This past weekend I spent my birthday in Washington, D.C. with friends. Originally we went for a teacher’s march, but the date was changed, so we still decided to go for a weekend getaway. I have been there twice, but each time it feels a little different and this trip helped me to define community. Here are the highlights and a few key pieces of advice if you are trying to travel on a budget.
We drove through the night Thursday and arrived at 9am Friday morning. This was the perfect time to refresh and get to the city. We parked at our hotel in Maryland, then found the closest Metro Station. It was only about a fifteen minute walk there. Immediately we put twenty on a card and were on our way to the first stop: Smithsonian. At 6:30am that morning we had scored tickets to the African American National Museum. If you check the website they are “sold out” through October, but often you can secure a free time pass if you get online right at 6:30am. It is a free museum but you must have a ticket or time pass to enter.
Just prior to our museum entry we had lunch at a sandwich shop. On the way back we passed a farmer’s market only open on Fridays at lunch. It would have been a perfect treat. It is the Reagan Courtyard and good to keep in mind since the food trucks only seemed to line up there on weekends.
The museum was powerful. We waited in line for Emmett Till’s Memorial so I would suggest heading there first. It is on the second floor. The staff advises you to work your way up through time, but I would go get in line to pay your respects to Emmett Till first. Architecturally it is a beautiful building for such a tragic history.
We decided to decompress and check in to the hotel after the museum. Then we went to Hamilton’s Bar and Grill (not to be confused with the classy and expensive Hamilton’s downtown) and I had a few too many birthday drinks. Hamilton’s Bar and Grill is super cheap and smells like a frat house. It was the kind of place you’d meet girls from Ohio and play a drinking game at the table. Next door was an English pub, The Alibi, perfect for a cheap Scotch Egg or Beef Wellington appetizer to soak up some of that alcohol. Since we hadn’t slept yet, we got an Uber and crashed.
Today would be full of art. We had time passes secured for the Holocaust Museum ($1 online), but decided to hit up breakfast downstairs with the Sons of Solomon biker club that took up our entire hotel first. It was their annual gathering. After eating we hopped the Metro to Blind Whino, otherwise known as the DC Painted Church. Inside is a free gallery and performing arts stage. There is no easy way to get to the church, so trust your map. We took pictures and made art, then used lyft to get us to the Holocaust Museum.
I had never been to this one, only the one in Bloomfield Hills. They are set up similarly, but nothing really prepares you for the depth of death you encounter. It was pretty emotional adding on that I still hadn’t fully processed yesterday’s museum experience either. After the museum we decided to hit up a recommended restaurant, Busboys and Poets, named after Langton Hughes. The story goes he was a busboy and left poetry at a table for a poet, then the next day he saw his work in the paper! When we walked in a couple was getting wrist tags so I asked what was going on. Best timing ever: we could attend an open mic for $5. It was to help the National DC Youth poetry slam team to their next competition Brave New Voices. While I cannot share video because they are competing nationally with the poems we heard, all I can say is I was inspired. It was the best $5 I have ever spent.
Bathroom breaks can be tricky in DC, so we hit up Capitol City Brewery for a flight and restroom. Three of us shared a flight for $8.50 and I received a sample for my birthday free of charge. The complimentary Bavarian pretzels and spicy ranch dip were an added bonus for this impulsive stop.
Getting back to the room a little later than we expected, only two of us went out for the night, but once again, opted for local joints rather than tourist traps. We took the train back to the city and explored a little place called Showtime. Our friend recommended this spot and she met up with us there later. It was super cheap ($3 Natty Boh), had a funky disco DJ, and some amazing people watching. Granny wasn’t performing, but it wasn’t Sunday night either so we made due. We even ran into a guy there that runs the Crim each summer!
We had to switch hotels this day, but it was not troublesome. We even were able to check into the W downtown three hours prior to our check in time! It was beautiful; the decor was modern and full of painted lego originals as well as a Nixon graffiti bar.
We had been waiting for this day the entire summer…it was the day we would attend the Game of Thrones pop up bar. We took the metro to the Howard University area, walked a few blocks, and saw it: the line. It was not as bad as I imagined so I was happy. We only had about a half hour until it opened and the lady in front of us was sure we would be getting in (they only allow 70 and then it is come and go). Also, if you’re a Fed you and your girl get to cut the line so there’s that.
The bar is unmarked-in fact, it is three bars that are owned by the same dude and he rented them out to this place called the Drink Company that puts on these Pop Up events all over. We waited for close to two hours with like minded fans which actually wasn’t terrible, and finally entered. Red leaves and a lone white wolf near the bar adorn the the first room signaling that you have entered the House of Stark, fitting for the many fans of Ned to begin in this room. If you keep walking towards the back you enter Mereen with a fire breathing dragon. It is smaller back there and a bit smoky, so we kept exploring. The House of Black and White ruled by the many faced god (over by the bar there is spot for your own head where you can take pics) is the next room. Look carefully enough and you can spot your bartender’s cask on the wall. Through the hallway graffiti’d with “Kill the Masters” you enter the Red Keep where you can pledge allegiance to your house and get a picture with Ramsey Bolton’s flaying device or Theon’s weiners. The throne room is located here so Jon Snow and Khaleesi may be easier to find in this room than the others.
If you go, sign up for the text message service to get a picture on the throne. Our wait for the pic was 150 minutes estimate, but less than that real time. Go with 3-4 people so you can taste the full menu and get shamed with the Tequila grapefruit drink. We got through every drink but two. I had to switch to Bend the Knee beer so I wouldn’t fall asleep. Yell out “The North Remembers!” every so often and eat prior to going because there are only a few bar snacks for sale.
After GOT we were starving and Oohs and Ahs was within walking distance. It is a soul food place that has been featured on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. I shared a chicken meal and also got to taste the catfish. Let me tell you: it is worth the wait AND the price. It may seem expensive for diner food, but there is so much of it, you can’t go wrong. I would order the grits again (w/o cheese) and also the Mac n Cheese as side. The greens were good but too spicy for my belly. The corn bread was a disappointment as it was dry but the seasoning on that chicken and catfish made up for it!
We most definitely watched the premiere of GOT then walked upstairs to the roof to one of DC’s hottest bars: POV at the W. It is known for its expansive views of the city and reminded me of NYC aside from the fact that you are literally looking down into the western lawn of the White House. Bring your money and leave your telescopic lens at home so you don’t get questioned by angry FBI agents who are on the lookout for snipers. After a few rounds and pictures at the photo booth, we were ready for a walk.
The monuments at night is the best tip I could ever give for DC on a Dime. The atmosphere is sweeter and calmer than earlier in the day with tourists everywhere. The feeling at each spot is in itself, monumental. This impulsive walk was one of the best memories I have of this trip: most of the monument can be reached within a three mile radius of downtown. Beware the rats-trash cans are usually filled up and not dumped until later on in the wee hours of the morning so they skitter about like Michigan chipmunks.
Traveling always reinvigorates me. There is a sense of community I found in DC that was unexpected. In fact, the more I reflect, the more I realize we were welcomed with open arms into a teen writing community, our GOT fan community, the local bar community, the African American community, the Jewish community, and even reintroduced to CA community by meeting up with a former student. This by far was the highlight of our trip: to come to an understanding that although our country is deep in the midst of a political nightmare, the people here are as open and connected as ever, and that cannot be broken, or purchased.