2022 starts off with a bang with a deep dive exploring our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. – the last time I was there I was 12 and remember only seeing Fonzie’s jacket and eating a particularly good Caesar salad in a place called Georgetown. So I was super excited to discover that D.C is without question my new favorite sleeper destination, a secret so good that I don’t mind sharing it because D.C. has proven she can take it with its multitude of flamboyant neighborhoods, life affirming dining experiences, and rivers of cultural explorations. More surprising then anything were the people; friendly, outgoing and … fun. Really fun. Nice, optimistic and joy loving. The town is in love with itself and that romance spills out on the streets nightly from the barrel full of bars and lounges built purposefully to try to contain this river of good vibes, like a levy of love on the Potomac.
So without further poetic waxing, I give you D.C., raw and mostly unedited as we found her. Enjoy.
A Meal That Would Change My Life
While exploring The Yards district nestled in the District of Columbia we discovered what would be our new most favorite dining experience, Albi. And when I say experience, I mean it. Here you journey through the rich complex flavors of Levantine cooking with chef/owner Michael Rafidi guiding the way. Drawing on home cooked Palestinian dishes, Rafidi gifts you with an unbelievable authentic fine dining experience while wrapped in a womb of warm architectural beauty. Every Albi seat is enchanted by the traditional wood burning open hearth that adds palatable drama to every course, and their chef table offers more show then Cirque du Solei. While Albi is known for its ambrosia, their nectar game is as on point with a very serious wine program crafted by William Simons that brings eclectic eastern Mediterranean grape direct to your pallet. I was more interested in the small batch Syrian arak, whose ceremonial preparation and astringent bouquet puts your meal in hyperdrive, both complementing these desert flavors while serving as physician on duty as a slowly administered digestif. Simply genius. All this sensory conditioning is perfect to prepare you for the epicurean tidal wave that’s about to crash on your palate. Equipped with a handy user manual to these unique flavors, these onslaught of playful dishes that come in waves rave in your mouth, each more complex and soothing than the next. Best yet, the entire experience is elevated by the super friendly and knowledgeable staff that seem to be as excited as you are to feast on such unique and perfectly prepared dishes, and why wouldn’t they be? Embered mushroom and black garlic hummus, smoked beef cheek dolma, apple and pear fattoush with pomegranate molasses, and smoked belly lamb kebabs with habanada honey are a few magical dishes that if said out loud have a truly spell-like effect. While the menu is not vast, it is profound, right down to the deserts, and while not what I would consider cheap by any measure, every bite is worth every penny for this extraordinarily special experience. Bravo Albi, shukran lakum.
A Sexy-Chic Place To Stay
Thomson Hotel DC
221 Tingey St SE, Washington, DC 20003
I was super excited to stay in Washington DC’s new built to order hip neighborhood, the yards, that took the defunct navy yard and magically transformed it into a epicurean and tastemaker paradise. At the center of it and a stone’s throw from the baseball field, is the luxuriously sleek Thompson hotel. A premiere Hyatt property, the rooms here are nothing less than dreamy, offering casual white glove service and some very clever amenities you wish you had at home. I also liked their cheeky sexy nod that we are in an adult’s playground part of town. While the hotel offers views that beckon you to explore DC, there is a strong case for not leaving the yards at all, with Maialino Mare (https://www.maialinomare.com/) right down stairs, honed by my favorite restaurateur Danney Meyer, which was so hot I couldn’t even get a table so here’s a bunch of pictures of food they might have if you go. And upstairs the party continues with their penthouse lounge Anchovy Social (https://www.anchovysocial.com/) which has killer booze, killer food, and killer views that give you a true glimpse into What it’s like to live here. Hmmm. They should come over to the bar and have fun. Regardless what kind of night you have in the morning you are met with perhaps the sweetest self serve continental worthy of a Pinterest board for sure, that will fuel you for your conquest of the great city of Washington DC.
Best Place To Throw One Back With A View
Well to do drunken sailors and elite social media moguls rejoice at the notion of a hazy night spent in the Yards, Washington DC’s brand spanking new adult playground that is just lousy with world class eats and hyperactive watering holes. For a sublime time above the chaos one would be wise to swim upstream to Anchovy Social, located on the roof of the uber swank Thompson hotel. Toted as having year-round waterfront vibes, after-work spritzes, and the occasional seafood tower, the master mixologist here will blur your definition between heaven and earth and pour it in a glass for you. Once properly libated, head out to the parapet where you can watch the Emmy award winning show “what’s my neighbor doing up?”. It’s a gas.
Can We Just Talk About DC’s Chinatown For A Sec?
As an unyielding New Yorker, I always enjoy an authentic Chinatown experience, where I can fetch the far east at my footstep. Washington DC’s Chinatown is like no other where you can have an authentic transcendent experience and be transported away to the far east by footstep. enjoy potbelly sandwiches in Chinese. or cava mezze grill, in Chinese. how about some capital one banking. in Chinese. work off all that sandwich at the Washington sports club. in Chinese. have traditional Peet’s coffee. in Chinese. or a healthy salad at Chopt. in Chinese. stay connected at t mobile in Chinese. or get a new frock or toilet brush Chinese. Obviously you’ll be wanting a big Mexican dumpling. or, you get the idea. There is literally not one Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. DC you are a wild one.
Where To Go When You Don’t Know What You Want.
If you’re a foodie or a very indecisive person Western Market food emporium is a palace of pure delight. Built from the bones of the original 1802 marketplace designed by Pierre L’Enfant, this new cathedral to cuisine offers a taste for every- man that’s cute. For the sake of research we decided to do a bit of a bang bang and sample a few places like Mason’s who are famous for their lobster rolls that are flown fresh from Saco, Maine and prepared in a very classic style that is exquisite. We also tried Roaming Rooster’s hot chicken which is the lobster of the land as you know, and definitely did not disappoint especially paired with their sour cabbage slaw that was delicious. But if you’re looking to lunch like a pro then there really is no place better than
If you’re looking to lunch like a pro there is really no better place to do so then Dukes Grocery (513 17th st NW).This DC old-school staple has three celebrated locations but for my money the original Dupont circle spot tucked inside a historic row house is the place to be. While inside offers full brit curry house feels, the outside patio is a premium delight for those that want to experience the beauty of downtown DC wash over them. Yes Dukes has an impressive beer and cocktail menu that’s glorified by their extremely generous daily happy hour, but what sets this pub apart is the food. A curated menu of savory delights made fresh each order, it’s as close as greasy spoon fine dining you can get. Perhaps what they are best known for is their “proper burger” which is a Creekstone Farm angus patty with melted gouda, pickles charred red onion sweet chili rocket and garlic aioli on a brioche which is … oh yeah.
Ford’s Theater’s Little Secret.
So I got to do something I always wanted to do, which is check out a play at the infamous Ford’s Theater in Washington DC. There was quite a turnout to see Jose Carrasquillo’s fanciful reimagined version of Dickens’ a Christmas carol, with the preeminent Craig Wallace as Eb Scrooge, but there was no doubt that many came to see this empty balcony, where Booth famously dispatched our beloved president Lincoln. What I was duly surprised to discover is underneath the theater is a rather profound, if not strangely thorough exhibit of sorts that displays all sorts of related material to the murdered commander in chief. Including the actual pistol used in the heinous act, the overcoat the president was shot in, and, if you can believe it, the very bloodied pillow he expired on. This is definitely the most macabre and haunting Christmas Carol I have ever seen, no question about it.
A Very Interesting Little Walk.
DC is a neighborhood town built to be explored by foot. One favorite area to hoof between is Logan to Dupont where you will be gifted many a unique sight like a garden full of mutilated Barbie dolls. Yes my friends over at @Atlas Obscura (https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/barbie-pond) tipped me off to this diorama of, quote, “rotating cast of guys and dolls”, that is curated by an anonymous party offering a jaunty and festive display of Barbie’s that evolves year round, and immediately brings a smile to anyone that happens upon it. Their strong Instagram game (https://www.instagram.com/barbie_pond_ave_q/?hl=en) with over 26 thousand followers boasts that Barbie pond is “bringing Logan Circle property values down since 2014” but raising spirits exponentially to me.
Hungry after such an art viewing stopping at Nina May (1337 11th st NW http://www.ninamaydc.com/) is a must which in my humble opinion offers the best ambiance and best brunch in DC hands down. From their pallet splitting fresh cocktails to insanely fresh and creative takes on haute cuisine comfort food, you can bask in ambrosia glory sampling sweet and savory flavors from around the world.
Now to get the experience of working off a delightfully heavy meal without, you know, any of the physical activity, it’s recommended to stop by the Shaw Skate Park (1528 11th st NW https://shawskate.splashthat.com/) to see some of DC’s slickest practice their craft out in the open.
Now crossing over into the brackish chic neighborhood of Dupont we hit up one of the city’s lesser known but fascinating museum, the Phillips Collection (1600 21st st NW https://www.phillipscollection.org/) which has the honor to be America’s first museum of modern art founded in 1921. This institution devotes itself to furthering the conversation of diversity in the arts, and on our visit, we got to explore the works of Alma W. Thomas who was the first Black woman given a solo show at the Whitney Museum at age 81. Better late than never I suppose Whitney museum, but thankfully the Phillips has their sights set on celebrating those underappreciated geniuses.
I dunno about you but amazing art makes me hungry which is why a Michelin star rated Unconventional Diner (1207 9th street https://www.unconventionaldiner.com/) is the next mandatory stop. While this instagrammer wet dream might ward off hard core dinner fans with their crafty cocktails, you will not be disappointed by the elevated grub here. Large format plates are the taste du jour at the unconventional diner, with a chicky sandwich that delivers, and a French Dip poutine that would make any Québécois say mon due that’s good.
Fully loaded on the world’s richest dishes, it was time to walk it off once again, this time in a 4 floor mansion that may or may not be haunted. The Mansion on O Street (2020 o street https://www.omuseum.org/) may not have the most unique name, but definitely offers a singular experience, unless you personally know an uber rich hoarder with a playful obsession with secret doors. Here, after a short training video, you are let loose in this 108 room Victorian mansion that boasts over 70 hidden doors that you are dared to find. Most people only find 4, probably because the other 66 are hidden behind all the clutter, all of which is for sale. Yes, you can buy anything you see, you’re welcome. Frankly, this quote-unquote museum is a violent mix between an overactive swapmeet and your Aunt Peggy’s forgotten hoarder attic, and while not everyone’s cup of tea it is without question one of the strangest places I’ve ever witnessed. There is so much more to see in DC, but unfortunately we got lost somewhere between the 3rd and 4th floor and have been stuck here for about a month, please send help.
Where To Get Fully Immersed In Art.
Washington DC is just lousy with museums, from the Museum of the American Indian, to the International Spy Museum to a bevy of Smithsonian museums that bloom in the city, but one for me rises to the category of must see, and that is the Hirshhorn Museum of contemporary art. Here you can submerge in the genius of Bradford, Anderson, Kusama, Kruger, and Bhabha who’s large scale works will simply astound you. What’s more dizzying is that since it is a national museum it is completely free to enjoy, making it all that more brilliant. First I got to take in Barbara Kruger who is an artist that understands the power of words but definitely doesn’t understand my hair. I’ll let it slide. Gliding onward I passed into the Laurie Anderson Porthole and entered her world saturated with multimedia art. Anderson is perhaps the most prolific avant-garde artist of our time and to experience her expression up close and personal is extremely transformative. The Hirshhorn is a perfect vessel for her work given its flowing, circular layout, allowing you to drift from one immersive piece to another seamlessly like dialing in radio stations in an old car. Here you literally become a piece of the art as it consumes you, having a very Alice in Wonderland experience as Anderson welcomes you to play with scale in her work. I closed out the mindwalk being blown away with one of my favorite anti-artist, Marcel Duchamp, the pioneer behind the Dada art movement in the early part of the 20th century. Since his playful saltiness that cracks the concept of what art should be is a foundation for so many well known modern movements, I was completely surprised to find a brilliant piece that I’ve never seen before, a display with the art completely void, so simple and such a brilliant example of what the Dadaist stood for, that I was completely crestfallen to discover the piece was just on loan, and not on purpose. Hey I’m a travel writer not an art critic, sue me.
A Meal Like No Other.
On unassuming K street in Washington DC you will find a warm, inviting dining experience like no other. This is dLena, meaning firewood, which chef Richard Sandoval infuses into every drop and morsel. Here wood is Queen, where the barrel aged smoked tequila flights are served on a bored- out patinaed piece of oak giving you a diverse experience that has the power to erase that bad memory in college. If you’re into a bit more pomp and circumstance then summon a Mexican old fashioned where a chalice of sierra Norte yellow corn whiskey and aromatic naraja bitters arrives in a glass plated silver drink reliquary veiled in a thick layer of Cherrywood smoke. If you think all this is for show, you are partially right, but there is no doubt that Sandoval’s love for wood is being put to good use, and he somehow is able to gently transmit their robust qualities only to elevate the natural flavors. Take for instance the smoked oysters with chipotle mignonette and smoked bacon jam. Or enigmatic wagyu beef tiradito with Fresno chili citrus drizzle. Even something as simple as grilled broccolini with smoked chili plays well in the fire as does a grilled avocado with chimichurri.
While all these surprisingly playful dishes confounded us, nothing would prepare us for the star of the show, simply named the Tomahawk. This bone in aged rib eye masterpiece is cooked to perfection in dLena’s searing hot wood burning hearth and then finished tableside with an alchemist dance, being dressed in bone marrow butter before showered with smoked mezcal and flambeed tableside. You even get a choice of salt, volcanic, mesquite smoked, or cultivated sweat from a virgin’s brow. I forget the third, but again, the dramatic theater matches the profound depth of taste in this truly unique and perfectly balanced steak. Not even remotely needed was a crack at dessert, which was this thousand layered panqueque argentino drizzled with warm cajeta caramel and served with salted smoked caramel ice cream dear lord. While the night could have ended there the owner insisted on one more special concoction called the casual encounter, and then casually led me downstairs to their semi-speakeasy subterranean lounge which seemed like a perfect place to bask in the warm glow of a fantastic meal just had.
The Only Leonardo Da Vinci In America.
A fantastic day out in DC starts at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden skating rink, which affords intrepid athletes of all ages and levels of experience to glide around the open air statue garden with wanton abandon. After working up a bit of an appetite it’s great to pop into the adjacent Pavilion café to have a sandwich or hot cocoa before hitting up the actual art gallery which will surely blow minds. Some unique elements of the museum is their furniture wing, where you can see the housewares of the infamous like Jefferson’s chess table. The gallery always has impressive exhibits, like the new woman behind the camera, which celebrates over 120 international female photographers that helped define modern photography. Ascending upstairs to the European wing is a must, if just to gaze on the only Leonardo Di Vinci in the United States, the Ginevra de Benci. Hot tip, don’t forget the overlooked backside where Virtutem Forma Decorat or Beauty adorns virtue is cryptically displayed like Dan Brown wrote it. Perhaps the most exciting element of the Gallery is the gift shop, which is by far one of the best shopping experiences you can have in DC. Here you can find anything, perhaps even… the holy grail.
DC After Dark: Where to Drink, Eat, and Dance the Night Away.
Washington DC after Dark is a wonderful place. While the city is shaking with nightlife, 14th street is the absolute epicenter of entertainment. From taking in live comedy at the Source Theater, or getting your bro and bratwurst on at Franklin Hall, you can find it all right here in one place. Our first stop is this clandestine unmarked door which after a knock and a pause in a stairwell will gain you entry to The Gibson (2009 14th st www.thegibsondc.com) where the eclectic mix of people and absolutely masterful bartenders will start your night off on a very high note and very green drink. If the weather is nice, then a stop at The Garden District (1801 14th st NW www.gardendistrictdc.com) is mandatory, with their festive patio brimming with a jaunty crowd as the feast on BBQ sammies and cold pitchers of beer. Dialing it back a bit swing just around the corner to the Left Door (1345s St NW http://www.left-door.com) which is located, well, through the left door of the dry cleaners next door. A mellow and friendly speakeasy it’s a perfect place to get to know someone, or plan your attack on the night. The next place isn’t hard to find and makes no beef of what they’re all about. Chicken+Whiskey (1738 14th st nw www.chickenandwhiskey.com) is a rare jewel in the nightlife mine. Up front is a positively delicious roast chicken joint, but if you venture in the back and slide past the fridge door, you’ll enter a full-fledged disco. This place was bouncing from wall to wall at 8pm so if you go, go early. I had to do a double take on the way out because I honestly thought it was a dream. Next we pitstop at Jane Jane (1705 14th st. NW www.janejanedc.com) which offers not just an amazing craft cocktail scene, but savory snacks to keep you rocking.
Giving our livers a breath of air, we popped into DC’s legendary Miss Pixie’s (Address: 1626 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 http://www.misspixies.com/) , which while labeled as a thrift store is really more of a emporium of epic tchotchke. from rare corning ware, to radioactive stemware, to not suitable for lunch dinnerware, this place is a palace to quirk, where you can easily spend a moment finding that perfect thing you didn’t know you needed.
Now, having built up quite an appetite, we slid into Barcelona Wine Bar (1622 14th St NW www.barcelonawinebar.com) which was positively humming with excitement. Here the line between lounge and restaurant is beautifully blurred in typical Castilian style, where you can either drink and nibble the night away, or dive a bit deeper and rock an authentic paella. Next we were told to roll the dice and take a chance on Players Club ( Address: 1400 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005 https://www.playersclubdc.com/), which delivers as a subterranean pleasure palace that lets your nostalgia run wild. If you can’t have a good time here, you might have a problem. Now that Jackie was devoid of inhibition I told her to go down this dark stairwell in an alley and knock on the door. What would seem like a murder scene, turns out to be maybe the best speakeasy yet simply called, The Mirror (1413 K St NW www.themirrordc.com ) There’s no camera’s allowed so you best just see for yourself. Last, to put a nail in the night’s coffin, we washed up on the shore of Sax (734 11th st NW www.saxdc.com) which you don’t need directions to, just follow the faint thumping sound permeating the city. Inside Sax you are transported to a divinely confused mix of St. Petersburg and Cabo, where the dancefloor is full of convulsing revelers fueled by sparkler topped drinks. To be honest, I am not entirely sure I would recall anything past The Gibson, if not for my camera and a few lovely souvenirs. Thanks DC, you’re the best time I don’t remember having.
The Gibson (2009 14th st www.thegibsondc.com)
The Garden District (1801 14th st NW www.gardendistrictdc.com)
Left Door (1345s St NW www.left-door.com)
Chicken+Whiskey (1738 14th st nw www.chickenandwhiskey.com)
Jane Jane (1705 14th st. NW www.janejanedc.com)
Miss Pixies (1626 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009 http://www.misspixies.com/)
Barcelona Wine Bar (1622 14th St NW www.barcelonawinebar.com)
Players Club (Address: 1400 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005 https://www.playersclubdc.com/)
The Mirror (1413 K St NW www.themirrordc.com )
Sax (734 11th st NW www.saxdc.com)
Who Was James Smithson Anyway?
Address: 1000 Jefferson Dr SW, Washington, DC 20560
The city of Washington DC is like a Museum you can walk though. That doesn’t really make sense because you walk through museums anyway but what I’m trying to say is that the whole city is in fact a museum. Walking around here it’s impossible not to step full heel in a stinking pile of culture, and the Washington Mall where all learned roads lead. There are in fact 19 Smithsonian museums around this area, and the Smithsonian Institute boasts the title of the world’s largest museum, which is quite impressive indeed. Despite this title, one exhibit that many unknowingly pass over is the tomb of the man who established all of this. James Smithson was the bastard son of an American hating nobleman, so, upon his death he bequeathed that his entire fortune be used to quote “create an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge”. Well Jimmy, all I can say is thank you.
The Craziest Museum I Can’t Talk About.
The Spy Museum in Washington DC may be the most fun museum I’ve ever been to. First you’re submerged into the bowls of the building and take a quick psych test that will assess your strengths and assign your cover which you must memorize. That’s funny, I love Brazil and wanted to be Indiana Jones when I was a kid. Anyway once inside you are free to explore a massive collection of real spy tech from over the century, and interactive displays that test your skill at decoding and espionage in a frighteningly real way. Immersion is the key here, and it is impossible not to get a glimpse of what this dangerous world was like first hand. The whole museum in effect is like some giant game that is constantly testing you and you can’t help but feel like someone is watching with the possibility of recruiting you for special ops assignments. In the end I didn’t make the grade which was fine with me cause I had a brunch date.
The Best Way To See DC.
One of the best ways to see DC is on two wheels, so I walked down to Unlimited Biking on the wharf to get on a new electric bike. before I knew it I was cruising with my personal guide Ignacio past the epic monuments that celebrate this capital city. First up was the least visited and most interesting to me, the Franklin D Roosevelt memorial, which uses negative presses in Iron to illustrate the benefits and drawbacks of social policies like the new deal that Roosevelt implemented to save America from the great depression. It’s also the only monument done in red granite that was shipped from the Dakotas, and the only with a statue of the first lady. But mostly it’s the attention to detail that haunts me. Like the handprints burned into the great depression door as if someone had said goodbye to their home.
Next up is the most beautiful monument, the Martin Luther King memorial, where the statue of Dr. King seems ripped out of the very mountain he speaks from. The towering statue is purposefully left unfinished, as was the message Dr. King was trying to deliver.
Then there was the solemn, beautiful and haunting Korean war monument, which is the newest addition to the city, and is almost complete. No matter where you stand here there is at least one soldier looking at you, which is extremely poignant.
The next up is a big one, the famous Lincoln memorial which is quite powerful. If you are mindful, look down and find the exact spot that Dr. Martin Luther King stood to give his famous I have a dream speech. It’s mind blowing to think about.
Next, the Vietnam memorial which has some of the most unique features. First, it’s the only monument that shows soldiers with their weapons, second, it’s the only monument that honors women, each representing a virtue as hope, faith and charity. The wall itself has a fascinating history. Maya Lin, a 21 year old student, beat out 1400 applicants to design the wall by meeting the criteria perfectly: It had to be reflective, subdued, contain all the names of those who died, and make no political statement. While controversial at the time, she perfectly delivered on all those criteria, especially with the names, which start and end with the first and last person to die in the war meeting in the middle. Truly monumental.
That my friends sums it all up … and just for good mesure, for anyone that wants it or wants to share this DC guide, I’ve put all the films together into one mega-film for easy portage. Ejoy!