Let’s Start The Winter Classic Proper, Shall We?
Soon, the hockey world will descend on our quaint little hometown of Washington, DC: America’s least favorite theme park. Or as JFK once described it, “a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” As 25 year residents of the city, we’re here to provide that charm. Consider us your 2015 Winter Classic Welcome Wagon.
Although visitors come in for the big game, they may find themselves with some extra time to explore some of the city’s sites, dining, entertainment and cultural venues. We’re doing this in part because the official DC visitors’ organization, Destination DC, doesn’t appear up to the task. Their Winter Classic page is meager; the only event site they offer is a link to Stubhub (SRO from $129), which is basically saying, “Good luck, suckers.” Their bigger sin however, was not returning our emails.
We’ve made a career out of writing how 29 other NHL cities smell or have ugly people, or in many cases, smelly, ugly people. DC certainly deserves every disparaging barb that can be hurled at it and we’re more than happy to pile on. Like many fossils in this town, we look back wistfully to a time when this city functioned, had ample street parking, nabes had vibes instead of BIDs and true giants roamed the marbled corridors at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue – not these punk-ass bitches who look like they came out of a central casting call for punk-ass bitches.
It’s a cliché, but Washington is Hollywood for ugly people. It’s cliché for a reason; it’s true. Stick around after the Winter Classic and take a stroll around Capitol Hill or the soul crushing canyons of K Street on a busy workday, and you’ll know what we suffer through. Those shambling cadavers you see are not extras from the Walking Dead; we call them lobbyists. How bad is DC? Even Wyshynski fled.
But when planned wisely, a weekend in DC can be a pretty fulfilling and rewarding way to…visit your squandered tax dollars. Given the spread and diversity of this sleepy southern town, we’re going to publish these visitor guides by geography. First up, our ‘hood, 14th an U Streets, then later this week, H Street, Barracks Row, and Northern Virginia (if you insist on doing this trip on the cheap and want a horrible experience).
First things first, you can’t get there from here: Navigating DC
If you’re driving to DC for the game, park your car at the hotel and leave it. DO NOT DRIVE IN OUR CITY, TOURIST!
DC was laid out by a guy named Pierre L’Enfant in the 18th Century and the street grid makes no sense to anyone who isn’t a 250 year old French civil engineer. So unless you’re driving a four-in-hand or being squired around in a Hansom, STAY OFF THE STREETS. Number streets run north-south, letter streets run east-west, and Avenues named after states spiral out from un-navigable traffic circles. You will get hopelessly lost, ticketed, booted, or towed. Paid parking is pretty steep, too, but you have alternatives, and many of them safe.
MetroRail: Nats Park is conveniently located on Metro’s Green line, and the station is mere steps from the stadium entrance. Metro also serves just about any neighborhood you’d want to get to during Classic weekend and probably your crappy hotel, too.
Depending on the day, service begins at 5:00am and runs until the wee hours. It’s quiet, a clean system and very safe. That’s the good news. The bad news is that our 40 year old subway system is a bit creaky. Two major lines were shut down just last week due to a water main rupture that flooded several downtown stations. Delays happen often and expect very crowded cars getting to the Stadium on New Year’s Day. Metro may throttle back to a holiday schedule that day and wait times could be long. Be smart, get SmarTrip card and load it up with shekels to cover you for the weekend, so you don’t have to dick around with paper farecards that charge a $1 premium per ride.
Metro tips: Don’t stand around like an idiot looking at the FareCard machines, trying to figure out how they work.
The instructions are in hieroglyphics so ask a friendly local like ourselves to interpret and walk you through the steps. We may steal your wallet so keep an eye on your belongings. When riding the escalators – that are sometimes known to work – do not stand at the top or bottom of them. You risk being trampled, sworn at, or run like Milan Lucic did to Ryan Miller. When you get on a train car, don’t crowd around the doors like a pylon hoping to be first off. That’s what fat ass, self-important lobbyists do when they’re late for a meeting on the Hill with some jerkwad senator to plead for a tax break for some greedy gazillionaire, who probably owns your favorite NHL team.
Taxis: Back in the day, under the zone system of fares, just about any cabbie would rip you off. Taxis are now on meters here, so unscrupulous hacks can’t pull fast ones anymore.
They even take credit cards now. The cabbies are pretty much OK, many even know where they’re going and it’s easy to hail them on the street. Expect the unmistakable aroma of carbon monoxide wafting up through the floorboards in many of DC’s cabs because motor vehicle inspections are merely suggestions to these guys. So is cleaning filth off the backseats. So is speaking English. If he asks you to get in the trunk, just do what he says.
Uber: Don’t use Uber. They’re evil. And it may end poorly.
Biking: If the weather permits, DC is a great bike town with plenty of bike share locations all across the city, including Nats Park. But since we’re expecting near-freezing temps, screw that; save the biking for your springtime visit to DC – WHEN THE CAPS ARE GOING DEEP IN THE PLAYOFFS!
Dining and Entertainment at 14th & U
Our ‘hood is home to dozens of restaurants, clubs and bars, some that we actually patronize.
First, a little history: 14th & U was the ignition point of the 1968 riots after the MLK assassination and the once famed Black Broadway fell on hard times. Riot-scorched blocks, white flight, heroin then crack made this area a pretty rough place for decades. After years of transition and gentrification (not all of it positive), it’s one of DC’s premiere dining and entertainment destinations. We’ve been here since 1988 and have seen the evolution up close. The definitive guide to the area is here, but in the interest of space, and your budget, we’ll share some of our favorites, all located steps of the U Street station on Metro’s Green Line.
A Gay Sports Bar? Nellie’s Sports Bar (900 U Street, NW) at the corner of 9th and U, delivers what it promises. It’s like a typical sports bar but the guys are cuter. A lot cuter and in better shape. But it’s not just gymbots; there are plenty of women, too…lesbians, yes, but plenty straight ones, as well. It gets a very mixed crowd and has a good vibe. Nellie’s is our go-to venue when we host Caps watch parties. There are plenty of big TVs, a good menu, and seen here, the bartenders will treat your right. We’re hoping they screen USA v. Canada WJC on New Year’s Eve.
Are Tacos Sandwiches? There are four choices for taco joints in the ‘hood, a few of them are stupid expensive, and we’ll never go to, but two are cheap and authentic. Chilango (1119 V Street, NW) offers exactly two items on the menu: tacos and guac. They prepare both expertly and for mere pesos. What sets Chilango apart is that it’s authentic Mexican. Many of the Latin restaurants in DC are run by Central Americans, and while hearty fare, it’s rare to come across one similar to a southern California taqueria.Located in a narrow townhouse, there are only a few tables and a small outdoor patio. We can’t say enough about this place.
Pica Taco (1406 Florida Avenue, NW), on the other hand seems more Salvadoran than Mexican. The menu, comidas typicas, is much more varied and you’ll find traditional fare including burritos, enchiladas, the usual. Get the Burrito Supreme or fish tacos. Exit stuffed.
A Bon Chat, Bon Rat: According to old-timers, there wasn’t a French restaurant in DC until Jack and Jackie got here. The ‘hood is now represented by two of them; one you can get into if your name is Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, John Kerry or Newt Gingrich, and one for the rest of us.
Le Diplomate (1601 14th Street) is where the street elite meet to eat meat, and while it’s a stunning place, a virtual replica of a Parisian brasserie, it’s tough to get a table and it’s G-d awful expensive. When we want a hearty cassoulet, boeuf bourguignon, a rare onglet or a steamy, fragrant pile of moules, we opt for Bistro La Bonne (1340 U Street, NW). La Bonne has a nice affordable wine list, a great room and friendly service, sans attitude. LOVE this place.
Follow The Tour Buses: Ben’s Chili Bowl (1213 U Street, NW) is an institution. In business since 1958, Ben’s stuck it out during the tough years. It’s now known internationally and is pretty much mobbed night and day..Thanks, Obama! Tourists stand in front of the joint posing for pictures. The dogs are just OK, but the house specialty is the Half Smoke, a hot dog/sausage hybrid, native to DC. We opt for the cheeseburger sub: onions plus chili. The sign over the register at says only two guys eat at Ben’s for free, Obama and Bill Cosby. Both are neck and neck in approval ratings.
DC Pizza Sucks: So true, so very true, but Chicago pizza cake is worse. There are two pizza spots on U Street that do it right. Italian Kitchen on U (1110 U Street, NW) serves the best approximation of New York pizza in the area. We went for years without a pizza by the slice joint and it’s a welcome addition. Down the street, & Pizza (125o U Street, NW) is the spot to go for something a little more fancy, free range and organic. Hipsters flock there and despite that, they do a decent job. Meat eaters should try the Maverick; the Backyard Garden is a pretty tasty vegetarian option. Arugula on a pizza? Yes, they make it work.
At all costs, avoid Jumbo Slice (1344 U Street, NW). We live across the alley from them and are too put off by their overflowing trash dumpsters to ever go inside. The only reason to go to Jumbo Slice is if you want to abuse yourself with a U Street Taco – A Ben’s Half Smoke wrapped inside a slice of their greasy pie. People actually do this.
Best Of The Rest: U Street Cafe (1301 U Street, NW), has the best breakfast in the area. They do a good lunch, too, and close down at 3:00pm. When we want a burger, fries and a beer, The Saloon (1207 U Street, NW) is the spot. Kami runs one of the friendliest places in the city and has a strict policy that keeps out the riff raff/hipsters – no standing, no TV’s no martinis.
Want soul food…authentic soul food? Oohs and Aahs (1005 U Street, NW) has some of the best BBQ ribs, wings, fried chicken, meatloaf, whiting & croakers in town. The sides of mac & cheese, string beans, yams, grits and cornbread are pure comfort food. Oohs and Aahs is what old U Street used to be like. Thank God it remains. Πού θα πάμε για το εξαιρετικό ελληνικό φαγητό? The Greek Spot (2017 11th Street, NW), of course. It’s a nice small cafe that serves up affordable and tasty items: spanakopita, souvlaki, pasticho, mousaka and gyros. Tell them Stavros sent you.
Decent Italian at Piola (2208 14th Street, NW) including their pizzas. DC is pretty weak on traditional red sauce Italian since AV Ristorante closed, so it’s nice having this cheap eats place in the ‘hood. We mentioned Salvadoran, Judy’s (2212 14th Street, NW) is the place to go if you want to eat like a campesino: ceviche, yuca con chicharron, and papusas are the best apps, for mains, try the carne asado, loma salteado or the bistec encebollado. Que sabror!
More ‘hood reviews to come. Have additional suggestions? Add them in the comments. Travel safe, enjoy our fine city, then please, get the hell out.