Once you've done the tourist thing, where do you go for the real Washington, the one Washingtonians know and sometimes even love? The one in which you're more likely to overhear, "And she signed it 'Love, Tipper' " than "Darn, the gift shop's closed"?
One place to find this parallel universe is in Washington's neighborhoods, those old-fashioned havens where office workers and tour guides and struggling artists live no matter who's occupying the White House.
Start your day the way the locals do: with breakfast at Eastern Market on yuppieish, almost suburban Capitol Hill. There's nothing spectacular about the menu - omelets, crab cakes, scrapple - but a plate is heaped and cheap, and every Saturday and Sunday, the line is out the door. The market itself was started in 1973 in a pair of buildings abandoned by D.C.'s transportation department, and has grown into a weekend happening, with arts and crafts, an outdoor flea market and buskers strolling about. The Hill itself, like many Washington neighborhoods, is an architectural treasure chest of Victorian and Queen Anne gems.
The Adams Morgan district, developed in the late 19th century, is also home to much of Washington's best architecture, with grand Italianate and Beaux Arts mansions, regiments of rowhouses, and ornate chapels and churches. Though the area is best known for its ethnic food - Portuguese, Egyptian, Ethiopian, French, Indian, Vietnamese and Caribbean share just a few blocks of 18th Street - it also holds one of the district' most beautiful green spaces. The cascading waterfall and terraced gardens of Meridian Hill Park on 16th Street Northwest, also known as Malcolm X Park, are based on classic 18th-century European designs. Once considered as a site for the White House, the park today offers occasional free concerts and provides an oasis from city life.
For those with kids in tow, the old can seem new in D.C. - if you know where to look. The always-worth-a-visit National Zoo recently added a rain-forest exhibit in which monkeys, birds and other animals roam free in the canopy overhead. And this year, steel yourself for a trip to the Museum of Natural History's insect exhibit. If you can't take it for very long, you can always escape to the nearby mall carousel to recover from the creepy crawlies.
The Doll's House and Toy Museum in Friendship Heights is another option that's sure to fascinate, with its antique toys, games, dolls and doll houses, including a miniature six-story New Jersey apartment house.
Though technically not a museum, the Discovery Channel Store, opened in March in the MCI Center, is four themed levels of barely controlled, irresistible pandemonium. Yes, it's crammed with tantalizing merchandise displays designed to separate you from your money, but it also has a T. rex skeleton cast, the world's largest ant farm, a World War II B-25 bomber, interactives galore (from paleontology to world cultures and ecosystems), an observatory, a high-definition theater and events that really do bring out the kid in everyone. Get a preview at its Web site, www.flagship.discovery.com.
For the under-12 set, plan at least a few hours - you'd find it tough to tear them away - at the Children's Museum, on Third Street Northeast in Capitol Hill. The immediate vicinity isn't much, but inside is a magical world where hands-on exhibits include a spooky cave, a child-size Mexican town square, a multilevel cityscape playground, an intricate mirrored maze and an animation studio that lets kids star in a cartoon right alongside Wile E. Coyote. Little ones will wear themselves out here so thoroughly that Mom and Dad might even find themselves looking forward to a childless evening on the town.
Night life in Washington, once considered as dull as Al Gore on "Meet the Press," has picked up considerably in the past few years. Perhaps predictably in this town that prides itself on its sophistication, the hottest tickets around are those that cater to the new cool: cigar bars and martini lounges. Ozio's and Sam and Harry's steakhouse are still going strong, as is the James Bond-themed Felix, the first bar in the District to tap into the nascent swing craze, with bands like Lush Life and the nine-piece RKO Orchestra playing on Wednesday nights. Or, if you'd rather work up a sweat with Latin dance, the salsa, merengue and tango still sizzle at Habana Village and Coco Loco, both of which offer lessons for those who've got the beat but not the feet.
There are also several happening options for visitors whose touring has left them longing for a more subdued evening. The Kennedy Center offers eclectic free concerts every evening, and the Phillips Collection, near Dupont Circle, is host to an "Artful Evenings" series on Thursday nights, which consists of live music and a cash bar ($5 for nonmembers).
For lounging about, there's no better place than the couches of Chi-Cha, on the recently reawakened U Street corridor. Here you can dine on "modern Andean cuisine" while smoking Arabic tobacco from a water pipe and sipping chi-cha, an Incan elixir made from corn, pineapple, cinnamon and cloves, and then spiked with a healthy shot of tequila.
Another darling of the au courant young professional set is the so-trendy 18th Street Lounge. But the king of laid-back groove is still Blues Alley, a Georgetown legend since 1965 and the nation's oldest continuously operating jazz supper club. After a Creole dinner, a $13 to $40 admission buys you a seat for the best jazz and blues in America, from performers such as McCoy Tyner, Nancy Wilson, Maynard Ferguson and the Marsalis brothers.
Wind up your night under the stars on the 11th-floor rooftop of the Hotel Washington, adored by locals and visitors alike for its magnificent city views.
This is the way to see the Washington Monument - and the Lincoln Memorial, and the White House - far from the madding crowds, with a glass of port in your hand.
When you go
Blues Alley: Rear of 1073 Wisconsin Ave. N.W.; open nightly 6 p.m. until "whenever." May show highlights include Abbey Lincoln, Charlie Byrd, Jackie Terrasson and Terrance Blanchfard. Cover charge of $13-$40, depending on that night's band; 202-337-4141.
Chi-Cha: 1624 U St. N.W.; open Sunday through Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.; Friday and Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. No cover charge; 202-234-8400.
Children's Museum: 800 Third St. N.E.; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; admission: $6 per person, children under 2 free; 202-675-4120.
Coco Loco: 810 Seventh St. N.W. Restaurant hours: Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Nightclub hours: Friday and Saturday 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.; $10 cover charge. 202-289-2626.
Discovery Channel Store: 601 F St. N.W. (in the MCI Center); open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Cost for walking tour of museum: $7.50 for adults, $6.50 for juniors (ages 6-17) and seniors (ages 55 and up). Cost for featured movies: $2.50 for adults, $1.50 for juniors and seniors. 202-639-0908.
Doll's House and Toy Museum: 5236 44th St., N.W.; open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m., closed Monday. Admission: $4 adults, $3 for seniors, $2 for children. 202-244-0024.
Eastern Market: Seventh and C streets Southeast; open Tuesday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 202-564-2698.
18th Street Lounge: 1212 18th St. N.W.; open Tuesday and Wednesday 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday and Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 3 a.m.; closed Sunday and Monday; 202-466-3922.
Felix: 2406 18th St. N.W. Restaurant hours: Sunday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Monday through Wednesday 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Club hours: Friday and Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 3 a.m.; Monday and Tuesday 5:30 p.m. to midnight; Wednesday and Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Nightclub admission: $5 per person; 202-483-3549.
Habana Village: 1834 Columbia Road. Open Wednesday through Saturday 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.; dance classes Wednesday through Saturday 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; $10 per person. 202-462-6310.
Hotel Washington: 515 15th St. N.W.; rooftop bar open daily 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.; 202-638-5900.
Kennedy Center: New Hampshire Avenue and F Street Northwest; free concerts begin nightly at 6 p.m. on the Millennium Stage; 202-416-8000.
Meridian Hill Park: (Also known as Malcolm X Park.) Bounded by 15th and 16th streets Northwest on the west and east and by Euclid and W streets on the north and south.
Museum of Natural History: 10th Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest; 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily; free admission; 202-357-1300.
National Zoo: 3001 Connecticut Ave. N.W. Open daily except Christmas. Through Sept. 15, zoo grounds open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., animal buildings 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. From Sept. 16 to April 30, zoo grounds open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., animal buildings 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission free; 202-673-4800.
Ozio's: 1835 Kay St. N.W.; open weekdays 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.; no cover charge; 202-822-6000.
Phillips Collection: 1600 21st St. N.W. On Thursday, "Artful Evenings" series begins at 5 p.m. and continues until 8:30 p.m., featuring live jazz, a sandwich station and a cash bar; $5 for nonmembers. Sundays, concerts from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. are free with general weekend admission of $6.50 for adults and $3.50 for students and seniors; 202-387-2151.
Sam and Harry's steakhouse: 1200 19th St. N.W. Lunch served Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner served Monday through Saturday 5:30 p.m. 10:30 p.m. Closed Sunday; 202-296-4333.
- Randi Kest
Pub Date: 5/03/98