Tucked away on a side street off Steinway is a fascinating little shop. Sparr’s Military and Antiques has been opened since 1946, and while you will definitely find a wealth of war memorabilia, the shop has some other beautiful hidden treasures. Just walking by one day I popped in and got to talk to Oliver Sparr who took over his fathers shop in the 70’s.
The stories here are told not just in the unique items that cascade from the shelfs, but from Oliver as well who is an accidental custodian of true Astoria Queens history. Regardless of how you feelabout war memorabilia its amazing to me that all these items came from men and women that risked their lives to protect their families right here in Astoria just like my own grandfather did. Making Sparr’s more like a museum not just to antiquity, but to a part of Astoria seen less and less.
Thank you Oliver for this interesting window into the past, and Russell Dreher for helping me produce this segment.
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.
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.
I try to stick to the rules and mind my own business, but the Spy Museum was way too cool not to secretly film and share with all of you. Also, I felt, given the nature of the museum itself, and the fact that they are trying to make you a spy, that they were kinda asking for it. Perhaps I was wrong. Please, don’t sue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.