Washington, D.C./East End
East End is D.C.'s old downtown quarter, east of 15th St, including the smaller downtown neighborhoods of Chinatown, Penn Quarter, Judiciary Square, and Mount Vernon Square.
The East End, just north of the National Mall is the center of tourism in the city, home to most of the city's museums and event venues, and full of restaurants, bars, and large hotels. Its heart beats through the ceremonial stretch of Pennsylvania Ave, which runs through the Penn Quarter from the White House to the Capitol Building, serving as a bridge from the city center to the Mall (as you might expect, this road has nice views).
In the early 1990s, when Washington Capitals and Wizards owner Abe Pollin arrived for the first time by limousine at 7th and F St NW to scout out possible sites for a new arena, he was told not to get out of the vehicle. The site, then a parking lot, had drug dealers doing business there, and the neighborhood was crime-ridden and deserted at night. But, he decided that was the place to build his new arena. The Verizon Center (then the MCI Center) opened in December 1997, and since then, the neighborhood has experienced a remarkable turnaround with tremendous gentrification.
Penn Quarter and Gallery Place (the bustling entertainment area between the Verizon Center and the National Portrait Gallery) comprise the heart of the East End, and indeed have a valid claim to be the commercial and touristic heart of the city. The Penn Quarter is dominated by the Pennsylvania Ave stretch, whose sidewalks and parks comprise a National Park, is the city's number two staging ground for races, large festivals, and parades. Penn Quarter is distinguished from the rest of downtown by its nineteenth century buildings and facades. After the opening of the Verizon Center in 1997, and the resulting development boom, most of these buildings were redeveloped as the ground-floor facades of private luxury apartments and office buildings, resulting in the creation of an "arts and entertainment" district. The biggest draw for city visitors, however, is Penn Quarter's theater district, and its tremendous quantity of first-rate museums.
To the north of Penn Quarter is Chinatown. The neighborhood is quite safe nowadays and lively in the evenings. As an increasing number of chain stores and restaurants have opened in recent years, and Chinatown increasingly resembles a miniature Times Square with activity day and night into the wee hours. On the other hand, it now struggles to resemble the once thriving ethnic community for which it is named, even though the city government heavily promotes the original character—new businesses in the neighborhood are even required to post signage in Chinese. Some shops and restaurants remained and quite recently more have opened on and just steps away from H St, again infusing H St with more of an Asian flavor. But those expecting something like New York's Chinatown will be sorely disappointed—area residents have taken to calling it Chinablock.
Judiciary Square, located to the east of Penn Quarter, is home to the United States District Court building, along with the D.C. Superior Court building, and various other government buildings. Just north is the massive, 2.3 million square foot (210,000 m²) Convention Center, just north of Mt Vernon Square. The Convention Center was completed in 2003, and has since been the favorite site for presidential inaugural balls.
D.C.'s principal visitor information center is at the west end of Pennsylvania Ave, and offers maps, brochures and other information for visitors:
- , 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW (In the Reagan Building), ☎ , toll-free: . 15 March-1 Sep: M-F 8:30AM-5:30PM, Sa 9AM-4PM; 2 Sep-14 March M-F 9AM-4:30PM. Regardless of your interest in the center itself, the building is worth a look—it's the second largest federal office building in the region after the Pentagon.
Metro is the best way for getting into Penn Quarter and Chinatown, the former serviced by the busy Metro Center (on the Red, Orange, Blue, and Silver lines), as well as Federal Triangle (Blue, Orange, and Silver) and Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter (Green and Yellow). The Gallery Pl-Chinatown will drop you off right in the heart of the neighborhood at the Verizon Center—use the H St exit for Chinatown.
For the Convention Center, get off at Mount Vernon Square on the Green and Yellow lines. For Judiciary Square in the east, take the Red Line to Judiciary Square.
The East End is probably the single worst place to drive to in the city. On weekdays and during peak tourist season, street parking is either unavailable, or will take a longer time to find than it would take to ride the Metro here. Most parking garages fill up by 9AM. Downtown traffic jams are frequent and awful. You might find parking on off-hours, or during the winter, but it's almost always easier to take public transport. Take note of garage hours—after they close, you won't be able to get your car.
The main north-south routes are 7th St (which turns into Georgia further north), as well as I-395 from Virginia, which terminates east of the Convention Center. Major east-west routes include H St, which runs through Chinatown, and of course Pennsylvania Ave. Crisscrossing the area on diagonals through Mt Vernon Square are New York Ave and Massachusetts Ave. The latter, as well as H St, offer a fun game—trying to stay on either is something like riding a bucking bronco.
It is possible to hail taxis from the street at almost any hour of the day or night, and they are a convenient way to travel relatively short distances. They are also your only alternative to the bus if you are heading west to Georgetown.
The Metrobus system is centered on downtown D.C., but is complex and not well tailored to visitors. There is no central terminal or bus mall. Some useful routes include:
The D.C. Circulator’s Georgetown–Union Station "Yellow" line runs through the south end of Mount Vernon Square, heading east along Mass Ave to Union Station, and west along K St through the West End and on to Georgetown.
The Penn Quarter area is easily walkable from the Mall and the museums by walking north through the courtyards of Federal Triangle, past the National Archives. It's an easy walk after sightseeing to get to the shops and restaurants. From the White House, walk east on Pennsylvania Avenue to G, F, or E St. From the Mall, just aim north.
- American Art Museum, 850 G St NW, ☎ . 11:30AM-7PM daily. The collection here is a walk through encyclopedia of American Art—Gilbert Stuart's stern presidential portraits through Nam June Paik's house-sized America sculpture of neon and televisions. Free.
- International Spy Museum, 800 F St NW, ☎ . 9AM-5PM or 9AM-6PM daily, last admission one hour before close. D.C.'s newest hot attraction's principal claim to fame among locals is the extraordinarily long line that usually winds out the doors (not to mention the high price tag). Its popularity, while a bit disproportionate given all the other great free museums in town, is not unwarranted—its exhibits are interesting to anyone even marginally interested in espionage and Cold War history, and it also has a great exhibit tailored specifically to kids. Adults: $20, seniors: $16, children (7-17): $15, 4 & under: Free.
- Koshland Science Museum, Corner of 6th & E St NW, ☎ . W-M 10AM-6PM, last admission 5PM. Koshland is very much on the small side for D.C. museums, but it's great for kids, and for those happy adults who can let loose and act like kids. $7 adults, $4 children, students, active duty military.
- Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum, 701 3rd Street NW, ☎ . Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday 1:00 - 4PM. Washington D.C.'s oldest synagogue building, built in 1876. Free.
- National Archives, 700 Pennsylvania Ave NW. Rotunda and exhibit hall, open daily except 25 December; 10AM-5:30PM (day after Labor Day through March 14), 10AM-7PM (March 15 through Labor Day). For history buffs, a visit is a must, as it has a display containing declassified top secret documents related to the Cold War. And, of course, the original copies of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights are also on display (though the writing is so faded on the Declaration of Independence that you will not be able to make it out). (Note that no photography of the two documents is allowed.) In summer you can go in the evening and avoid the long lines. Free.
- National Building Museum, 401 F St NW, ☎ . M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 11AM-5PM. Located in the Pension Building, the building itself is highly recommended for its architecture, with an expansive open interior space with massive columns. The space is used on occasion for special events, including Presidential inaugurations. There is a small cafe inside, to the right of the entrance, and places to sit and relax, as well as a gift shop. The National Building Museum features long-term exhibits on the planning and building of Washington, D.C., and on green building and communities, along with various short-term exhibits and special events. Free to enter main hall and shop. Exhibits require $8 for adults, $5 for ages 3-17 and those 60+.
- National Crime and Punishment Museum, 575 7th St NW, ☎ . Fall/winter: Su-Th 10AM-7PM, F-Sa 10AM-8PM; spring/summer: M-Th 9AM-7PM, F-Sa 9AM-8PM, Su 10AM-7PM. This museum is the "other" flashy, and exceptionally expensive, East End tourist attraction (other than the Spy Museum, that is). The whole history of crime and punishment is on display, from Colonial times, through the Wild West, and even up to today's white collar jerks. On the punishment side, you can explore the interior of a recreated police station, jail cells, or (rather disturbingly) an electric chair and a lethal injection machine. The simulators are rightly popular—try a car chase or the FBI firearms training. The museum is also home to the old America's Most Wanted TV show studio. Not good for kids. $22 adults, $20 seniors, military, law enforcement, $15 children 5-11, children under 5 free. Discounts for online purchases.
- National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave NW, ☎ . M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su noon-5PM. This is the world's only museum devoted to art made by women. Its special exhibits can be really interesting, often featuring works from a specific part of the world. The big, beautiful building is a historic former Masonic Temple. The gift shop is extraordinary, with a collection of very unique handmade gifts from around the world. $8 adults, $6 students/seniors, free 18 and younger.
- National Portrait Gallery, 850 F St NW, ☎ . 11:30AM-7PM daily. The renovation is the talk of the town. The new enclosed courtyard has received universal accolades (Conde Nast Traveler calls it one of the seven modern architectural wonders of the world) and its cafe is certainly one of the most attractive places in the city to break out your laptop and enjoy the WiFi. Back to the museum—its most popular exhibit is the Hall of Presidents, although the current hot gallery is that of Contemporary Portraiture. Free.
- Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, toll-free: . 9AM-5PM (closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's). Of all the most hyped, overpriced museums in D.C., this one actually deserves the hype and even the admissions fee—it's an incredible, one-of-a-kind museum. With seven floors, it has a lot to see, and the exhibits are an interesting blend of high tech (a "4-D" theater) and low tech historical documents, all about the news, how it shapes American society, and how indeed the first amendment is so central to the nation's history. Check the nation-wide newspaper row in front of the Pennsylvania entrance. For foreigners, while the museum is a testament to the free press, be prepared for some solid pro-US bias in its selected news. $22 adults, $18 seniors, $13 minors, free 6 and under.
Landmarks and memorials
- Canadian Embassy, 501 Pennsylvania Ave NW. The U.S.' biggest trading partner, and the nation closest to the United States in nearly all senses has the embassy closest to the U.S. government, right on Pennsylvania Ave. The building is a striking, contemporary masterpiece, helping Vancouverite architect Arthur Erickson win some prestigious awards. Look for the small dome and columns incorporated into the exterior (in part designed as a gentle mockery of the neoclassical imperial style prevalent around the Capitol), which serves as an echo chamber of sorts, where you'll have any sounds directed right back at you from the dome.
- Historical Society of D.C., 801 K St NW (Mount Vernon Sq), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. The D.C. historical society occupies the enormous building at the center of Mount Vernon Square, and has a research library and exhibit on D.C. history open to the public. The library is open Wednesdays 10AM-4PM, and the Window to Washington Exhibit is open M,W 10AM-4PM, Th 10AM-6PM. Free.
- House Where Lincoln Died (the Petersen House), 516 10th St NW (across the street from Ford's Theatre). 9AM-5PM daily. 1865 was perhaps the most consequential year in presidential history, when, on the 14th of April, a prominent actor at Ford's Theatre and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Boothe shot President Lincoln in his balcony seat. Attendants carried Lincoln across the street to a small bedroom in the small rowhouse across the street, but the doctors were unable to save the president. He died early morning the next day. This isn't so much a museum—it's just a small room with a few plaques, recreated to look as it did on that day. The house is operated by the National Park Service, and visited via tours from Ford's Theatre. Free.
- J. Edgar Hoover FBI building, 935 Pennsylvania Ave NW. Alas, landmark G-man HQ is no longer open for tours.
- National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, 605 E St NW, ☎ . This monument bears the names of nearly 20,000 officials who lost their lives in the line of duty. A big law enforcement museum is being built underground across the street, but for the time being you'll have only the memorial to walk around.
- Old Post Office Tower, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW, ☎ . Closed until 2016 for renovations. At 315 feet this is one of the tallest buildings in D.C. Enter through the food court and take the elevators to the 270-foot observation deck for excellent views of D.C. Bell-ringing practice is held on Th 7PM-8PM. Free.
- Ronald Reagan Building (International Trade Center), 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, ☎ , fax: +1 202 312-1310. It's not clear whether the small-government Republican would enjoy having one of the biggest, most expensive recent federal buildings ($768 million), filled with agencies like USAID and U.S. Customs, named in his honor. But it is an impressive sight inside and out (especially inside). The building itself has several restaurants fast-food and otherwise, public artworks, shops, D.C.'s visitor information center (see above), and enormous conference and party space, popular for political galas, business conferences, and expensive wedding receptions. Free WiFi throughout.
- U.S. Navy Memorial, 701 Pennsylvania Ave NW, ☎ . 9:30AM-5PM daily. D.C.'s memorial to the U.S. Navy is not as jolting as the big memorials, but it is nice to walk around. Make sure to see the famous Lone Sailor statue, and who knew that Neil Armstrong was in the Navy!
D.C.'s downtown is notable for its grand squares, though they may get more use from homeless people and pigeons than visitors (there are no downtown homeless shelters).
- Franklin Square, 1350 K St NW. Franklin Square is less known than McPherson Square to the west and Mount Vernon Square to the east. The statue on the west side near McPherson Square Metro is of Commodore John Barry of the Revolutionary War-era Continental Navy and later the U.S. Navy, known today as the Father of the American Navy. The striking red building at the northeast corner of the square is the Franklin School, from which Alexander Graham Bell sent his first wireless message (to 1325 L St NW). It most recently served as a homeless shelter, which closed in 2008, apparently leaving its tenants to now spend their nights in the square itself.
- Freedom Plaza, 1355 Pennsylvania Ave NW. Named in honor of Martin Luther King Jr, who penned his I have a Dream speech at the Willard Hotel on this plaza, the stone center has a huge map of Pierre L'Enfant's original plan for the City of Washington. At the west end is one of D.C.'s infinite quantity of equestrian statues, this one of Kazimierz Pułaski, an American Revolutionary War general from Poland, who once saved George Washington's life, and who is known as the Father of American cavalry.
- Mount Vernon Square, 801 K St NW. This mammoth square, which causes all sorts of disastrous navigational problems for motorists unfamiliar with the intricacies of New York and Massachusetts Avenues, is dominated by one beautiful and similarly mammoth Beaux-Arts building at its center. Constructed in 1903 with funding purely from Andrew Carnegie's philanthropy, this was originally the second headquarters of the D.C. Public Library. The current owner is the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., which has struggled to find funds to keep the lights on, but has in 2012 re-opened its exhibits and research library to the public.
The Verizon Center, 601 F St NW, ☎ +1 202 661-5000, is home to both the Washington Wizards of the NBA and the National Hockey League's Washington Capitals. The Georgetown Hoyas college basketball team also plays games here, as do the WNBA's Washington Mystics. It also hosts major concerts, WWE wrestling, and various other events throughout the year. Tickets are sold through Ticketmaster or at the box office.
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl NW, ☎ +1 202 249-3000, hosts events throughout the year, including shows geared towards the public, as well as trade shows and conferences. The popular Washington Auto Show takes place annually in late January or early February, the Washington Home and Garden Show is in March, and the Washington Craft Show in November.
Theater and live music
You can go to the theater throughout the city, but the Theater District is in Penn Quarter. The most popular theater company in the area, and likely the whole D.C. area, is the Shakespeare Theatre Company, whose performances of Shakespeare and other classical plays rank among the nation's most renowned. Another very popular show is the long-running Capitol Steps show of political satire, where everyone in the political spectrum gets roasted every F-Sa in the Reagan Building.
- DAR Constitution Hall, 1776 D Street NW. Hosts big-name theatrical and musical performances, although the acoustics are known to be subpar.
- Flashpoint, 916 G St NW, ☎ . Flashpoint is a non-profit, city funded "incubator" of local artistic talent and new cultural institutions. The bulk of the performances in their (very small) Theater Lab are theatrical, and of lesser known plays (mostly foreign), but they also do stand up comedy, dance, etc. Their art gallery is a great place to see contemporary works by local artists, and is open Tu-Sa noon-6PM. Shows $15-25.
- Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St NW, ☎ . Tours: 9AM-5PM daily. This is where John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, and he was taken across the street to the Petersen House where he died. Ford's Theatre is not only a historic site, but remains a working theater, with regular performances. Theater here is usually the most traditional of the downtown venues, offering dramatic work that is "as eloquent, intelligent and respectful of humanity as Mr. Lincoln." The truly coveted tickets are for the annual Christmas Eve performance of A Christmas Carol. The daily tours take you through the theater and the onsite museum, and also spill across the street to the Petersen House, where Lincoln died. Shows: $40-55, tours: Free.
- National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW, ☎ . First opened in 1835, many Presidents have come to see performances, with many famous performers back in is heyday. National Theatre is now the city's most likely host for Broadway shows and musicals, and other big-name visiting acts. $50-200.
- Shakespeare Theatre Company, Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St NW, Harman Hall: 610 F St NW, ☎ . D.C. can't get enough Shakespeare, to the extent that the Shakespeare Theatre Company had to open a second, enormous performance venue in 2007 at the brand new Sidney Harman Hall. Both venues are great, the Lansburgh being a long-time favorite and a smaller, intimate space, and the Harman Hall being big, flashy, and state-of-the-art. The performances here of Shakespeare, often set in present times, as well as other classics from Aeschylus to Marlowe, are almost always universally-acclaimed and top-notch. If you want to see theater in D.C., this is a great place to start. If you are in D.C. in the early fall (this year, 27 Aug-12 Sep), look for the no tickets, first come-first served Free for All performances in the grand D.C. tradition of free cultural activities. The Free for All usually takes place outside at Carter Baron, but has been held at Harman Hall in recent years, to promote the new facility. $45-100; $10 tickets usually available for the 35-and-under crowd, standing room only, on the day of the performance.
- Sixth & I Synagogue, 600 I St NW, ☎ . Hosts big-name theatrical and musical performances.
- Warner Theatre, 513 13th St NW, ☎ . The Warner Theatre is a gorgeous old building. A former 1920s movie palace, having long languished in disrepair, was finally reopened in 1992 following extensive restoration. It's also the most likely destination for visitors who want to see a big-name popular act like Jay-Z or Lewis Black (since the other main venues like the 9:30 Club and the Black Cat are more off the beaten path in Shaw). The Warner Theatre hosts broadway shows, concerts, dance, and stand-up, etc. $35-75.
- Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St NW, ☎ . This is the top theater company downtown for seeing new plays. Drama here is edgy, takes real risks, and is almost always memorable. If in doubt, go to see the absurd, hilarious, infamous, long-running Chicago sketch comedy show Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. $25-50.
- Regal Gallery Place Stadium 14, 701 7th St NW (next to the Verizon Center), ☎ . The Regal cinema shows all the popular, current movies. Beware, though, that this movie theater is popular among the teens (especially on weekends and in the evenings) who can get rambunctious. Children: $8, adults: $10.75.
- E Street Cinema, 555 11th St NW, ☎ . A Landmark Theaters cinema, showing independent films and serving craft beers. The E Street Cinema is quiet, and does not draw the same youth crowd as the Regal cinema. $10, $7.50 before 6PM weekdays.
- Lucky Strike Lanes, 701 7th St NW (Next to the Verizon Center), ☎ . Su-Th noon-1AM, F-Sa noon-2AM. This is a combination bowling alley and lounge. After 9PM, it turns into something of a high end nightclub (but still with bowling)—it becomes 21+ only, and there is a dress code (no sportswear, baggy clothes, etc.) The drinks are stiff. Salsa dancing and lessons with a $10 cover on Sunday nights. Prices for bowling vary and are high—it's worthwhile to call ahead to double check how much per lane per hour.
The Penn Quarter was once the capital's premiere shopping district. Macy's, 1201 G St NW, +1 202 628-6661 (on top of Metro Center), is the only remaining department store, with a number of shops nearby on 13th St and several shops both on F St between 14th and 9th, and on 7th St between G and H and near D St. The museums here have great gift shops—the National Building Museum's is especially worth searching out. There are also shops oriented to tourists and a food court at the Pavilion at the Old Post Office. Ground zero for souvenir shops is the 500 block of 10th St NW, surrounding Ford's Theatre
Spring–fall, a Thursday farmers market is on 8th St between D and E, 3-7PM. In December, the Downtown Holiday Market is set up on F St between 7th and 9th, with an array of handcrafted items, jewelry, pottery, and food. And on 13 Sep, 11AM-5PM, Arts on Foot includes an Art Market with some 80 artists and craftsmen selling their art on F St between 7th and 9th.
- Da Hsin Trading Post, 811 7th St NW, ☎ . M-F 9:30AM-7:30PM, Sa-Su 10AM-7:30PM. A Chinatown wouldn't be a Chinatown without an odds-and-ends shop, and D.C.'s shrinking enclave has held on to a couple. A nice long inventory of gifts and good deals on tea are mainstays, but you'll find a host of items that have nothing to do with China as well.
- Political Americana, 1331 Pennsylvania Ave NW, ☎ . M-Sa 9AM-8PM, Su 10AM-6PM. The political trinket superstore! Regardless of your political persuasion or era (looking for a Know-nothing Fillmore/Donelson bumpersticker?), you will find your propaganda here. Expect to be confronted by walls of Obama tees upon entry.
At one time, Penn Quarter also had numerous art galleries and artist studios, a few of which remain. But with the development booms downtown over the past three decades, the artists have fled the soaring rents, and the galleries followed them north.
- Goethe-Institut, 812 7th St NW, ☎ . M-Th 9AM-5PM, F 9AM-3PM. A sponsor of German culture in the U.S. and of intercultural ties, the Goethe-Institut features mostly work in all mediums from Germany or by German-Americans. It hosts a ton of free events, lectures, concerts, screenings, etc., so check the website for details. Most work is not for sale.
- Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave NW, ☎ . W-F 11AM-6PM, Sa-Su noon-5PM. This artist-cooperative owned gallery survived the neighborhood change throughout the past 30 years, and remains friendly and crammed with local artwork. Prices are reasonable, and events are packed.
All hail José Andrés!
D.C.'s Spanish transplant, now one of America's most famous celebrity chefs, originally moved here as the head chef of Jaleo, a great tapas restaurant that has grown into a small local chain. He has since come to dominate the area's most trendy restaurants, opening up a host of them in the East End from Greek through Aztec, and is often credited with popularizing the art of the small dish in the U.S.
The East End is home to the flashiest high end cooking in the city, as well as the most overpriced tourist trap rubbish that can suck you in if you are not careful. (Of course, if you dine a la Andrés, you'll see D.C. cooking at its best.) Being as they are downtown, nearly all the really nice restaurants are relatively big, loud, cramped, and impersonal—but they'll serve great food. Chinatown, while small, supplies several great budget options, as long as you can appreciate the special charms of Chinatown service.
- Chinatown Express, 746 6th St NW, ☎ . 10AM-11PM daily. You'll notice the chef in the window right away preparing Chinese noodles by hand. Express is precisely what a Chinatown restaurant should be (and what D.C.'s Chinatown sometimes seems to lack), a cheap casual place, serving solid, authentic Chinese food. The Singapore-style noodle and dumpling soups are the specialty, but it's also a great place to burn your mouth on some spicy beef entries. $4-12.
- Chop't Creative Salad, 730 7th St NW, ☎ . M-F 10:30AM-11PM, Sa 11AM-11PM, Su 11AM-10PM. Choose your own ingredients salads, made-to-order, and all freshly chopped to a granularity of your liking. Their veggie sandwiches are also a popular option. $6-10.
- District of Pi (π), 910 F St NW, ☎ . M-Th 11AM-11PM, F-Sa 11AM-midnight, Su 11AM-10PM. A St. Louis import, this big pizzeria excels with the cornmeal crust deep dish pies as well as their rotating craft beer list. It's big enough where you can actually get a table after a game at the Verizon Center, although the service can be slow when they are busy. Pizzas: $12-25.
- Full Kee, 509 H St NW, ☎ . 11AM-2AM daily. Arguably the best choice for an actual, authentic, Chinatown meal. Full Kee excels in the fish department, along with some good crispy duck and the noodle soups. Daily specials on the wall are always worth a look as well. $7-22.
- Lincoln's Waffle Shop, 504 10th St NW, ☎ . M-F 5:30AM-7PM, Sa-Su 5:30AM-3PM. An extraordinarily rare creature: a diner in downtown D.C. A dive that serves good waffles, assorted breakfast foods, coffee, and burgers. Skip this place if you've been committing crimes, though—it's packed with police. $4-12.
- Nando's Peri-Peri, 819 7th St NW, ☎ . Su-Th 11:30AM-10:30PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-11PM. D.C. sinks under the weight of South African cultural imperialism. Or from a different perspective, it benefits from the presence a great South African fast food chain, serving excellent spicy chicken dishes, as well as sandwiches, chicken livers, and vegetarian options including salads and veggie burgers.
- New Big Wong, 610 H St NW, ☎ . 11AM-5AM daily. Something of an after-hours destination for local cooks and bartenders who appreciate authentic Chinese food, this basement Cantonese eatery is the place to find the weirdest dishes in Chinatown, and to consume them at any hour of the night. Upping the authenticity factor is that the servers genuinely hardly understand English. $7-22.
- Red Velvet Cupcakery, 501 7th St NW, ☎ . M-F 9AM-11PM, Sa-Su 10AM-11PM. For a nice, small treat, you'll find cupcake varieties including mocha/espresso, peanut butter cup, and boutique cupcakery here. $3.25 per cupcake or $36 for a dozen.
- Teaism, 400 8th St NW, ☎ . M-F 7:30AM-10PM, Sa-Su 9:30AM-9PM; brunch weekends until 2:30PM. Teaism has a large selection of teas, and an adjacent tea shop where you can get some to take home. In addition to tea, they serve a variety of Asian dishes including Japanese bento boxes, udon noodle soup, ochazuke, Thai and Indian curry, and many vegetarian options. Breakfast is also delicious at Teaism, and their salty oat cookies are a must. $3-4 for tea, $10-15 for a meal, $20 for afternoon tea.
- Clyde's, 707 7th St NW, ☎ . M-Th 11AM-2AM, F 11AM-3AM, Sa 10AM-3AM, Su 10AM-2AM. Clyde's is as solid and safe an option as any downtown, and it's right dead center at Gallery Place. The cavernous multilevel building,attractive, wooden and dimly lit in a sort of Victorian grand-old-hotel fashion, provides a lot of comfy seating. The food here is virtually identical to the "traditional Washingtonian" that you would find at the famous Old Ebbitt Grill, although perhaps a little better prepared, and no reservations required. It's a great after-dinner or after-theater option, to sit at one of its three lovely bars and have a few drinks. Or finagle a table and have those drinks with a little dessert, or something off the fantastic oyster menu. $15-35.
- District Chophouse & Brewery, 509 7th St NW, ☎ . Su-M 11AM-10PM, Tu-Sa 11AM-11PM. The lunch deal at this solid, if not exceptional downtown steakhouse, is fabulous: $15 for a filet mignon! Otherwise, location, unpretentious atmosphere, better prices than at other downtown steakhouses, and good house craft beers are the reasons to come. $18-50.
- Jaleo, 480 7th St NW, ☎ . Su-M 11:30AM-10PM, Tu-Th 11:30AM-11PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-midnight; brunch Sa-Su until 3PM. Many credit this loud, happy restaurant in the Penn Quarter for the current boom in Spanish tapas bars. Serves tasty tapas and wonderful sangria, as well as a fantastic selection of ports and sherry. This is Jose Andrés' first restaurant, and one of the best options in the area. Expect to wait on a crowded F-Sa night. $20-40.
- Marrakesh, 617 New York Ave NW, ☎ . M-F 6PM-11PM, Sa-Su 5PM-11PM. Moroccan Cuisine, belly dancers, eat with your hands. This is a city-wide favorite, not just with the downtown crowd, especially for the ambiance. The seven course meal, with a rotating menu, is the only option. There are some minor choices for main dishes, or if you want a vegetarian meal. Be sure to check out the back hallway with pictures of all the famous visitors. Reservations required. $30/person.
- Matchbox, 713 H St NW, ☎ . M-Th 11AM-10:30PM, F 11AM-11:30PM, Sa 10AM-11:30PM, Su 10AM-10:30PM; closing times listed indicate time of last seating. Matchbox looks like a tourist trap. It's in the right neighborhood, has gimmicky (if really cool) decor with an insane variety and quantity of matchboxes decorating the tables, and is enormous but still packed with people all times of the day. But some of the food here is actually really good: charcoaled sliders and wood-fired NYC-style pizza. (The rest of the menu, however, would befit a bonafide tourist trap.) It's also a good place to go for a drink, especially when the weather is warm and they open up their outdoor seating. $10-30.
- Central Michel Richard, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave NW, ☎ . Lunch: M-F 11:30AM-2:30PM; dinner: M-Th 5PM-10:30PM, F-Sa 5PM-11PM. Now that D.C.'s longtime standard bearer for French cuisine, Citronelle, has closed its doors, Central is the showpiece restaurant of the city's great chef, Michel Richard. In this restaurant, he celebrates his love for American cuisine, serving haute and somewhat Gallicized versions of dishes as simple as burgers and fried chicken. That fried chicken, by the way, is the best in the city, and a great choice of entree. For all that the subjects may seem humble, though, this is a fine dining experience, with price tag to match. $30-60.
- Fogo de Chao, 1101 Pennsylvania Ave NW, ☎ . Lunch: M-F 11:30AM-2:30PM; dinner: M-Th 5PM-10PM, F 5PM-10:30PM, Sa 4:30PM-10:30PM, Su 4PM-9:30PM. This national (not international) chain has spread to most major U.S. cities, and is a big downtown hit everywhere it is. Brazilian cuisine can actually be a bit of a let down, with one exception—meat. This is basically an all-you-can-eat meat experience, and the meats are good (there are sides too, of course). Flip your green card up, and the chefs come with meat; flip it to red, and the chefs let you eat. Recognizing a certain weakness in the model, the restaurant also has a really nice salad bar, for a considerably lower price than the meat menu. Lunch: $32.50; dinner:49.50.
- Graffiato, 707 6th St NW, ☎ . Su-Tu 11:30AM-11PM, W-Sa 11:30AM-midnight. Outside D.C., Mike Isabella is best known as a Top Chef "all star," but in D.C. he's known for some of the best Italian food in the city, served in small-plate portions, out of this small downtown restaurant with a long waitlist for reservations. The top chef's own favorite dish is the simple hand-cut spaghetti, adorned only with garlic, cherry tomatoes, and thai basil. $20-50, tasting menu: $55.
- Minibar by José Andrés, 855 E St NW, ☎ . Seating times Tu-Sa 6PM and 8:30PM, Su 5PM and 7:30PM. Mr. Andrés' wild culinary ride through molecular-gastronomy. Reservations are hard to come by at this six-customer, two-chef restaurant, which will serve you a 30-course meal of everything from cotton candy foie gras to lobster injection to beet tumbleweed. Even by its own extreme standards, the Dragon Popcorn caused a local stir last year—caramelized curry popcorn dipped into liquid nitrogen, which causes smoke to come out your nose after eating. Reservations open up one month in advance, and you should call at 10AM if you want to get one (and watch out for the rude reservations lady). $150.
- Morrison-Clark Restaurant (inside the Morrison-Clark Inn), ☎ . M-Sa 7AM-10AM, 11:30AM-2PM, 6PM-9:30PM, Su 11AM-2PM. This small dining room is a lovely trip back to the Southern traditions of the mid-nineteenth century, and could be reason enough on its own to have dinner here, but the food is absolutely the cream of D.C.'s crop as well. The menu is small, with simple, but fairly exotic and expertly executed Southern dishes. Sunday brunch ($30-35) is popular. Dinner: $30-40, lunch: $15-25, breakfast: $10-25.
- Oyamel, 401 7th St NW, ☎ . Su-M 11:30AM-10PM, Tu-Th 11:30AM-11PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-midnight. José's take on Mexican antojitos, the Mexican word for snacks (literally, "little cravings"). The obvious comparison is to Cafe Atlantico, which shares the colorful, bright ambiance, and Latin flavor. The difference lies in the indigenous Mexican focus at Oyamel—it has real Aztec pretensions. In a town without real Mexican food, you have to go upscale, and this is the place—the mole here is outstanding (and the grasshopper tacos are... interesting). Oyamel, by the way, benefits from the same tableside guacamole as Atlantico! Su-F 4:30PM-6:30PM has great happy hour deals at the bar. $30-60.
- Poste, 555 8th St NW, ☎ . Breakfast: M-F 7AM-10AM; brunch: Sa-Su 8AM-3PM; lunch: M-F 11:30AM-3:30PM; dinner: M-Th 5PM-10PM, F-Sa 5PM-10:30PM, Su 5PM-9PM. The standard menu, while top-notch contemporary American, may not leave a truly lasting impression as would some of the more unique restaurants in this area, but the setting is gorgeous. Set in the historic 1842 neo-classical General Post Office building, modeled after the Roman Temple of Jupiter, Poste has arguably the flashiest and prettiest dining room in the city. The courtyard occupying the center of the block is a favorite Washingtonian spot in the summer for outdoor dining and drinks—craft beers and truffle fries are a happy hour staple of the trendier crowd downtown. There are a couple memorable special-occasion items on (or off) the menu, though: if you have a big group, you can get one of the government-named seafood towers, or even make special reservations for a "Poste Roast," involving private dining and a whole roasted lamb, pig, or goat. $30-70.
- Proof, 775 G St NW, ☎ . Lunch: Tu-F 11:30AM-2PM; dinner: M-Th 5:30PM-10PM, F-Sa 5:30PM-11PM, Su 5PM-9:30PM. The coziest fine dining establishment downtown, Proof is a choice date spot, with a "wine-centric" ethos—hosts want nothing better than to help you discover better and better wines, so be sure to ask recommendations for pairings (and cheeses—the charcuterie platters here are the best in town). Doubling as a dedicated wine bar, Wine comes by the taste, glass, or bottle. The cocktails are also pretty fabulous. Food is contemporary American, with a vague Mediterranean bent. Lunch deals are excellent, including wine, if you don't mind an early start to your drinking! $35-60.
- PS 7's, 777 I St NW, ☎ . Restaurant: M-Th 11:30AM-9:45PM (last reservation at 9:45PM), F-Sa 11:30AM-10:45PM. If you want to impress your date with a really chic lounge that no one knows about, this is a good option, and one that seems quite out of place in touristy Chinatown. The interior is modern and dimly-lit romantic, and the unique cocktail creations will give you something to talk about. The food is about as trendy as it gets, with almost silly options like popcorn-crusted halibut, raw tuna sliders, etc. It's great food, though, prepared by well-known D.C. chef Paul Smith. M-F 4PM-7PM happy hour is a smart way to try some of their dishes on the cheap. $35-65.
- The Source (in the Newseum), ☎ . Lunch: M-F 11:30AM-2PM; dinner: M-Th 5:30PM-10PM, F-Sa 5:30PM-11PM. Wolfgang Puck entered the D.C. market couple years ago with this Asian-focused restaurant. In the past couple years this has been probably the city's best place to spot celebrities (of the political variety). You'll pay through the nose, but the food is worth it. If you value your nose, head to the lounge, which offers food from the same kitchen at slightly more modest prices. $50-90; pri-fixe seven course: $125, w/ wine/sake pairing $200.
- Zaytinya, 701 9th St NW, ☎ . Su-M 11:30AM-10PM, Tu-Th 11:30AM-11PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-midnight. Tapas, antojitos, and... mezzes! Andrés' alphabetically last restaurant serves a variety of meat, seafood, and vegetarian Greek and Lebanese mezzes, along with large selection of wines from the same region. $20-45.
Not long ago, asking a local about nightlife downtown would get you an eye roll. While this has changed a bit (there still are no tolerable nightclubs), options here (and there are many) are often very overpriced, and cater to tourists or people who otherwise don't know where to go. There are a handful of good places, though, depending on what you are looking for, so you don't necessarily need to flee north to U St or Dupont Circle.
Several of the restaurants above have excellent bars, particularly if you like high end cocktails surrounded by fashionable clientéle—try PS 7, Proof (make reservations), Graffiato, Poste, or any of the José Andrés restaurants' bars. Clyde's, District Chophouse, and District of Pi (believe it or not) double as solid places for beer lovers. If you are looking for a really unpretentious spot, try one of the Chinese places on H St, which stay open late, and serve "low-end" stiff tiki drinks, Chinese beers, and plentiful cheap sake late into the night.
Straying from the recommendations here and above, though, could mean either really awful experiences, overpriced chains you could find in any other city, or the tourist purgatory of the Hard Rock Cafe (999 E St NW).
- Iron Horse Tap Room, 507 7th St NW, ☎ . M-Th 4PM-2AM, F 4PM-3AM, Sa 5PM-3AM, Su 5PM-2AM. A rare creature here: Just a Bar (although admittedly with a faux-biker bar theme). Iron Horse is a reliable, unpretentious spot for craft beers, sports on the television, plus skee ball and Big Buck Hunter. It's very popular pre-games at the Verizon Center, which either makes it a great place to mingle with local sports fans, or an overcrowded noisy experience, but otherwise is pretty low key. It's a particularly good spot if you are feeling overdressed for fancier bars in the area.
- Passenger, 1021 7th St NW, ☎ . M-Th 5PM-1:30AM, F-Sa 5PM-2:30AM, Su 2PM-midnight. This is a crowded bar specializing in craft-cocktails, and attempting for the look of a dive. It's a little busy for someone looking to actually discuss their drink with their servers, but judged by any other criteria, it's just a really good bar, with really good mixed drinks. If you make reservations far in advance, you can get a seat in the hidden Columbia Room in the back, where you will be treated to a private and customized tasting of craft cocktails and appetizers in one of D.C.'s classiest high concept bars, with likely the best mixed drinks you've had.
- RFD Washington, 810 7th St NW, ☎ . M-Th 11AM-2AM, F-Sa 11AM-3AM; Su 11AM-midnight. R.F.D. is a shoot-off of the Brickskeller, a Dupont Circle landmark. While it can be overcrowded (and then hard to get service), there is the allure of 30 varieties of beer on tap, and nearly 300 choices of bottled beer. R.F.D. serves standard American food, along with a selection of seafood and other regional dishes, and it's perfectly suitable for families eating in the early evening. Outdoor seating in good weather.
Surprisingly, there are budget options here. The mainstay, though, are big chain hotels—a few of them very upscale. If you are staying in the East End, you have a good location already, but the further southwest you are, the better (unless your destination is the Convention Center).
- Hotel Harrington, 1100 E St NW, ☎ . Odd to see such a cheap hotel next to the Mall! It's not clear how they've managed to maintain this old clunker here in such a high-real estate zone for so long, but if you don't mind your hotel looking a little older and shabby, this is a great budget option. From $100.
- Hostelling International Washington DC, 1009 11th St NW, ☎ . A pretty great hostel; you can't beat the price for such a central location. The building is old and somewhat dingy-looking from the outside, but inside it's clean and in good shape. Offers free breakfast, Wi-Fi, nice kitchen and a comfy common room. That the management is maintaining a heavy focus on customer service is an added plus. $29-45.
- Hampton Inn, 901 6th St NW, ☎ . Average location of an average hotel chain, with average prices, and slightly above average continental breakfast. Small indoor pool, jacuzzi, fitness center, free coffee in lobby. From $180.
- Henley Park, 926 Massachusetts Ave NW, ☎ . A nice, small, historic, non-chain hotel amidst the big chain monsters. Its amenities are fewer, but its charm obviously greater. Free WiFi. From $160.
- Marriott Courtyard, 900 F St NW, ☎ . This location caters more to business travelers than the other options in the area. Free lobby coffee, 24 hr fitness center, small pool, & jacuzzi. Rooms are a little small. Make sure you get a good deal, otherwise consider one of the two other more upscale Marriotts also in the neighborhood. From $169.
- Marriott at Metro Center, 775 12th St NW, ☎ . Marriott number two (the third, JW Marriott is the most expensive). Nicer lobby, larger rooms, a really good gym, and another small pool + jacuzzi. From $189.
- Grand Hyatt Washington, 1000 H St NW, ☎ . Full-service business center, 32 meeting rooms, in-lobby Metro Center access, and a nice fitness center are the pluses. A rather absurd downside, though, is that they make you pay to use their gym. Another hotel that you should only use if you get a good deal. From $290.
- Hotel Monaco, 700 F St NW, ☎ . Kimpton hotels are almost always lovely, and this one benefits from its location in a grand old nineteenth century building (though this means the halls are a bit old), weirdly mixed with very modern decor. Huge pool and jacuzzi. Free wine-cocktails hour. And don't forget to request your free in-room goldfish! From $279.
- Morrison-Clark Inn, 1015 L St NW, ☎ . An independent hotel with a little Southern flair in a Civil War-era mansion. As you would expect, the amenities cannot quite compete with the Hotel Monaco, but this is a charming, unique place to stay, and a good spot to sip a mint julep on the porch. From $210.
- Cosi, 601 Pennsylvania Ave NW, ☎ . M-F 6:30AM-7PM, Sa 8AM-5PM. This particular location of the coffee and sandwich shop offers free WiFi.
- Freedom Plaza and Pershing Park, Pennsylvania Ave between 13th and 15th St NW, ☎ . The Open Park Project provides free WiFi for both Freedom Plaza and Pershing Park.
- Kogod Courtyard (Reynolds Center, National Portrait Gallery), 8th and F Sts NW, ☎ . 11:30AM-6:30PM daily. Free WiFi is available in the Kogod Courtyard at the Reynold Center Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. There is a small cafe in the courtyard where you get coffee and sandwiches. The courtyard is a peaceful, quiet place to escape for a break. Note that your bag will be inspected when you come into the museum.
- Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G St NW, ☎ . M-Th 9:30AM-9PM, F-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM, Su 1PM-5PM. D.C.'s central public library is enormous, and, designed by modern legend Mies van der Rohe, is one of the best examples of modern architecture in the city. Sadly, it has seen better days, and isn't as lovely a place to hang out as it should be (the homeless folks, kicked out of shelters during the daytime, make the public terminals there home). It's still quite the landmark, though, and it has a really nice bookstore inside. As with all libraries, free WiFi & public terminals.
- The obvious place to go from the East End is the National Mall, just to the south, where you will find, well, just about all of the capital's main attractions.
- The nightlife here is plentiful and very visitor-friendly, but it is very much divorced from real Washingtonian culture—head up to the north central neighborhoods of Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan and the U St Corridor to see how the locals like to wine, dine, and party.
|Routes through East End|
|Springfield ← West End ←||W E||→ National Mall → Largo|
|Greenbelt ← Shaw ←||N S||→ Waterfront → Suitland|
|Vienna ← West End ←||W E||→ National Mall → New Carrollton|
|Gaithersburg ← West End ←||W E||→ Capitol Hill → Wheaton|
|Petworth ← Shaw ←||N S||→ Waterfront → Huntington|
|Reston ← West End ←||W E||→ National Mall → Largo|