Washington DC: An Installment City by Terry Zinn

Over the years I have discovered that some cities are just too large, diverse, and ever changing, to be experienced fully in just one visit. I find this true about our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. That’s why I call it an “installment” city, one that needs to be visited over and over again, over a number of years (or decades in my experience.) In my younger days I found it most inhospitable, exhausting and somewhat disappointing. Over my installment years it has become more friendly, with the latest visit, a pleasant and meaningful experience.
Creating a reasonable itinerary for D.C. and knowing your physical capabilities is the key. In my youth I walked and walked and walked to near exhaustion to see some of the monuments, memorials and museums. This trip I took it easy, knowing that in most likelihood all would be there for another visit on down the line. I used inexpensive taxis to go most places. I could not believe how accessible they were.

My home base was in the Beacon Hotel and Corporate Quarters, up the hill from the White House by several blocks. It was a comfortable hotel offering a spacious room, kitchenette and full size bath and had a doorman to hail taxis. While I would not try to visit their unfriendly dining establishment again, I would consider the hotel itself for my next installment. They do offer a rooftop bar on some nights. Go early before the music starts.
Months in advance I contacted both of my Congressional representatives to see about getting a tour of the White House. After a prolonged attempt it did happen, and I was put on a list with a group of strangers whom, to this day, I have not met. I showed up a little earlier than my appointed time and went through two check lists before passing security. I was told on the White House web site: no cameras, although cell phones with cameras were allowed (go figure that logic), no pencils, no pens, no back packs, no water, no nothing, or it would be taken away. Strange again, but the price you pay for safety nowadays. The self-guided tour following a pre- determined path was reminiscent of a tour decades ago. In reflection it is fun to see the rooms and hallways on TV and know their juxtaposition to each other and such, because you were there. I’m ashamed to say, I did not get a feeling of awe, but seeing the portraits of JFK and Jacqueline was heart warming. A tour of the Capitol Building is much easier to get and very informative.

A museum surprise was the National Gallery, where photography was allowed, and you could roam the hallways to your heart’s content. The paintings and sculptures were overwhelming, inspiring and educational. Across the street is the Spy Museum and its accompanying restaurant, Zola. The Spy museum takes you back in time to the days of the cold war and mechanical spy paraphernalia. If interested you can pick a fictitious spy name and background and see if you could survive incognito. Give yourself at least an hour and a half if you are a serious spy aficionado.
Adjacent to the museum is the upscale and impressive Zola restaurant. The menu featured rice cake in pomegranate sauce, lamb tenderloin salad with Manchego cheeseand salted marcona almond vinaigrette, a Virginia veal loin with baby carrots, goat cheese hush puppies with coriander jus. These excellent foods were only surpassed by the Cranberry Martini! Anyone could feel like an upper crust spy with gourmand delectables such as these! Zola definitely is on my list on my next installment to D.C.
I enjoyed other fun food and beverages at the iconic Old Ebbitt Grill, the Round Robbin Bar at the Willard Intercontinental, and the roof top bar with dining atop the W Hotel, with extra ordinary sights of the White House, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, and the Lee Mansion in Arlington. I appreciated their bar tender’s knowledge that the gin martini was to be stirred and not shaken. He did such without instruction. (James Bond humor aside, it did make a difference.) The W can be a bit snooty, as they reserve several roof top bar tables for VIP’s, which are seldom used early in the evening. So just profess, as you wait for the elevator behind the velvet rope, that you want to stand at the bar! It’s worth the effort.

The Gibson, is one of the supposed recent “in” D.C. places with a speak-easy attitude. Despite a lengthy cocktail menu they could not easily prepare a simple martini. We ate pleasantly outside at the establishment next door.
I longed to see the National Cathedral and took a taxi there and back. Getting back was the challenge. I saw the edifice and took a Gargoyle tour, which I can not recommend. One is shown slides of the exterior, and then taken out front on the ground floor to try and see again, what you saw in slide format. My souvenir book of Gargoyles from the basement gift shop was worth its money; the tour was not. I enjoyed a quick trip to the architecturally pleasing National Museum of the American Indian along with a light lunch.

One of the best compliments of any travel adventure or meal is answering yes to, “Would you have it again?” I’d definitely have Washington D.C. again as it’s on my list for future city installments.