Washington DC: Kick back

By James Henderson

The capital has unique attractions and only some of them are rich and powerful, writes James Henderson.
Andrew Jackson. Photo / 123RF
Andrew Jackson. Photo / 123RF

Enclosed by French doors yet built upon Italian Renaissance architecture, the unique space which sits atop of The Hay-Adams Hotel paints the American capital with a different brush - a brush dipped in prestige, dabbed in history and stroked with irony.

In Washington DC you're either a lawyer or a lobbyist, somewhat bereft of that certain razzmatazz that continually lures visitors into the stylish clutches of neighbouring New York.

Yet from this rooftop, where nothing is overlooked but the White House, the city-state banishes the stuffy stereotypes of a core government residence.

Surrounded by President Barack Obama's backyard below, in a hotel where unparalleled panoramic views of downtown Washington are the rule, not the exception, the sight of suited delegates scuttling to nearby airports in search of a galvanising finale to an otherwise uninspiring junket casts a disappointing shadow over a proud society.

For the closing keynote speech should not be the curtain call on your time in this misunderstood city.

Staring out into Lafayette Park from the large windows while eating breakfast, a whispering voice broke the otherwise quiet luxury of breakfast; "If you sit there long enough you'll no doubt see President Obama nip out to grab a burger," uttered the informed waiter.

The casualness of the comment, despite the seriousness of the subject matter, suggests that for first-time weekenders, compiling to Official Washington protocol is by no means compulsory.

Miss the magnitude of museums if you must, but do visit neighbourhoods such as Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, Georgetown et al, suburbs which are abuzz with restaurants, bars and boutiques.

President Barack Obama. Photo / AP
President Barack Obama. Photo / AP


With more than 1200 new residents moving back to the district each month, the returning young are now dining on the waterfront harbour, where the city's historic monuments glisten in the Potomac River, shopping in the high-end malls and socialising among the collegiate nightlife.

Whereas many DC neighbourhoods unforgettably blend into the next, Georgetown reigns as the chief flag-bearer of the revitalised city, catering to the zestful in a way previously alien to Washington districts.

An area best explored by foot, an evening of tasting Tony & Joe's local Maryland Style Crab Cakes was topped only by a relaxing stroll along the promenade, where the nation's iconic scenery took its place behind the picturesque plaza fountain - illuminating landmarks such as the Kennedy Centre, Watergate and Key Bridge.

For those conference veterans growing tired of al fresco dining, leave the smart casual attire in the hotel room and instead pitch up at Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals baseball side.

It is no doubt akin to American tourists taking in an All Blacks game as a mark of respect in New Zealand and in the States baseball stirs the ghosts of youth in equal measure.

Alluding to the "you only get out what you put in" line of thinking, when at Nationals Park do buy the best seats in the house, do buy the baseball cap and do shout across rows for more beer - this, remember, is the land of the free.

Stepping away from sports and back into the Washington night however, a trip to the capital is lost without a visit to Off the Record bar, locally known as the "place to be seen and not heard".

Entrenched below The Hay-Adams foyer, the cosy underground bar is a regular haunt for the rich, famous and political elite, yet stands tall as a social spot for locals and hotel guests to relax around caricatures of Washington's most well-known bureaucrats.

A spot that has proved favourable for the First Lady since the family stayed at the hotel prior to President Obama's inauguration in January 2009, Off the Record encapsulates a new-found trendiness in Washington, a trendiness primarily associated with the Big Apple up north.

With landmarks aplenty, DC as a tourism destination is unmatched across most of America. Yet for those seeking a swan-song following days of black ties and red tape don't feel obliged to hail that airport-bound cab, instead transform from business to casual and enjoy Washington for what it is, a truly captivating city.

CHECKLIST

Getting there
American Airlines flies daily from Auckland to Washington DC, with Economy return tickets from $2,466.

Accommodation

The Hay-Adams has amazing views.

- NZ Herald

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