If there’s a city whose pandemic experience has been particularly piqued, it is surely Washington, DC. With the District recently fighting once again for Statehood, it is also “home” to an administration proven to be particularly incapable of dealing with the crisis—and politics, certainly, are injected into nearly every facet of life here. But it was the Northeast Corridor cities, after being the initial epicenter, that proved most effective at getting the coronavirus effectively under control…and so can cautiously get to the business of each phase of the re-opening plan.
At last able to travel, we were intrigued by the possibility of taking in the view of the mitigated Independence Day celebrations from the capital itself—hopping aboard a thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and luxurious Amtrak train (more on that in another story), arriving on the 4th in a Union Station that was as quiet as we’d ever seen it. But checking in to the stylish Kimpton Hotel Palomar DC, there was a sense that its buzzy Dupont Circle neighborhood was indeed springing back to life.
The Palomar itself is one of the more impressive embodiments of the boutique hotel tenets, in a city that has generally fostered a culture of efficient business chain brands and high-end luxury hotels. Our Spa Suite had a massive jetted tub, which, considering the heat outside, we could have spent all day in—especially with the royalty-worthy marble bathroom that surrounded it.
The rooms are brazenly but urbanely stylish for the buttoned-up city, with wildly patterned carpets, primary color schemes, and contemporary Deco-style furnishings. The red brick edifices just outside our windows were a charming visual counter to the usual straining for a glimpse of a distant monument.
Outdoor tables normally thrum with summertime energy along the streets spreading out from Dupont Circle; but taking a stroll, it was encouraging just to witness a social scene at all. As of June 24, more than 150 restaurants and shops had undertaken Phase II reopening measures, and there was a palpable sense of relief and hope hanging in the air. But we were actually excited to return to the hotel for the beloved Kimpton “Wine Hour,” until we realized that it was likely one of the many casualties of the pandemic. Still, upon our re-arrival, someone at reception asked if they could pour us a glass—which turned out to be a crisp chardonnay that was a perfect antidote to a very hot day. We were just unable to mingle with other guests while enjoying it.
On the way back to the Palomar, we had started up a conversation with a Lyft driver from Nepal, who shared his story of how this administration’s policies had sadly kept his wife from joining him in America; though we were able to joke a little about how we might all consider Canada as a future option. But on the 4th of July, it was a stark statement on America and immigration. “There would be no Silicon Valley without immigrants,” he insisted. He was absolutely correct, of course.
Later, we headed down to the Palomar’s own Urbana restaurant and lounge, which, since a $600k makeover in 2014, has been one of the area’s most consistently buzzing epicurean destinations—but it was, for now, relegated to carefully orchestrated social distancing policies, as well as its outdoor tables along elegant P Street. We made great new friends in staff members Kelly and Lauren, the latter of whom mixed nothing short of a perfect dirty martini—to be paired with a plate of warm roasted olives. God, how we missed such things.
Later, we undertook the obligatory act of walking down 14th Street towards the Washington Monument for the annual grand fireworks display. We wondered what our first president would have thought of America’s current socio-political climate, considering the vast reassessment of the so-called icons of our history. We’re actually not much for patriotic pageantry, preferring decisive action to symbolism. But then, it’s never too hard to enjoy colorful explosions in the sky.
Perhaps appropriately, What’s Eating America? was currently on MSNBC when we returned to the hotel. We didn’t wait for an answer, instead choosing to make good use of that aforementioned jetted-tub.
The following day, we were saddened to walk by a still shuttered Phillips Collection museum—where we have spent many a morning thrilling to Braque, Cézanne, Degas, El Greco, Klee, Matisse, Picasso and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s exalted impressionist masterpiece Luncheon of the Boating Party.
Later we sidewalk table hopped along P Street to some of the Palomar’s hipper neighbors: Sorellina, Chiko, and chic little bar-slash-coffee-shop Emissary. At the latter, we chatted up a pair of particularly stylish Russian girls, before a jealous little dachshund puppy intervened with his own brand of irresistible flirting (he obviously knew how important immigrants were to America). As we took in the whole scene, we thought that the vibe and visual overview reminded us a bit of Notting Hill—and so popped on an appropriately Britpop soundtrack to groove the rest of the afternoon away to.
Back at Urbana, we treated ourselves to one of the best “artisan” pizzas we could recall in quite some time: their specialty Maiale pie—which literally translates to “pig.”
Needless to say, we “pigged out” like there might just be no tomorrow.