Washington DC will never be a mecca for what’s on point in fashion, sports or art. But, the Smithsonian is working overtime to at least put us in the conversation. (Thank you, Smithsonian!) Exhibit A: 2014’s American Cool at The National Portrait Gallery.
After two years of renovations, The Renwick Gallery reopened at the end of 2015 and is the latest proof point that we are not a city full of stodgy politicians and presidents who don’t live up to the hype.
The current exhibit, entitled WONDER, is delightfully just that. (Yes, I used the word delightful.) The gallery lends its space to nine contemporary artists who created “site-specific” installations. In English, each exhibit is customized to the room, hallway or ceiling that serves as host to the finished masterpiece.
What results is unique series of massive works of art that are simply beautiful. You can wander through each room, walking around or, in the case of Patrick Dougherty’s exhibit (below), through enormous pods of willows and saplings.
To truly enjoy WONDER, don’t rush from room-to-room. Slow down. Stand on your tip toes to peak down the center of the reconstructed hemlock. Circle through rubber tires a few times. Stand in the corner to marvel at the “wallpaper” Jennifer Angus created. And, lay down in the grand salon to really marvel at the waves Janet Echelman installed. (Trust me fellow, germaphobes, put your jacket up over your head and lay down.)
PROTIP: Thanks to press like this, WONDER is P-A-C-K-E-D on the weekends. To miss the worst of the crowds, take a lunch break or leave work early. Make sure your camera or iPhone is charged. Photos are encouraged and you are going to want to photograph the heck out of WONDER.
The Renwick is open daily from 10:00 – 5:30 pm. The first floor installations will be on exhibit through May 8, 2016. The second floor installations will be on display through July 10, 2016.
If you haven’t already noticed, our U.S. Thanksgiving holiday was late this calendar year. It still fell on a Thursday, but the time between then and the oncoming (think semi-truck) holiday season is truncated to three weeks. For folks mathematically challenged like me that’s a full seven days lost between full-onset Holiday.
There are several potential problems this presents. Aside from the obvious shorter period of procrastination, there’s barely time this season to get into the spirit. Think back to your most enjoyable holiday season memories and it becomes clear that the most wonderful were directly relative to becoming swept up in the “spirit.”
Assuming you’re in the DMV/Washington area then you’re in luck, my friend. If the Nutcracker just didn’t doesn’t do it for you, I will be doing a short series on local events to help jumpstart that festive vibe.
First up is the 36th annual Logan Circle House Tour this Sunday, December 7th to get you in the spirit and begin enjoying the season.
If, after some lazy Sunday brunch on the 14th Street/U Street corridor’s restaurant row maybe you’ve wandered by any assortment of magnificent townhomes and row houses and wondered what they look like inside. Well, here is your opportunity to find out.
What is it?
Participants are invited inside ten locations to get an up close view of the architecture, interior design and in some cases art.
Tell Me More
You can purchase advance tickets for $30.00 through December 6thonline or in-person at :
On December 7th tickets are $35 and can be purchased at the Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW.
This year’s self-guided tour showcases eight residential properties, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the nationally recognized Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage – a celebrated incubator for African-American leaders since the mid-19th century – and Studio Theatre’s always-warming Wassail Reception. Some residential highlights:
1008 Rhode Island Avenue, featured in Luxury magazine (Ooo, fancy!) and designed by interior designer, Breeze Giannasio
1443 Q Street, a rare city home in that it features a large yard, and one I’m personally excited to peak into since I pass it often going to/from the gym.
1310 T Street, a 19th century townhouse that has been completely renovated and, rumor has it, features a ‘to die for’ kitchen.
Why Should I Do It?
The event features musicians and singers to spread some holiday cheer, and a welcome reception at Studio Theater. More importantly, proceeds from the event help with a variety of community maintenance and beautification projects. It’s a simple way you can give a little back to the community. And really, giving is what the season is about!
This weekend will be double festive as I’m dragging Mr Os and friends to check out the “Rockin’ the Holidays” performance by Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington DC. I’m a “newbie” at this event and look forward to sharing more with you next week.
For people outside of Washington, DC, our city is synonymous with many things. Among these, political gridlock, superiority complexes, paranoia, and an increasing inability to get along are ones I hear about most often these days.
Something I am more proud to boast about is that we are home to a vast number of impressive national monuments and memorials. Even if you aren’t on the National Mall, it’s hard not to pass a plaque, or stumble across a statue of historical relevance in this city. Seriously. It takes a lot of effort.
While I was lucky enough to visit most of DC’s monuments as a kid, I was curious to see if I would now leave with a different impression (both as a “local” and as an adult). I decided to test my theory on the recently re-opened Washington Monument.
It boasts the best views of any monument in the city, and so I made a sunset reservation. The Monument is a heavily trafficked area so I strongly recommend tickets. It’s really unlikely you will get there in time for the small batch of free tickets.
As everyone knows, the Washington Monument was built to honor our first President, George Washington. Most people also remember that in 2011, there was a 5.8 earthquake on the East Coast that spun out a series of humorous Internet gifs. Still, the relatively short-lived quake did in fact cause significant damage to both the Washington Monument and National Cathedral.
Recently, the Monument reopened so it was the perfect time for a visit. A few interesting stats about the monument:
It stands 555 feet and 5 1/8 inches, making it the worlds largest free-standing stone structure
In 1884, when it was completed, it was the world’s tallest man-made structure, until the Eiffel Tower
It contains 36,000 stones and weights 81,000 tons (or, the equivalent of almost 6,500 school buses)
It’s not your eyes playing a trick on you, the stone changes color at 150 feet
After a 70-second elevator ride (the first steam-powered elevator ride took 12 minutes), you reach the triangular pyradmidion and are treated to sweeping views of Washington DC. While I thought I timed our visit to sunset, I was off by about 15 minutes. Nevertheless, we were still in awe of the Mall. And Washington, DC (as well as the northern VA skyline), I have to admit are quite beautiful.
Now, this next observation will make me sound like a travel snob but I guess, if the shoe fits… The Monument is beautiful, but after seeing Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila, it was just a bit underwhelming. I mean, it’s an obelisk.
It’s possible that part of my travel snob comment, is that we took an elevator to the top. You miss so much that I remember being impressed with by walking up the Monument. Unfortunately, the stairs are still closed to guests. But I do have a bit of scoop. I learned that the U.S. Park Service will open stairs for walk-up tours in early September! So, I’ll be going back. If you’re thinking of visiting, or a native who’s interested in walking the monument, check back for details. They’re only doing two walk-up tours (that amount to 896 steps) a day. So this will fill up fast!
Travel snob opinion aside, but if you are visiting Washington (or even if you live here), it’s well worth popping by. It’s an American experience. You can purchase tickets. It’s really unlikely you will get there in time for the small batch of free tickets. (note: the actual tickets are free but you do have to pay a small reservation fee. Ours was $3.00 plus a processing fee and shipping and handling). It was worth it. And as far as time, we were in and out in about a half hour. So if you time it well, it’s a great one to knock off your list, and then go on to the WWII Memorial and other sights on the National Mall.
It’s difficult. Keeping track of all the things people recommend checking out around town (especially when that “town” is Washington, DC), or wherever I may be traveling. But when a friend suggested visiting the American Cool exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, it was a no brainer. As a person who is fascinated with cool and pop culture, she had me at “it’s an exhibit of what’s cool.”
Of course that’s a bit of an oversimplification. American Cool is a photography exhibit that answers the question, ‘what is cool?’ by identifying figures throughout America’s past that “fit” the curator’s definition. At first, I had my doubts. But in retrospect, the National Portrait Gallery nailed it from my point of view. That’s no small feat, because “cool” is somewhat subjective.
This spectacularly curated exhibit features photography of “cool” artists, musicians, actors and writers from the past 75 years. To be featured in the exhibit, curators considered the following rubric:
The person had an original artistic vision that was carried off with signature style
The person represented cultural rebellion or transgression for a given generation
The person had iconic power or instant visual recognition
The person is recognized as a cultural legacy
Using this criteria, the exhibit is organized into four categories of cool: pre-1940; 1940-1959, the birth of cool which included a lot of jazz musicians and actors; 1960-1979, cool and the counter-culture where cool was a badge of opposition to the system; and 1980’s – Present, legacies of cool.
Photography is strictly forbidden in the exhibit, so I can’t share the some of the dramatic portraits. (Ok, I snuck one photo on my iPhone and I totally feel guilty about. The other two images were taken with permission.) But I will mention a few favorites and what intrigued me about them.
My personal favorite, Marvin Gaye. I was really drawn to the image and the emotion it conveyed, you could feel the years of heartache and turmoil. (okay, this was the one, wow, what a picture and yes, I still feel guilty)
Walt Frazer. Interestingly, I think that there were less than five color portraits and this was one of them. Frazer was selected in part for his ability to “connect cool back to slavery when a black person had to talk insults and opposition every day without anger.”
John Travolta. Also one of the few color images in the exhibit. I wasn’t surprised to see Travolta made the exhibit. What was interesting, to me, was the description next to his portrait: he “established cool through dance, he projects self-control through style, gyrating hips, twirling on the club floor, two stepping or vamping with subtle gestures.” This is like literary poetry. About Travolta!
My only minor criticism of the exhibit was that descriptions talk about the person, versus the photograph. And many of the photographs merited their own write-up. The only exception to this was Billie Holliday’s photo—which was so stunning that (kudos) it was addressed in the vignette.
If you’re lucky enough to catch the exhibit, be sure not to skip the wall about the “Alt-100.” It’s an additional 100 figures curators considered for the exhibit, but who didn’t quite make the list.
Personally, I thought Samuel L Jackson and Isaac Hayes should have made the cut. As a big Doors fan, I was happy to see Jim Morrison noted but have to agree, he did not meet all the criteria the curators set forth. Same for Dr Dre. Then there are a few ‘say wha…?” but I’ll let you decide who falls into that category.
American Cool will be on exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery through September 7, 2014. Whether you are a local or visitor, I strongly recommend seeing the exhibit. It’s well worth the time. Exactly how good was it? Worth purchasing the coffee table book in the museum gift shop, which is what we did.
After successfully checking off the “something touristy” on my BFF’s itinerary, we found ourselves in danger of a major sugar crash. Maybe that had something to do with our decision to try something neither of us had ever even considered: absinthe.
To be clear, an absinthe tasting is not exactly on my “bucket list” or “missing stamps” list. As you may know, i am a 4HB believer so i only drink red wine. Even before i discovered how well 4HB worked for me, i was never too much of a hard liquor person, aside from the occasional bourbon. But especially not absinthe., because I don’t like the smell or taste of licorice—which is a large part of the whole “absinthe” thing.
In all honesty, the idea actually came from Mr. Os. He was brainstorming local things to do and commented how there is a surge of absinthe tastings. In a way, absinthe is DC’s latest cupcake –style fad. My aversion to licorice, aside, I had to admit it sounded like a solid adventure. I wanted a large group to go, but unlike cupcakes, it turns out absinthe is a fad for the brave few—at least for the moment.
After a little research, i decided the three of us would try Libertine in DC’s Adams Morgan neighborhood. This absinthe themed bar opened three months ago and as it turns out, Libertine is my new favorite ”non-neighborhood” bar. The absinthe menu is impressive. If you are novice, i strongly recommend putting your faith in the bartender and taking whatever their suggestions are—and here let me just say that my reason for liking Libertine so much had everything to do with Libertine’s staff.
We were going to have the absinthe flight of three. Even though this was recommended on Yelp, our server Susan had other ideas. She said the three selections have a very strong licorice flavor and we would not enjoy it given two of the three voiced an opinion that we didn’t like licorice. (Yes, Susan gave us a questioning look of “then why are you ordering absinthe” but she made some great recommendations)
We settled on three different versions, each a full glass: Absinthe de Vinchy (my BFF), Mata Hari Absinthe Bohemian (me) and Absinthe Jade (Mr. Os). See below for details and price on each of our choices.
A few interesting things Susan shared with us as she prepared the absinthe:
It is very bad to light absinthe on fire. Because it’s a super high proof alcohol (highest they had on stock was 170 proof), burning it can change the taste resulting in a very bitter change to the flavor profile. She did recommend sugar, but this was also not the way it was originally consumed.
Not all absinthe is green. The color actually depends on the herbs used by the distiller, and it can be a milky white instead.
Absinthe Spain (high proof hemp flavored) actually does not mix well with water
The Wormwood Society is the association for absinthe. Their website has some interesting information about the drink’s history.
Absinthe de Vinchy (90 proof/$15): This was the lightest of the three. It had a very refreshing taste, my friend said it was not unlike drinking a Hendricks gin and tonic.
Mata Hari Absinthe Bohemian (120 proof/$14): This was shockingly easy drinking, be warned. I was expecting to turn my nose up in an attempt to avoid hurling but not so. The anise flavor in this absinthe is stronger than the de Vinchy and the licorice does not dominate the taste. A great choice for beginners, this one (from Austria) would be my recommendation.
Absinthe Jade (150 proof/$18): This had a very strong licorice flavor. Susan mentioned this is the choice of connoisseurs because it numbs the roof and back of the tongue. It does, that’s for sure. Mr. Os loved it, and gave it high marks, which is significant because he’s been enjoying absinthe since 1999.
You won’t find me drinking absinthe every weekend, that’s for sure. But Libertine is a DC gem thanks to its bartenders, and it’s a great place to take out-of-towners or to have an amazing specialty cocktail. The staff are real mixologists, the syrups are created by hand, the vegetables are pickeled on premise and they work together to make unique specialty drinks.
After having absinthe we stayed on and enjoyed some fabulous conversation with them and enjoyed a few of the drinks. The mulled over is terrific, if you like spice try the bad hombre and Mr Os says they make the best Manhattan in town. Again, that’s high praise, because it is his drink of choice. It didn’t hurt that the bartender shares his opinion that shaking a Manhattan is a huge no-no.
They don’t have a website but if you are on Twitter, you can follow them @LibertineDC. In case it wasn’t obvious, I also recommend visiting them at 2435 18th Street in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.
This weekend my best friend came to visit with a request to do “touristy stuff.” Generally that would not be too hard given that it’s Washington DC, right?
But as anyone following the news knows, her request proved challenging given that we are in the middle of a government shutdown. Aside from a cursory drive around the monuments so she could “see” things from the car that plan was dead in the water. If you are curious, this story on Mashable is a very accurate depiction of what things look like. It’s actually really depressing and i am deeply concerned about the lasting negative impact this will have on our local economy. But that is someone else’s blog fodder, not mine.
Shutdown be damned, when your best friend wants to do something touristy improvise, adapt and overcome, as Mr. Os would say. A quick brainstorm/cocktail later, I had it all planned out right there on the cocktail napkin.
With Halloween coming the obvious fun spot to check out would be the Exorcist steps. If you’ve seen the movie, the steps are a famous part of the movie related to the character Karras. Here is what they look like:
Nothing spectacular, sure, but see the movie first and it’s still kinda cool. And i was surprised how many tourists were stopping by—maybe my Exorcist steps wasn’t as original as I’d first thought, but they were fun.
After laboring up those stairs we worked up a sweat and the second part of my plan sprang into action. Time for cupcakes! Yes, this craze is a bit “done” and in DC (especially around G’town) it’s tough to avoid a cupcake shop. Then again, why would you? Even the most lame shop is pretty great because, well, it’s cupcakes! That said, there are four shops in Georgetown alone, two with national TV shows. So again my creativity was, well, the equivalent of low-hanging fruit. Very sweet, fun to eat low-hanging fruit.
We bagged Georgetown Cupcakes on principle. Well principles. For one, even though the company is on TLC, and I’m not famous, i deserve to be treated with courtesy. The few times i have been there the staff is condescending. Second, the line is ridiculously long, and there is too much to do to spend an hour in line for cupcakes. Which brings me to three, Georgetown cupcakes aren’t that good. GASP! I said it. Why anyone waits in a line that goes around the block is beyond me. Especially since some of the best cupcakes in the city can be found within blocks of Georgetown Cupcake—in fact, in more centrally located places around Georgetown.
So, we bypassed that establishment for a crowd pleaser: Sprinkles. I’ve taken a young girl here on my first (and last) DC Cupcake taste test. That much sugar in a little girl is not a good idea, and her mother probably got a medal for it at the end of the day. Or a badge, seeing as she was visiting for some girl scout jamboree. Either way, after tasting almost every cupcake DC had to offer, and shimmering with the energy a pound of icing will provide, she swore these were the best of the bunch. At the time, I favored a different (perhaps more refined) cupcakery. But that said, the staff was unbelievably generous with her. Imagine being 11, running into a store and declaring that you watch them on TV and just *LOVE* them. How the person behind the register responds can make or break your day.
The cashier didn’t miss a beat and graciously replied, “well aren’t we lucky! How about some cool stickers with your cupcake as a thank you?” Maybe it seems like a small gesture, but it made her day. This time we sampled a caramel apple and red velvet cupcake.
Also, being a dog owner, i got a huge kick out of the fact that they make doggie cupcakes. My husky—at 17 and a half, could have qualified. But his palate tends to the savory side. The dachshund is an electric pig with no “off” switch and sure as heck doesn’t need anything additional to whatever else she finds to eat!
Because we were aiming for a tasting, but not GLUTTONY or sugar coma, we made Baked & Wired our final stop. These three (with one honorary mention to Hello Cupcake which is actually in DuPont Circle—and therefore too far for this trip) are top of the heap, in my humble opinion. Baked & Wired remains my personal favorite. Until recently, it was unknown to outsiders and had a terrific low-key vibe.This time it was a lot more touristy, but when you make a cupcake that good, it’s just a matter of time before word gets out. I was actually shocked to find a line out the door.
We got a red velvet (for comparison, duh) and a Tessita here.
So, how did they rate?
Baked & Wired’s Red Velvet. As i mentioned, i’m a big fan of Baked & Wired so i was devastated that the cupcake was slightly on the dry side. After a second bite i found the frosting really sweet, but almost artificially sweet. It didn’t have that nice cream cheese taste. Grade: B-
Baked & Wired’s Tessita. My best friend dubbed this, “a shot of sugar.” This so called shot of sugar was a vanilla cake with a dulce de leche center and hazelnut frosting. It was delicious but just too much. Mr. Os was very disappointed that we didn’t get the strawberry cupcake—his personal “go to.” He agreed the Tessita, though good, was best for those with an extreme sweet tooth. Grade: B
Sprinkles’ Red Velvet. The cake of this cupcake was nice and light, the frosting was the right amount and you got a little bit of the cream cheese taste in the frosting. Again, Mr. Os chimed in. Not a fan of Red Velvet cupcakes in general, he said this was “hands down” the best version of Red Velvet cupcake to ever touch his taste buds. Grade: A+
Sprinkles’ Caramel Apple. We wanted to love this one but it just missed the mark. The cake had a lot of cinnamon but not enough apple. That meant the apple flavor was overwhelmed by cinnamon and then both were lost with the frosting. Speaking of, the frosting was too sweet in contrast to the cake. It just didn’t come together the way we wanted. Grade: C
I selected the above based on my friend’s criteria (touristy). It helps that we’ve been friends for 15 plus years so i have a good idea about what she likes and doesn’t like.
While there are some excellent museums open (Spy Museum and Newseum to mention a few favorites, but unlike public museums, these cost money), the majority of things are closed and finding things to do requires some creativity and flexibility.
In all seriousness, if you have a trip planned to Washington DC right now, i would recommend rescheduling it. There are still plenty of things to do, but they aren’t the things you want to see if you’ve spent time traveling here or even more frustrating, paid money to get here. And you can always contact me if you want some ideas of what a hometown tourist does to entertain guests and significant others during downtime.
This past weekend i won the lottery. Well, a lottery.
Pure luck and honest living contributed to me being able to take Mr Os to bottle gin for New Columbia Distillers. These people are both famous, and (depending on your friends, infamous) makers of Green Hat Gin. Full disclosure: gin is par with tequila for me. But, Mr. Os swears it’s the *only real martini* and is always on the hunt for the perfect gin.
According to him, this gin actually makes the top 5. That’s saying something. As i write this i realize its quite possible for people to get the impression that a) i’m a total boozer and b) i have a drinking problem based on my most recent posts (wine, caverns, wine, whiskey and…now…gin). I don’t. Although, i suppose someone with a problem might say that too, but this is not me sitting on “de” river in Egypt. I drink only red wine these days, in large part because i’ve discovered 4HB works for me (aka “The Four-Hour Body” by Timothy Ferriss). But that’s a different post, and another blog.
But my love for Mr. Os inspired me to seize the moment. And then the moment? Well it presented itself.
(Back Story/Digression: months ago a friend mentioned a “gin bottling party.” He explained that a local, relatively new distillery uses volunteers to bottle gin. According to our friend, it was 2-3 hours, during which you were served gin and tonics, bottled 40-60 cases of gin, left with a thank you and bottle of gin. As i said, i can barely stand the smell of the stuff. BUT, something new to do in our hometown?
Always. Where do i sign up?? As it turns out, through their newsletter/a lottery (larger groups might get in sooner, contact them).
The gin bottling parties are quite popular and as mentioned, operates on a lottery system. You receive an email, respond per email directions and enter the lottery. Of course, I would be remiss not to offer a small comparison between my previous experiences with Copper Fox Distillery and New Columbia. Aside from the fact that one involved a bottling party and the other was a simple tour they were still, well, night and day.
Unlike burnished copper pots in a rustic old barn, Green Hat comes from a warehouse off of New York Avenue, filled with brand new polished stainless steel equipment. And apparently there’s a difference in time, too. For Gin, the entire process from grain to bottle is about a month.
What does a gin bottling party look like? Allow me:
First, the labels must go on the bottles like this:
After you have several cases labeled, they go to the filling station where the magic starts.
Bottles are filled on this machine.
Caps are screwed (or gently hammered). Yes, this was an amazing workout.
Then the New Columbia Distillers label goes across the cap.
Now it’s time to hand-write the volume of alcohol and proof and stamp the batch number.
Now onto the home stretch here…these cute little plastic items go on.
And then get gently melted with this handy tool. (I can only imagine how badly this would fry my hair.)
Bottles go in the box, get sealed and viola! You’ve bottled gin.
Although the other people in our group weren’t as chatty as i would have hoped, this was still loads of fun and a great way to spend a few hours on an afternoon. After we finished, one of the owners, John Uselton, gave us a tour of the distillery. As a thank you for our civic duty, bottlers were offered a discount rate on any products.
My only complaint for the bottling was the discount, which was disappointing. Since Green Hat costs $36 in a liquor store, i didn’t think $30 was much of a ‘thank you.’ i would think they could offer bottlers a $10-$11 off the purchase price. From a marketing perspective, it sounds better: ‘hey, thanks for helping us out. we would like to offer you a 30% discount.’ I mean, we are captive audience. And, unlike our group, I bet nobody would walk out empty handed. That said, the gin was good enough that Mr. Os got a bottle. But even though he got a bottle, if the discount was 30%, we would have purchased two bottles instead of one.
If you are local to DC, this is a must do. If nothing else, get out and support a local business. For tourists, this was fun but requires a little advanced planning to get on the list. Tours, however, are easy (and fast—maybe 10 minutes)
Be sure to read the Washington Post article at the tasting station. It’s a fantastic write-up that tells you how New Columbia got started. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it online…typical Washington Post.