Washington D.C. On a Budget or a Bankroll
nation's capital brims with fancy restaurants and classy cocktail bars -
where else would you expect politicos and dignitaries to broker secret
alliances and schmooze into the wee hours? But Washington is not solely
the domain of high-end hangouts. The city teems with students, interns,
and low-level government employees with barely enough cash to buy a Big
Mac - you'll find budget-oriented eateries throughout the District. And
Washington's two most gay-popular neighborhoods, Capitol Hill and Dupont
Circle, have inviting hotels occupying both ends of the expense spectrum.
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Here are some of the best places in Washington to eat, sightsee, stay, and
socialize, whether you're traveling on a tight budget or you've got money
On a Budget
A surprising number of visitors don't realize it until they arrive, but
the dozen or so first-rate Washington venues that make up the world's
largest museum complex, the Smithsonian, charge no admission. You could
spend days exploring every floor of these repositories of art and
artifacts and never have to shell out a dime. See the actual kitchen of
Julia Child, transported here from her former home in Cambridge, Mass., at
the National Museum of American History. Or drop by the Hirshhorn Museum
and Sculpture Garden to view works by Georgia O'Keeffe and Andy Warhol.
Note: the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum are closed
for renovation through 2006; however, the American Art Museum continues to
mount exhibits and events at the Renwick Gallery, a 10-minute walk away.
When it's an affordable meal you're seeking, look no further than
Hamburger Mary's, the queer-as-a-three-dollar-bill West Coast restaurant
chain that opened its first East Coast branch in D.C. a couple of years
ago. This kicky burger joint a few blocks from Dupont Circle is popular
both for cocktails and inexpensive pub grub. Among the many gay eateries
along nearby 17th Street, the 24-hour Annie's Paramount Steak House serves
up some of the tastiest American chow in town. Weekend breakfast here is a
long-standing post-clubbing tradition. Soho Tea and Coffee is a queer
cyber cafe and java house on the ground floor of a bland apartment complex
near the P Street bar action; it has art exhibits, live music, and a sexy
Although it's not cheap as pizza parlors go, Dupont Circle's Pizzeria
Paradiso still offers an excellent value - and the pies here are simply to
die for. It can take forever to get a seat, but for serious pizza lovers,
the wait is no big deal. Just north in the funky Adams Morgan
neighborhood, you can count on delicious Middle Eastern fare at Mama
Ayesha's and hearty, authentic Ethiopian cooking at the long-running
Fasika's, where meals center around a spicy stew called _watt_.
Popular for its upstairs piano bar, Banana Cafe and Piano Bar is one of
the most festive gay haunts on Capitol Hill. Reasonably priced steaks,
lime-garlic chicken, and plantain soup are among the Latin American
specialties - save rooms for one of the exotic flans (maybe passion fruit
or coconut). Mr. Henry's, a Capitol Hill pub with one of the best
(antique) jukeboxes in town, has long been a friend to Washington's
lesbian and gay community. The place is famous for its hefty burgers.
Upstairs is a smoke-free cabaret with a mix of piano, jazz, and folk acts
- it's where Roberta Flack got her start.
One of the best budget lodging options in D.C., the William Lewis House
comprises a pair of neighboring Victorian town houses in an up-and-coming
historic neighborhood not far from Dupont Circle. There are gracious
common rooms, off-street parking, and a pleasant yard with a deck, hot
tub, and fruit trees - it's a wonderful value. Also reasonably priced and
even nearer to Dupont Circle, the art deco Carlyle Suites is one of the
District's long-time gay faves. Rooms have a slightly dated appearance but
contain fully equipped kitchens and sitting areas, and there's a popular
lounge and restaurant on the ground floor.
Occupying three adjacent Victorian town houses, the eccentric Tabard Inn,
just south of Dupont Circle, has been around since the 1920s. Rooms
suggest the setting of a Gothic mystery novel, complete with one-of-a-kind
antiques, dark-wood paneling, charming bathroom fixtures, tile fireplaces,
and other quirky pieces. The equally old-fashioned and very romantic
restaurant serves inventive Continental cuisine.
On Capitol Hill, an 1893 mansion was converted into the European-style
Capitol Hill Guest House in the late '80s. The location is charming and
convenient, a short walk from Union Station, Capitol Hill's many
attractions, and a handful of gay bars. Rooms are simple but exude
character; each contains at least one furnishing from the house's days as
a residence of congressional pages - if only these walls could talk. And
then there's the fancy Loews L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, where rooms generally
run for well over $200 nightly; however, the Loews also lets out a number
of cozy "parlour" rooms fitted with a double sleeper sofa rather than a
standard bed. Often costing less than $100 nightly, these units are a
steal when you consider this hotel's sparkling service, elegant decor, and
location near the National Mall.
On a Bankroll
Of course, you'll find plenty of deluxe hotels in Washington, where it's
easy to spend a princely sum. Traditionalists often opt for one of the
capital's famous grandes dames, such as the 1925 Renaissance Mayflower
Hotel, which has hosted a steady stream of presidents and foreign
dignitaries. Or, just off Dupont Circle, occupying the former apartment
building in which Al Gore spent his childhood, the 1927 Westin Embassy Row
could not be more inviting, with its lavish guest rooms decked in brocade
draperies and French country reproduction antiques.
Just a short walk from the gay-bar action, the gay-friendly, San
Francisco-based hotel chain Kimpton has opened the super-trendy Topaz
Hotel, a sleek boutique property with cushy, whimsically furnished rooms.
New Age-y types love the "yoga rooms," outfitted with meditation mats and
yoga-conducive CDs and videotapes. Just try to adopt a Zen attitude when
you're presented with the bill - these rooms cost a cool $250 per night.
This is one of five properties Kimpton has opened in Washington over the
past two years, including the glam Hotel Rouge, the hipster-infested Hotel
Madera, and the surreal Hotel Helix, all of which are near Dupont Circle.
Of the many high-ticket gay-friendly eateries around Dupont Circle,
Obelisk, owned by the same folks who run Pizzeria Paradiso, may just be
the best. The setting is sleek and austere, the beautifully prepared
northern Italian fare mouthwatering. Also stellar is Vidalia, a
contemporary take on down-home Southern cooking, where you might sample
such delicacies as shrimp-and-grits with caramelized onions and fresh
thyme. Not too far north, Palena is helmed by head chef Frank Ruta and
pastry wizard Ann Amernick, two of the most heralded kitchen names in
metro Washington. Book well ahead for a chance to sample Atlantic halibut
pan-roasted with baby fennel-and-tomato confit, and save room for the
chocolate-toffee torte with chocolate ganache.
Bill Clinton and the senior George Bush have one thing in common: they've
both dined amid the barbed wire and lizards in the extravagantly decorated
faux adobe restaurant Red Sage, the Capitol Hill home of Santa Fe chef
Mark Miller. Grilled elk loin topped with dried fruit and served over a
fricassee of mushrooms, turnips, and zucchini is a favorite dish here. Two
Quail, occupying three romantic town houses in Capitol Hill, has long been
one of the city's better-regarded gay-friendly eateries, owing to its
eclectic Continental and American cuisine - try the filet mignon stuffed
with Maytag blue cheese and applewood-smoked bacon. It's a wonderfully
atmospheric place to celebrate that very special occasion.