Friday, March 11, 2016

{ GETAWAY GIRL } ARTS, EATS & AMERICAN HISTORY, PART II: DC


Unlike my emotional return to Philadelphia, my November visit to DC was more about exploration than overcoming. However, both trips were colored by that very specific joy that comes from learning new secrets and gaining a refreshed appreciation for a place you already love.

The strangely balmy temperatures and extended fall colors at the end of last year made our arrival in Washington all the more delightful. After a swift and sort of scenic train ride from Philly, our merry band of writers gathered in the lofted dining area of Union Station's Shake Shack locale for cheeseburgers, lemonade and obviously, milk shakes.

March is the time of year when winter and spring characteristics are constantly at odds—meaning you could easily pop down to DC and experience some of the best weather ever—or the worst. That's the beauty of The District, though. Elements be damned, there's so much to see and do and drink and eat that it doesn't really matter if you spend the whole weekend inside or outside.

// CLICK THROUGH FOR MY D.C. HIGHLIGHTS & RECOMMENDATIONS //


I love American history, which is part of the reason that I love visiting Washington, DC so much. I love the regal, imposing government buildings that fuse European architecture with American grandiosity. I love that the gossip of the city (politicians and international policy) feels exotic and goes totally over my head. I love the Southern-infused elegance of Georgetown and the immensity of The National Mall. I love that along with New York and Philadelphia, it's a big city that is developing neighborhood pockets that feel incredibly intimate, cool and cozy.

I first visited DC (as many of us did) when I was still in grade school—once with my grandmother, mom and youngest cousin, and again with nearly the entirety of my seventh and eight grade classes during middle school. It was so grand and bursting with history that I could hardly comprehend that the entire place wasn't a monument that was not meant to be touched or lived in.

I didn't get a chance to visit again until I moved to New York, and have been fortunate enough to make several trips over the past few years to visit friends. Each has trip exposed a different side to The District's personality, and this most recent trip focused on—you guessed it—eating well and consuming art, from both the bustling Capitol neighborhood and charming Georgetown.

Ahead, check out some of my favorite spots around DC for embracing the best of what America's capital has to offer: cheeseburgers, beers, history and stately buildings.

// EAT, EAT, EAT //


{ Our spread at The Oval Room }

The Oval Room: When we had lunch here, I felt like at any moment I might see Claire Underwood come through the doors in her towering stilettos and impossibly chic shift dress. The vibe of the whole place just oozes "power lunch," and the dishes measure up. The presentation is some of the most colorful I have ever seen, from butternut squash soup to tuna crudo, artful salads... The list goes on! This is a special, formal and sophisticated spot with a classic DC feel.

Shake Shack: Okay, so I'm aware that Shake Shack is popping up all over the place these days, but the one in Union Station is just so clutch. After a 3 hour train ride (or 5 hour bus ride, heaven forbid) there's nothing quite like treating yourself to a cheeseburger and shake as you take in the soaring gold and white ceilings and excellent people watching. Besides, what could possibly be more American than a juicy burger and fries?


{The larger-than-life lamb shank at Unum }

Unum: So here's where the perks of going on a press trip start to feel a little bit unfair. We walked around the corner from The Graham after having a lovely cocktail in their basement bar/restaurant (The Alex) over to Unum on our last night in The District. The chef came out to greet us, and proceeded to parade a sampling of every single thing on the menu (it seemed, anyway). The meal was so decadent, so interesting and so delicious that forcing myself to get a treat before our train the next morning was almost impossible.

Mintwood Place: Years ago after I was laid off from my first job in New York, I escaped the drudgery of job-searching in the city and went to stay with a girlfriend for a long weekend in Dupont Circle. We had an amazing time, and one of the highlights was our extremely decadent (and slightly boozy) brunch at Mintwood Place. I can say with confidence it was the best $19 cheeseburger I've ever had.


{ Take a walk along the canal just around the corner from Baked & Wired }

Baked and Wired: On a weekend morning this little Georgetown coffee shop is a complete circus—but with good reason. Their espresso drinks are tops and the pastries are out of this world. I had a biscuit with cheddar and bacon in it, and that's all I'll say. If you find yourself strolling through Georgetown and in need of a buzz and a treat, don't miss it. (If it's too crowded, scoot up Wisconsin Avenue to Patisserie Poupon for heavenly croissants and a more low-key scene.)

// DRINK! //

Garden District beer garden (formerly Standard DC): This fun little beer garden feels like a little slice of Brooklyn in the The District. They specialize in BBQ and have plenty of beers on draft to keep you satiated for a long, lovely evening spent sitting at a picnic table outside with your friends. I spent one such night there a few years ago and the friendly, buzzy vibe has stayed with me since.

The Observatory atop The Graham Hotel: The whole "hotel rooftop bar thing" is something that New York prides itself on doing really well, and rightly so. We have so little ground space that there's no choice but to put a premium on how high up in the air you can be. A neighborhood like Georgetown isn't the first place I'd think of for a seriously bustling, luxe rooftop bar—but that's exactly what The Observatory is. This swanky deck boasts unique views of Georgetown and beyond—an area I had never seen from above! Come for the sunset, stay for the cocktails.

// SEE & DO //

Obviously, the running list of things you can see, do and experience in Washington is much too long to get into here. Since I've been a few times, I now try to single out one museum or gallery per trip and drink it in fully. You can easily hit three to five of the huge museums in one trip, but I'd bet you'd come out on the other side hardly remembering a thing you'd seen other than the space shuttle you can go inside at the Air and Space Museum.

Take stock of how much time you'll actually want to spend walking through and to the museums (it gets exhausting, trust me) and again, single out something special. The National Gallery of Art is incredible, and it's also overwhelming. On my most recent trips, I hit up two more intimate art museums that can easily be fit into a day that revolves around great meals, drinks and just relaxing, too.


{ Major bonus of staying at the Capitol Hill Hotel? They have free bikes for guests! }

Bike around The Mall: Unless you take a trip in the middle of the winter or the dead of summer, you'll find that DC is generally blessed with pretty mild weather. As such, I highly recommend renting a bike (or using the city's bike share program or borrowing one from The Capitol Hill Hotel if you're staying there and lucky enough to snag one) to take a spin around the National Mall, where you can take in great views of all the major museums as well as the Washington Monument. The paths are wide and flat, and there are plenty of places to lock up your wheels so you can pop inside a museum or plant yourself on the grass for a picnic.


The Phillips Collection: If you love small, off-the-beaten-path museums with an interesting history of their own (like The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia), then be sure to make time for the Phillips Collection in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. According to the museum's web site, "When the Phillips opened in 1921 as America's first museum of modern art, founder Duncan Phillips wanted to create an intimate museum combined with an experiment station." The result is an airy, peaceful series of galleries, home to European and American contemporary art. The collection includes the famous "Luncheon of the Boating Party," by Renoir and a small, stimulating room housing only three large paintings by Mark Rothko. (It will give you #artfeels, I promise.) You'll also see works by Matisse, Van Gogh and Picasso—who happen to by some of my very favorite artists.


{ A piece by John Grade, part of the Renwick Gallery's current exhibit, Wonder. }



{ Gabriel Dawe's "Plexus A1" was a favorite pice of mine at Renwick Gallery. }

Renwick Gallery: Another relatively small museum (which is home to the Smithsonian's collection of contemporary craft and decorative art), The Renwick reopened to the public back in November (during our trip, natch!), and I can't recommend it enough. I know "craft" might make some of you think of knitting and folk art—but this collection is not that.

The exhibition we saw, Wonder, is on view until July and it's absolutely incredible. Each room is home to a single artist and one larger-than-life work. Each piece totally envelopes you and engages all your senses—from sight to sound, touch and smell. Gabriel Dawe's "Plexus A1" was a particular highlight for me but to be honest, each work is so magical and special it's hard to choose—if more of my photos had turned out well you'd be overwhelmed with them here. There are a lot of museums to see in DC, but this one stands out to me because of its manageable size as well as its proximity to the White House—it's just half a block away.

Take a walking tour of Georgetown: One of the most fun things we did during our quick trip to DC was a guided walking tour of Georgetown, led by Andrew Rawls of Fiat Luxe Tours. Our stroll took us past historic homes a-plenty, a cemetery, viewpoints, the steps from The Exorcist, The Kennedy's and of course, the college. There are lots of free, self-guided walking tours you can find online, but I loved hearing all the stories from our extremely knowledgable guide and asking him an unending stream of questions about everything in eyesight.

// WHERE TO STAY //


Like the other boutique hotels in the Independent Collection, The Graham in Georgetown is stylish, quirky and unique. The staff and management are unflinchingly helpful, friendly and fun. Most important, perhaps? Two things: The rooftop bar and the white robes. If I had it my way, every hotel would come with a stylish rooftop bar for sunset cocktails, and white terrycloth robes for ordering breakfast in bed (waffles!) and other leisure pursuits. (Check out what's in that pretty mirrored box in the bathroom, guys.)



{ A stay on Capitol Hill isn't complete without a sunset walk on 2nd Street to see the Library of Congress and Supreme Court buildings. }

Capitol Hill Hotel is one of those "don't judge a book by its cover," places. While the facades of the two buildings that make up the hotel are quite unremarkable, the decor of the common spaces and guest suites is undeniably cool. I stayed in a spacious suite that included a huge living room, separate kitchen and a lovely, serene view of the charming street the hotel sits on, which is just off the busy thoroughfares of both Independence and Pennsylvania Avenues.

Like The Graham, the perks at CHH are key: They have darling red bicycles available for guests' use, an awesome breakfast buffet and yes, white robes. Around sunset, be sure to take a stroll by the Library of Congress, The Supreme Court and of course the Capitol Building, which glow in all their pristine marble stateliness when the sky turns pink and purple. 

// GETTING THERE //

One of my favorite things about living on the East Coast is how easy it is to get around. Trains can be expensive, but Amtrak makes it incredibly easy (and kind of luxurious, tbh) to get from New York City to Washington, Boston, Philadelphia and more. Plus, if you buy your tickets ahead of time, you can get a deal for about $49 each way. Personally, I usually go budget on my D.C. tips and take Bolt or Megabus. It takes way longer (upwards of four hours), but either way you land at Union Station, where you can conclude your journey with that cheeseburger and milkshake from Shake Shack.

Disclosure: My trip to Washington, D.C. was part of a press trip with Independent Collection, hosted by Brandman Agency. Some of the recommendations were experienced as part of this trip, while the rest were culled from personal trips to the city on my own time. 

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