This old post office languishing for years or that bureaucratic building in a state of arrested decay could be the next hip hotel in this city of politicians and techno experts. Case in point is the the chic Hotel Monaco, adjacent to the International Spy Museum. This up and coming neighborhood was once largely ignored until urban renewal got hold of it. Staying at the Monaco (part of the Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group) gives you nearby entrée to a restaurant that was once a U.S. Post Office, aptly named Poste. The priced-to-eat bar menu features delectable Creek House crab cakes with chayote-citrus salad and two sauces for $12. The sleek décor showcases a less traditional side of “The District.” This is the ideal place to rendezvous after investigating the many zany secrets of the spy world next door. Even pigeons play a part in uncovering the drama of espionage, all unmasked at this popular museum.
On a more comforting note is yet another Kimpton Hotel, the 82-room Madera, which was designed to feel more residential (rooms average 430 square feet). Add to this a menu of specialty guestrooms, such as Nosh rooms with kitchenettes and two screening rooms with a second television, DVD player, DVD library and comfy seating. The Strength room has a Nautilus machine and, lest I not forget, the Flash Rooms live up to their names with personal computers, printers and unlimited high-speed Internet access. In case you can’t fall asleep and/or have a
craving Kafka at midnight, Kramerbooks, one of the more idiosyncratic bookstores that has managed to escape the predictability of chain stores, is open 24 hours. The store is in the heart of the fun Dupont Circle neighborhood.
Then there are their desserts, on display in a refrigerated case, competing with the travel, history and cooking sections. Luscious lemon meringue pies and variations of chocolate cakes eclipse countless stacks of books. There are nightly concerts starting around 10:30 PM, too. According to the Washington, D.C. Convention and Tourism Corp., Dupont Circle was most recently seen in the films “The American President,” “Random Hearts” and “Enemy of the State.”
Another innovative Kimpton Hotel is the 137-room Hotel Rouge, designed to be the ultimate 21st century escape. There are Chill, Chat and Chow rooms. For those who cannot disconnect, the Chill Room will keep you online in style, with two Sony Wega TVs, a Sony PlayStation2, access to a video game library, a CD player with assorted CDs and color coordinated Gatorade all enhanced by mood lighting. Fast approaching on the horizon is the spring opening of the Mandarin Oriental Washington, a stunning 400-room property on the Southwest waterfront that promises to bring an economic boom to one of the District’s developing neighborhoods.
Aside from 80 professional theaters, on any given night curtains rise on upwards of 200 performances at theaters in the District, Virginia and Maryland. From the National Theatre, a short walk from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, to the 451-seat Shakespeare Theatre, the nation’s premiere classic theater in the heart of Pennsylvania Quarter Arts District, there’s no reason to stay in your hotel room glued to CNN.
Museum junkies, take note. Exhibitions featured in 2004 include Diego Riviera: Cubist Still Lifes and Portraits (www.nga.gov), Draped, Wrapped & Folded: Untailored Clothing at the Textile Museum (www.textilemuseum.com) and America’s Four Freedoms: Art that Inspired a Generation, in honor of the dedication of the new World War II Memorial on the National Mall (www.corcoran.org). This will take place on May 29th at the East end of the reflecting pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
Plan your museum trips well to allow ample time for the gift and snack shops. I was flatly refused a scoop of orange gelato at the National Gallery of Art, after standing in line for 20 minutes, because they promptly close the cash register at 4 PM. They don’t care who you are or where you hail from, be it from Mauritania or Malibu. Logic doesn’t apply to the concession stand.
Dining in the district requires think tank strategy. From the matchless wood-fired pizzas at Matchbox (where lunch for two comes in easily under $20) to more exotic menus at the popular Ceiba (where the conch fritter appetizer was seen on many tabletops) or Ten Penh, another dining icon (credit goes to Exec. Chef Jeff Tunk’s for presenting Asian cuisine with accessibility and flair), the dining scene here rivals Los Angeles for diversity and dynamic chefs. On that parting note, Zetinya is the ultimate for Turkish cuisine. The vegetable mezzes – small plates of almost anything from simple to complex – number 30 and range from cabbage dolmades to Ottoman rice pilaf), while the 20 choices in the meat and poultry category include a delicious skewered marinated chicken with sumac onions.
A mere 68 square miles, carved out of land donated by the generous state of Maryland and divided into four quadrants, marked by the U.S. capitol where they meet, the District’s primary industry after the federal government is tourism -and this year promises enough dining, sightseeing, openings and events to keep you on the go longer than you expected.
Contacts: (area code 202)
€Hotel Madera, 1310 New Hampshire, N.W., 296-7600
€Hotel Monaco 700 F St., N.W., 628-7177
€Mandarin Oriental Washington, 1330 Maryland Ave., S.W.
€Ceiba, 701 14th St., N.W. (Colorado Bldg.), 393-3983
€Firefly (at the Hotel Madera), 296-7600
€Matchbox, Vintage Brick Oven Pizza, 713 H. St, N.W. 289-4441
€Poste, 558th St., N.W., 783-6060
€Ten Penh, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. 393-4500
€Michel Richard Citronelle
€Zaytinya-701 9th St., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20001 638-0800
€International Spy Museum, 800 F St., N.W. 393-7798
€Kramerbooks and Afterwords Café, 1517 Connecticut Ave., N.W. 387-1400
€Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corporation www.washington.org
Pamela Price is co-author of
“100 Best Spas of the World” (www.globepequot.com)