By Sonja Patterson
Photographed by Aaron Spicer
You may have visited the District of Columbia’s many monuments and memorials, but the city has lots of sexy, unexpected spots that go beyond the usual historical suspects. At its heart, D.C. is all about the pursuit of happiness, and for many Washingtonians, that means setting aside policies and partying when work is done. Stuffy speechwriters cut loose at one of the city’s many comedy clubs; office drones get spicy at any of the countless ethnic restaurants; lobbyists unwind in the city’s numerous parks; and orators stop talking to eat, drink, dance, laugh, or take in the city’s vibrant art, theater, and music scenes. Visit the less-seen D.C. and declare your independence from boring vacations.
Start at Co Co. Sala Restaurant and Chocolate Lounge (929 F St. NW), a one-of-a-kind place that puts a chocolatey twist on breakfast, lunch, and dinner by turning every meal into dessert. From s’mores French toast, to chocolate-covered bacon, to white- chocolate pancakes with caramel sauce, the breakfast offerings alone will make a way better meal than Cocoa Puffs.
Let your sugar rush fuel an exploration of feminist art at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (1250 New York Ave. NW), which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. It’s dedicated to highlighting women’s achievements in the visual, performing, and literary arts, and houses more than 4,000 paintings, sculptures, and drawings.
Honor D.C.’s past as a suffragette city at The Sewall-Belmont House & Museum (144 Constitution Ave. NE). Alice Paul (played by Hilary Swank in the movie Iron Jawed Angels) lived here and was jailed for leading the first women’s suffrage protest at the White House. She went on to lead the National Women’s Party in 1929 and author the Equal Rights Amendment. See Susan B. Anthony’s desk, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s chair, original banners used in picketing, photos, cartoons, and an amazing library.
A short cab ride away is Toki Underground (1234 H St. NE), whose Taiwanese-style ramen and dumplings have a cult following. Slurp noodles in a hip setting with anime wallpaper and red paper lanterns. I recommend the curry chicken Hakata and for dessert, a warm white-chocolate ginger cookie or two. There’s no sign, so look for the blue flower painted on the glass door next door to the pub The Pug. Nearby, The Red Palace (1212 H St. NE) is a venue that straddles several worlds; depending on the night, you can find live music or burlesque. D.C.’s proximity to Baltimore and N.Y.C. brings circus artists and Coney Island sideshow acts to this eclectic, New Orleans-inspired joint, which stays rocking late into the night. Look for the old-timey “Palace of Wonders” sign out front.
Rise, shine, then head over to D.C.’s famous Sunday Drag Queen Brunch at Perry’s Restaurant (1811 Columbia Rd. NW), for a fabulous eye-opening meal. An all-you-can-eat American and Asian feast is served for $23.95 from 10 am to 3 pm, including sushi, spring rolls, dumplings, waffles, eggs, bacon, and hash browns. They don’t take reservations, and a line typically forms outside by 9 a.m.
Hippies, gypsies, and worshippers of the goddess Kali will find shopping salvation in the flowing fabric from India Art & Craft (2602 Connecticut Ave. NW). Imported goods from India—dresses, skirts, belly-dancing costumes, jewelry, and scarves—are stuffed into this small shop close to the National Zoo.
The U Street Corridor was once known as “Washington’s Black Broadway” because of institutions like the historic Howard Theatre (620 T St. NW). It was built in 1910, making it older than Harlem’s Apollo. Catch a concert, stand-up comic, or Sunday gospel brunch, which will make you sing hallelujah! While you’re in the area, swing by Ginger Root Design (1530 U St. NW), owned by two hip redheads (hence the name) who upcycle and revamp vintage clothes. You won’t find cookie-cutter or mass-produced pieces here. After shopping, boogie over to Oohh’s & Aahh’s (1005 U St. NW), a charming hole-in-the-wall dive that serves finger lickin’ soul food, including fried chicken and waffles, collard greens, and sweet tea. They stay open late to catch the after-concert crowds from nearby clubs like The Black Cat (1811 14th St. NW), which was founded by D.C. native Dave Grohl.
The area around 9th and U Street is unofficially known as “Little Ethiopia,” since it has the largest Ethiopian population in the U.S. Restaurants here are known for family-style dining and a lack of utensils—you use “injera,” a pancake-like bread, to scoop up your food. Dukem (1114 U St. NW), one of the most popular, features a live band on Wednesday evenings. Try the beef or lamb tibs, vegetarian platters, and honey wine.
Water wonderland Spa World (13830-A Braddock Rd.; Centre-ville, VA) is worth the 30-minute drive out of the city—especially since $35 buys you unlimited access to a steam room, pool, hot tubs, sauna, and seven “poultice rooms” (spots full of “natural earth elements” that claim to eliminate body toxins). It’s open 24/7, and the onsite restaurant serves bubble tea, smoothies, and Korean cuisine. Tranquility also awaits at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America (1400 Quincy St. NE), a hidden gem built in 1899. Stroll the gardens on the serene 44-acre grounds, or take a guided tour of the Roman catacombs under the monastery.
D.C. is where the South meets the North, Democrats meet Republicans, and diverse races and nationalities coexist, making history every day. Whether you Occupy D.C. or stay just a couple of days, this land is your land—D.C. was made for BUSTies like you and me.
Photos (from top); The White House; National Museum of Women in the Arts; Toki Underground; Red Palace; Perry's; Ginger Root Design
This story appears in the June/July 2012 issue of BUST Magazine with cover girl Anna Paquin. Subscribe now.