On his first Saturday after moving into town, President-elect Barack Obama stopped at Ben’s Chili Bowl for its signature dish, a chili half-smoke: pork and smoked beef sausage on a steamed bun. In doing so, he briefly shone the spotlight on a neighborhood eatery that locals and celebs alike (including Martin Luther King Jr. and Bill Cosby) have known and loved for more than 50 years. The truth is, Washington, D.C.—aka Chocolate City—is a vibrant, culturally rich town and ever-changing community that boasts nearly two dozen institutions of higher learning and even has its own distinct style of music (go-go, anyone?). With this in mind, EBONY turned to prominent D.C. insiders to get the 411 on what to do and see when visiting our nation’s capital. Let their insights be your guide.
1. BALL OUT
“A lot of the players hang out at The Park at Fourteenth,” says Washington Redskins defensive back Kevin Barnes. “Different floors play different music and it’s a good vibe.” Celebs including Talib Kweli , Diddy and Robin Thicke have either performed or partied at The Park.
2. HIP AREAS
“D.C. is big on happy hour, so our evenings kick off early,” notes NBC traffic reporter and BET red carpet host Danella Sealock. “Areas like Adams Morgan and U Street are cool because you have lots of options, but a valet or cab is best because parking is always tough.”
3. SUNDAY SERMON
“The Sunday service at Howard University’s Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel is nondenominational,” says ABC7 anchor Cynné Simpson. “Each week, the sermon is delivered by a different speaker. I’ve enjoyed inspiring messages from Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, Cornel West, Vernon Jordan and others.”
4. GET YOUR GRUB ON
“My favorite place to eat is Busboys and Poets on 14th Street,” says Dr. Johnnetta Cole, director of the Museum of African Art. Named in honor of Langston Hughes (who worked as a busboy at a nearby hotel), it is at once a bookstore, performance space and restaurant. “People come to listen to spoken word, see a film, hear a talk or discuss social justice issues,” Cole continues. “And of course, to eat!” She recommends the blackened salmon with wild rice and asparagus.
5. MELLOW MOOD
“The Franciscan Monastery has tours of the catacombs, which are kind of cool to see,” says TNT basketball analyst David Aldridge. Meanwhile, Sealock recommends nature lovers visit the U.S. National Arboretum. “I like to go for long walks while admiring some of the most beautiful flowers, plants and trees.”
“The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is spectacular. And the Museum of African Art, is one of the most absorbing museums on the Mall,” says PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill. “On the way, you can see the site for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opens in 2015.”
7. HISTORY 101
“I would tell anyone to go to the National Mall,” says TV One host and CNN contributor Roland Martin. “Look at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and think about how many young Black men died in that war. Then cast your eyes on the World War II Memorial and remember the Tuskegee Airmen.”
8. WATER ST.
“You can get a lot of good seafood at the Wharf,” says Mystics (WNBA) forward Mo Currie of the famous “Old Town” market. “Especially crab and shrimp.” A few doors down, Phillips Flagship, which overlooks the Washington Channel, boasts the only all-you-can-eat seafood buffet in the District.
9. THE OBAMAS
“I’ve walked past the White House numerous times, but the one time I went inside was an amazing experience,” says Washington Wizards point guard John Wall. But regardless of how close you may personally feel to our president, White House tours (which are free) must be scheduled no less than 21 days in advance.
10. FOR THE FOODIES
For those with more eclectic palates, Ifill suggests the braised lamb shank at Ris or the palak chaat (crispy spinach) at Rasika, both located downtown. Martin directs visitors to B. Smith’s in Union Station. “It has the best wings in D.C.—possibly the country!”