Easy escapes to melt the cold-weather blues


The symptoms: persistent daydreams of warm, sunny destinations. An irrepressible urge to crawl under the covers and hibernate until spring.

The diagnosis: the Old Man Winter blues, blahs, and brrrs.

Treatment: A bevy of regional escapes and attractions that offer a respite from winter's chill. Visit and repeat as necessary.

Prognosis: Full and immediate recovery (and thawing) following treatment as prescribed.

Sizzling dances

Outdoors it's frigid, and the wind is blowing. But inside the Latin Palace in Fells Point, the temperature is rising as chicos and chicas hit the dance floor for a little salsa, merengue and bachata, all rhythmic dances of Latin origin. The vibe is sexy, a tad sweaty, and muy caliente - very hot!

"We play a mix of Latin music, from salsa to Spanish reggae and Spanish rock," says manager Keittie Ribadeneira. "Friday night is a bit younger crowd, Saturdays, the mean age is about 40. We get a good, well-behaved crowd."

The multi-level club also features a full-service restaurant with Latin fare, and there are weekly salsa lessons. For New Year's Eve, Latin Palace will stay open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., in case you want to shake your bon-bon all night long.

The Latin Palace is at 509 S. Broadway. 410-522-6700.

Visit a hothouse

Come winter, the U.S. Botanic Garden in the nation's capital offers more than botany, pollination and fertilization: It's a burst of color in a landscape marked by brown, black and gray.

This living plant museum boasts some 26,000 plants, from orchids and cacti to rare and historic specimens. Its 85,000-square-foot greenhouse complex (glass enclosed) is the largest of its kind nationwide, with 16 environmental zones.

And the newly renovated Conservatory is jam-packed with greenery, invoking the feel of endless summer. A stroll through conjures the tropics - warm moist air and the fragrance of exotic blooms.

Heart-warming holiday treats include a lavish train display, lovely poinsettias and live music performances.

The U.S. Botanic Garden has free admission daily. 100 Maryland Ave. S.W., Washington. 202-225-8333 or usbg.gov.

Snuggle by the fire

When the weather outside is frightful, there's always a delightfully roaring fire at the Old Angler's Inn in Potomac. The restaurant's English country dM-icor and steaming bowls of soup (such as fennel chestnut and lobster bisque) are appealing, but the real draw is the fireplace, in the downstairs lounge.

"We burn wood logs all day, from morning to about midnight," says manager Andre Cordon, a Frenchman who's charmed patrons for two decades. "We have love seats and small tables. It's very cozy and romantic."

The historic inn dates back to 1860, and its claim to fame includes hosting soldiers from both sides during the Civil War. Today, the clientele include former Nightline anchor Ted Koppel, members of Congress and Washington bigwigs. Bet they can't resist gazing into the fire either.

10801 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac. 301-365-2425 or 301-299-9097. oldanglersinn.com

Red-hot hot spot

Hotel Rouge/Bar Rouge - a hot boutique hotel and lounge aptly named for its funky red dM-icor - is a hipster's paradise nestled near Embassy Row.

It's welcomed everyone from Alicia Keys and Green Day to NBA player Allen Iverson. But you don't have to be a celebrity to escape the cold and play for a while here.

Bar Rouge has such French/Creole-inspired appetizers as the Red Hot Chicken Quesadilla. The drink list includes "The Adulteress." Or try a holiday cocktail dubbed the Naughty Elf - an adult spin on hot chocolate with cocoa, Frangelico, Irish cream and spicy cinnamon, served in a mug.

There's also club-inspired music, and enough tactile-sensory touches (think velvet, fake fur and floor-to-ceiling red faux leather headboards in rooms) to inspire spontaneous combustion.

Hotel Rouge/Bar Rouge. 1315 16th St. N.W., Washington. 800-368-5689 or rougehotel.com

Rain forest or Outback

No need for an exotic vacation to some far-flung locale. The city's National Aquarium (home to 14,000 fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and marine mammals) is an escape from the frigid clime, no passport required.

In the South American Upland Tropical Rain Forest, tropical birds fly, poison dart frogs hop, piranhas swim and sloths hang amid rain forest plants in this jungle habitat.

In the Amazon River Forest exhibit, view a tributary at the beginning stage of its seasonal flooding and saunter along a 57-foot stretch of riverbank with pygmy marmosets (the world's tiniest monkeys), enormous fish and other rain forest animals.

Last but not least, experience Australia's humid Northern Territory in Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes, the Aquarium's newly opened exhibit. This depiction of a typical northern Australia river gorge is home to 1,800 native creatures - among them crocodiles and even flying foxes. Best of all? The exhibit is kept at a toasty 83 degrees.

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