Wax presidents gather for a photo op at the Willard Hotel. (Courtesy Madame Tussauds)
Visitors to the capital may not glimpse the chief executive himself, except perhaps on Inauguration Day or through the window of his black sedan, aka “The Beast.” But there are plenty of ways to “encounter” presidents, especially those of the past. Follow our lead as we go beyond the more obvious monuments and memorials on a citywide quest for POTUS.
Meet All 45
At the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, find an official (idealized) oil-on-canvas likeness of every president, plus Abraham Lincoln’s actual (hyper-realist) life masks. At Madame Tussauds, true-to-size wax figures present opportunities for up-close selfies and even hugs. Joining the wax party this month: Donald Trump.
Pay a House Call
In the Kalorama neighborhood sits The President Woodrow Wilson House, a 1920s time capsule with portraits, state gifts, family furnishings, campaign buttons and period apparel. Head to the city’s northern edge to visit President Lincoln’s Cottage, a restored Victorian-style manse where he retreated from the city and drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. In Virginia, George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, its columned main house, outbuildings, tomb and gardens now complemented by a high-tech visitors center, tells stories of the man himself, his times and the lives of slaves. See his dress sword, his battlefield bed and even his fabled dentures made, in fact, of human, cow and horse teeth, plus ivory, silver and lead.
Hang with Founding Fathers
At National Archives, a grand rotunda displays the Declaration of Independence, signed by two future presidents (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson) but not Washington, who was away at war—and becoming a spymaster. See evidence at the International Spy Museum, which showcases a letter he wrote in 1777 to Nathaniel Sackett, enlisting his help in an espionage ring against British invaders.
Enter Dramatic Scenes
At the Kennedy Center, the Grand Foyer of the performing arts venue/memorial is anchored by a massive, roughly sculpted head of the fallen president, while at Ford’s Theatre, the box seat where Lincoln was assassinated remains intact. On the lower level, there’s now a museum devoted to that chilling event.
Dine in the Spirit
Channel JFK at Martin’s Tavern (est. 1933) with a booth where the then-Georgetown resident proposed to Jackie, plus seats that held Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. Near Dupont Circle, Teddy & the Bully Bar honors the first Roosevelt with faux taxidermy heads and a wall paved in mini Mount Rushmores. In Shaw, Declaration—fittingly 1776-square-feet for food and drink—pays tribute to the 13 original colony leaders like Jefferson, who has a wall of nickels and a namesake pizza (think Virginia ham).
Toast the Tenures
In the Willard Hotel’s Round Robin Bar, master bartender Jim Hewes concocts a drink per the eras of all 44 presidents and the actual faves of some, like John Tyler’s mint julep and George Washington’s Jack Rose cocktail, plus nonalcoholic potions for teetotalers Jimmy Carter and Rutherford B. Hayes.
And No. 44?
The Obamas depart Jan. 20, 2017, for a vacation, no doubt in Hawaii, but return soon for their new life in the capital. For daughter Sasha’s remaining years at Sidwell Friends School, they are renting an eight-bedroom mansion in the Kalorama neighborhood. No word yet on how mother and father will spend their days or make an impact on the city. In the meantime, however, President Obama said, “I’ll be on a beach somewhere, drinking out of a coconut.”