and most beloved in the whole of Old Town.
Cafe Marianna, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria; tel. (703) 519-3776.
This has a fenced-off patio entirely appropriate to its New Orleans cuisine and its come-on-over-to-my-house style.
Stella's, 1725 Duke St., Alexandria; tel. (703) 519-1946.
The patio dining here is not in a true courtyard, but its patio is recessed, raised and removed enough from the front entrance, hidden behind a fountain, lots of greenery and benches, that it becomes a real escape route.
La Ferme, 7101 Brookville Road, Bethesda, Md.; tel. (301) 986-5255.
This longtime neighborhood secret has only a simple deck into the parking lot, but it is shielded from the road by a hedge and its own flowers and umbrellas.
You don't have to drive two hours out of Washington to find a country inn in order to look out peacefully over the boxwoods and day-lily wilds.
Old Angler's Inn, 10801 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac, Md.; tel. (301) 299-9097.
There are few patios more evocative than the Old Angler's terraces, and when the breeze comes up from the right direction, you can hear the birds and small animals from down near the river.
Inn at Glen Echo, 6119 Tulane Ave., Glen Echo, Md.; tel. (301) 229-2280.
No matter how wired things get, there is always time for a late-afternoon glass of wine on the deck and porches of Glen Echo's Victorians as the fairy-castle tower of the park nearby turn fantastical in the twilight.