WHAT TO DO
Washington DC, officially the District of Columbia and also known as DC or Washington, is the capital city of the United States of America. Founded after the American Revolution as the seat of government of the newly independent country, it was named after George Washington, the first president of the United States and a Founding Father. Located on the Potomac River bordering Maryland and Virginia, DC is one of the most visited cities in the United States, with more than twenty million visitors annually. All three branches of the US federal government are centered in the District: Congress (legislative), the President (executive), and the Supreme Court (judicial). Washington is home to many iconic monuments and vast museums, primarily situated on or around the National Mall. With so much superb history, art, food and culture, DC is sure to please.
Begin your adventure on the National Mall. The long, grassy Mall stretches over two miles from the Lincoln Memorial on the west end, past the Washington Monument, to the US Capitol on the east end. It is flanked by the White House to the north, and many of the magnificent Smithsonian museums are lined up in a row along the Mall. The Lincoln Memorial is the hallowed shrine to Abraham Lincoln, who gazes across the Reflecting Pool beneath this neoclassical, Doric columned temple. The words of his Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural speech flank the massive marble statue on the north and south walls. On the steps, Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on August 28, 1963. Note: look for the engraving that marks the spot (it’s on the landing eighteen stairs from the top). Be sure to visit the lower level museum – it features interesting displays about Lincoln’s life and times. Nearby is the somber Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Maya Lin’s design for this evocative memorial takes the form of a black, low lying V – an expression of the emotional scar created by the Vietnam War. The monument descends into the earth, with the names of the conflict’s 58000 plus American casualties – listed in chronological order by date of loss – chiseled into the dark, reflective wall. Note: to find a specific name, use the Directory of Names, located at both ends of the wall and arranged alphabetically.
Henry Bacon, who designed the Lincoln Memorial, also conceived the iconic Reflecting Pool, modeling it after the canals at Versailles and Fontainebleau in France. The half mile long pond holds seven million gallons of water, which circulates in from the nearby Tidal Basin. The two mile stroll around this constructed inlet incorporates the Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr memorials. Set on the south bank of the Tidal Basin amid the cherry trees, the Jefferson Memorial honors the third US president, political philosopher and drafter of the Declaration of Independence. It was designed by John Russell Pope in the style of the ancient Roman Pantheon. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial pays tribute to the longest serving president in US history. Visitors are taken through four red granite areas that narrate FDR’s time in office, from the Depression to the New Deal to World War 2. The story is told through statuary and inscriptions, punctuated with fountains and peaceful alcoves. Opened in 2011, the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial was the first Mall monument to honor an African American. Sculptor Lei Yixin carved the statue, which is reminiscent in concept and style to the Mount Rushmore memorial. Besides Dr King’s striking, thirty foot tall image, known as the Stone of Hope, there are two blocks of granite behind him that represent the Mountain of Despair. A wall inscribed with King’s powerful quotes about democracy, justice and peace flanks the sculpture. Note: during the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the city’s annual spring rejuvenation, the Tidal Basin bursts into a pink and white floral collage.
Dedicated in 2004, the National World War 2 Memorial honors the sixteen million US soldiers who served in the Second World War. Groups of veterans regularly come here to pay their respects to the 400000 Americans who died as a result of the conflict. The plaza’s dual arches symbolize victory in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, and the 56 surrounding pillars represent each US state and territory. The Freedom Wall is studded with 4048 hand sculpted gold stars, one for every 100 Americans who lost their lives in the war (the stars are replicas of those worn by mothers who lost their sons in the fighting). Bas relief panels depict both combat and the mobilization of the home front. Note: alongside the memorial to the south there is an information kiosk where you can look through the registry of war veterans. Peaking at 555 feet and composed of 36000 blocks of stone, the Washington Monument is the district’s tallest structure. Opened to the public on October 9, 1888 – the obelisk was built to commemorate George Washington. Political shenanigans followed by the American Civil War interrupted its construction. When work began again, a new quarry sourced the marble – notice the delineation in color where the old and new marble meet about a third of the way up. Take the elevator to the top for commanding views of the city. Note: you need a ticket to get in – same day passes for a timed entrance are available at the kiosk by the monument. During peak season it’s a good idea to reserve tickets in advance online (www.recreation.gov) for a small fee.
Continue east along the Mall until you reach the National Museum of African American History & Culture. Opened in 2016, this fascinating museum covers the diverse African American experience and how it helped shape the nation. Start downstairs in the sobering ‘Slavery and Freedom’ exhibition and work your way up to the community and culture galleries on the 3rd and 4th floors, where African American achievements in sport, music, theater and visual arts are joyfully celebrated. Artifacts, state of the art interactive exhibits, site specific artworks and interesting interpretative panels abound in the cleverly designed and dramatically lit exhibition spaces. Note: admission is free and timed entry passes are required. Next door is the National Museum of American History. Containing all kinds of artifacts of the American experience, this museum has as its centerpiece the flag that flew over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 – the same flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ (it’s on the entry level). Other highlights include Julia Child’s kitchen (1st floor) and ‘The First Ladies’ costume exhibit on the 3rd floor. Further down the Mall is the National Museum of Natural History. This is arguably the most popular of the Smithsonian museums, so crowds are pretty much guaranteed. Say hello to Henry, the elephant who guards the rotunda, then head up to the 2nd floor’s Hope Diamond, a 45 karat trinket that’s said to have cursed its owners, which included Marie Antoinette. The giant squid (Ocean Hall), T Rex (Dinosaur Hall) and Easter Island heads (lobby at the Constitution Avenue entrance) provide additional thrills at this kid packed spot.
My favorite museum in town is the National Gallery of Art – two buildings, hundreds of masterpieces, infinite enjoyment. The neoclassical West Building showcases European art through to the early 1900s; highlights include works by Da Vinci, Monet and Van Gogh. The IM Pei designed East Building displays modern and contemporary art. Do not miss Jackson Pollock’s Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) and Pablo Picasso’s Family of Saltimbanques. An underground walkway connects the buildings and is made extraordinary by Leo Villareal’s light sculpture, Multiverse. Note: the National Gallery’s documentary and avant garde film program takes place several times a month in the East Building auditorium. Free classical concerts fill the air on Sundays, fall through spring, in the West Building’s West Garden Court. Across the Mall is the Smithsonian Castle, which houses the Smithsonian Visitor Center. James Renwick designed this turreted, red sandstone fairy tale in 1855. Inside you’ll find history exhibits, multilingual touch screen displays, a staffed information desk, free maps, a cafe and the tomb of James Smithson, the institution’s founder. His crypt lies inside a little room by the main entrance off the Mall. Close by is the Hirshhorn Museum. The Smithsonian’s cylindrical art museum shows works from modernism’s early days to today’s most cutting edge practitioners. Exhibitions of works drawn from the museum’s extensive collection are offered alongside curated shows of work by prominent contemporary artists. Note: visitors can relax in the 3rd floor sitting area, which has couches, floor to ceiling windows and a balcony offering Mall views.
Another super popular destination on the Mall is the National Air & Space Museum. The legendary exhibits at this place include the Wright brothers’ flyer, Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis, Howard Hughes’ H-1 Racer and Amelia Earhart’s natty Vega 5B. Children and adults alike love walking through the Skylab Orbital Workshop and viewing the ‘Apollo to the Moon’ exhibit upstairs. Immersive experiences include an IMAX theater, planetarium and flight simulators. Exhibits are being overhauled until 2025, with new exhibits such as ‘Destination Moon’, a comprehensive look at the history of lunar exploration, being added. Note: additional avionic relics reside just outside DC in Virginia at the Steven F Udvar Hazy Center, an annex that holds more of this museum’s extraordinary collection. End your adventure on the National Mall with a visit to the US Capitol, but first check out the Ulysses S Grant Memorial. This ornate monument showing the celebrated general on horseback dominates the eastern side of the Capitol Reflecting Pool. Since 1800, the US Capitol is where the legislative branch of American government (Congress) has met to write the country’s laws. The lower House of Representatives (435 members) and upper Senate (100) meet respectively in the south and north wings of the building. Enter via the underground visitor center below the East Front Plaza. Guided tours of the building are free, but tickets are limited and there’s often a long wait. Note: it’s best to reserve online in advance. The hour long tour showcases the exhaustive background of a building that fairly sweats history. You’ll watch a brief film first, then staff members lead you into the ornate halls and whispery chambers cluttered with the busts, statues and personal mementos of generations of Congress members.
Nearby is the Library of Congress. It is the world’s largest library with 164 million books, manuscripts, maps, photos, films and other items. The centerpiece is the 1897 Jefferson Building. Gawk at the Great Hall, done up in stained glass, marble and mosaics of mythical characters, then seek out the Gutenberg Bible (c 1455), Thomas Jefferson’s round library and the reading room viewing area. Not far away is the US Supreme Court. The highest court in the country occupies a pseudo Greek temple protected by 13000 pound bronze doors. Arrive early to watch arguments (periodic Monday through Wednesday from October to April). You can visit the permanent exhibits and the building’s two five story, marble and bronze spiral staircases year round. On days when court is not in session you can also hear lectures (every hour on the half hour beginning at 930a) in the courtroom. Note: if you wish to attend arguments, lines form out front by the court steps starting at 8a. When the building was erected in 1935, some justices felt it was too large and didn’t properly reflect the subdued influence of the nine justices within. The neoclassical design was meant to evoke a Greek temple. The seated figures in front of the building represent the female Contemplation of Justice and the male Guardian of Law; panels on the front doors depict the history of jurisprudence. The interior grand corridor and Great Hall are no less impressive. Downstairs is an exhibit on the history of the court.
From there, make your way to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. For a deep understanding of the Holocaust – its victims, perpetrators and bystanders – this harrowing museum is a must see. The main exhibit gives visitors the identity card of a single Holocaust victim, whose story is revealed as you take a winding route into a hellish past marked by ghettos, rail cars and death camps. It also shows the flip side of human nature, documenting the risks many citizens took to help the persecuted. To view the permanent exhibit, same day passes, available at the desk on the 1st floor, are required March through August. The passes allow entrance at a designated time. Note: arrive early because they do run out. Better yet, reserve tickets in advance via the museum’s website. Next, stop by the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The home of the President of the United States was built between 1792 and 1800. It is an iconic, imposing building that’s thrilling to see but difficult to access. The land north of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was originally deeded as part of the White House grounds. However, in 1804 President Thomas Jefferson decided to divide the plot and give half back to the public in the form of a park, now known as Lafayette Square. Adjacent to the square is St John’s Church. It is DC’s most important church because it’s the ‘Church of the Presidents’ – every president since James Madison has attended services here at least once, and pew 54 is permanently reserved for the incumbent of the White House. Part of the Smithsonian group, the Renwick Gallery is set in a stately 1859 mansion on the same block of Pennsylvania as the White House. It’s emerged as a showcase for modern and contemporary artists who use innovative techniques and materials, redefining what ‘craft’ is and taking contemporary arts and crafts in daring new directions.
Located at 701 Constitution Avenue, the National Archives Museum contains the big three documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. A short distance away at 511 10th Street is Ford’s Theatre. On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln here. Free timed entry tickets provide access to the site, which has four parts: the theater itself (where you see the box seat Lincoln was sitting in when Booth shot him), the basement museum (displaying Booth’s pistol), the Petersen House (across the street, where Lincoln died) and the aftermath exhibits. The play the president and Mrs Lincoln watched was Our American Cousin. Booth knew the farce and knew at what line the audience would laugh most. He shot Lincoln at that moment to muffle the sound. Note: be sure to reserve tickets online. Nearby, the Reynolds Center is one of DC’s finest museums. This Smithsonian venue combines the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum into one whopping collection of American art that’s unmatched anywhere in the world. Keep an eye out for famed works by Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol and loads more celebrated artists. Another splendid museum is the Phillips Collection, located near Dupont Circle. The country’s first modern art museum (opened in 1921) houses a small but exquisite collection of European and American works. Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party is a highlight, along with pieces by Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso and many other greats. The intimate rooms, set in a restored mansion and adjacent former apartment building, put you unusually close to the artworks. The Rothko Room, which has four of the abstract expressionist’s pieces, is also worth a peek. Note: admission to the permanent collection is free during the week, with a $10 admission fee on weekends.
From there, head up to the Washington National Cathedral. Constructed between 1907 and 1990, this huge neo Gothic cathedral blends the spiritual with the profane in its architecture. Most of its richly colored stained glass windows celebrate religious themes, although the ‘Scientists and Technicians’ window with its embedded lunar rock is an exception. Presidents attend multi faith services following their inauguration, state funerals are hosted inside and this was where Martin Luther King Jr gave his last Sunday sermon. Teddy Roosevelt witnessed the cornerstone being laid by workers in 1907 and construction ended in 1990 when the west towers were completed, with George HW Bush looking on. In the main sanctuary, chapels honor Martin Luther King Jr and Abraham Lincoln. Note: take the elevator to the 7th floor observation gallery for commanding city views or meander outside through the peaceful winding paths in the Bishop’s Garden. Conclude your tour of Washington DC by visiting two of its most popular neighborhoods – Adams Morgan and Georgetown. Adams Morgan has long been DC’s fun, nightlife driven party zone. It’s also a global village of sorts. The result today is a raucous mash up centered around 18th Street. Vintage boutiques, record shops and ethnic eats stick out between thumping bars and a growing number of stylish spots for foodies. Georgetown is DC’s most aristocratic neighborhood, home to elite university students, ivory tower academics and diplomats. Fancy brand name shops, dark wood pubs, snug cafes and upscale restaurants line the streets. My favorite location in Georgetown is The Exorcist Stairs. Found at the corner of Prospect Street and 36th Street, this steep set of steps dropping down to M Street is the famous spot where demonically possessed Father Damien Karras tumbles to his death in the 1973 horror film classic The Exorcist.
WHERE TO EAT
Washington DC has many great places to eat, drink and indulge. Start your day at Tryst, located at 2459 18th Street in Adams Morgan. The couches, armchairs and bookshelves, and the light flooding through streetside windows, lure patrons to this popular hangout. They crowd in for the coffee, pastries, stellar omelet and waffle breakfasts, and creative sandwiches. Note: come nightfall, baristas become bartenders, and the cafe hosts jazzy live music several nights a week. Next door at 2453 18th Street is The Diner. This retro style diner serves up classic comfort food seven days a week, with a full bar, homemade desserts and old fashioned milkshakes. The buttermilk pancakes are top notch. Found at 430 K Street is A Baked Joint. Order at the counter then take your luscious, heaped on housemade bread sandwich – perhaps the smoked salmon and scallion cream cheese on an open faced baguette, or the fried green tomatoes on buttered griddled sourdough – to a bench or table in the big, open room. Pair your deliciousness with a well made latte. Its sister property, Baked & Wired is located at 1052 Thomas Jefferson Street in Georgetown. This cheery cafe whips up beautifully made coffees, bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits and enormous cupcakes. When the weather permits, take your goodies outside to the adjacent grassy area by the C&O Canal. Note: once inside the cafe, head to the right for coffee drinks and stay left for the sweet treats. Nearby at 3210 Grace Street is Grace Street Coffee. This little shop roasts its own beans and makes its own syrups, and then morphs them into exquisite coffee drinks. It’s in a mini food hall that shares space with a juice bar and excellent sandwich shop (called Sundevich, which specializes in creations named after global cities, like the chicken and avocado Lima and the Gruyere and ham Paris).
There are a couple of fantastic markets in DC. The first is Union Market, located at 1309 5th Street. The cool crowd hobnobs at this food hall, where culinary entrepreneurs sell their banana ginger chocolates, herbed goat’s cheeses and smoked meats. Among the stalls featuring prepared foods, everything from Burmese milkshakes to Indian dosas to Korean tacos boggle taste buds. Craft beers and coffee provide added sustenance. Tables dot the sunlit warehouse, and many locals make an afternoon of it here, nibbling and reading. If you fancy oysters, be sure to seek out the Rappahannock Oyster Bar for straight from Chesapeake Bay slurping. Note: Union Market is about a half mile walk from the NoMa Metro station, in the midst of several other food supply warehouses. The other is Eastern Market, found at 225 7th Street. One of the icons of Capitol Hill, this roofed bazaar sprawls with delectable chow and good cheer, especially on weekends. Built in 1873, it is the last of the 19th century covered markets that once supplied DC’s food. The South Hall has a bakery, a dairy, a deli, a fishmonger, butchers, flower vendors, and fruit and vegetable sellers. The Market Lunch stall sells prepared foods and is a crowd favorite for its oyster sandwiches and blueberry buckwheat pancakes. Come the weekend, the market grows massively in size. Artisans and farmers bring their wares and set up outside. Besides fresh apples, peppers, eggplants and other produce, you can pick up handmade soaps, colorful pottery, painted ceramics and unusual jewelry. A flea market also joins the fun, plunking more booths along 7th Street and adding antiques, clothing and global goods to the browsing acreage. The scene basically becomes a big street fair.
The best deli in town is Stachowski Market, located at 1425 28th Street (corner of 28th and P Street) in Georgetown. This place rules – it is a chef driven butcher shop, deli and grocery store. Here you will taste the expertise in cured and smoked meats culminating in superb sandwiches and meat platters for the lunch crowd. Arrive with an appetite and get the massive hot pastrami sandwich with mustard on pumpernickel bread. Another favorite is Shouk, found at 655 K Street. This usually crowded spot does tasty Israeli street food. An awesome burger made of chickpeas, black beans, lentils and mushrooms gets stuffed into a toasty pita with pickled turnips, arugula and charred onions. The mushroom and cauliflower pita and sweet potato fries with cashew labneh (cream cheese) are delightful. Shouk’s rustic wood tables, exposed brick walls and pantry shelves made from repurposed crates give it a funky, industrial vibe. For dynamite Indian food, head to Rasika at 633 D Street. The room resembles a Jaipur palace decorated by modernist art gallery curators. Top marks go to the murgh mussalam, a plate of juicy tandoori chicken with cashews and quail eggs; and the deceptively simple dal (lentils), with just the right kiss of sharp fenugreek. For the best sushi in town, make your way to Sushi Taro at 1503 17th Street. You can order a la carte at this Michelin starred spot, but the tasting menu is the way to go. The kitchen obsesses over preparing the finest, freshest fish possible, arranged with beautiful sides and garnishes. If you crave more Japanese, try Donburi at 2438 18th Street in Adams Morgan. This hole in the wall joint has a dozen seats at a wooden counter where you get a front row view of the slicing, dicing chefs. Donburi means ‘bowl’ in Japanese, and that’s what arrives steaming hot and filled with panko coated shrimp atop rice, blended with the house’s sweet and savory sauce. Note: there’s often a line, but it moves quickly.
Old Ebbitt Grill is located at 675 15th Street. Established in DC in 1856, this legendary tavern has occupied prime real estate near the White House since 1983. Political players and tourists pack into the wood paneled interior, where thick burgers, succulent steaks and jumbo lump crab cakes are rotated out almost as quickly as the clientele. Pop in for a cocktail and oysters during happy hour. Note: Presidents Ulysses S Grant, Andrew Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt and Warren Harding are said to have knocked back a few at the original boarding house, DC’s first saloon. According to legend, the animal heads over the bar were bagged by Teddy Roosevelt himself. If you fancy French cuisine, do visit Bistrot du Coin at 1738 Connecticut Avenue in Dupont Circle. This lively and much loved bistro is a neighborhood favorite for roll up your sleeves, working class French fare. The kitchen sends out consistently good onion soup, classic steak frites, cassoulet, open faced sandwiches and 11 varieties of its famous moules (mussels). Regional wines from around the motherland accompany the food by the glass, carafe and bottle. The clientele is a fun mix of Dupont locals and nostalgic Europeans, and the atmosphere feels plucked out of George Orwell’s Down and Out descriptions of Paris. Un autre magnifique spot is Le Diplomate, found at 1601 14th Street in Logan Circle. This charming French brasserie is one of the hottest tables in town. DC celebrities cozy up in the leather banquettes and at the sidewalk tables. They come for an authentic slice of Paris, from the coq au vin (wine braised chicken) and aromatic baguettes to the vintage nudie photos decorating the bathrooms.
Set in a cavern like green basement at 1511 17th Street, Little Serow has no phone, no reservations and no sign on the door, and it only seats groups of four or fewer. Despite all this, people line up around the block for superlative northern Thai cuisine. The single option menu, consisting of six or so hot spiced courses, changes weekly. Dabney is located at 122 Blagden Alley in Downtown. Chef Jeremiah Langhorne studied historic cookbooks, discovering recipes that used local ingredients and lesser explored flavors in his quest to revive mid Atlantic cuisine lost to the ages. Most of the dishes are even cooked over a wood burning hearth, as in George Washington’s time. Langhorne gives it all a modern twist – enough to earn him a Michelin star. You’ll need to order two or three small plates to make a meal. This warm, wood clad spot is tucked away in Blagden Alley. From 9th Street look for the Blagden street sign and follow the brick lane in past the mural painted buildings. Note: the restaurant’s basement houses Dabney Cellar, an equally impressive wine bar. ChiKo stands for Chinese and Korean, and can be found at 423 8th Street in Capitol Hill. Dishes at this fusion spot such as pork and kimchi potstickers and chilled acorn noodles wow the foodie masses. It is fast casual in set up – order at the counter, then try to score one of the handful of picnic tables in the fluorescent lit room. Salt Line is at 79 Potomac Avenue in South DC. With views of the Anacostia River and a buzzy crowd, this place is a Navy Yard hot spot. Take a seat inside amid modern nautical decor, or outside at the open air bar and commence slurping regional oysters and ice cold draft beers, or maybe a lobster roll and twisted Cape Cod cocktail.
Compass Rose feels like a secret garden, set in a discreet townhouse at 1346 T Street. The exposed brick walls and sky blue ceiling give it a casually romantic air. The menu is a mash up of global comfort foods, so dinner might entail Jamaican curried lamb, Argentinian asado (rib eye with chimichurri) and Georgian khachapuri (buttery, cheese filled bread). Note: the restaurant does not take reservations, though waiting at the bar sipping offbeat wines and cocktails from around the world makes the time pass quickly. Located at 1340 4th Street is the outstanding Masseria. Chef Nicholas Stefanelli’s Michelin star winning Italian oasis flourishes in the industrial neighborhood near Union Market. A festive outdoor terrace and two cozy interior rooms convey the tranquil allure of a southern Italian evening – as does the prix fixe only menu. Innovative dishes range from linguine with spicy sauce or beef tripe and lobster stew to venison with wild mushrooms and chestnuts. Federalist Pig can be found at 1654 Columbia Road in Adams Morgan. This humble, shack like spot with a handful of tables barbecues renowned ribs and pork shoulder. View the menu on the tack up board, place your order at the counter, grab a beer from the cooler, then wait for your meat to arrive. Note: it serves until the food runs out, which happens fairly often. Finish up your DC culinary experience at my favorite restaurant in town. Located nearby in Adams Morgan at 1827 Adams Mill Road is the excellent Tail Up Goat. With its pale blue walls, light wood decor and lantern like lights dangling overhead, this hip bistro exudes a warm, island vibe. The lamb ribs are out of this world – crispy and lusciously fatty, served with date molasses juice. The housemade breads and spreads star on the menu as well – say, flaxseed sourdough with beets. It’s no wonder Michelin gave this place a star. The menu is mostly shareable plates plus a handful of meat and fish mains. Lots of wines and refreshing cocktails help wash it all down. Note: reservations are essential.
Washington DC has a number of cool places to have a drink and see a show – I would like to share a few of my favorites. Begin at Columbia Room, found at 124 Blagden Alley in Downtown. Serious mixology goes on here – the kind of place that sources spring water from Scotland, and uses pickled cherry blossom and barley tea among its ingredients. Thankfully it’s done in a refreshingly non snooty environment. Choose from three areas: the festive Punch Garden on the outdoor roof deck, the comfy, leather chair dotted Spirits Library, or the 14 seat, prix fixe Tasting Room. You need tickets for the Tasting Room (the website has details), which hides behind a curtain out back. Be sure to book the four course menu ($85) of cocktails with accompanying snacks. The Punch Garden and Spirits Library are walk in seating. Note: the bar is a bit tricky to find, located in mural splashed Blagden Alley, between 9th and 10th Streets. A fun spot is Board Room, located at 1737 Connecticut Avenue in Dupont Circle. Grab a table, pull up a stool and crush your opponent at Hungry Hungry Hippos. Or cozy up to a serious game of Scrabble. This joint lets you flash back to your childhood via stacks of board games (Battleship, Risk, Operation) – name it, and it’s available to rent for $2. Around 20 beers flow from the taps and are available by pitcher to stoke the festivities. Not far from the White House at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue is Round Robin. Dispensing drinks since 1847, this bar at the Willard Hotel is one of DC’s most famous watering holes. The small, circular space is done up in classic accents, all dark wood trim, marble bar and leather seats. While it’s touristy, you’ll likely still see officials here determining your latest tax hike over a mint julep or single malt scotch. The bar claims to be the place where the mint julep was introduced to DC courtesy of planter and statesman Henry Clay. Portraits of famous patrons, Walt Whitman and Woodrow Wilson among them, adorn the walls. Another superb hotel bar in the area is Off the Record, found inside the Hay Adams Hotel at 800 16th Street. Experienced bartenders swirl martinis and manhattans at this discreet basement location right across the street from the White House.
For a less fancy feel, head up to Dan’s Cafe at 2315 18th Street in Adams Morgan. This is one of DC’s great dive bars. The interior looks sort of like an evil Elks Club, all unironically old school art, cheap paneling and dim lights barely illuminating the unapologetic slumminess. It’s famed for its whopping, mix it yourself drinks, where you get a ketchup style squirt bottle of booze, a can of soda and a bucket of ice for $20. Note: the bar is cash only. Also on 18th Street in Adams Morgan at 2007 is the Jack Rose Dining Saloon. Walk into this joint and you know you’ve hit the whiskey jackpot. Hundreds of bottles stack the shelves – 2687 bottles, to be exact. It’s the largest whiskey collection in the western hemisphere. The space contains multiple bars on three stories, each with a different feel and different cocktail menu. Here’s the lineup: you’ve got the main Dining Saloon, where you can order from the full restaurant menu (Southern tinged American fare) and cigar menu to go with your booze; the Open Air Terrace, with its retractable roof and upscale snack menu; the groovy Tiki Bar, a festive seasonal space; and the basement Whiskey Cellar, where entrance is by reservation only. One more solid dive bar is Raven, located at 3125 Mount Pleasant Street. This place has been serving drinks since 1935. It has the best jukebox in town, a dark interior with vintage booths and rad neon lighting that casts you under a glow Edward Hopper should rightly have painted. Note: the bar is cash only. Last but not least there is Hank’s Cocktail Bar, found at 1624 Q Street. With its high backed wooden booths, chain wrapped lights and flickering candles, it feels both modern and medieval. It’s dark and slightly eerie, which is a contrast to the playful cocktails. Order a classic Old Fashioned, a New Fashioned with bourbon and chai, or try a drink with mushroom infused Scotch.
DC has a cool music scene and some of the best venues on the East Coast. There are 3 in particular that stand out above the rest. The first is Black Cat, located at 1811 14th Street. Opened in 1993, this live music club has a capacity of 700 on the second floor Mainstage. Lesser known acts play on the Backstage, a smaller area on the first floor that holds approximately 200 people. The first floor of the club also contains a no cover charge bar and lounge called the Red Room. My favorite venue in the city can be found nearby at 815 V Street. The 9:30 Club, which can pack 1200 people into a surprisingly compact space, is the granddaddy of the live music scene in DC. Pretty much every big name that comes through town ends up on this stage at some point. The last venue is The Anthem, located at 901 Wharf Street in South DC. Opened in 2017, it has quickly become one of DC’s best live music venues. Most tickets for this 6000 capacity hall are general admission, standing.
WHERE TO STAY
Washington DC offers a number of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations and provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is The LINE DC, located in the heart of Adams Morgan at 1770 Euclid Street. Set in a converted early 1900s church, this cosmopolitan hotel is around the corner from the action on 18th Street and not far from the Washington National Cathedral. Vintage chic, art filled rooms have free WiFi, flat screen TVs, minibars and sitting areas. Upgraded quarters add separate living rooms and feature balconies. Amenities include 3 outstanding restaurants and 3 vibrant bars, as well as a cafe and a community radio station.
A second option is The Jefferson, located at 1200 16th Street. Situated in a 1926 beaux arts building, this luxury boutique hotel is a short walk from the White House and National Mall. The sophisticated rooms feature traditional furnishings, flat screen TVs and complimentary WiFi. Individual touches include 4 poster beds, fireplaces, and free standing tubs made with hand cut Italian and Spanish stone and marble. Upgrades add separate living areas. Other perks include a fine dining restaurant, an upscale bar with terrace seating and a spa.
Washington DC is full of extraordinary history, art, culture and cuisine. It treated me well and I look forward to returning.