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Time was when nighttime was the right time for Washingtonians to take in the visual riches of the federal government. The Smithsonian museums had late summer hours, and the National Gallery was open until 9 p.m. on Sundays year-round. Best of all, come suppertime, the loudmouthed, know-nothing tourists, weighed down with Renoir posters and Dalí jigsaw puzzles, trundled off to the Hard Rock Cafe. Eventually, Hill bean-counters realized that while such offerings may reflect democracy at its most pleasant, they scarcely show it at its most efficient. Now, five Smithsonian museums have joined forces for a brief season of Thursdays to return to area residents our well-deserved recompense for weathering D.C.’s harshest season. Open Thursdays until 8 p.m. May 30-Aug. 29: National Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Ave. SW; Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, 8th & Independence Ave. SW; Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW; Freer Gallery of Art, 12th & Jefferson Dr. SW. Also open Thursdays until

8 p.m. June 18-Aug. 11: Smithsonian International Gallery, 1100 Jefferson Dr. SW. (202) 357-2700. (Glenn Dixon)