Where to Go When Hollywood Hits Washington
From West Coast to West Wing: The White House Correspondents' Dinner weekend is just one excuse during the year to sample the capital's best new hotels, shops, restaurants and theaters.
There are a few occasions when Hollywood feels a need to wing its way to Washington: to shoot or attend a premiere for a film or TV show with the District as a backdrop; to headline a rally or promote a cause; or to attend the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner -- the "nerd prom," in local parlance. But these days, parties and causes aren't the only draw for D.C. The city has upped its cool quotient, and the restaurant, hotel and cultural contingents have been flocking to the District, inspired by the most stylish couple to hit the White House since Jack and Jackie.
Plans were laid to open D.C.'s W (515 15th St. NW; from $399) long before Barack Obama won the 2008 Democratic nomination. But the hotel's chic decor by L.A. designer Dianna Wong (which brings to mind a rock 'n' roll Versailles by way of Sofia Coppola), its location blocks from the White House and an opening date during the first summer West Wing staffers were moving in guaranteed its status as the first power spot of the new guard. "I love the view of the Washington Monument from the P.O.V. rooftop lounge," says Bravo executive vp Andy Cohen, who plans to head there again when back in town for a signing of his new book, Most Talkative, in May.
Rosario Dawson will host her annual gala for her youth voter-registration initiative Voto Latino on April 27 on the renovated rooftop at THE HAY-ADAMS (800 16th St. NW; from $299). Steps from the White House, the hotel also is where MPAA chairman Chris Dodd often advises celebrities to check in. "The Hay-Adams is next door to the MPAA, which makes it easy for people to pay us a visit," he says. Power attorney Robert Barnett suggests the hotel's dining room as "the singular place to see Washington in all its forms -- White House, lobbyists, lawyers, politicians." Up the street, THE JEFFERSON (1200 16th St. NW; from $365) went from grand dame to bright young thing again when it reopened in 2009 after a multimillion-dollar renovation that included a new restaurant. "Plume at The Jefferson hotel has become destination No. 1 if you want to have a quiet yet elegant evening," says CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. "Prime ministers, supermodels and sports stars can be found dining or having a dessert cocktail in the Library bar." For travelers in the winter, Capella, known for luxury hotels in Cabo San Lucas and Ixtapa, will open its U.S. flagship, CAPELLA GEORGETOWN, before inauguration weekend.
At Georgetown's FOUR SEASONS HOTEL (2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; from $445), the presidential suite with a back entrance and bulletproof glass is one of the options available to Brad and Angelina, Reese Witherspoon and Owen Wilson, among many others who check in when they're in town. The hotel's dealmaking breakfast spot, Seasons, recently underwent a $1 million renovation that involved changing the numbers of the tables habitually requested by Jay-Z and Beyonce, Wolf Blitzer, George Clooney and Robert Redford. Assistants, take note: The see-but-not-be-seen table in the corner once dubbed 47 is now 93. If you're packing security, ask for table 90 for the boldface names and 80 for the men in black. Hillary and Bill do.
Georgetown also is receiving an influx of design stars: With Jonathan Adler and Michael Bastian's Gant opening in the summer -- Rag & Bone, Jack Spade and a 20,000-square-foot Brooks Brothers opened last summer -- the neighborhood has risen again as a shopping destination. The area's dining also is getting an injection of sizzle. UNUM (2917 M St. NW), which opened in early 2012, is a favorite of politicos despite its distance from Capitol Hill. It's as beloved for its fab local fare by chef Phillip Blane as for its co-ownership by Sen. Barbara Boxer's chief of staff, Laura Schiller.
Of course, Georgetown has long had its mainstay, CAFE MILANO (3251 Prospect St.), a 20-year-old hangout that gained fame in the fall for being the site of a foiled assassination attempt on Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. New neighbor and Top Chef star Mike Isabella is due to open his latest Mexican concept, BANDOLERO (3241 M St. NW), this spring in Georgetown, and his Penn Quarter eatery GRAFFIATO (707 Sixth St. NW) is still a must-get reservation.
Given the presence of The World Bank, IMF and the city's manifold ambassadors, it's hardly surprising that D.C.'s ethnic food is a draw. To see more political animals in their indigenous habitat, head to D.C. native and Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus' favorite Indian restaurant, THE BOMBAY CLUB (815 Connecticut Ave. NW). Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj counts the renovated outpost as one of eight power spots he owns in the capital, the newest being the sexy RASIKA WEST END (1177 22nd St. NW), featuring modern Indian cuisine and arguably the toughest table to get in town. While World Bank attaches and George Washington U. students dine at DISTRICT COMMONS (2200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW), a comfortable spot near the State Department and IMF offices, you're more likely to find government staffers, journos and the occasional Cabinet member at the bar at Wolfgang Puck's Asian restaurant THE SOURCE (575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW). Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, a frequent guest on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, swears by an eatery equally close to the Capitol building, BELGA CAFE (514 8th St. SE): "Who can resist the biggest bowl of mussels in the world?" Michelle Obama prefers to take the girls, and her staff, for farm-to-table burgers at Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn's GOOD STUFF EATERY (303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE).
When National Endowment for the Arts chairman and Broadway producer Rocco Landesman wants to be transported to "the perfect Mad Men experience," he heads to THE PRIME RIB (2020 K St. NW). To truly go back to the future, nab tickets to a performance at THE HOWARD THEATRE (620 T St. NW), a 102-year-old venue where Ella Fitzgerald and Marvin Gaye debuted -- and where Food Network star and Red Rooster Harlem owner Marcus Samuelsson has opened his first D.C. restaurant. Whoever wins the White House this election year, there's no disputing he'll have more cultural and culinary options than ever before.
Karen Sommer Shalett is editor in chief at DC magazine and co-author, with Alan Ball, of the upcoming True Blood: Eats, Drinks, and Bites From Bon Temps.