By Dulcy B. Hooper | Photos by Kaitlin Hill 

Whether you are celebrating the end of 2019, welcoming the beginning of the New Year or just in the mood to spend a day or two away, there is much to explore in D.C. that will make for a fun and memorable visit.  

As of this writing, many of D.C.’s hotels and restaurants had not put forth their New Year’s festivities, so be sure to call ahead and check on event-specific options, should that be of interest.

(Above: The Lincoln Memorial sits at one end of DC’s iconic Mall, also called “America’s front yard.”)

The District of Columbia is notable for the abundant presence of the government — from the U.S. Capitol, the White House and the Supreme Court to the ubiquitous government office buildings dotting the downtown landscape and last, but not least, to the memorials, monuments and seemingly endless historical sites.

(Above: Circling the loop of the World War II Memorial in the afternoon sun can be a time of peaceful reflection.)

Scattered throughout, however, there is no shortage of hotels (many with their own historical antecedents), world-class restaurants, notable performing art venues and an increasingly vibrant and engaging restaurant scene.

With so much to see and do, it is difficult to hone in on suggestions for a day or two away in Washington, D.C., but the following touches on a few of the city’s most well known neighborhoods and some of the restaurants and hotels you may be interested in exploring before the year’s end or in 2020.

Capitol Hill is one of Washington’s most popular neighborhoods and certainly one of the most interesting places to visit. From the 19th-century row houses to the iconic U.S. Capitol, House and Senate Office buildings and Supreme Court, one could spend an enjoyable day or two just wandering around.

When it’s time for lunch or dinner, Bistro Bis, located within the George Hotel on Capitol Hill would make a great choice. The hotel and restaurant are located at 15 E. St., N.W.  Bistro Bis is known for its modern interpretations of traditional French bistro fare, and fellow patrons regularly include senators, congressmen and assorted celebrities, adding to the interest. The hotel and restaurant are close to Union Station and within walking distance of the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the National Gallery of Art.

(Above: The scallop crudo at Emilie’s is as delicious as it is pretty.)

Emilie’s, located at 1101 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E., is a relative newcomer to Capitol Hill, having just opened in October to highly complimentary reviews. Emilie’s features an open kitchen, dining room, communal table and a bar/lounge area. Orders are delivered via carts weaving among the tables. The restaurant features a wide range of influences under the “new American” umbrella. According to Owner/Chef Kevin Tien, his goal was to create a communal dining destination with a “multicultural vision of America.”

“Emilie’s is a restaurant everyone can identify with,” said Tien who was formerly chef and co-owner at Himitsu in Petworth. “And you’ll find something on our menu that you’ll love. We are a restaurant for every occasion and every taste.”

(Above: The Tabard Inn is a DC mainstay loved for its enticing brunch offerings.)

Emilie’s is also known for its creative desserts and the collaboration of its team. “We spend a lot of time together,” said one team member. “The success of this restaurant is the success of our team as a whole.”

Downtown/CityCenterDC

What was once a business district, with lawyers, accountants and lobbyists on every corner, has now branched out and become a very cosmopolitan neighborhood. There is high-end shopping, trendy restaurants, and accessibility to numerous museums. This mixed-use development takes up several city blocks, with breezeways and open courtyards.

Momofuku CCDC would be a good choice for a stop. This is part of the Momofuku restaurant group formed by David Chang, who grew up in Vienna, Virginia.  Also within the group is the Milk Bar, sister bakery to the Momofuku restaurant group. Milk Bar is an award-winning bakery from local Pastry Chef Christina Tosi, who had been a food safety consultant at Chang’s N.Y.C. restaurant.  After she brought in various creative and unconventional homemade desserts, Chang asked her to recreate them and become pastry chef for all of Chang’s Momofuku restaurants.

Dupont Circle

Located at 1739 N. Street, N.W., Tabard Inn is the oldest continuously running hotel in Washington, having opened its doors in 1922. It is the place where inner city locals bring their out of town guests – full of charm, coziness and history. “The Tabard Inn was boutique before boutique was boutique,” reads one review.  It is a restaurant, as well as 

a hotel full of antiques and charm. Whether a weekend brunch in the restaurant or a glass of wine near the fireplace, you will remember your visit fondly and no doubt recommend Tabard Inn to others.

(Above: Grab a drink at the Melrose Hotel after a day of touring the City.)

Georgetown

Melrose Georgetown Hotel is located at 2430 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.  Georgetown is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, where visitors can tour historic 18th and 19th century mansions as well as check out the former homes of JFK and Julia Child. There are shops, both well known and local, and numerous art galleries. The Melrose is consistently ranked one of the best hotels in Washington, and the hotel’s restaurant, Jardenea, is described as “imaginative, current and conscientious,” with a focus on sustainability and locally sourced ingredients.

(Above: Established in 1933, Martin’s Tavern is a must in DC.)

Martin’s Tavern, at 1264 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., is the oldest family-owned restaurant in Washington.  It was established in 1933 and is “high in hospitality, rich in history.”  Brunch at Martin’s Tavern is an every-day event. For sports fans, the Tavern was founded by former Major League Baseball player William Lloyd “Billy” Martin.

(Above: Sit at one of the celebrity booths at Martin’s Tavern and enjoy their popular seafood)

Logan Circle/Shaw

This is another of Washington’s oldest areas, and one that has undergone a massive transformation in the last several years. Logan Circle takes its name from a traffic circle, where 19th century townhouses overlook a circular park with a statue of Civil War general John Logan sitting on a horse. Both Shaw, described as “shiny, hip, historic and edgy,” and Logan Circle have joined the ranks of D.C.’s most upcoming neighborhoods.  

Le Diplomate, located at 1601 14th St., N.W., has become an anchor for D.C.’s 14th Street corridor. Since its opening six years ago, in what had been a laundromat, Le Diplomate has remained a favorite D.C. “destination” restaurant. It is a French brasserie, which regulars describe as “nonstop celebration.” Far from its laundromat heritage, Le Diplomate is charmingly filled with French antiques and curios, a zinc bar, and retro-tiled floor.

Penn Quarter

This downtown neighborhood is home to D.C.’s Capital One Arena, which keeps it as busy at night as it is during the day. Museum fans can visit the National Portrait Gallery, the Newseum (at least until its year-end closing) and the International Spy Museum.  

Trump International Hotel, located in Penn Quarter, is the first Forbes Five-Star hotel in downtown D.C. The hotel, located at 1100 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., boasts views of Pennsylvania Avenue, the U.S. Capitol building and the National Mall.

Located within the hotel is BLT Prime by David Burke, a contemporary steakhouse highlighting seasonal ingredients and local vendors. The restaurant offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Among Burke’s accomplishments, he was awarded a United States patent for the unique process by which he uses pink Himalayan salt to dry-age his steaks.

Southwest & The Wharf

For those who haven’t had occasion to visit this part of Washington in the last couple of years, you will be in awe of the transformation. While it has been one of the most historic areas in the city, it was mostly known as home to the nation’s longest continually operating open-air fish market.

The Wharf has now become one of the most exciting neighborhoods, with waterfront dining and entertainment, interesting shops, and panoramic views of the Potomac River.  The Wharf is within walking distance to the Hirshorn Museum, the U.S. Capitol, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. 

One of the most popular restaurants is Mi Vida Restaurante, located at 98 District Square, S.W.  It is fun, trendy, glitzy and beautifully designed. There are frequent live performances by Mariachi bands and the restaurant offers an extensive tequila menu.  Mi Vida is a multi-leveled space with a 19-foot sculpture of a tree, decorated with color-changing flowers.

No matter what D.C. neighborhood you visit on your day or two away, you will surely want to come back sooner rather than later the museums, hotels, dining, and cultural events are truly second to none. ML

This article first appeared in the December 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.