We’re inside DC’s Blagden Alley, which is what I imagine Knockturn Alley would look like if the wizard’s wands expelled beams of paint instead of spells. We pass a towering mural of Erykah Badu before being greeted by a massive rainbow love mural sprawled across five garage doors.
“Holy crap, it keeps going! This place is so cool!!”
Samra nods in agreement. “I’m shook. This is unreal.”
Samra is from Indiana, and I’m from Texas, so our knowledge of the nation's capital is pretty limited. Passing by pastel-colored row houses, street art, record stores, mom-and-pop shops, joggers (so many joggers), and genuinely happy non-suit-wearing people, we’re flabbergasted at how vibrant and unique every person and place is.
Before arriving this weekend, we wanted to broaden our view of DC, stopping to soak in all the art, culture, food, and history. We did some research and dove headfirst into some videos to get an idea of what the vibe of the city was. We were ready. Our plans were inspired and ambitious: to visit as many cool restaurants, bars, museums, murals, and whatever else we could in just three short days.
Walking through neighborhoods like U Street, Adams Morgan, or NoMa, you’ll likely pass by an Ethiopian, Thai, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Mediterranean, and American restaurant in less than a mile. DC is the proud home of people from all over the world, and the international influence is evident in its colorful culinary scene.
Brothers and Sisters | 1770 Euclid Street NW
Clark: From here on out, I will only accept soup of any form in a hollowed-out loaf of bread. The chicken chowder tasted just as a good as it looked. Like high fashion, but make it comfort food.
Samra: I think my favorite dish was the oyster with uni. The textures and flavors were a match made in heaven.
Espita Mezcaleria | 1250 9th Street NW
Clark: I could eat an entire plate of their tamales and be happy. When they told me it was vegan, I wanted to give a standing ovation. For drinks, I highly recommend getting the Mayahuel, their take on a margarita.
Samra: This was my first time having mezcal, and throwing back a shot of it knocked me out and then brought me back to life. The dish that did it for me was the tlayuda de arrachera; the sirloin was juicy and delicious, and the salsa was just the right amount of heat.
Spoken English | 1770 Euclid Street NW
Clark: If you’re trying to impress a date, this is the place. The chicken yakitori was *kisses fingers like an Italian chef*.
Samra: The hip-hop music in there really set a vibe. I loved the fact that you eat at standing tables and get to watch the chefs work their magic. My favorite dish was the durian curry, which was spicy and gingery and really opened up my sinuses.
Dolcezza | 99 District Square SW
Clark: Texas, please don’t be mad, but I think Dolcezza at The Wharf — one of DC’s killer waterfront hot spots — is the winner for best honey butter chicken biscuit. I’m gonna dream of this biscuit for the rest of my life.
Samra: The breakfast croissant was A+, and they had some top-notch cold brew. Everything was from scratch and tasted like it was made with love.
Keren | 1780 Florida Avenue NW
Samra: So I’m Ethiopian, and since there are more Ethiopians and Eritreans in DC than anywhere else in America, you know I had to make sure we stopped for some injera. We went for beef tibs and Keren’s veggie sampler, and by the end of the meal we were all stuffed and happy. The food and our spiced shai (tea) were great, and for such a reasonable price! *cries in New Yorker*
Clark: I loved the communal and intuitive feel of using injera to pick up your food from the shared plate. 12/10 would pick again.
Ben’s Chili Bowl | 1213 U Street NW
Samra: History + chili = a yes for me, dawg. Ben’s Chili Bowl served as one of the very few places where civil rights activists could congregate and recharge, and to sit and eat in what was once a sort of safe haven for them is kind of mind-boggling.
Clark: I had a Ben's half-smoke, think an extra plump hot dog, with chili, and my life is better for it. But what sold me was seeing the owner, Mrs. Virginia Ali, still flipping burgers in between talking and taking photos with the patrons. Go, Mrs. Ali, go!!
Amsterdam Falafelshop | 1830 14th Street NW
Clark: If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s bound to want some milk. If you give a drunk Clark a toppings bar, he’s bound to want it all. And I showed no restraint. The pita was the perfect late-night bite.
Samra: I was also really into the fact that you assemble everything yourself, which meant I didn’t have to insist to a server that I really did want that much spice on my falafel.
Farmers Fishers Bakers | 3000 K Street NW
Clark: I’ve found my new summer salad staple, and it’s the watermelon caprese carpaccio.
Samra: This spot has such a bright, sunny ambience. I’d go back for the scallops over risotto and one of their cold-pressed juices, which they make in-house!
Union Market | 1309 5th Street NE
Clark: The pickle lover in me was living for the Bloody Mary mix from Salt & Sundry, a super-cute local shop. For food, the salmon donburi bowl was the perfect mix of colorful veggies and fish and got two thumbs way up.
Samra: Rappahannock Oyster Bar is really doing something with their oyster po’ boy. It was so fresh and lovingly seasoned. B. Doughnut served up some pretty pastries. I love anything lemon-flavored, and their vegan lemon doughnut was the perfect balance of sweet and tart.
You wouldn’t think a city with pristine government buildings would be rich with beautiful street murals, but if you look closely, you’ll find murals and art scattered in all the nooks and crannies of the city. Street artists utilize the public spaces to make social and political commentaries and pay homage to the city’s unique culture and history.
Speakeasies, pop-up bars, beer gardens, distilleries, breweries, rooftop bars — you name it, DC’s got it. It was hard to narrow our list, but we had to make time to indulge in some impressive DC cocktails and craft beers.
A Rake’s Progress | 1770 Euclid Street NW
Clark: To make the Warms You Twice cocktail here, the bartender lifts a glass filled with smoke from a charred wood block before pouring the drink. This extra level of smokiness seemed to amplify every flavor the bourbon pulled in from the cask it was created in.
Samra: The one with fruit, herbs, and a big ol’ slice of cucumber was super refreshing and definitely counted as a serving of fruits and veggies.
Top of the Gate | 2650 Virginia Avenue NW
Samra: Our timing was perfect! We got here just as the rain stopped and the clouds separated. This has to be the best spot to watch a gorgeous DC sunset over the Potomac.
Clark: We're on the roof of the Watergate Hotel, and from here you can see the Kennedy Center, Watergate Condos (hi, RBG!), Key Bridge, and a view so beautiful you’d think you were living in a Bierstadt painting, kinda like the rad one I saw at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM).
Buffalo & Bergen | 1309 5th Street NE
Clark: There are two things that New York does really well: Bloody Marys and bagels with lox. So when I heard Buffalo & Bergen had a Bloody with a lox everything bagel, I had to put it to the test. And you know what? It checked out.
District Distilling Co. | 1414 U Street NW
Clark: Distillers tend to focus on one spirit, but District Distilling flips the script, offering a variety of spirits. You could write it off as a lack of focus, but one sip and it’s evident they know exactly what they’re doing.
Samra: This would totally be my after-work drinks spot if I lived in DC, but it’s also great if you just want to scout a really cool, eclectic bar.
A beautiful thing about DC is the large offering of free museums. But what you might not expect to see at these historic museums are some of the most captivating contemporary works in the world. The Smithsonian Institution has a number of museums and galleries — including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Renwick Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Gallery, and the National Portrait Gallery — where you can find amazing contemporary artworks. We decided to get a little weird and check out No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man at Renwick Gallery and then killed two birds with one stone by visiting two museums in one building: the National Portrait Gallery and the SAAM.
The National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum | 8th & F Streets NW
Samra: I was stoked to go in the National Portrait Gallery. I’ve always wanted to see a Kehinde Wiley up close, and I couldn’t believe how vivid and detailed President Obama’s portrait is. I actually almost shrieked when we entered the Contemporary wing of Smithsonian American Art Museum and I stumbled upon Basquiat’s Untitled, which I’ve always wanted to see IRL!
Clark: Fun fact: Basquiat is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, which is right next to my house. For me, I really loved the technicolor neon map of America that was positioned over TVs playing video clips representative of each state, like rodeos from Texas.
Renwick Gallery | 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Clark: Burning Man has been on my bucket list for years. I love the creativity, freedom of expression, and trade-and-barter system Black Rock is built upon. The exhibit No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man at Renwick had a beautiful representation of the buildings, outfits, art cars, and other large-scale installations that pop up in the desert each year.
Samra: The Burning Man exhibit was one of the coolest museum exhibitions I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to way too many museums. It was a combination of whimsical, radical, and haunting. I marveled for ages at all of the costumes and jewelry, but I think my favorite piece was Marco Cochrane’s massive "Truth Is Beauty" stainless-steel sculpture. I was totally dazed by it.
You can thank DC for artists like Marvin Gaye, Duke Ellington, Ginuwine, Fugazi, and Thievery Corporation. There are plenty of record stores to get your vinyl fix, music venues to see your favorite bands, or establishments like the Kennedy Center for a more classical experience. There’s no shortage of ways to tap your toes to the beat of DC.
9:30 Club | 815 V Street NW
Samra: This is my favorite kind of venue: spacious, casual, and dark enough for you to ugly-cry while watching your favorite artists. Foreign Air definitely electrified the place. It’s always a relief to find out a band is good live!
Clark: I’ve been following Foreign Air for a while, and I was stoked to see the DC band play in their hometown opening for Bishop Briggs. The show was sold out, but the 1,200-capacity venue felt spacious, with plenty of room to writhe about without spilling someone’s drink.
Som Records | 1843 14th Street NW
Clark: I got major High Fidelity vibes walking down the stairs into Som Records. DC was such a staple in growing the DIY punk scene and inspiring bands like Nirvana (Dave Grohl grew up outside of DC and owns a venue in DC called The Black Cat), so I was stoked to see they had a record from DC punk band Bad Brains.
Samra: Som is the best kind of record store: an indie, underground spot that has obscure bossa nova records, gems from local artists, and everything in between. I spotted albums by a few DC rappers I’m into, like GoldLink and Oddisee.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts | 2700 F Street NW
Clark: The Kennedy Center is a work of art; both the glow of the yellow lights and the red carpet have this enchanting feeling as you walk toward the concert hall.
Samra: Christylez Bacon is way too talented. I knew I was experiencing something magical while watching him beatbox, and seeing him perform in such a massive, iconic venue alongside the freaking NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA was truly beautiful and everything that’s good about DC.
Limiting your opinion of DC to politics is like using only 10% of your brain. Outside of the National Mall, there is so much beautiful art, food, music, and history to discover. All of DC’s eight wards offer some fascinating and unique world for you to explore, each turn a new discovery and experience to broaden your horizons. You can’t put DC in a box, and there is still so much that we want to discover. Road trip 2019?!
What are some of your favorite things you’ve discovered in DC? What can’t you wait to discover? There’s so much waiting for you; all you have to do is look for it.
Photographs by Sarah Stone / Illustrations by Laura Hoerner /© BuzzFeed