Christine Taylor takes us on a tour of Washington DC and its environs that not only boasts monuments aplenty but also so quirky cafes and restaurants too.
Ok, so they do flag up that it can take 72 minutes to get through immigration at Dulles International Airport (2 hours for me) but thankfully that was the only frustrating thing about the week I spent in Washington DC and surrounding neighbourhoods. Being based a few miles out of the city in the northern part of the Bethesda suburb I thought I’d feel a little cut off but absolutely not, the Red Line of the fast, efficient and airconditioned Metro had me at the Central Metro station downtown in 10 quick stops. Getting around is made very straight forward as the Metro map uses primary colours to delineate routes, I like simple. Surprisingly, every Metro station has exactly the same minimal concrete domed roof and all dimly lit, calming and cooling, stunning actually.
I genuinely didn’t expect to fall for Washington as much as I did. You see images of the Whitehouse and in some way feel you’ve got a grip of what Washington is all about but it’s so much more impressive than that, the tourist attractions are simply monumental. The Whitehouse is indisputably beautiful and perfect to photograph but tours need to be pre booked, The Washington Monument, a 555ft high granite and marble obelisk surrounded by star spangled banner flags and now earthquake proof and said to be ‘Imbued with shadowy Masonic love’ is both imposing and impressive but, it’s The Lincoln Memorial that takes your breath away, not least because of the 4 levels of stone steps up to it but because it literally is another wonder of the world. I nearly cried when standing in front of Abe sitting serenely on his marble chair high above head height looking down along the peaceful Reflecting Pool that runs down to the World War 2 Memorial. You can almost hear the echoes of Martin Luther King Jnr making his ‘I have a dream’ civil rights speech on the very spot. The sheer enormity and importance of this colossal statue truly moved me.
Wanting to explore an area where I’d find ‘my tribe’ I was recommended to check out the suburb of Adams Morgan. Dupont Circle Metro, again, on the Red Line is the nearest Metro stop to the infamous 18th Street where, it seems, there are more bars and restaurants than in the whole rest of the city. Things start heating up around 7/8pm when the neighbourhood simply buzzes.
Tryst Café, packed at 4pm with people making the most of the cool- in design and temperature, laid back stylish interior, impeccable service as you only find in America and a funky food menu that’s super veggie friendly, is a must stop. Its rated highly by the local community and epitomises café culture. www.trystdc.com
Opposite Tryst is the infamous Julia’s Empinadas with an unassuming little shop front with signage stating: ‘We don’t change much because we got it right first time’. Priceless, ‘nough said.
However, the absolute highlight stop was at Roofers Union Bars and Restaurant spread over three floors. At street level the Jug and Table wine bar www.jugandtable.com with its bare brick rustic interior, level two the Roofers Union bar and restaurant and level three the Rooftop Bar, a spectacular place to have a cold craft beer or cider at sunset and sticky beak over the neighbourhood. www.roofersuniondc.com I had the Rustic Clear Cider, tart in flavour and brewed by the clever NYC siblings that are Graft Cider www.graftcidery.com and then a Fruited Sour Great Divide, strawberry rhubarb flavour and at 6.2%, I just had the one….a properly inspired bar offering. Sitting at the rooftop bar and looking out over 18th Street reminds you of just how quirky, colourful and culturally and architecturally diverse the Adams Morgan area is, an absolute gem of a suburb, I did find my ‘tribe’ and was definitely worth exploring.
Where else to go?
With half a day to spare before heading to the airport, I Hertzed myself up with a ‘compact’ (HUGE) and headed up to Leesburg, 13 miles North of Dulles International, so an easy detour. Leesburg is one of Northern Virginias oldest towns, more Suffolk than Washington suburb with little wood and corrugated tin roofed houses, tumble down wooden barns and an inexplicable amount of old churches, so is extremely different from the Washington DC experience. I found myself feeling relaxed and almost at home’and coming up to the July 4th celebrations the bunting and flags on every white picket fence and post looked, well, cute. I’d read a little about the highlights of this gorgeous little town and two places stood out on the main North King Street. The first a café/restaurant called Shoes, Cup and Cork, originally a shoe store is now filled with antique shoe memorabilia and old boots hanging from the ceiling with the exposed lightbulbs and the waiting guys T-Shirt’s read ‘Feed Your Sole’. The food is both imaginative and wholesome and based on sustainable local produce incorporating local Virginian Craft Beer. www.shoescupandcork.com
The afternoon caffeine stop was at King Street Coffee where they are taking the art of bean roasting super seriously. The stunning brass antique “but in fine working order” bean grinding equipment forms the backdrop to the main artisanal style counter and apparently dates back to Asia C1920’s. Great coffee and cake and the perfect place to meet the locals.
If you have a couple of hours more to spare then surrounding Leesburgh is Loudoun County, a rich farming and now a flourishing wine producing area. The Bluemont Vineyard www.bluemontvineyard.com and Tarara Winery www.tarara.com who are both producing award winning vino both looked like a perfect places to end a great trip….maybe next time and there will be a next time.
Sitting in the BA Lounge having had an easy exit through customs (hurrah) reflecting on what has been an eye opening trip. Washington DC has surprised me being an interesting and vibrant a city and its suburbs and countryside are a do not miss.
British Airways has three flights a day Heathrow to Washington DC (all airports) from £400.
Words & Pictures: Christine Taylor