When I was 6 years old my parents loaded my sister and I into an RV. We disembarked Los Angeles and headed eastward, clinging to Joshua Tree’s lower half along the Interstate 10. Six hours later, we had arrived at Lake Havasu: retirement home for American humans and English bridges since 1971. Two decades and change later, my memory could use a digital remastering. But I do remember this: there was a boat, I boarded the boat, and at some point, that boat crossed an imaginary line that bifurcates the good lake down the middle, California to one side, Arizona on the other. That moment would become the first and last time that I would leave California until college.
This past year, in particular, I’ve tried to make good on seeing more of my country. In addition to Oregon, Washington state (and a respectable number of countries), I’ve added New York City on New Year’s Eve, New Orleans on Mardi Gras, and Yosemite in the early Fall to the list. I’ll be adding Utah in January. The first week of this past October, I added Washington, DC.
I was there for work and had precious few moments to myself, but precious none the less.
My favorite culture on earth is drinking culture. To this end, I can always rely (and you can too!) on a enlightening new town experience by visiting one of the given city’s FODDs (Fanciest-Oldest-Diviest-and-Douchiest bars).
(A brief digression on FODDs, San Francisco: Fanciest: Bourbon and Branch; Oldest: The Saloon; Diviest: Tough call…I’ll go with The Hockey Haven; Douchiest: Medjool).
Everybody in DC seems to readily know the oldest bar in town. It’s called Old Ebbitt Grill, conveniently located two blocks from my hotel, and across the street from the Obama crib. Forget that the food was bland (and priced accordingly), while looking over a flyer on the bar’s history, I noticed that the suspiciously beautiful place was built in…1983! Turns out Old Ebbitt is the oldest brand in town. Nobody seemed to know where the actual oldest continuous drinking establishment actually was. Defeat.
I took a stab at the FODD douchiest, making my way to Circa on Connecticut Ave NW, as recommended by a coworker who spent time in DC as a Senate aide. Circa delivered on the basics: bronzed sugar daddy’s with and women inflicted with the plastic-surgery’s inevitable cat-face. But after one whole Maker’s–rocks–Manhattan, I didn’t see one cougar attack! I’m sorry, but even at Americano, San Francisco’s runner-up douchiest, the hunting grounds are littered with wounded young men by 7:00pm on a Monday night.
After Circa I stopped at a total gem: Kramerbooks. At this small bookstore I picked up Arguably, the latest compendium of essays by Christopher Hitchens (who, as it happens, lives only blocks away).
Like all great bookstores, Kramerbooks features a pub. Unlike a great bookstore pub, they served only one “local” beer…from Baltimore. Unlike even the greatest bookstore, Kramerbooks serves fantastic food. After first catching my nose, I saw several plates whiz past, seemingly out of nowhere: filet mignon with horseradish sour cream, BBQ ribs with mac ‘n cheese, seared scallops with organic maitakes. The scallops were unreal.
For the fanciest place the bartender recommended the Gibson, a Whiskey bar on 14th street. The Gibson, like Kramerbooks, brought with it total victory: hundreds of whiskies from around the world, and a bartender who delivered my rocks Blood and Sand with flamed orange zest.
A backstory to my evening was that, for each place I went and bartender I spoke with where I could go dancing on a Monday night. Each time I asked, I received different versions of the same opinion: “This is a government town. There’s barely dancing on Saturday nights.”
Interesting. After leaving the Gibson, I walked about four blocks before honing in, like a sperm whale echo-locating her distant calf, on a place somehow unlikely called Marvin. Hearing music from the side walk, I creeped up the stairs to find an old Edwardian-style bar packed, wall-to-wall, with dancing. Government town indeed.
Pressed for time, I didn’t make it to one establishment that could qualify as a dive. Next time. I did, however, make several other observations about our nation’s capitol. The store fronts have stoops, and the sidewalks are clean, narrow, and many are brick. The marble steps of the rotunda staircase have been sharpened like to dagger-like-points just to the left and right of center, under the ceaseless plodding of the congress.
To be an American living in the Capitol City is to have a voice in neither the Congress nor the Presidency. The US Constitution predates the District of Columbia by three years, and sadly, the founding fathers neglected to ask how residents of the future capitol would vote. Thus the best license plate motto in the republic was born, “Washington DC: Taxation without Representation”.
Although I was there for work, I was lucky in that work took me to the White House and the deeper halls of the Capitol. Good times.