06 February 2016

DC Part I: A Whistle-Stop Tour of Washington

After a hectic January, I had more than earned a few days off ahead of a work trip toWashington DC. I've wanted to go to Portland for some time (the coffee mother ship has been calling me home) and although this wasn't the most convenient way to do it — or the best time of year — I decided to seize the opportunity. First, though, I had 24 hours in DC before my internal flight to Portland.

I got to my hotel just after 4.30 pm on Thursday. I stayed at the Topaz, which is conveniently located (five minutes from Dupont Circle), has big rooms with funky décor and very helpful staff. Better still, I got a good deal on my room, which was only $90, and they gave me a welcome gift of a bottle of wine and some fruit. I stuck around just long enough to drop off my bags and freshen up before heading back out to chase the sunset.

I visited Georgetown on my DC trip last year — an exceptionally warm February day — and it is by far my favourite neighbourhood in the city. It has great shops, nice restaurants and beautiful red-brick buildings. I walked along the canal for a few minutes and then dipped in and out of the shops, most of which are on M Street — the main drag. I may have made a few small purchases from Madewell and J. Crew, and eyed up a few more things in Lululemon and Athleta, which I might pick up on my return.

For dinner, I went to Old Glory, a southern BBQ restaurant on M Street. I took a seat at the bar and had a delicious pulled pork sandwich with mac ‘n’ cheese ($13), which was just what I needed to ward off the jet lag. The cocktail I ordered (a vodka, lemon and ginger combo) was less effective in terms of drowsiness but was very good; there is also an excellent bourbon selection behind the bar.

Yesterday morning I woke relatively early; too exhausted to be jet-lagged, I slept through until my alarm woke me. Outside, it was trying to snow but not very hard, and, not discouraged, I ran down to the Mall and did a loop around the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. This was a nice way to combine sight-seeing and exercise.

After checking out of my hotel, I headed for my first coffee destination of the day: The Coffee Bar, which was only a couple of blocks from the Topaz. The Coffee Bar is beautifully decorated with mint-green tiling on the coffee bar and a gorgeous white La Marzocco. The menu itself has some lovely typography. It was also incredibly busy, which is probably why they don’t usually serve pourovers until after 11 am, but the kind barista made an exception for me and the Guatemalan Verve coffee was perfectly brewed. I will do a more detailed round-up of my DC coffee experiences at the end of my trip, so stay tuned!

I had a long day ahead of me, so I headed straight for my second coffee stop: M.E. Swings on G Street. Swings is a DC institution: a stone’s throw from the White House (well, maybe a Barry Bonds throw), they have been serving coffee since 1916. I ordered a macchiato, which was very good (dark and rich), but only later noticed the impressive brew bar, which serves pourovers. They also roast their own coffee and you can buy bags of beans, if you wish.

I've done a few of DC’s museums over the years but I have never been to the National Archives, so I walked over there next. The ground-floor has an interactive gallery with all of the information you could ever want on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and all of the amendments therein; they also have an original of the Magna Carta! Upstairs, in the beautiful, shrine-like rotunda room, you can see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  If you’re a history buff, then, the National Archives will keep you more than entertained.

By the time I left, the sun had come out, as I strolled along Constitution Avenue, past the Capitol Building and up onto Capitol Hill. The Hill is another attractive DC neighbourhood: many of the houses are painted in attractive colours and there’s a relaxed, residential vibe.

I stopped for lunch at Maketto, a new restaurant-café-lifestyle store on H Street. Maketto is beautifully designed: the ground floor houses the store and the restaurant-bar, which is lovely and light, and the café is upstairs. The food menu consists mainly of south-east Asian street food: I had some very tasty scallion pancakes with spicy braised beef and a fried egg ($9), followed by a chocolate chip cookie ($2.25), before wandering upstairs. A couple of pourover options were available from Vigilante roasters; I went for the Indonesian coffee ($4), which was fruity and flavoursome, served in a pretty Japanese-style mug.

I walked west along H Street back to the downtown area. H Street Northeast is an up-and-coming neighbourhood in DC and I spotted a few other interesting restaurants and bars. The nearest metro stop (Union Station) is 20 minutes’ walk but you can get the streetcar if you are feeling lazy. I was planning to catch the metro back to my hotel but as it was such a beautiful day, I ended up walking.

Once I had picked up my suitcase, I arrived at National Airport in no time: a ten-minute walk to the metro and then a 15-minute metro ride that gets you right to the terminal. Plus, you get a great view of the Washington Monument, Capitol Hill and the White House as you take off. If only international flights used this airport instead of Dulles…

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