As an expat American living in London (for more than 13 years) it’s an odd feeling to head back to the US for work-related visits, especially when I don’t get to see my family. Travelling to the nation’s capital as part of the UK delegation to meet with travel industry reps at IPW was extra weird …
… but also a lot of fun and a unique way to experience the city as a visitor.
While on official IPW hours, I felt as though I could have been anywhere. I was in that business traveller world of scheduled appointments padded with branded merch against a beige convention centre background. My description’s not meant to be a dig. Time and space were efficiently managed; connections were made; I got out of IPW what I put in.
But when off the IPW clock and meandering around town, I was able to discover different aspects of a city I thought I already knew fairly well and to realise there’s plenty left for me to do on multiple future visits.
Here are some highlights from my time in Washington.
Last time I was in DC was 2014. I was there working on a story that afforded me the chance to dine at a few of the city’s best and most celebrated restaurants. This time round my focus was more on IPW doings (plus I was still stuffed from my munch across Baltimore). Nevertheless I had to eat. Knowing how awesome Washington’s dining scene was my aim was to do it well.
I didn’t make it out to any serious wish list sorts of places while in DC but was most pleased with my meals at these three eateries:
Busboys and Poets
Based on her recommendation, I caught up with an old friend who lives in the area at this community-minded restaurant/lounge/bookstore/theatre founded in 2005 by Iraqi-American activist and entrepreneur Andy Shallal.
My friend and I hadn’t seen each other in a very long time, and the setting and service were ideal for long conversation over drinks and quality casual nosh. I got my nacho fix filled big time here! A good third to half of Busboys and Poets e is a dedicated bookshop. Politically speaking, the bookshelves lean progressive but historic buffs and policy wonks of al stripes should find desirable reading material here.
There are a few Busboys and Poets outlets around DC, but we met at the original 14th location. Details at busboysandpoets.com.
Ray’s Hell Burger
Former President Barrack Obama’s favourite burger? It’s a juicy stack of six ounces of hand-trimmed, fresh-ground premium steak cut beef topped with aged Vermont white cheddar and a thick slice of tomato served at Ray’s Hell Burger and named dubbed “The Funky President” in honour of the him. I had one, loved it, and reckon anybody hankering for a burger while in DC would be more than satisfied with one of Ray’s signature burgers.
The original Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington, Virginia closed recently but the K Street outlet seemed to be going strong during my midweek lunchtime visit. Online at rayshellburger.com.
Man, I miss a good bagel. When I lived in New York and New Jersey, I got used to easy access to these babies. Sure, London has its Brick Lane beigels and a couple of other decent offerings – but those are so different from what you get back in the States.
Bethesda Bagels’ Dupont Circle bakery was just down the street from my hotel (the Washington Hilton). I’m glad I noticed the shop en route to the Walter E Washington Convention Center on my first full day of IPW action. A handmade and toasted poppyseed bagel with chive cream cheese and an iced coffee to go became my brekkie of choice. In addition to the Dupont Circle pit stop, Bethesday Bagels has an outlet at Navy Yard in DC and a flagship bakery in Bethesda, Maryland. More at bethesdabagels.com.
I’ve been to DC a number of times, but I’ve never really experienced the city as a tourist. Even that 2014 trip I took was so geekily (and greedily) focused on food I hardly saw more than the interiors of restaurants, my hotel and the cabs and Ubers that transported me between where I ate and where I slept.
So it was great to eek out a few hours here and there to explore the city. I finally walked across the National Mall – at night – to see what the big deal is all about. I went on an amazing historic homes and gardens tour organised by IPW that helped contextualise DC as a place unto itself beyond the trappings of ‘just’ being America’s seat of government. And of course as mentioned in my introductory post to this series, I was awed by the IPW events held at Newseum, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the National Geographic Museum, and Nationals Park baseball stadium.
While attending IPW I stayed at the Washington Hilton. A short stroll from Dupont Circle and an easy walk to much of what I wanted to see and do in the capital (including IPW HQ, the Walter E Washington Convention Center), it was a comfortable and convenient base. Find out more at hilton.com.