The real Washington, D.C., does not look like a scene out of a political drama — the dark dining halls of House of Cards, politicized ice cream shops of Veep, or The West Wing’s stuffy suit-and-tie parties. The nation’s capital has seen something of a cultural renaissance that has moved it away from these TV cliches, with businesses flocking to the city, development projects popping up everywhere (think bike lanes, condos), and, of course, food, drink, and luxury hotels close behind. Whether you’re looking to eat like you’re in Manhattan, or see the sites while pedaling along the Potomac, here’s your guide.
14th Street: Eat & Drink
As happy hour approaches, everyone from hipsters to pollsters with deep expense accounts makes their way to the 14th Street strip running from Logan Circle to beyond the U Street Corridor. This once-downtrodden neighborhood is now the most vibrant dining scene in the city. If you don’t have reservations, expect to spend the evening hostess hopping, but while you wait for them to text you with a table, there are plenty of spots to grab a drink. Start with 2 Birds 1 Stone, where mixologist Adam Bernbach turns out cocktails featuring ever-inventive house-made ingredients. If you instead want a glass of well-priced wine, aim for Cork Wine Bar’s carefully curated menu of European standouts. When it comes time to dine, try to score a seat at Stephen Starr’s Le Diplomate, where you will want to make room for boards of butter-fortified foie gras parfait and expertly executed steak frites or trout amandine. Another unforgettable option is at Top Chef star Mike Isabella’s Kapnos, where you can enjoy spit-roasted lamb and suckling pig, spreads galore (taramosalata rich with roe and caviar is a must), and other thoughtfully updated Mediterranean classics.
Baseball and Brews at the Navy Yard
D.C.’s Navy Yard is in the midst of a growth spurt, meaning much of the area looks a bit like a construction lot. You should still make the day of it here, with a game at the Nationals Stadium and a beer from Bluejacket, one of the newest (and best) breweries in the city. Built in a beautifully renovated industrial space (an early 20th-century Boilermaker shop), Bluejacket brags upwards of 20 beers on tap at any given time, with every imaginable style, from sours to pale ales, old ales aged in wood barrels, and their ever-drinkable kolsch, Forbidden Planet. The brewery’s stellar full menu (it’s owned by one of the city’s largest restaurant groups), gives you reason to stay for hours, even if the game is rained out.
Georgetown’s Luxe Hotel
Situated next to the Chesapeake & Ohio canal in the heart of Georgetown, the two-year-old Capella Hotel offers the kind of boutique luxury never before seen in the Nation’s Capital. Each guest at Capella is assigned a personal assistant who will contact you in advance to help plan dinner or drink reservations, personal shopping, rearranging your room to fit your quirks, and meeting you upon arrival — no check-in required. Most visitors won’t want to go further than the Rye Bar and Grill Room whose airy, lounge-like atmosphere doesn’t give a hint to the James Beard Award–winning chef, Frank Ruta, behind their stellar menu. Capella’s highlight, however, is its rooftop space. This urban retreat, available only to hotel guests, is something no other place in the city can boast — a spacious bar, full service food menu, infinity pool, and expansive views of the Potomac River and national monuments.
The District By Bike
With over 300 stations and 2,500 cherry-red bikes available in the citywide share, there is no better way to explore D.C. Pedaling down the National Mall to the Tidal Basin is the obvious play — but for good reason. The looping ride under a canopy of cherry trees takes you past the Washington Monument, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and plenty of places where you can pause to picnic. On sweltering days, shady Rock Creek Park provides a cooling refuge, as a heavily forested stretch running up the center of D.C. For a more rigorous workout requiring a bike with thicker tires, hit the towpath along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. It runs parallel to the Potomac River from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland, over 180 miles away — though we don’t recommend trying to do that all in one day.
–Reporting by Nevin Martell and Robert Mordkin