Your DC Inauguration Weekend Guide

Feels like just yesterday, huh? Well now we’re gonna do it all again. But better. Regardless of your stance on the election, the inauguration of Obama on Monday, January 21st is a good opportunity to head to DC, drink like you just got out of prison, and conquer the city’s top brunch and dinner places like a viking. Yeah, I want you to live it up. Not just because you only live once yadda yadda, but also because you paid good money for that train/bus/flight to be in the nation’s civic hub, so your weekend better be great. And with this Inauguration guide, it certainly will be.

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How to Party Properly in Washington, D.C.

I earned my hangover by partying like a rock star. It made sense to recover from it like one, too, so I nursed my self-inflicted wound in the most baller hotel room I’ve ever stayed in at the W Washington D.C. hotel. They call it a "Wow Suite," but the expression my wife, Jenn, uttered when we walked in began with the word holy. Wow Suite 606 had a dining room table, a curved couch, a trippy chandelier, red LED lighting, two flat-screen TVs, two bathrooms (one was like a spa), a bar, and a massive bed. It was a corner suite, with views past the Washington Monument all the way to National Airport on one side, and the U.S. Treasury on the other, with the White House just beyond it. Supposedly there are snipers on the roof of the Treasury that keep a close eye on on the hotel’s windows. I didn’t notice any, but if they were there, I hope they enjoyed the show, as proper hangover recovery requires a holistic approach. Here’s how we got there. 

The Setup

What ended up being a weekend of serious and successful partying started innocently enough. We wanted to carve a mini-vacation out of the requisite family Christmas visit to Northern Virginia. I cashed in a bunch of reward points from my Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card on the room for the weekend (the upgrade was a pleasant surprise) and looked up a couple of nightclub contacts in DC. Just like that, two New Yorkers became temporary residents of the District of Columbia for 48 hours with no responsibilities other than feeding our own ids. And so we did.

POV Cool

Point of View

Our first official stop after unpacking was P.O.V. Lounge, on the top floor of the hotel. The point of view up there was even more striking than from the room, with a breathtaking panorama of the city as the sun set on the winter solstice. We toasted the deep freeze with tumblers of Blackstrap Snap (rum, ginger, fresh-squeezed lime, blackstrap molasses, nutmeg) and Washington Apple (bourbon, fresh-pressed apple, maple, smoke, Pork Barrel Aromatic Bitters). The world didn’t end, and our wild night was just beginning. Like the W itself, P.O.V. is a chic yet comfortable space. A large, high-ceilinged barroom is designed with views in mind, both of the city and the comely staff. Booths by the massive windows are low to the floor, while some interior tables are elevated, ensuring that your gaze never rests upon an unpleasant sight. I’ve not been everywhere in town, but I’m reasonably confident in saying that if POV doesn’t have best sunset cocktail experience in DC, it’s easily in the top 5. During the warm weather months, the large outdoor area must be sublime.

Bubbles

Upon returning to the suite, we noticed that a bucket of ice containing a bottle of champagne had appeared. Pop!

Lost and Found

And then we took a taxi to a fun and fancy steakhouse called Lost Society, where we met Tony Hudgins, owner of the new nightclub Capitale (our next stop) and a couple of his friends. For those who love steak but crave a bit more style than the corporate-card set can handle, Lost Society is a great choice. It’s trendy like some sleek Soho tapas joint but a thousand times more satisfying, food-wise. My steak was a perfect medium-rare, my wife’s scallop entree was flawless, and we massacred the fried Brussels sprouts side. The music rose, the conversation got louder and weirder, several rounds of shots appeared, followed by dessert, which included some gooey, decadent chocolate thing that the table went nuts over. The celebrations were well underway, and there were more toasts to surviving doomsday, until it blissfully passed as a topic of conversation. A quick stop at the bangin’ bar scene upstairs got us even further in a party mood (e.g. more shots).

Capitale Photo

Venture Capitale

It was time to finally head to Capitale, so we piled into taxis and giddily watched the ropes part for us. Tony and his business partners opened Capitale a few months ago in the space that formerly held the K Street Lounge, and it’s a sensory overload in all the best ways. A Hogwarts-meets-Hollywood aesthetic (oil paintings and book-lined walls) gives it a smart, cultured vibe, but the thundering sound system and lightning-fast bar staff keep the energy level sky-high. Good thing I’d heard about the massive tilted columns dividing the room in advance, as things were starting to look a little sideways to me by that point. A bottle service setup appeared and I helped myself, though on reflection I’m not sure who it belonged to. But we were all having fun and Jenn was looking sexy and we danced and drank and talked to strangers as you do at a proper party until one of us had the good sense to grab a taxi back to the hotel. My memories of Capitale, hazy as they may be, are of a fun, lively spot with great music, a young, attractive, multiracial crowd, dynamite drinks, and cool, interesting decor. Recommended for anyone wondering if DC knows how to party. (It does.)

The Hangover

I woke up first at around 6:30 to go to the bathroom and drink some water, then slept blissfully until 10:00. Jenn was still asleep when I got out of bed and explored the scene. Our clothes were scattered across the room. A container of fancy pretzels from the minibar sat open on the table. My head pounding, I texted Tony to see if I had anything to apologize for (all clear), then pulled on my outfit from the night before and headed out to get some air. I came back a half-hour later with a hangover-busting haul of coffee, juice, Gatorade, and some crepes from some nearby creperie. Jenn got up and we drank coffee and munched on crepes as warm sunshine filled the room. I crawled into the shower, still feeling awfully grim but enjoying my hangover, and turned the dial until warm water flowed from the rainfall shower head. Over the next 20 minutes, I must have done every position on the evolutionary chart until the purifying waters and fancy soaps, gels, and shampoos finally brought me to back to modern homo sapien. Jenn went to the W’s SWEAT fitness center for a run. I took a nap, then another shower.

Keytar

The Recovery

By about 2:00 in the afternoon, we were mostly recovered, and realized that the day was getting away from us. With more dinner and nightclub plans ahead of us, we had just one opportunity to do something cultural with our time, so we could tell people we did something other than party on our trip to DC. (Basically, we needed a cover story.) We bundled up and headed into the cold, walking past the Washington Monument and heading to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Let me tell you, it’s the best place to walk off the remaining pains of a trenchant hangover. We saw the Greensboro lunch counter, the Emancipation Proclamation, a soul-crushing pair of shackles used for child slaves, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Dorothy’s red slippers, a stoneware rum jug, Kermit, and a U.S. Army Jeep from World War II. I took a picture of Jenn standing in front of a keytar.

Back At It

We’re beer enthusiasts, so we had dinner at a beer-centric restaurant called Birch & Barley, which we loved. Our waiter, Carl C., was extremely well-versed in all the different varieties of beer they had, both on draft and in bottles. We ordered a cutting board of charcuterie, which included various different pork products from a whole pig they butchered in-house, and was delicious. And we were delighted to be able to order four-ounce pours of a bunch of different beers. It would be folly for me to recommend any one in particular, just tell your server what kinds of beers and tastes you like and they’ll sort you out as Carl sorted us out.

Heist 1

Thieves in the Night

Soon it was time to hit another nightclub, a posh spot called Heist. Heist used to be called Fly Lounge, but it’s been redone spectacularly to resemble a hideout for jewel thieves. Heist is the brainchild of partners Timothy Sheldon, Patrick Osuna, and Charles "DJ Dirtyhands" Koch (all three with interesting and varied backgrounds, look them up), and it’s a rather small room, comparable to something like Mister H in New York. But whereas Mister H has decor reminiscent of a Shanghai speakeasy in the 1930s, Heist is all about modern luxury with a soupçon of international intrigue. Design details beg to be dissected over a cocktail or two. In various recesses of the space you’ll find a collection of stolen art, a teddy bear stuffed with diamonds, and a suitcase with handcuffs attached to the handle. The bar itself is riddled with bullet holes. Closed circuit TV footage of actual robberies plays on a continuous loop on three small monitors. A gold-dipped water buffalo skull hangs on the wall behind the DJ booth. (Of course it would be the height of irony if Heist itself was robbed, but they’ve probably taken that into account.)

The result is a fascinating subterranean spot to sip a cocktail like the Gold Rush–whose flawless ice cubes sport beveled edges–and feel a bit dangerous yourself. We were among the early shift, drifting in at around 10:30 to chat with the owners. The real spenders started showing up at midnight, as Dirtyhands brought the beats (Biggie mixes, among others) and young women wearing short dresses served trays of vodka shots in crushed ice as sparklers lit their way through the silvery darkness. Heist seems to draw an upscale, sexy crowd of bottle buyers who love good tunes and ample eye candy. Compared to Capitale, which was a big-room blast of high-wattage fun, Heist is a more intimate environment, a chillout spot for the city’s coolest cats. Both are perfect when the night calls for them, and either would thrive in New York City, competitive with the sleekest spots in Manhattan or Brooklyn. As the crowd at Heist grew wilder and sequins and stilettos started slicing through the dance floor, we took our leave and scooted back to the W in yet another taxi. (DC has ample cabs, at least downtown.)

What Happened?

Armed with a late checkout, we slept in again the following day, sipping coffee and snarling as the mood struck, finally packing our bags and heading back to the real world in the afternoon. It was officially a whirlwind weekend of food, cocktails, music, dancing, socializing, danger, fun, and even some culture, and looking back from a week’s distance it’s impossible to pick a highlight. My recommendation: for lack of a better itinerary, do DC like we did: W Hotel – POV Lounge – Lost Society – Capitale – Smithsonian Museum of American History – Birch & Barley – Heist. You’ll love it all. And to my fellow New Yorkers, I heartily recommend Washington, D.C. as an easy weekend getaway. It punches well above its weight entertainment-wise, yet has a wonderfully laid-back vibe. And the hangovers are spectacular.

[Related: BlackBook DC Guide; listings for W Washington, D.C., P.O.V., Lost Society, Capitale, Birch & Barley, Heist]