The US capital offers a spirited culinary scene amid a swirl of cultural sights, history and discovery, says Robert Draper.
THOSE VISITING THE
US capital for the first time in a decade or so are in for a pleasant surprise.
No longer does the city derisively referred to as “the swamp” by its inhabitant in chief have the starchy, insular appearance of a white male fief. As a destination, Washington today possesses a dynamism that, along with its fabled history, qualifies it as a great American city.
It’s now entirely possible to spend a couple of memorable days here without once eating a New York strip steak or darkening a marble corridor. Check those boxes on your first visit, then come back for more.
3pm: History of struggle
Since its opening in September 2016, the city’s hottest draw has been the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall. The museum’s immense collection is well worth the long lines. The artefacts — including Nat Turner’s Bible, Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and the first edition of Booker T. Washington’s 1907 book The Negro in Business — are themselves impressive. But the three-tiered layout lends the feeling of a journey, by turns painful and triumphant. The path ends with a moving video collection of contemporary African-Americans reflecting on their life experiences.
Free admission; walk-up tickets are available on weekdays starting at 1pm.
6.30 pm: Laid-back deliciousness
The galloping culinary scene in Washington coincides with the regrettable trend of no-reservations restaurant policies. But Himitsu, arguably the city’s most creative dining spot, makes the ordeal relatively stress-free. Give the host your name and cell number, then amble down the street to one of the many Petworth neighbourhood way stations (such as Ruta del Vino and Hank’s Cocktail Bar), and enjoy a glass or two until a text message informs you that your table awaits at the tiny Japanese-inflected creation of the chef Kevin Tien. His ever-rotating menu includes shareable and uniformly delectable plates of raw seafood, roasted soy chicken and Asian-spiced vegetables. In suitable weather, the streetside tables maximise Himitsu’s chill, not your-grandfather’s-Washington vibe. If you’re solo, you could do worse than to snack away at the bar while trying wines from countries as far-flung as Bolivia and Georgia.
Dinner for two without drinks, about $100.
Saturday 9 am: Upmarket morning
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