Contrary to what House of Cards might make you think, us DC natives do not spend our lives as victims of or agents in political scandal. Many of us, in fact, like to spend as little time thinking about the government – and whether it’s open or shutdown on any given day – as possible. We prefer sampling Thai tasting menus, enjoying free visits to the zoo and listening to hardcore punk. Though a visit to the monuments scattered on and around the National Mall is a must, these are some of my recommendations for what to do after you’ve posed with Lincoln and waved at the Oval.
This restaurant has no sign, only a Thai motorcycle and a nightly to mark its location. The website is minimal, providing only an address, opening times and an updated menu. You line up from about 5, and at 5.30 PM the hostesses begin taking names and allotting you a time, at which point you can go have a drink in the surrounding DuPont neighbourhood and wait for the text alerting you to your table. The menu features 7 courses, each getting spicier and spicier until course 5, at which things cool down with an unctuous egg dish and sweet-smoky ribs. The walls are bright turquoise, the servers wear vintage dresses and their vermouth selection is stellar. At $45 per person, it’s an affordable indulgence.
Union Market is a recent discovery of mine. As you walk in the giant photo of the stalls’ layout from the 1960s reminds you of the market’s deliberate attempt to revive a long tradition of indoor markets in the area. There are dozens of businesses inside, ranging from artisanal espresso makers to ramen pop up stands, and it’s home to one of DC’s only independent butchers (where you can, if you so wish, buy a pig’s head for $25). It’s not convenient to get to and there isn’t really much else to do in the area, but the trip is definitely worth it.
To Do (for Free!)
Nearly everything run by the Smithsonian is free, including the National Zoo and the museums lining the Mall. If you visit during the summer these museums provide a respite from the relentless heat, and you will be able to take advantage of another annual free activity: the National Folklife Festival, which runs in the last week of June and the first week of July each year. It features food demos, live music and all kinds of international exhibitions – I’ve played with live goats, learned to make Californian olive oil and walked through recreations of Buddhist temples in the years I’ve visited.
U Street Corridor
Fancy eating DC’s best chilli and hearing some hardcore punk in the same night? The famed Black Cat has been open since 1993 and features all kinds of local and visiting bands. My brother plays in several of DC’s straightedge hardcore punk bands that frequent this venue, and it is on their recommendation that I urge you to visit Ben’s Chilli Bowl, a DC monument vastly more important than the Capitol (and one Obama actually enjoys visiting). So if you’re up for something a little bit different than taking your photograph outside the White House gates with guards watching you, U Street is your best bet.
Though a popular area for a night out, I wouldn’t recommend it– all the area’s frat boys flood it and it loses its character. Instead, visit during the day and take advantage of the Nepalese jewellery, falafel, vegan pizza and a basement record store. Little shops boasting rooms and rooms of African and Nepalese musical instruments, art, fabrics and jewellery stand alongside Jumbo Slice, where you can get a vegan or cheese pizza slice the size of your torso for a few bucks. Amsterdam Falafel is also noteworthy for its vegan and omnivore options, and you can hop across the street to spend some time digging through Smash Records’ collection.
Images sourced from Pinterest.