The Getaway: Washington DC
Published 05/07/2015 | 02:30
Our reporter feels the 'Obama Effect' in Washington DC
Set the mood
After binging on box sets like House of Cards, Scandal and The West Wing, you may already feel familiar with Washington DC. Off screen and in real life, however, the US capital is a far sexier beast. There's the thrill of being in the midst of such political intrigue and momentous decision-making, of course - but in recent times, DC has moved from the preserve of politicos who departed Capitol Hill every Friday to a city with a whiff of cool. The capital's natives are calling this new influx of weekend visitors the 'Obama Effect'.
Glimpses of the 44th President of the United States are unlikely, but hang around the Dupont Circle Hotel (doylecollection.com; rooms from $135/€120) long enough and you're bound to be rewarded with some high-calibre celeb spotting. Nine-time Grammy Award winner John Legend performed there earlier this year, and the hotel frequently hosts celebrities on its Level Nine Floor - the ultimate in sleek urban design, with incredible views over the city and a bespoke VIP service.
Finding somewhere to eat in Washington is never going to be difficult, with upward of 1,000 restaurants to choose from. As you'd expect, there's a proliferation of fine dining options, but the casual end is in many ways just as impressive, not to mention a lot easier on the wallet. Ben's Chili Bowl (benschilibowl.com) on Union Street is something of a DC institution and home to one of the city's signature dishes - the half-smoke chilli dog, served in a bun with mustard, onions and lashings of home-made chilli sauce.
DC's bar scene is also lively. At the very dark and very cool speakeasy, The Gibson (thegibsondc.com) we deliberated over a list of hand-crafted cocktails before eventually settling on a classic Sazerac made from strong rye whiskey and bitters in a glass washed with absinthe (right).
Washington is a city to be explored on foot, or better still by bike. The Mall is a parkland stretching from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Hill building, and home to the various monuments that commemorate the heavyweights and wars that have come to define American history. Aaron Goldbeck, a guide with bikethesites.com, has developed a three-hour ride to take in the sites and views, without getting caught up in the crowds converging on the Mall. Goldbeck, an American history buff, also takes in the oft-overlooked Korean War - commemorated by a superbly designed depiction of a platoon of soldiers carved in stainless steel. He tells the poignant story of a Korean War veteran who took a bike tour and found his own photo etched into the Memorial Wall for the first time, 40 years after it was taken.
DC's Dulles Airport is a bit of a trek from the actual city. A taxi ride can cost $80/€70 before tip, so it's a good idea to plan your connection with a bus, or collection transfer. But it's a small complaint.
Get me there
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) now flies direct from Dublin to DC four times per week, with fares from €299 each-way, including taxes and charges. With a flight time of around 7.5 hours, it's perfect for a Friday-Monday US city break. A word of advice: winters can be harsh in DC, so time your visit for spring to autumn.
One of DC's best-kept culinary secrets is the cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian (nmai.si.edu). It's cafeteria food, but not as we know it, with a menu including grilled bison and salmon cooked over an open flame. Don't miss the fried bread dessert!