I may not be screaming for ice cream, but I’m definitely panting heavily for it. That’s because Ice Cream Jubilee, the homegrown parlor that hit the D.C. frozen-treats scene like a 10-ton Good Humor truck, is a brisk 17-minute walk from my office. By the time I arrive at its sunny store in the buzzing 14th Street neighborhood, I’m a bit out of breath.
But I’m quickly revived by a scoop of Fresh Minty Chip. Its leafy taste surprises me, a pleasant reminder that mint is actually an herb, not a flavoring out of a bottle.
I didn’t really need to walk that far to get my sugar fix. As local food critic Nevin Martell says, “It’s hard to go a block in D.C. without coming across a bakery, a pastry shop, an ice cream stand or a candy store.”
The nation’s capital has a serious sweet tooth. How serious? One of the most famous, and long-running, reality TV shows set here follows two sisters who make cupcakes. Even the thriving local salad franchise—salad!—nods to D.C.’s favorite taste in its name: Sweetgreen.
As Washington’s food scene has exploded in the past few years, the dessert landscape has also grown, with local start-ups and outposts of nationally known spots. It doesn’t hurt that D.C. is full of young, food-obsessed professionals who fill Instagram feeds with posts tagged #dessertporn.
Whether you’re a doughnut devotee or a fudge fanatic, you’ll find a variety of places to satisfy your cravings. Georgetown is a good neighborhood in which to start. Here, in 2008, sisters Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne opened Georgetown Cupcake. The queue started almost immediately and hasn’t let up since, partly due to the success of their reality TV show on TLC, “DC Cupcakes.”
Martell prefers the cupcakes at Baked and Wired nearby. “They’re more substantial and inventive,” he says. “Plus the place has a super funky vibe. Not the kind of place you expect to find in Georgetown.”
Ladurée, on the other hand, is exactly the type of place you’d expect to find in the tony neighborhood. An offshoot of the fancy French patisserie chain, this elegant tea room sells macarons in a rainbow of flavors, including pistachio, rose petal and coffee, illuminated by the soft light from crystal chandeliers.
Downtown at CityCenterDC, Christina Tosi has opened a branch of Milk Bar, her popular New York bakery that introduced the addictive Crack Pie to the world. But Tosi grew up in the D.C. area, which has inspired her latest line of goodies.
“My fondest memories of eating out were weekly family splurges at Baskin Robbins or Dairy Queen if my older sister and I were on our best behavior,” Tosi tells me. “Recently we rolled out our MilkQuakes, a soft-serve ice cream mash-up with Milk Bar mix-ins—think cookies, pies and cake—my homage to the frozen treats of my childhood!”
With seven shops, including one in CityCenterDC, Dolcezza has made creamy gelato pretty much ubiquitous throughout Washington. Even visiting celebrities can’t miss it. “When Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving sat in our Dupont Circle shop eating gelato and drinking coffee, I was waiting for Frodo to come walking through the door!” says co-founder Violeta Edelman.
Tiffany would be award-winning pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac, whose shop in the Shaw neighborhood serves scones, (almost) too-beautiful-to-eat cakes and her original takes on s’mores and Ho Hos.
For fried treats, I head to Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken near Metro Center, which has the former in flavors like PB&J and crème brûlée. And near the White House, contemporary French-American restaurant Mirabelle boasts pastry chef Aggie Chin and her exquisite creations, such as a black forest cake with Kirsch panna cotta and cherry lambic sorbet.
Don’t worry if you need to head outside district lines: It’s hardly a dessert desert. In Alexandria, Virginia, Fleurir creates gem-like chocolates, and Sugar Shack sells delightful doughnuts, including the Girl Scout–worthy Tastes Like a Samoa. In Pentagon City, Sugar Factory is home to the Kardashian-approved Couture Pops. Bellagio Patisserie, at MGM National Harbor resort, features a 12-foot-tall chocolate fountain.
Having a diverse population also means that D.C. enjoys international indulgences, from Chinese egg custard tarts to Filipino halo-halo (shaved ice layered with fruit and ice cream) and Portuguese malasadas. This makes it difficult to pin down a quintessential Washington sweet.
But Victoria Lai, founder of Ice Cream Jubilee, does note that “one of our very popular flavors is Marionberry. We always get asked if this is named after Marion Barry, the former mayor. It’s actually made with marionberries from Oregon. But I love that it makes people laugh, and we can share a bit of D.C. history through an ice cream moment!”
I end my treat-fueled tour near where I started. Next door to Ice Cream Jubilee lies a hip little Cuban café called Colada Shop. I pick up a tres leches cake and an iced café con leche. The barista asks if I would like the drink “Miami sweet” or half sweet.
I’m confused by the question. Why would anyone want it half sweet? “Most people order it [that way],” she confides. Apparently, even for Washingtonians, there’s occasionally such a thing as too sweet.
Absinthe-green street light filters through the marbled stained glass behind the bar at Brothers and Sisters (1770 Euclid St. NW), the new restaurant/cocktail lounge at Adams Morgan’s The Line Hotel. Since the new hotel and dining destination fills a restored 1912 church, it seems fitting that celebrated local mixologist Todd Thrasher has summoned a drinks program that’s one part hymn to historic highballs and two parts innovation. “I wanted things both for geeky cocktail people and stuff that tourists from Nebraska might recognize,” says Thrasher.
Perched on a clubby green leather bar stool in the high-ceilinged space, Thrasher chats about a drinks menu that reads like a lively history/recipe book: an Old Forrester bourbon mint julep comes with an explanation of the concoction’s Washington, D.C., debut at the still-running Round Robin Bar at the Willard InterContinental Hotel. But those spirits savants can also try an “I’m Hip and Very Bitter” made with Virginia Fizz bubbles, locally produced amaro, gin and grapefruit juice.
Brothers and Sisters is the freshest sign that in recent years, Washington—always a zone of dimly lit hotel watering holes and Capitol Hill beer dives—has morphed into one of the country’s buzziest mixology towns. Think an intoxicating blend of local distilleries and sophisticated lounges that give booze-mad London or New York City a rocks-glass run for their money.
“I don’t think there’s a better place to drink in the world,” says Derek Brown, the impresario behind bars including Shaw’s James Beard Award-nominated Columbia Room (124 Blagden Alley NW). “You have pop-up bars, really creative cocktail spots and places that specialize in mezcal, cider and more.”
Brown’s esteemed Columbia Room emphasizes a local trend in cocktail crafting, using eclectic “grass-to-glass” ingredients to whip up house-made tinctures and unusual potions. Take a fig-leaf cordial that gets blended with azul blanco, vermouth, curacao and anise hyssop for a subtly sweet “What Absence Is Made Of,” the first cocktail in Columbia Room’s winter three-course drinks-and-snacks pairing menu.
That blurring between dinner and drinks ingredients also headlines at 2 Birds 1 Stone (1800 14th St. NW, lower level), a bright, semi-secret lair for innovative sips like the “El Cazador” (sherry, Campari, plus local cacao nibs, thyme and honey) and a daily punch. And at Barmini (501 9th St. NW), James Beard Award-winning chef Josè Andrès’ “cocktail lab,” futuristic white counters, vintage glass-ware and whimsical furniture (a “cactus” couch) set the scene for innovative gulps like the “Floral Cloud,” a rose- and hibiscus-scented drink that wafts sweet smoke at you before you down it.
“They have so many toys to play with at Barmini,” says Stephen Corrigan of D.C.’s One Eight Distilling (1135 Okie St. NE), one of multiple newish spirits makers thriving in Northeast D.C. neighborhoods like Ivy City. Like many local distillers, One Eight offers mixed drinks in its tasting room, using the maker’s own made-here gin, vodka and whiskey.
But cocktails aren’t just serious business in D.C.; thanks to a bustling pop-up bar scene and a fair share of dives (hey, Senate interns need to get drunk somewhere!), nightcaps or happy hours can also be casual, rollicking affairs.
Brown’s Drink Company also runs seasonal pop-up drinking holes, which have included 2017’s lines-out-the-door “Game of Thrones” one with a smoke-spewing dragon and highballs inspired by show characters. And a slew of “yep, come in yoga pants” joints have recently opened, like low-key Left Door (1345 S St. NW) with its often-tequila-powered mixtures like the “Release the Kraken” (tequila, honey, lemon) and Service Bar (928 U St. NW), a campy Shaw hang for $7 happy-hour cocktails and a fried chicken- heavy bar-bite menu.
“There’s just a lot of whimsy and fun in the local cocktail scene,” says Brown. “I think we’ll see that blow up in spades in 2018.”
We’ll drink to that.
Social media may paint a picture of Washington locals weary of snowy climes (“snowmageddon” anyone?), but Washingtonians actually take poet and painter William Blake’s words to heart—“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” And when the mercury dips, locals do just that. They hit the road to snow-laden resorts in Virginia and Pennsylvania, where skiing, snowboarding and other cold-weather merrymaking are all less than two hours away by car.
For winters that don’t quite reach snowmageddon levels, resorts like Whitetail and Ski Roundtop in Pennsylvania and Massanutten in Virginia compensate with robust snow-making operations for skiing and snowboarding that blanket hillsides with powder for days.
At Massanutten, 6,000 acres sport 12 ski trails during the day with killer views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and lighted courses at night, while Ski Roundtop lays out 19 runs that wrap and wind down the mountain. At Whitetail, seasoned shredders swish down more than 20 trails and tackle a 935-foot drop. Novices at this modern lodge with a western vibe get a boost as well. The "Own The Mountain" program combines lessons, lift tickets and even a new set of skis for hitting the slopes with confidence.
And don’t worry, snowboarders won’t miss out. All three resorts offer ample terrain for perfecting that “fakie,” “corkscrew” or “rodeo 720.”
If skiing and snowboarding aren’t your choice, there's still winter fun. Massanutten carves out 34,000 feet for snowtubing, plus 4,250 square feet for ice-skating. Cross-country fans willing to make the three-hour drive from D.C. may want to consider White Grass Touring Center. Nestled in the Cabin Mountain range of West Virginia’s High Alleghenies, this complex receives about 160 inches of snowfall every year, dusting a little more than 37 miles of trails with 1,200 vertical feet for langlaufers to traverse.
During the 2010-2011 season, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) recognized Whitetail’s programs for new plankers and shredders as the nation’s best. Through an adaptive ski and snowboard learning program, Whitetail has also trained instructors to assist youngsters with special needs. But not all winter resort activities have to involve snow.
Non-skiing tykes who want to take a break from icy temps get the blood pumping at Roundtop’s 11 paintball fields. For 40 years, Massanutten has earned a reputation as a hub of family fun and for good reason. The sprawling compound sports an indoor water park (always heated to 84 degrees), voted number three by USA Today. Inside, find a water fortress, body slides, pools, lazy river floats and hot tubs. Families can also learn how to surf on a FlowRider Endless Wave adventure.
Resort Restaurants and Eats
With pizzerias and grills for quick eats, most resorts serve up plenty of sustenance. At Whitetail, Solstice has a sit-down experience with a menu of heartier fare like prime rib and pastas, while Massanutten ups its offerings with Sweetz, where treats like candied apples are prepared in-house.
Washington, D.C., gets a lot of press (and tweets) for its dramatic political scene. But dozens of local theater companies, from upstart indie groups to Tony Award-recognized playhouses, help the city rank closely behind New York City for live stage shows—high-action dramas, comedies, musicals and more. “People don’t realize what a huge theater town this is,” says local playwright Annalisa Dias. “There’s just such a wide range of options here for actors, writers and directors.”
This month, there’s another reason to check out the diverse scene: The Women’s Voices Theater Festival, which brings world, national and regional premiere productions by female playwrights to 26 venues around town January 15 through February 15.
“It’s great that the festival focuses on the quality and innovation of the material, not on gender issues,” says Dias.
Among the festival offerings is Dias’ “4,380 Nights,” a searing look at a longtime prisoner at Guantanamo Bay and the political and world happenings surrounding him. At Arlington, Virginia’s Signature Theatre, the work is emblematic of the kind of smart, timely works D.C. audiences dig. At venerable Arena Stage, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s “Sovereignty” follows a young Cherokee lawyer in present-day Georgia as she grapples with issues of race and land rights.
At historic Ford’s Theatre, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, the restored Victorian environs set the scene for British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker’s “Jefferson’s Garden,” a play about the American Revolution and its impact on elites like Washington and Jefferson as well as on the African-American community.
In “The Way of the World,” Folger Shakespeare Library sees acclaimed playwright Theresa Rebeck reset British wit William Congreve’s 1700 comedy of manners from the English royal court to present-day Hamptons. (Think the foibles of Kardashians, not courtiers.) “It seems like we’ve hit a critical mass, where there’s a social consensus and demand for women’s voices to be heard,” says Rebeck, who also directs the show.
“Washington audiences are really smart and ready to be challenged,” adds local actress Tonya Beckman. “They aren’t interested in easy answers or things that just skim the surface of questions. And of course, they enjoy political jokes!” Beckman stars in Thornton Wilder’s absurdist “The Skin of Our Teeth” at upstart Constellation Theatre Company. “The play seems really relevant now, since it’s a look at war and the end of the world,” she says.
Shows like “Skin” and “Way of the World” emphasize another marquee aspect of local theater: D.C. is hooked on classics. “Places like the Shakespeare Theatre Company and the Folger have always done so many canonical works, and that drew me here,” says Beckman. The Folger, part of the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill, puts on productions in an Elizabethan-style theater with old-timey wooden balconies. Across town, the esteemed Shakespeare Theatre Company boasts two spaces in Penn Quarter. In the larger of the two, the sleek Sidney Harman Hall, “Ugly Betty” star Michael Urie headlines as the Bard’s “Hamlet.”
“I feel a responsibility to produce classical theater that resonates with modern audiences and speaks to people across cultures and generations,” says Shakespeare Theater Company director Michael Kahn. “‘Hamlet’ is about the elusiveness of certainty and the ambivalent nature of revenge, about trust, doubt and finding the truth—or not. I’m curious to see how audiences respond to it.”
Other offerings that draw on literature and classic works this month: “The Trail” combines striking choreography, music, sets and costumes (but zero spoken words) to summon Franz Kafka’s crime-and-punishment tale at Synetic Theater; and “Everything Is Illuminated” brings to life Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2002 novel about Jews during and after the Holocaust in the jewel box space at Theater J.
“Washington artists are lucky, because so many people here work in government or have global power,” says Dias. “Performing before them is a chance for us to both engage with them, and maybe to have an impact in the world.”
You have a long-standing career in hospitality. What attracted you to the industry, and how did you get your start?
I’ve lived in Washington since 1976 and have worked at The Mayflower for 29 years. I started in hospitality at the front desk at The Ritz-Carlton, Washington D.C. At the time, there was only one concierge. Whenever she stepped away, I filled in. When she left The Ritz-Carlton, I took over her position and became a full-time concierge.
What do you love most about being a concierge?
Whenever I see that my guests are truly happy and satisfied, I feel instant gratification. Whenever I receive positive feedback from the recommendations I’ve made or I see my guests smiling, it makes me happy.
On the other end of the spectrum, what’s the most challenging aspect?
To be a good concierge, you have to have a connection almost everywhere. When I make a new connection, sometimes I send them flowers as a courtesy. Not only do you have to introduce yourself, you also have to maintain relationships with your contacts.
What’s your proudest moment as a concierge?
My proudest moment was when a family wanted to go to the White House, but same-day tickets were not available at the time. The family had a sick daughter, who only had six months to a year to live, and her only wish was to see The White House. Although they couldn’t stand in line for the tickets, I promised they would have the opportunity to see The White House during their trip to D.C. That day, I woke up at 4 a.m. and stood in line until 8:30 a.m. After, I called the family to let them know I had their tickets. The child was so happy and gave me the biggest hug. It was in that moment that I knew I love what I do, and I do it with my heart.
You’ve worked all over the city and have had many interesting requests. Which one comes to mind?
When the Obamas stayed at The Mayflower. It was snowing, and I remember going to California Pizza Kitchen for the former first family. From dignitaries to celebrities, you never know who you’ll see on any day. Anything can happen.
Let’s talk tourism. Where should every first-time visitor go in D.C.?
My favorite is the National Gallery of Art, but every first-time visitor should visit the Capitol and Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum. If you have access to a car, I highly suggest the Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy campus in Chantilly, Virginia. I also recommend taking a tour of downtown on an Old Town Trolley car. It’s the only trolley that you can hop on to visit Arlington Cemetery.
You plan many educational outings for the Washington Area Concierge Association (WACA) inside and outside of the DMV. What day trip destinations would you suggest to a first-time visitor?
We wanted to learn more about day trip destinations, so I started planning educational tours through WACA. The goal of these outings is for us to learn about different areas so that we can make good suggestions to our guests when they want to explore outside of the city. When you actually see and learn more about an area, you can make recommendations based on first-hand knowledge.
What day trip destination do you like to recommend most?
I recommend visiting the National Aquarium in Baltimore, as it’s not too far. In the fall, I suggest the Shenandoah Valley to see the leaves change. Monticello is one of my favorites, too. There, I recommend Michie Tavern for lunch. Harper’s Ferry is also very relaxing, and Amish Country in Pennsylvania.
You’ve traveled all over. What’s your favorite country?
My favorite of course is my own country, Iran. After high school I moved to London, where I had a wonderful time. Whenever I travel to Iran, I take the train to London, which is an hour and a half away. The trip reminds me of my younger days, when my cousin and I explored the downtown area and went to the disco.
What do you like to do when you travel?
I enjoy going on tours and seeing the city, as well as exploring museums. I love to go shopping, but would rather have an experience because I can always shop and find what I’m looking for in the United States.
When you’re not working to make sure your guests enjoy their trip to D.C., where can we find you?
When I’m not working, I enjoy exercising, cooking and relaxing. Other times, you can usually find me watching one my favorite TV shows: “60 Minutes,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Voice,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal.”
Gareth Branwyn, D.C.'s established link to Maker Media, traces “maker” culture to a seismic event at the turn of this century—when the Silicon Valley tech boom went bust. With widespread job loss, all those brainy workers focused skills and curiosity on making-do with electronics they already owned. Repairing and sharing ultimately spun off fruitful tinkering and collaboration via the democratic Internet. Branwyn recalls that, in early days, he and colleagues saw the “maker” community as “tech’s answer to slow food.”
Today’s “maker movement” supports that ethos of personal control as it continues the romance of craft-meets-engineering. So where does this DIY and DIWO (Do It With Others) spirit surface here? High-visibility showcases prove rare indeed. Locals connect via “meetups” posted on the web calendars of groups like HacDC, Women Who Code, Mobile DC and Design Thinking DC. The Labs at DC Public Library sponsor drop-in workshops from digitizing film and video to fabric mending. Most fulltime and budding artisans still work alone in studios, yet a growing number belong to centers equipped with 3-D printers, scanners, laser cutters and welding stations.
Technology, once costly and corporate, has become affordable and accessible. One such space, TechShop, opened three years ago beside Arlington, Virginia’s Crystal City Shops mall, and now 800 members utilize its staff expertise and $1 million-plus worth of equipment and software. Think “workout gym” for artists, teachers, inventors and entrepreneurs. Visitors watch the fabrication projects through glass windows or pay $50 for a day’s access to computers, tech advice and drafting tables.
An on-site retail store offers objects made here—laser-cut puzzles by Stas Casa, “architectural” jewelry of engraved metal by Alissa Werres, even oboe reeds crafted by Ginju Carlson on a self-designed machine. Successes originating at TechShop include the True Honey Teas pods created by Chris Savage for Keurig-compatibility, the Orcavue video filming rig for Matrix-like effects and the R&D prototype of a docking station for drones.
The new Shop Made in DC represents the softer side of maker goods. South of Dupont Circle at 1333 19th Street NW, congenial souls here serve local-brand foods, curated beverages and artisan wares. Thirty or so vendors test potential markets with their jewelry, pottery, sculpture, leisure wear, candles, baby and kid clothing (D.C. flag tees), bags, beauty supplies, greeting cards (“You’re my spirit animal”) and screen prints of D.C. locales.
The cafe features breakfast sandwiches from Bullfrog Bagels, tacos by chef Ed McIntosh of Tortilla Dora, espresso and cold brews from Small Planes Coffee and Asian fare by chef (once Buddhist monk) Dorjee Tsering, his fiery red coconut beef curry inspired by Tibetan nomad ancestors. Beverage guru Greg Engert of Neighborhood Restaurant Group has selected ANXO Cider (from D.C.-foraged Goldrush apples) and beers from native breweries like the D.C. Brau Pilsner, Atlas pale ale, Bluejacket IPA and 3 Stars Southern Belle Imperial Brown Ale “toasted” with pecans.
Surely the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery is the nation’s fine art “maker” showcase. This museum of sophisticated craft holds objects produced by hand and works made possible by evolving technology. The permanent collection includes “Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery” (2009), a cast glass sculpture by Karen LaMonte; “Curtains and Balcony Bracelet” (2008), a 3-D printed adornment of glass bead-filled polyamide by Joshua DeMonte; and “Drift” (2011), a white oak and bamboo seating element designed by Matthias Pliessnig with Rhinoceros 3-D software.
No surprise, the Renwick museum store displays jewelry of laser-cut leather or extruded nylon fiber alongside wares of traditional materials. And an entry point stunner: Leo Villareal’s “Volume (Renwick)” of infinitely varied LED sequences above the central staircase pulses to an algorithm written by the artist himself.
Washington D.C. has many storied neighborhoods, the allure of the Mall and historical sites but the most iconic new locale is Capitol Riverfront.
The burgeoning neighborhood on the banks of the Anacostia River in Southeast D.C. is one of the fastest growing in the area. It has amazing parks, both on the river and in the heart of the city, in addition to nightlife and live entertainment.
Jack Nargil of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel discusses breaking into the hospitality industry, how he transitioned from politics to hospitality, his love for D.C. and more as our October Expert.
Before you began working as a concierge, you worked in politics. How did you decide to transition from politics to the hospitality industry?
I went from politics to hospitality due in good part because I had grown up in the hospitality world. My father was a hotelier and graduated from the famous hotel school I Lausanne, Switzerland, in which I was exposed to the hotel world.
After college, I worked for my father in France, and became more familiar with the hotel world while traveling from New York to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to British Columbia, Canada. I believe that my knowledge of Washington from Capitol Hill to Georgetown is very important as well. Having lived in Washington from undergraduate to graduate school allowed me to know the ins-and-outs of Washington which is very important to the concierge world.
What do you love most about being a concierge?
I love the daily challenge of the unknown. If I receive a phone call from a colleague or guest, or someone comes up to the desk to ask a question, I have no idea what is going to be asked. Whether I'm helping a celebrity guest or the regular traveler, I know I help people have a better day. If I learn one thing each day, no matter what it is, that means a lot. I have daily closure which many people might not have at their jobs.
On the other end of the spectrum, what’s the most challenging aspect?
The challenging aspect is to keep up with information flow. From technology and people who are being bombarded themselves, you must maintain your relevancy. You must also not be an app, but be able to demonstrate the humanity side of our daily lives.
What’s your proudest moment as a concierge?
My proudest moment was maintaining my composure during the morning of 9/11 while working at The Hay-Adams. I was working the morning shift, and it was a tough and challenging day dealing with people's emotions and logistics while trying to be rational and remain positive. My hope was to give people strength by keeping them from panicking. I can vividly remember many trying to get out of the city by any means, and the phones were ringing off the hook. It was a day that I will never forget.
As you’ve worked all over the city, I’m sure you’ve had a lot of interesting requests. Which one comes to mind?
One of my regular guests once asked me to send a goldfish to her friend at a hospital in Connecticut. I contacted my colleague at the Ritz in Boston to take care of it. When I asked her the name of her friend, she said Kate. Later, I learned that Kate was in fact short for Katherine Hepburn.
Let’s talk tourism. Where should every first time visitor go during their trip to D.C.?
Every first time visitor must visit the U.S. Capitol and the Arlington National Cemetery. They represent the soul and spirit of our great country and the sacrifices Americans have made to keep the world sound.
If a visitor wanted to spend the day outside of the city, what day trip destinations would you suggest?
I'm a lover of history, which many people are not aware of. I love the Virginia countryside in Middleburg, and suggest traveling countryside to appreciate the great state and the home of Thomas Jefferson, which is very important from a historical perspective. I would also suggest spending the day outside of the city at the Gettysburg battlefield.
As a New York native, what do you love most about Washington D.C.? What made you fall in love with our Nation’s Capital?
I love the feeling of freedom that Washington D.C. has and I love being able to see the blue sky from any vantage point. I've also found that if you have your logistics in order, you can get around the city quite easily—during non-rush hour of course. With so many of our neighborhoods developing their own personalities, the restaurant and cultural scenes really draws so many people from around the world to Washington which is very exciting.
What is one of the city’s best-kept secrets?
One of the city's best-kept secrets is President Lincoln's Cottage where Lincoln spent 25 percent of his presidency and composed The Emancipation Proclamation.
With such a longstanding career, what advice would you give to someone looking to break into the hospitality industry?
The hospitality industry has become a melting pot of humanity and a great symbol of American diversity. It affords great opportunities for everyone, as long as you are not afraid to work hard and enjoy meeting people who you would not normally meet in a lifetime. From movie stars, historians, politicians and finance moguls to princes and queens and heads of state. As long as you have a positive attitude and are not afraid to learn from older persons with experience, the industry can be very rewarding.
To break into this field, you must be willing to take an entry position to get your foot in the door, with a desire to master that position and then start an upward movement. With so many positions in a hotel, it takes time to understand where you fit in best, so you should keep an open mind. It's important to remember that there is no limit other than your own limitations.
Williamsburg, Virginia, is much more than the world's largest living history museum. Go beyond the city's famed colonial attractions and discover an area rich in wine and spirits, farm-to-table dining, spas and recreation opportunities for the whole family.
We were surrounded by candy. But not just any candy. These sweets had stories: GooGoo Clusters, the first “combination” candy bar; circus peanuts, the inspiration for Lucky Charms cereal marshmallows; peanut brittle made from a George Washington Carver recipe; and Lemon Gibraltars, the first commercially made candy in the U.S., from 1806.
“I have to live here,” my 4-year-old daughter declared. “Here,” specifically, is True Treats, a historic candy store where you can buy goodies from the very beginning of snacking—bag of roasted bugs, we’re looking at you—to today’s popular Bubble Tape. But “here” could also refer to the charming town where you’d find such a history-loving shop: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
Just over an hour’s drive northwest from downtown D.C., Harpers Ferry packs a lot of past into its 390 acres. George Washington chose the town, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, as the site for a U.S. Armory. Thomas Jefferson climbed to a lookout point now known as Jefferson’s Rock and pronounced the setting “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.”
But the main reason Harpers Ferry is now a National Historical Park lies with a surprisingly small brick building located almost at the very point where the Potomac and the Shenandoah meet. Here, in 1859 in the armory’s fire engine house, abolitionist John Brown and his followers made their last stand after their raid of the U.S. Armory failed to incite an antislavery uprising. He was captured, tried and hung, but the event helped tilt the nation into civil war.
We saw these events dramatized at the cheesy/spooky John Brown Wax Museum on High Street—not to be confused with the John Brown Museum, which, like most of Harpers Ferry’s Lower Town, is part of the National Historical Park. In our family, given the choice between official exhibits and animated wax figures, wax always wins.
The last tableau in the wax museum was particularly chilling, as the John Brown figure, poised on the steps of the gallows, suddenly raised his head and seemed to look directly at us. “Let’s get out of here!” my 11-year-old daughter squeaked, clutching my arm.
Getting outdoors is actually another reason people flock to Harpers Ferry. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is headquartered here, at roughly the halfway point on the famed 2,200-mile trek. We note the number of people walking around town with chiseled calves and serious backpacks. You too can hike a part of the Appalachian Trail, but be sure to veer off on the path to Maryland Heights Overlook. Here you can capture a killer Instagram view—preferably around sunset—of one town, two rivers and three states: Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
My family opted for whitewater rafting with outfitter River Riders, which also offers kayaking, tubing, biking, ziplining and an aerial adventure park. Since I have younger kids, general manager Tyler Tummolo suggested we raft the Needles, a scenic section of the Potomac with gentler waters.
Our expert rafting guide, John Ford, was full of fun facts including that George Washington was a whitewater enthusiast. “But he actually was really bad at it,” Ford said. A music education teacher during the colder months, Ford serenaded us with an Irish river chantey as he paddled around rocks and through watery dips and crests.
We floated past Lower Town and under the bridge that connects Harpers Ferry with Maryland Heights—yet another perspective on this historic spot. The exciting climax of the excursion was the section called White Horse Rapids. My 7-year-old son stood at the prow of the raft, gripping a strap as we plunged and bucked before emerging at the other end, soaked but safe.
And we weren’t done with adventure yet. Back at River Riders’ Adventure Park, everyone got a turn ziplining—except the 4-year-old, who was deemed too young. It was my first time, and as I hurtled at almost 50 miles per hour through the trees, over a parking lot and above a field, there was only one thing to say, one phrase that encapsulated our thrilling, history-filled day in Harpers Ferry: “Woo-hoo!”
Steve Geiger and Herbert Guzman of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center share their summer hot spot suggestions, day trip destinations, hidden gems in D.C. and much more.
You both have long-standing careers in hospitality. How did you get your start, and what attracted you to the industry?
Geiger: I have always had jobs that dealt with the public. I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire whose economy was heavily based on tourism. After moving to D.C., I worked for many years in the Smithsonian museums and then at the White House Visitors Center. The position I hold now was my first time working as a concierge; it was a natural fit for me as I always found myself helping customers and visitors in my other positions, but as an aspect of my job, whereas the concierge role allows me to fully concentrate on helping folks navigate their day, whether they’re business people or tourists.
Guzman: As we all know, the hospitality industry is a hands-on environment. I was 17 when I started my first job at a restaurant as a busboy. A few years later, I moved to the Stewarding Department of the Ronald Reagan Building, where I met Steve. We quickly became friends. A concierge position happened to be open a year later. Steve suggested I apply, and that’s how I became a concierge.
How do you think being a concierge at locations like the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center differs from hotel concierge?
Geiger: On the one hand, as we have no hotel rooms and we may never see the people we help again after they leave our desks. They are not staying with us for days on end so we have that one chance to be of service, and it has to go right that one time.
On the other hand, we have thousands of tenants in the building whom we see on a daily basis. We also host innumerous events, conferences and galas. We welcome heads-of-state, foreign delegations and visitors from every corner of the globe. I would liken it more to working in an international airport—in terms of the vibe—rather than in a hotel. It is never the same day twice and that’s what makes it interesting and challenging.
Herbert: The Ronald Reagan Building is a federal building, and therefore we do not have lodging accommodations for our guests. However, we do have a state-of-the-art conference center, and we host many events such as galas, weddings and trade shows.
Which summer hot spot would you suggest to visitors exploring the DMV?
Geiger: The challenge of summertime in D.C. is to enjoy the city while not getting beat by the heat. The National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden offers a patch of tranquility in the heart of the major sites. The large circular fountain and ring of shade-giving trees in the middle of the garden create a nice chill-out zone. The Pavilion Café—located near the fountain—offers an air-conditioned interior with floor-to-ceiling windows and a European flair. This is a veritable oasis on the National Mall.
Guzman: I would suggest the National Zoo; it’s one of the oldest zoos in the United States and it’s also part of the Smithsonian Institution, so the admission is free.
What do you love most about being a concierge?
Geiger: I love being able to help people; sometimes the smallest of things can make someone’s day. In my place of work I can’t offer people any amenities like a fruit basket or a free upgrade but what I can offer is a caring ear and many years of experience living and working in D.C.
Helping someone get to that job interview on time or suggesting the best place to go with their elderly parents and small children—these are the things that make the job rewarding on a personal level.
Guzman: What I enjoy the most about being a concierge is when I have guests come back to my desk and thank me for my suggestions about places to visit or to dine at. For example, I had many tourists who did not know that the Smithsonian museums are free. My goal is to make sure that guests who come to my desk always have memorable experiences in Washington, D.C.
If a visitor wanted to spend a day outside of the city, what day trip destinations would you suggest?
Geiger: I know it is not very far to go, but I would recommend Old Town Alexandria. It’s easy to get to and it has something for everyone. Not only are there great shopping and dining establishments, but you have the whole waterfront experience. There’s the Torpedo Factory Art Center and galleries to appeal to art lovers. And with the popularity of PBS’s “Mercy Street,” Alexandria’s important role in American history has come to the public’s attention.
Guzman: My recommendation would be Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello. I had the opportunity to visit it last year, and I fell in love with a scenic view from the mountain. I also loved the house architecture and the gardens. This national landmark is just about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from D.C.
What do you love most about D.C.?
Geiger: Hands-down, the best thing about D.C. for me is the abundance of international and cultural offerings. You can literally travel the world in a day and never leave the District. From museums to restaurants, Washington offers you the world at your fingertips.
Guzman: Since my parents and I came to D.C. and to the United States 25 years ago, I consider myself a Washingtonian. I have seen so many changes in D.C., and one of the most remarkable of them is that the city is not as dull as it used to be. We now have many more cultural attractions. The food scene is becoming one of the best in the country, and there are multiple nightlife venues. Washington D.C. is not just about politics anymore, it has so much to offer to our visitors.
As a concierge, what’s the most interesting request you’ve received?
Geiger: Ok, this was in the days before Uber. I had a reporter arrive at my desk in a frantic state. She was supposed to be on Air Force One with President Obama on his first trip to Mexico. Being bilingual, I conversed with her in Spanish as I tried to figure out the best way to get her to Andrews Air Force Base in a hurry. It was also raining cats and dogs at the time. I could see and hear the panic in her voice. She was losing hope. She had missed the transport that went from The White House with the other reporters. I had the contact information for a private driver, and I called him and asked if he knew how to get to Andrews and if he was available. As luck would have it, he was able to arrive in a matter of moments, and I walked her out to the car under my umbrella in the torrential downpour. The next day I got an email from her. She had made the plane, covered the meeting between the U.S and Mexican presidents and filed her story.
Guzman: Once we had a visitor who was confused thinking that the Ronald Reagan Building is actually an airport. We told the guest that the Ronald Reagan Airport is in Virginia, and that he is not too far from it at all.
What are your top recommendations for a guest who wants to spend the day like a true Washingtonian?
Geiger: Rent a bike and see the National Mall, which I call “America’s Front Yard.” Then get off the tourist path and delve into D.C.’s distinct neighborhoods.
To me, the heart of a home is the kitchen, and D.C.’s kitchen is definitely a global one, so be adventurous; our city has unique flavors that even the most worldly of travelers might not have tasted before. We boast some of the largest Salvadoran and Ethiopian communities in the country, and the number of eateries offering their respective cuisines is in accordance. To be a Washingtonian, to me, is to embrace the international and cultural diversity our city offers.
Guzman: There is so much to see here, that it all depends on the time that the visitors have. The National Mall and the Smithsonian museums are the city’s main cultural attractions, however they are not frequently visited by locals. I would also recommend the U Street Corridor which has a rich history dating back to the 1920s. Its music venues, the nightlife, and the restaurant scene are very popular among locals. The must-to-see place on U Street is of course, a D.C. landmark, the venerable Ben’s Chili Bowl Restaurant.
What’s your favorite hidden gem in D.C.?
Geiger: Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens. It is off the beaten path, and as such does not get overly crowded. The estate allows one to see luxurious and elegant living at its best. The house and gardens—including the greenhouse—are fascinating. There is always a special exhibition area as well. And the café restaurant has delicious food that can be enjoyed inside or outside on a patio. I call this the ultimate “Rich for a Day” experience!
Guzman: There are many hidden gems in D.C. One that is often overlooked by tourists is the U.S. Botanic Garden. It is situated right next to the Capitol Building on the National Mall, however I rarely get questions about it, and not many know it is there. This landmark exhibits multiple unique species of plants from different regions of the planet.
What should every visitor do during a trip to D.C.?
Geiger: Go to the top of the Old Post Office Tower. This offers the best 360 degree view over the city. First timers will get an instant visual of the city’s layout and thus be able to plan their itinerary better. It is free and run by the National Park Service and, with the Washington Monument closed for repairs, it offers the highest vantage point to see the capital in all its grandeur.
Guzman: What I would recommend to someone visiting D.C. for the first time is to have comfortable walking shoes. D.C. is one of the top 10 cities in the country that is “walkable.” There is so much to see that one can spend the whole day walking.
It’s hard to miss Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Gordon Bunshaft’s modernist doughnut-shaped design stands out from the Smithsonian’s other traditional buildings along the National Mall. In front of the Hirshhorn, another attention-grabbing sight: a smiling boulder crushing a 1992 Dodge Spirit, Jimmie Durham’s whimsical 11,000-pound sculpture.
Credit for such head-turning acquisitions? Melissa Chiu, the museum’s executive director, who took the helm of the storied Smithsonian site in 2014. Since then, the Australian native has painted with a broad brush, bringing crowd-pleasing pieces like Durham’s but also Instagrammable immersive exhibitions by Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson and Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama.
Chiu recently spoke with us about her job—arguably one of the coolest in D.C.— how she plans to top recent shows and what she loves about her adopted city.
What’s the best part about your job?
It’s my great privilege to be able to communicate through exhibitions, to create programs that give voice to the most innovative and compelling artists from around the world.
The Hirshhorn recently showed works by Ragnar Kjartansson and Yayoi Kusama, which were huge hits. How are you going to top those exhibitions?
I encourage everyone not to miss our exhibitions by Ai Weiwei, Yoko Ono, Markus Lüpertz and Nicolas Party. They are very different artists, but each asks profound questions about our history and culture. After that, just wait and see!
Khartansson’s and Kusama’s works seem to show you have a playful spirit. How do you decide which artists to exhibit?
We’re always interested in artists who have something to say about the times in which we live. Sometimes this can have a playful approach—sometimes it has an entirely different sentiment.
Who’s your favorite artist, living or dead, and why?
I actually don’t have favorites. With each artist I encounter, I look for an individuality that pushes them to create with such conviction.
How would you describe D.C.’s art scene?
It’s very much an art scene defined by museums, especially national art museums—the National Gallery of Art—East and West buildings—the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Portrait Gallery, and of course the Hirshhorn, the national museum of modern art. But it also has this fascinating creative pulse that’s reflected in artist projects throughout the city.
As an Australian, what do you love about your adopted city, D.C.?
It’s a great place to live. The people are brilliant, and in the spring, there is no city more beautiful.
Can you recommend an off-the-beaten-path spot for great art in the city?
Transformer on P St. NW is an artist-run space, very much like where I started in Sydney. We collaborated with them to present a night of performance art on the Hirshhorn’s plaza, which was magical. Their gallery continues to surprise and delight.
Where are you going next, and what are you going to do there?
I’m going to Kassel, Germany, to see Documenta, a contemporary art exhibition that happens every five years and features experimental art.
If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would you be?
Chiang Mai, Thailand
For many Washingtonians, summer begins the moment their car tires touch the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. On the western side of the bridge lie reminders of work and school-year schedules. On the other end of the 4.3-mile span, the rural Eastern Shore beckons with sailboats, gracious Victorian homes and lazy vacation days, where the only pressing thing on the to-do list is deciding which seafood restaurant to try each day.
Although “Eastern Shore” can refer to a broad area encompassing several counties and the entire east side of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, my family and I focus on Talbot County—which was formally established in 1661—for a weekend day trip. There, just an hour-and-a-half drive from D.C., we can experience a microcosm of what makes the Eastern Shore a quintessential summer getaway.
Of course, a successful family trip involves some compromise. OK, a lot of compromise. I want to stop at the Saturday farmers market in the town of Easton, the commercial hub of Talbot—pronounced TALL-but—County. My husband would like nothing better than to nurse a cold craft beer at Eastern Shore Brewing in St. Michaels. My three kids—ages 11, 7 and 4—want to head directly to the water.
It’s a hot, humid day so we all eventually agree: water. We drive to St. Michaels, past cute boutiques along Talbot Street before reaching the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. At the dock of the waterside open-air site, we board a working skipjack, the H.M. Krentz, for a two-hour sail on the bay captained by Ed Farley.
Captain Farley has been harvesting oysters here during the fall/winter season for 45 years. A few years back, he also began offering leisure cruises during the summer tourist season.
With a dapper white moustache and an easygoing manner, he is a wealth of information about the history and current state of Chesapeake Bay oystering. You wouldn’t know it from the ubiquity of the crab on Maryland bumper stickers and logos, but oysters were the state’s claim to fame in the late 19th century and well into the mid-20th.
Farley explains that disease devastated the oyster beds in 1983. Thanks to harvest management, oyster reef restoration and disease prevention measures, the bivalves have made a comeback, but not yet to pre-1983 levels.
Back on land, we explore the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, which is full of hands-on exhibits and historic boats. We climb to the top of the 1879 lighthouse that used to sit in the Hooper Strait, and we peer into a stove pot to see the type of fare lighthouse keepers once ate—boiled potatoes and biscuits, by the looks of it. We pause to watch conservators restore an 1889 bugeye—a predecessor to the skipjack.
Lunch is at buzzing Ava’s Pizzeria, where I order a refreshing salad of arugula, goat cheese, strawberries and candied walnuts, and the kids share a thin-crust cheese pizza and a juicy chicken parmesan. Just down the street at 30-year-old Justine’s ice cream parlor, we sit on chairs on the sidewalk and lick scoops of mint chocolate chip, pistachio, caramel crunch and cookies n’ cream. Justine’s also whips up shakes in flavors from creamsicle to key lime. An employee comes out and gives us a bottle of water.
“It’s hot out today,” he explained. “We’re all family.”
I wonder, isn’t it time for some shopping yet? But the kids are adamant: more water, please, so we get back on the road toward the Oxford-Bellevue car ferry. Along the way, we stop at Rise Up Coffee Roasters, a drive-up kiosk in a strip mall parking lot offering strong espressos and smoothies.
As we pull onto the ferry for the 20-minute crossing of the Tred Avon River, I try to tell the kids that this may be America’s oldest privately owned ferry route. But they’re too busy jumping up and down in excitement that our minivan is actually on a boat. My youngest stands at the front of the ferry and does her best Jack-and-Rose-on-the-Titanic impression, arms spread out, wind whipping her curly hair. “My heart will go on!” she exclaims.
Oxford is another typically quiet and quaint Eastern Shore town with more cute stores I can’t browse through, including an indie bookshop—Mystery Loves Company Booksellers—and a new home store—Yacht and Home—as well as another classic ice cream shop, Scottish Highland Creamery. A new park trail is perfect for walking and biking.
In the end, we all agree that there’s only one way to conclude our Eastern Shore getaway: sitting by the bay eating seafood. We head back to St. Michaels, where we belly up to wooden picnic tables at Crab Claw. My husband and I dig into half a dozen blue crabs spiced with Old Bay, while the kids chow down on crab cakes, hush puppies and corn on the cob.
Yup, tastes like summer.
The man ahead of us on the brick sidewalk in downtown Annapolis sports a tricorn hat and knee breeches that scream early 1800s, not early 2000s. He’s a walking-tour guide, not a time traveler, an apt reminder of the long and colorful history of this small city by the Chesapeake Bay, about 30 miles east of Washington, D.C.
The cornerstone for the domed State House building—open daily for tours—was laid in this Maryland capital city in 1772. The narrow streets radiating off it are lined with 18th- and 19th-century row houses, steepled churches and grand Georgian mansions, like the William Paca House & Garden.
On a recent morning, my husband, Cal and I began a day trip to this charmingly throwback waterfront town at Paca’s 1760s residence. One of four Maryland signers of the Declaration of Independence, Paca lived here in stately, brightly painted rooms and enjoyed a boxwood-filled garden. It seems easy to imagine Maryland’s third governor wandering over to the nearby State House or walking down to the bustling port, just two blocks south.
We follow in Paca’s footsteps after our visit to his home, trying to plug into more colonial history via a Four Centuries Walking Tour. Susan Brannigan, a lawyer and friend who lives here, loves taking guests on these jaunts, which—no surprise—are led by history buffs in either mob caps and gowns or tricorns and knee pants like the dude we encountered earlier.
“Annapolis is such a small, walkable town, so you learn a lot in an hour and a half,” she said.
Our ye olde-garbed guide fills us in on history—George Washington resigned his army commission at the State House in 1783—and a few ghosts before leading us over to the U.S. Naval Academy.
Founded in 1845, the 300-plus acre campus on the water holds both massive French-style granite dorms, impressive sporting fields and a museum stuffed with swords, medals and dozens of ship models, including some carved from animal bones. The highlight of our walk proves to be the U.S. Naval Chapel, a domed, light-filled 19th-century edifice with a crypt holding the remains of Revolutionary War naval hero John Paul Jones in a marble sarcophagus embellished with faux barnacles.
The academy itself also leads guided walking tours that are peppered with more in-depth peeks at the lives of the midshipmen or “middies,” aka the 4,000-plus men and women who attend college here. We learn they’re up at 6:30 am, have to commit to several hours of sports a day and must submit to frequent weigh-ins. Cal and I admire them—and spot a bunch of the white-uniformed students around campus—but fear we’re unqualified to go here.
Annapolis is also a boating and sailing center—just look at all those boats with names like Mofongo, Sally’s Folly and Sea Dream parked in the harbors. Options for getting out on the bay include kayaks and stand-up paddle boards for rent with Annapolis Canoe & Kayak and electric boats for hire via Annapolis Electric Boat Rentals.
“You get a new perspective on the city from the water,” said Electric Boat owner Greg Horne. “You see geese, ducks and Great Blue Heron and just make people on the shoreline wish they were with you.”
We decide to come back and pilot one of his 10-person boats later, but book a sunset cruise for the end of the day on the Schooner Woodwind.
Our boat trip doesn’t set sail for several hours, and Cal and I are starving. At the beachy-cool Harvest Wood Grill + Tap, we tuck into fried oysters and local beers, including the hoppy, fizzy Flying Dog Bloodline. It’s fuel for a bit of shopping at the quirky boutiques of Main Street and around the City Dock.
We browse locally designed, colorful leather handbags at Hobo, visit Re-Sails for pouches and totes made from recycled boat sails and check out used-tome dealer Back Creek Books. In the dimly lit, library-like calm of the latter, we uncover vintage Naval Academy posters and a 1929 book on whaling ships.
Before our sail, Cal and I head to the bustling Pusser’s Caribbean Grille, where we sip potent Painkillers—rum, juices and cream of coconut—and soak in the sun and the views of boats on the rippling water.
“Do you think we could learn to sail?” Cal asks as a tall sloop idles by.
Maybe that’s for our next trip. But to close out this day, Cal and I board the 74-foot-long Woodwind and pretend that it’s ours and that the friendly sailors are our personal staff. With beers in our hands and wind in our hair, we glide forward into the Chesapeake as the tangerine sun dips into the blue.
“Some nights they have races, and it’s always cool to help raise the sails,” Susan had told us earlier. “I go on the Woodwind so often I think they know my name!”
Soon, they might learn mine, too.