lunes, marzo 24, 2008

ElleDecor Travel: Washington, D.C.

Travel: Washington DC

Written by Jura Koncius for ElleDecor

The cherry trees are ready to bloom. But it is the smart shops and ingenious chefs that are making America's capital a hot spot all year round

However you arrive in Washington, D.C., the parade of stately monuments and leafy vistas will bring back memories of your eighth-grade class trip. But as you start exploring this 68 square miles of fetid swampland turned nation's capital, you'll find much more than the red-velvet ropes and marble columns you remember. The District of Columbia has a distinctly groovy new attitude.

"We're getting a little creative class," says Philippa P.B. Hughes, a young art collector who holds salons in a downtown loft and blogs of her adventures at Washington, she continues, is "becoming less transient. People only used to move here for work. Now, there are lots of people who are curious and diverse" but also putting down roots. "It isn't just about the same old stodgy Washington traditions," Hughes says. (That being said, mark your calendars: The National Cherry Blossom Festival starts March 29 and ends April 13.)

The capital has long been user-friendly, with its stellar museums and whisper-quiet Metro, but this city of more than half a million inhabitants used to be rather staid in the style department. Not anymore. Designers, artists, architects, and tastemakers have been rescuing urban spaces not found on any Tourmobile itinerary. Terrific chefs have launched a feeding frenzy, and relatively edgy boutique hotels are providing spirited alternatives to grande dames like the Willard InterContinental and the Hay-Adams. And historic Georgetown has been reborn as a bona fide design district.

Neighborhoods that didn't even have names a decade ago now flaunt sassy new monikers and vitalities to match. Celebrities seem to be everywhere. Bono lobbies Congress. Hometown girl Goldie Hawn has been spotted dancing at Eyebar and Cyndi Lauper chowing down on kebabs at the Bombay Club. George Clooney is practically a regular, holding court at Cafe Milano.

D.C.'s hardly Hollywood on the Potomac, though. "We are still a city in the making," says Anthony Lanier, whose real-estate development company, EastBanc, has helped bring an urban-village attitude to parts of Georgetown. "But right now, we're a hot location. I think action is our best commodity. If you want to feel the energy of the city, go to Penn Quarter when all the young lawyers spill out of their offices at night."

The recently christened Penn Quarter, situated between the White House and the Capitol, once was an anonymous zone of rundown buildings. Now well-heeled locals stop here for tapas before the theater, and gallery-goers make the rounds. Style-conscious shoppers can admire Hella Jongerius's latest sofa for Vitra in the windows of the forward-thinking shop Apartment Zero. And as for that band of whippersnapper attorneys, first they belly up to the bars at Zola and Zaytinya, then they head to Rasika for Vikram Sunderam's masterful curries.

There's an especially fine local architectural attraction too: the undulating glass canopy that architect Norman Foster placed over the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. Acclaimed for glass-doming the British Museum and Berlin's Reichstag, among other things, Lord Foster worked with the Smithsonian on the recent $63 million project, which had to respect the Greek Revival building that houses both the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Beneath the transparent bubble is a garden oasis and a hypnotic fountain composed of a barely there sheet of water that ripples across a section of granite floor.

Patricia Schultz, the Georgetown University alumna author of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, hangs out in Bhutan and Timbuktu these days, but she often heads back to D.C., which she calls "one of the most quietly powerful capitals" in the world. "There aren't many cities around that regularly have new additions to an already chockablock museum scene," Schultz says. "There's always something world-class about to open or an old favorite that has had a renaissance." On her must-see list is the latest incarnation of the Newseum, an interactive museum of journalism, slated to open on Pennsylvania Avenue this spring. What some observers call the capital's next monument is the $611 million Washington Nationals baseball stadium on the Anacostia River in Southeast, which architecture firms HOK and Devrouax + Purnell loaded with environmentally friendly features. It should be unveiled in April.

Though the residents of the White House often set the style in D.C.—the glamour cast by the Kennedys and Reagans is hard to forget—the Bushes have kept a fairly low profile. Which doesn't mean they haven't made an aesthetic mark. Last year the First Lady redecorated the Lincoln Bedroom and Sitting Room. And though Laura Bush touts her love of books, she also is a serious shopper. With Ken Blasingame—the Texas interior designer behind the White House's private quarters as well as the Bush ranch—she scours artsy 14th and U streets and Georgetown shops such as John Rosselli (Robert Kime fabrics, high-style furniture) and Darrell Dean (Frank Gehry cardboard, 19th-century pine cupboards). First Daughter Barbara Bush recently snapped up a French table for her Manhattan apartment at Cherry Antiques & Design.

The doings on Capitol Hill may grab headlines, but style happens in Georgetown, with cobblestone streets and redbrick townhouses where the cave dwellers—a nickname for members of the city's oldest families—tend to gather. Near the head of Wisconsin Avenue is A Mano, a stunning tableware and accessories shop whose front garden spills over with giant urns brimming with rosemary. A stroll down this long thoroughfare is a visual treat, especially in early morning—and when the stores open, signaling it's time to break out your wallet, don't miss the aristocratic consignments at the Christ Child Society's Opportunity Shop. Just off M Street NW on popular Cady's Alley, which was developed over the past decade by Anthony Lanier from a warehouse district, high-end establishments like Baker and Relish abound.

"The city has a very different face from 20 years ago," says Debra Lehman-Smith, a partner of Lehman Smith McLeish, an interiors and architecture firm. "It's more dynamic and just more fun."

Part of the excitement is people-watching, and the umbrella-shaded tables on Cady's Alley offer a cozy vantage point to spot the movers and shakers as you sip a cappuccino from Leopold's Kafe + Konditorei. "When you walk down the stairs to that café, it gives you the time to size up who else is there," says Deborah Gore Dean, owner of an enticing Georgetown antiques shop, Gore Dean. People-watching of another kind can be fulfilled at Oak Hill Cemetery, a resting place of eminent worthies (museum founder W. W. Corcoran, Confederate spy Bettie Duval, hostess Evangeline Bruce). Its Gothic Revival chapel was designed by James Renwick Jr., the architect of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York and the brooding castle that is the Smithsonian Institution. "It's a very peaceful and calming place to go," says interior designer Darryl Carter, rhapsodizing over the "beautiful gazebos and gardens."

Walking and running are among the favorite pastimes of Washington's dynamic young mayor, Adrian Fenty, and his attorney wife, Michelle Cross Fenty, and both take their strides through the U.S. National Arboretum. Located in Washington's Northeast section, the Arboretum has 446 acres of meandering roads, herb gardens, azaleas, bonsai trees, and recycled U.S. Capitol columns. You also might run into the mayor, a marathoner, jogging through trail-lined Rock Creek Park.

If pastoral idylls aren't your thing, there are multiple opportunities to commune with some of the world's best art—there's barely an art-history giant, for example, whose work isn't hanging in the Phillips, the Hirshhorn, or the National Gallery. Govinda Gallery in Georgetown is the place to find music-related photography exhibits, and Maurine Littleton is all about contemporary handblown glass by Dale Chihuly et al. The gallery scene around Dupont Circle and the trendy Adams Morgan section of town is buzzing too.

The neighborhood called 14th and U—rich in African-American history and not far from historically black Howard University—is populated with artists' studios that welcome tours. (For details, see Home-furnishings leader Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams recently opened a shop here, since Gold found 14th and U's groovy vibe fit his laid-back aesthetic. New lounges and eateries here include Marvin, which is named for native son Marvin Gaye and plastered with photographs of soul-music idols. If you want to escape the hordes of tourists queuing up to see the next monument on their shortlist, then head down H Street past Union Station to the Atlas district in Northeast Washington. It's a realm of indie-rock venues and home of the Palace of Wonders, where vaudeville shows and two-headed oddities recall the heyday of P. T. Barnum. The gastropub Granville Moore's draws hipsters with Belgian artisanal beers such as the strong pale ale La Chouffe.

Old favorites, however, can be just as satisfying. The National Gallery's neoclassical West Building, for instance, is "seldom in the news" but consistently thrilling, says interior decorator Rosemarie Howe (her newsiest project of late is Hillary and Bill Clinton's house off Embassy Row). She often heads to the museum to commune with Vermeer's A Lady Writing and Van Gogh's Roses, given by the siren turned ambassador Pamela Harriman. "There is almost nobody in those old galleries," Howe confides. "It's almost too good to be true." Frankly, it may be the only spot in D.C. that isn't hopping.

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