Jason Varney

With Obama back in the White House, Washington, D.C. is in full swing. The cutting-edge has replaced the sleepy and staid, from galleries and boutiques to restaurants, hotels, and more.

December 07, 2012

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Lay of the Land

Adams Morgan: With a college-town feel, Adams Morgan is filled with independent bookstores, ethnic restaurants, and low-key lounges.

Dupont Circle: D.C.’s cultural heart is made up of small art galleries, shops, and coffeehouses—and it has great people-watching.

14th Street: The gentrifying stretch of 14th Street from Thomas Circle to U Street has become an incubator for the best of D.C.’s vibrant foodie and mixology scene.

Georgetown: This preppy-chic neighborhood is the city’s most picturesque, with colorful row houses, fashion boutiques, and tony cafés.

Penn Quarter: D.C.’s best example of urban renewal has innovative restaurants, top museums, and the soon-to-open City Center shopping complex.

U Street: Wander down this once-blighted strip and you’ll find music venues and bars vying for the attention of late-night crowds.

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Stay

D.C.’s hotel scene is booming. Here, 11 properties that top our list.

New & Noteworthy

Capella Georgetown: At this stylish newcomer, a rooftop infinity pool (a rarity for D.C.) raises the hotel luxury bar. Need a last-minute restaurant reservation? Ask your personal concierge. $$$$

The Madison: Known as “Washington’s correct address,” the 356-room Federalist-style downtown hotel just received a silver-hued redo. $$$$

Donovan House: There’s a certain neo-Jetsons look to the whimsical Donovan House, in the up-and-coming Thomas Circle neighborhood. $$

The Jefferson: The renovated hotel pays luxurious homage to the president with Monticello-inspired design (parquet floors; toile de Jouy drapery). $$$

W: With a sceney rooftop lounge overlooking the White House, the W brand managed to inject nightclub-meets-Wonderland flair into what had been a lackluster hotel. $$$

The Classics

Four Seasons: A top-to-bottom makeover has brightened up all 222 rooms, as well as the power-breakfast hot spot Seasons. $$$

Ritz-Carlton, Georgetown: The sophisticated taupe-and-mahogany rooms come with views of the Potomac River. $$$$

Park Hyatt: Enter the lobby of this Tony Chi–designed retreat, and you’ll see photographs of cherry trees printed onto 10-foot-tall glass panels. Upstairs, rooms are decorated with American folk art. $$$

St. Regis: Generations of presidents (Coolidge, Truman, Reagan) and stars such as Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor have checked in to the 86-year-old gray stone mansion, formerly the Carlton Hotel. $$

Mandarin Oriental: It’s got a prime location near the Mall; one of the District’s top restaurants, City Zen; and a Presidential Suite in eye-popping black-and-gold chinoiserie. $$$

The Hay-Adams: This Beaux-Arts icon holds pride of place at the White House’s front door. At night, the hotel’s Off the Record bar is the after-work hangout for politicos of all stripes. $$$

Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000

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Shop

For the best boutiques, head to Georgetown.

Everard’s Clothing: A classic men’s haberdashery if ever there was one, this place specializes in the sort of conservatively stylish suits, shirts, ties, and shoes that are the telltale marks of D.C. movers and shakers.

Hu’s Wear: The racks in Marlene Hu Aldaba’s two-story clothing shop are stuffed with of-the-moment brands including Yigal Azrouël and the Row (the Olsen twins’ award-winning line). Just across the street is Aldaba’s footwear emporium, Hu’s Shoes.

A Mano: The hostess-gift go-to for any well-heeled Georgetown guest: expect European artisanal accoutrements, tabletop items, and handmade objets d’art selected by owner Adam Mahr.

Relish: This boutique in Cady’s Alley—D.C.’s design strip—is run by fashion insider Nancy Pearlstein, who chooses from a short list of notables: Dries Van Noten, Marni, Jil Sander, and Balenciaga, to name a few.

Lost Boys: Stylist and Virginia native Kelly Muccio carries key brands—Rogan, John Varvatos, and Band of Outsiders among them—at her men’s store, a converted town house complete with a bourbon bar and a showroom for personal-shopping clients.

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See + Do

Sure, the White House and Hirshhorn are on your list, but leave time for these under-the-radar gems.

President Lincoln’s Cottage: The hilltop mansion where Honest Abe drafted the Emancipation Proclamation and coordinated much of the North’s military deployment during the Civil War, Lincoln’s summer White House opened to the public as a museum after a $15 million restoration.

Kreeger Museum: At this petite gallery northwest of Georgetown, the art-loving and politically minded Kreeger family’s former home—designed by Philip Johnson in 1963—is as captivating as the Impressionist and Modernist works it contains (paintings by Picasso, Monet, Cézanne, and Braque, plus sculptures by Calder and Brancusi).

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens: “Where fabulous lives” is Hillwood’s motto, and this museum and garden more than fulfills that promise. Inside are 18th-century Russian and French art and antiques collected by owner Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the General Foods fortune.

Howard Theatre: D.C.’s historic music hall on Black Broadway just reopened as a super-club, booking major R&B, jazz, and pop acts. Bonus: chef Marcus Samuelsson oversees the restaurant.

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Eat

D.C.’s culinary cred is rising: seven places to go right now (book early).

Komi and Little Serow: Young chef Johnny Monis and his wife, Anne Marler, run Komi ($$$), a haute Dupont Circle spot that takes Greece as a starting point (slow-roasted baby goat with pita and tzatziki; foie gras and Wagyu-beef-tongue gyro). Also of note: the duo’s new and nearby northern-Thai spot, Little Serow ($$$).

The Source: Wolfgang Puck’s sleek and spacious glass-and-steel dining room in the Newseum plays with pan-Asian flavors, skipping from China (lacquered duckling) to Japan (stir-fried yaki-udon), Korea (barbecued-steak salad) to India (tandoori arctic char). $$$

Rasika: D.C.’s elite, from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer to Virginia Senator Mark Warner, flock to this classic Indian restaurant and its flashily mod new sibling Rasika West End for authentic northern Indian cuisine. Ask the server for guidance, and share everything. $$

Supper Club at Seasonal Pantry: The city is slowly embracing the pop-up restaurant, with the Wednesday-through-Saturday 12-seat dinners at this specialty market in the Shaw neighborhood. Chef Daniel O’Brien—a contestant on the current season of Top Chef—turns out an ever-changing multicourse menu with seasonal delights such as wild mushrooms accompanied by chicken, pumpkin, and pickles. $$$

Jaleo and Minibar: Spanish-born star chef José Andrés jump-started his career in his new home city with Jaleo ($$), a tapas restaurant that recently unveiled a playful makeover. Sample from the new menu—a classic paella or a tortilla with sobrasada, onions, and Mahón cheese. Or if you’re looking for something more daring, head to Andrés’s reopened Minibar ($$$$) nearby, where one-bite molecular concoctions take center stage.

A 14th Street Culinary Crawl

These days, the best place to eat (and drink) is Logan Circle’s 14th Street corridor.

The Place: Ben’s Chili Bowl, a 60-plus-year-old institution known for its no-frills grub.
The Order: The Chili Half Smoke, a half-pork-and-half-beef smoked sausage on a steamed bun with mustard, onions, and Ben’s signature chili sauce.

The Place: The Gibson, a clubby speakeasy serving classic cocktails.
The Order: One (or two or three) of the old-fashioned fizzes or sours; plus olives or another light bite from the snack menu.

The Place: Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, a low-key bar and restaurant with a retro-nautical feel.
The Order: Oysters, oysters, and oysters, accompanied by a light white wine, a local microbrew, or the Pimm’s-based Pearl Cup. $$$

The Place: Estadio, an ode to tapas in a chic, loftlike space.
The Order: The roasted shishito peppers and the montadito (a Spanish open-faced sandwich) of duck and foie gras. $$

The Place: Birch & Barley and Church Key, an upstairs/downstairs, beer-focused restaurant and gastropub.
The Order: At Birch & Barley ($$$), cavatelli and flounder tartare; at Church Key ($$), Tater Tots and charcuterie.

Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150

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Local Take

Three Washington insiders open their little black books.

Ann Stock

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs

My go-to lunch spot where I work in Foggy Bottom is District Commons ($$$), and nothing beats the Red Hook Lobster Pound ($$) food truck when it’s nearby; try the shrimp roll. For dessert, the cupcakes at Baked & Wired ($$) are an absolute must. If I manage to leave my office early, I head to the Kennedy Center, where there’s a free performance every night at 6 p.m.

André Wells

Event planner and designer

The area around the Golden Triangle, just off K Street and 16th Street, has great restaurants and lounges. At the end of a long day, I like to fill up on Southern comfort food and yummy cocktails at neighborhood favorite Georgia Brown’s ($$). For an upscale dinner with clients, chef Todd Gray’s seasonal menu at Equinox ($$$) is perfect. And Plume, the bar at the Jefferson hotel, serves excellent wines—some dating back to the 1800’s.

José Andrés

James Beard Award–winning chef

The Penn Quarter has become one of the most exciting parts of the city. I love Cowgirl Creamery for amazing cheeses and wines, and on Thursday afternoons, you can find me at Fresh Farm Market, which carries the best local products. I often duck into the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum for a little escape; walking through those vast halls always inspires me.

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Where the Elite Meet

Deals are hammered out and sources sweet-talked at these high-powered haunts.

Breakfast: Blue Duck Tavern Feast on short-rib hash and pecan sticky buns.

Lunch: The Monocle Members of Congress love this classic steak house.

Nightcap: Columbia Room D.C. night owls pack the reservations-only lounge.

Hairstylist: Diego D’Ambrosio Nancy Pelosi is a fan, along with soigné military officials. 1501 Q St. NW.

Blue Duck Tavern

A West End favorite, Blue Duck Tavern serves home-style American fare with an emphasis on traditional methods of cooking like roasting, braising, preserving, and smoking. With handcrafted wood furniture (including a 29-foot long Windsor bench), a wood-burning oven, and design by Toni Chi, the restaurant's decor combines a classic style with modern touches. In the open kitchen, executive chef John Melfi produces dishes, such as roasted swordfish loin with charred eggplant puree, maple brined Berkshire pork chop, and wood burning oven roasted Main scallops.

W Hotel, Washington D.C.

The W Washington, D.C. Hotel is the place to see the nation's capital: The Point of View Terrace provides notable views of the Washington Monument, White House, Pentagon, and Potomac River. Originally the Hotel Washington, this Beaux-Arts building hosted the likes of John Wayne, Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin during its 90 years. Celebrities continue to stay in the Dianna Wong-designed accommodations and enjoy Jean-Georges Vongerichten's steakhouse fare, as well the restaurant's 24-foot vaulted ceilings with views of the White House Gardens. Although the 317 rooms are smaller than the average hotel rooms in D.C., each includes the W-bed, accentuated by a backlit headboard, a white chaise lounge, and the latest tech (free Wi-Fi is only available in the Living Room lounge, though). The hotel is also home to Bliss Spa, and feature W's Whatever/Whenever Service: "Whatever you want. Whenever you want it. (as long as it's legal)."

National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery traces the history of America through visual and performing arts that pay tribute to great American icons like Marilyn Monroe and Rosa Parks. The gallery is housed alongside the Smithsonian American Art Museum in the historic 1836 U.S. Patent Office building. Permanent exhibitions include American Origins, 1600-1900, which focuses on Native Americans and early exploration, and Bravo!, which highlights the contributions of notable Americans to film and music. The America’s Presidents exhibit is, aside from the White House, the only complete collection of presidential portraits in the United States.

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is home to the Washington National Opera, National Symphony Orchestra, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, traveling Broadway productions, and other performance arts performances from contemporary dance to jazz. Get tickets to a show—like the free daily shows at The Millennium Stage—or take a guided tour.

Donovan House

The sleek 139-room Washington, D.C., hotel is all about clean architectural materials such as limestone and dark teakwood paired with unexpected dashes of olive green and deep purple. Named after Wild Bill Donovan, the nonconformist father of the CIA, this property, newly acquired by the Kimpton Hotel group, is a bold design departure for D.C. In the lobby, white leather lounge chairs hang from the ceiling, and most of the 193 mod rooms have polished oval bathtubs and tall windows with views downtown. The rooftop pool and lounge bar are the hotel's best assets. The 168-year-old apothecary, C.O. Bigelow, provides the bath and spa products.

Jaleo

Owned by José Andrés, Rob Wilder, and Roberto Alvarez of ThinkFoodGroup, Jaleo opened in 1993 and serves traditional Spanish tapas, as well as paellas and sangrias. Andrés, a native Spaniard, serves as head chef and has created a menu of flavorful fare, including pollo al ajillo con salsa verde, marinated chicken with parsley purée and garlic sauce, and chorizo casero tradicional, traditional chorizo sausage with potato purée. Six different kinds of paella are available, and menu selections can be complemented by a glass of sangria or a cocktail.

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Housed alongside the National Portrait Gallery in the Old Patent Office Building, an impressive Greek Revival structure built in 1868, the Smithsonian American Art Museum was the first federal art collection established in the United States. Founded by John Varden in 1829, the collection now includes the work of more than 7,000 artists, including Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Roy Lichtenstein. The museum represents the American experience over three generations, with works ranging from colonial portraits to Jackson Pollock’s splatter paintings. In the Lunder Conservation Center, visitors can watch conservators at work restoring and preserving art pieces.

The Source

Owned by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, the Source is an acclaimed pan-Asian restaurant located inside the Newseum. The restaurant is divided into two sections: a formal upstairs dining room and a casual downstairs lounge inspired by traditional Japanese izakayas (after-work drinking establishments). Connected by a marble staircase, the dining areas are designed in a modern minimalist style with floor-to-ceiling windows and a two-story wine wall holding more than 2,000 bottles. The lounge menu includes fresh sushi and Sichuan chicken dumplings, while the main dining room menu features signature dishes like the crisp suckling pig with black plum purée.

Park Hyatt Washington DC

Located in the West End neighborhood, the Park Hyatt is convenient to Georgetown and Dupont Circle and within easy reach of the National Mall and downtown DC. This pet-friendly hotel also boasts a spa, fitness center, indoor pool, and rain showers in the limestone bathrooms. Another cool perk? The complimentary bicycle rentals. The hotel's restaurant Blue Duck Tavern is loved by visitors and locals alike.

Ben's Chili Bowl

DC legend Ben’s Chili Bowl has been around since 1958. Try the iconic half-smoke (half-pork, half-beef smoked sausage) topped with Ben’s homemade chili sauce. You can order chili in variety other ways, too: in a bowl, on a burger, or on a salad, all available until late at night. Ben's also offers vegetarian and tuna sandwich options, as well as an entire breakfast menu.

Komi

Perfect for a special night out, Komi sits in a traditional DC rowhouse and offers a unique fine dining experience. Friendly servers are at the top of their game, and help foster a casual atmosphere. Meanwhile, James Beard Award-winning chef Johnny Monis provides delicious Greek-American fare with a tasting menu of both small plates and sharing-style dishes, such as roasted goat or lamb neck. Reservations required.

Rasika

Rasika is hands-down one of Washington's most classic dining experiences. This Penn Quarter restaurant offers modern Indian cuisine in a white-tablecloth setting, with a menu chiefly split among griddle, barbecue, and tandoori dishes. Don’t miss James Beard Award-winning chef Vikram Sunderam's palak chaat: a crispy spinach and yogurt side order that is one of the most iconic dishes in DC.

The Jefferson

The Jefferson strives for the elegance, culture, and innovation of its muse Thomas Jefferson. You might find antiques and presidential paraphernalia inside this historic Beaux Arts building, alongside modern amenities like electric vehicle charging stations. The Jefferson also offers custom spa treatments using botanicals grown at Jefferson’s Monticello home.

Minibar

Minibar is the avant-garde, award-winning jewel of celebrity chef José Andrés’ restaurant empire. This tasting-menu-only restaurant offers a look inside a culinary laboratory experimenting with the latest techniques and ingredients. As its name suggests, minibar is very mini—and very popular. Be sure to make reservations way in advance.

Georgia Brown's

Georgia Brown's opened on McPherson Square in 1993, and focuses on the cuisine of Lowcountry of South Carolina. The menu includes a variety of Southern staples, such as fried chicken, shrimp and grits, and Charleston perlau, a dish made with Carolina red rice, andouille sausage, duck, and shrimp. The focal point of the dining room is the bronze ceiling art, designed to resemble the branches of an oak tree. Live jazz adds to the atmosphere on Wednesday nights, and during Southern Comfort Hours (weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m., and Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.), there are discounts on small plates.

Equinox

Equinox is located just off of Lafayette Park, and is a scant block from the White House and Warner's Theater. A popular spot for a bite after moonlit walking tours—and before or after a show—Equinox serves an ever-revolving seasonal menu with emphasis on mid-Atlantic regional specialties like the pork head cheese terrine. Chef Todd Gray, well known among DC's foodie elite, plates up American entrees and desserts ranging from Granny Smith apple donut holes with Calvados ice cream shooters to crusted Rappahannock oysters wrapped in Virginia ham.

Ritz-Carlton Georgetown

Tucked away just near the waterfront, the luxurious Ritz-Carlton occupies a converted industrial building close to the shopping and dining of Georgetown. Cozy up by the fire in the hotel’s living room, where s’mores are passed around each night. Other amenities include a spa, fitness center, and complimentary town car services within the neighborhood.

The Hay-Adams

Just across the street from the White House, The Hay-Adams is a five-star hotel known for its luxe elegance. Rooms and suites here overlook some of DC’s most distinguished sights, while amenities include a luxury sedan service, iPads, a fitness center and a well-staffed concierge. The Off the Record bar is a local favorite for sophisticated cocktails.

St. Regis Washington DC

Set just near the White House in downtown DC, this four-diamond hotel is ideal for a luxurious stay. Guests staying in suites at the St. Regis can take advantage of its butler service, which includes beverage service, help with unpacking and packing, and garment pressing. The St. Regis also caters specifically to diplomats visiting their Washington-based embassies.

Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC

Right in charming Georgetown and just off the Potomac River, the Four Seasons offers a great location and plenty of luxury. The five-star, five-diamond hotel boasts a three-level fitness center and a spa complete with a eucalyptus-scented steam room, whirlpool, 60-foot pool, and sauna. Wii and video games are available upon request. Make dinner reservations at the excellent Bourbon Steak.

Mandarin Oriental Washington DC

With stunning views of DC's waterfront, the Mandarin Oriental enjoys a well-deserved reputation for tranquility. That status is also thanks to the hotel's 10,500-foot spa with an amethyst steam room, sauna, vitality pool, ice fountain, and cold-plunge pool. Located near the Tidal Basin, this is a perfect place to stay during cherry blossom season.

The Gibson

You might miss the entrance to this speakeasy on the busy 14th Street bar strip, but The Gibson is an ideal place for both romance as well as cocktails. Make reservations ahead online. When you show up for your allotted two-hour block at the unmarked door at your appointed time, you’ll be seated in the dimly lit bar with expert bartenders who can help you find the perfect drink.

W Washington DC

With a choice location and a rooftop lounge overlooking the White House and National Mall, the W will fully immerse you in the nation's capital. In addition to offering a spa and gym, this stylish and pet-friendly hotel will lend you an iPod Shuffle for your morning run. Dine at the Mediterranean-inspired Pinea, or grab drinks in the basement whiskey bar (or on that rooftop lounge).

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