When I started this blog, I wondered the best way to really show people Washington, DC. For out of towners that come here, most generally stick to seeing Downtown, the National Mall and the occasional Congressperson garnered White House tour. As the founder of Taste and See, I wanted to be the Samantha Brown of DC travel: I selflessly show people, all people, where to go that truly gives you A) a glimpse into the real DC lifestyle; B) jealous friends back home; and C) an experience you can tell your kiddies about years down the road.
Sound ambitious? Fantastic, because that’s just the kind of person I am. Here’s a Travel Guide to the DC Neighborhood of Penn Quarter/Chinatown. This a result of extended research and Taste and See approved venues, restaurants, parties, etc.
If you’ve ever been to DC, more than likely you’ve taken a stroll through the Chinatown and possibly Penn Quarter. You’ve seen the Friendship Arch and you’ve visited the Verizon Center or at least waded through the hundreds of people entering a Wizards/Caps/Mystics/Hoyas game. But did you turn up here? Did you get a chance to turn in here? Did you even grub on? If you have said, No to ANY of these questions (for shame!), please proceed to be schooled in one of the fastest growing ‘hoods in DC:
Some folks may be asking themselves at this point, what does it mean to turn up? Great question! The Urban Dictionary definition explains it pretty well. But for Taste and See, any event where you “turnt” up, is one that you left you disheveled, dehydrated or just overall spent. Obviously, that definition can lend itself to many types of events. Could be a day party. Could be a segway tour, or even a flying acrobat class!
Commuter Turn Up
When coming to Chinatown, most arrive by metro and walk through one of the most trafficked metro stops in the DMV, Gallery Place/Chinatown. This is turn up numbero uno. Especially if its rush hour or the weekend. You undoubtedly saw something, smelled something or rubbed up against something that shocked the hell out of you. Welcome to Chinatown (DC)!
Frat House Turn Up
What excites me most about Rocket Bar is that I’ve yet to be able to find it. It’s mostly for lethargy on my part, but for the people that have crossed the threshold of this well-hidden basement bar (like my bf), you’ll experience one of the better laid back bars. You’ll also find yourself reminiscing on college days past with pub games like darts, billiards and even shuffleboard. For a place that doesn’t serve food, the drinks could stand to come down in price. That being said, they have a decent happy hour and you can even BYOF (bring your own food, smarty pants), which doesn’t suck at all.
Eclectic Sports Bar Turn Up
I have a friend that refers to this place, Redline, as the “Douchiest Sports Bar”. I didn’t quite understand why until I walked in and saw the most obnoxious sized television screens and two smaller sized bars. Even still, this Gastrolounge is happening. There are beer taps directly at the table, the food will keep you coming back and on the weekends, there’s a DJ spinning top 40 and dance music mostly. It gets a bit crowded but the service (and nachos) make this one of my favorite places in Chinatown. Check out my full review of Redline here.
How does one “turn down”? Well, this answer’s a little more complex. You might “turn in” a dark indie movie theater. Or “turn down” into the bed in a swanky hotel. Maybe even “turn down” in a nice romantic spot that very few know about. Whatever the location, turn down is where you take a moment to just chill. Tourism can be so stressful! So I always take the opportunity to do some activities that aren’t always so demanding on my senses. Sometimes, you just wanna taste and see something quiet, ya know?
Complementary Turn Down
One of the highlights of Penn Quarter and Chinatown, aside from the many restaurants, are the beautiful sights. One such sight is the National Portrait Gallery which looks far more interesting on the outside than whatever’s going on inside (I can only surmise). The stone columns and facade makes this place all Roman like. Which is ironic, because only portraits of American art and history are held here. Not only can you come here to the peaceful exhibits and AC, every Smithsonian is free admission! Just one catch: they’re closed one day each year, Christmas Day. Next stop: the American Art Museum, also a Smithsonian in Penn Quarter.
Neoclassical Turn Down
Hotel Monaco, housed in the re-purposed General Post Office, is a hotel reserved for the nation’s high end boutique hotel dwellers. Fashioned in 100% marble, after the Roman Temple of Jupiter, visitors say this hotel is a landmark on the outside and a modernized getaway on the inside. Combine the hotel’s restaurant terrace, specials for guests including 2 drinks for $1 and free wifi, and you’re sure to combine your luxury with utility.
Turn Down with Daniel Craig
Normally I wouldn’t place multiple museums on a neighborhood’s Turn In list, but I’ve got to make an exception here. I consider myself an action/clandestine agent/foreigner hunk movie junkie and got very excited the day that I passed the Spy Museum for the first time. Currently, they’re having a 50 Years of Bond Villain tribute in honor of 007′s Golden Anniversary but year round they exhibit the history of spies, intelligence ops and decepticons that changed international history. I love that DC is home to the super culturally refined museums like the Smithsonian. But if you’re feeling stuffy in those large galleries, you’ve got great options in the more adventurous and all around Spy Museum, Newseum and even the Crime & Punishment Museum around the corner.
The options for food here are never-ending! There are a plethora of large chain restaurant options. But I won’t even bother to tell you about those. Rule number 1 about getting your grub on whilst traveling: NEVER go to a restaurant that you can go to at home. What’s cool about that? Where’s the adventure? You’re supposed to be trying something new and possibly risking food poisoning! It’s all a part of the Taste and See experience. (Just kidding, food poisoning is no fun. But some of the best stories include violent retching. Just saying.) Now that I’ve thoroughly whet your appetite, here are some places to eat:
Meaty Grub On
Pound for pound, Hill Country BBQ is a shoutout to the Lone Star State all the way from the District. If the right wind blows, you can smell their custom meat-smoking room from the Verizon center! Not really, but if you’re around the way, before or after the big game, this is a must try! They’ve got the works here: brisket, sausage, ribs, mouth-watering, dry-rubbed deliciousness. The menu is weighed and served up to you on butcher paper, market style and refer to the meat as “music to your mouth”. Totally worth it. Especially on Mondays, when it’s all you can eat!
Grub On the Conveyer Belt
I won’t say that this restaurant, Sushi Go Round and Tapas, has the best sushi, but honestly if food is whipping past you on a conveyer belt, I don’t think you should really be considered about how the food tastes. It’s a novel idea (I have been to a similar place in Barcelona, which was amazing, but I’ll overlook that). Also, the prices are cheap and it’s convenient! The plates come directly to you! If you’re at a large table, you may start a fight with your friends, but that’s half the fun too!
Dessert Grub On
Red Velvet Cupcakery! DC is becoming now as the cupcake town, for sure. I’ve tried a good number, and I have to say that this place is my absolute favorite. This is the only spot that does Red Velvet the right way. I mean, after all, that’s who this place is named for. It’s also pretty cool that you can watch the bakers bake through a window on the street. I’m sure you’ll want dessert while you’re here, so you must promise to visit this place!