Here in D.C. (or “the District,” as no one here actually calls it) we generally get a bad rap. Between criticism of our dominant industry (government, and yes, it could be better) and D.C.’s transient reputation, we’ve earned it. However, once you dodge the legion of Capitol Hill zombies and anyone else who wears an ID badge as a necklace, you’ll find a surprising level of vitality. Everyone should see the National Mall and the monuments, but the fun really starts once you step off the tour trail.
We’ve all seen the photo op of President Obama digging into a half-smoke at U Street landmark Ben’s Chili Bowl. That place is indeed delicious, especially after last call on a Friday night. For more reasonable seating times, there are some very cool options. No one wakes up in time for breakfast while on vacation, so if you absolutely must have brunch, Boquiera at 19th and M is one of the finest spots in the city. Nando’s, an international chain of fast-casual restaurants with U.S. presence solely in the D.C. area, serves up some of the best chicken you’ll ever eat. If you want to get out of downtown, Black Salt in the Palisades is the best seafood restaurant in the city. But if you can’t tear away from Capitol Hill and downtown, Acqua al 2 is a top-notch Italian spot, and Daikaya is a ramen shop that imports noodles directly from Sapporo, a sacred spot for fans of the Japanese soup.
Nowhere are the sights more obvious than in D.C. If you’ve never been here, hit the National Mall, the Smithsonian museums, Arlington Cemetery and the monuments. Once you’ve gotten that out of your system, take a walk up 14th Street NW to see one of D.C.’s fastest-growing and most vibrant neighborhoods. Politics junkies will want to walk through Georgetown, the perpetual home of many of Washington’s power brokers. And if you want to get out of the city for a bit, take the blue or yellow lines of the Metro to Alexandria, Va., and explore Old Town. It features some of the area’s finest Federal architecture and a beautiful riverside pier.
We’ve truly got a bar for everyone. Anything you like, you’ll find. If you’re in the mood for a dive, Shaw’s The Codmother and Columbia Heights’ Red Derby both serve up $5 combos, which are a PBR/Stroh’s and a shot of Jameson. Local mixologist Derek Brown has brought a new taste of the American South with Southern Hospitality, up the block from the Shaw Metro. If you’re a Kennedy-phile, Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown offers neatly packaged nostalgia as the restaurant in which JFK proposed to Jackie.
For Jazz, check out Georgetown’s Blues Alley, or U Street’s Bohemian Caverns and JoJo’s. If you’re a raver, Echo Stage on Queens Chapel Road NE attracts many of the biggest electronic acts. 930 Club at V Street NW is consistently regarded as one of the best indoor venues in the country, and it bills a who’s who of independent stars. The Black Cat on 14th and Rock n’ Roll Hotel in the Atlas District consistently have cheap tickets for rising rock groups. For a pure homemade experience, make your way to The Dougout off Rhode Island Ave NE. This basement venue has triggered a rejuvenation of D.C.’s formerly legendary DIY concert scene and has become a notable stop on the punk circuit.
Michael Nissenbaum is a lawyer by day (and night), and a writer by night (and day). You can follow him on Twitter @gnarsenbaum.