Turning a home-early-from-vacation into a 'staycation' calls for some hitherto unexplored corners of the city, and so it was that on Friday, lamenting the discontinuation of yesterday's sunshine, we hopped on our bikes and cycled to the National Arboretum. A surprising number of people who live in DC have not visited the Arboretum. And if you don't have a car and don't want to cycle, that is reasonable: it's quite the multi-transport commitment... But when we finally swooped through the gate, we found ourselves in a huge, lovely park filled with different kinds of trees. Their piece de resistance seems to be their collection of Bonsai trees, in a little Japanese garden area, and indeed, the display of these weirdly tiny trees is surprisingly fascinating, and in a very cool setting. Also cool is the set of columns that once adorned the Capitol and now randomly sit on a little hill in the Arboretum. I'm sure there are better hiking trails but they're not well marked so we strolled round the little roads and looked at trees and mused that if only we wanted to climb their 'mountain', there would probably be a good view of the city... instead, we retreated to Ebeneezers for coffee. This coffeeshop, just behind Union Station, has one of the nicest feels to any coffee shop I've found in DC! Full of people on their laptops of course - but they do music in the evenings... and a tasty banana nut muffin.
However, Friday's day of adventures paled in comparison to the following day of fun. Hopping on our bicycles again, we cycled to Union Market, which feels like it gets cooler by the day, and met up with a friend. Since our last visit, a little Ris had opened, with, I can report, superlative grilled cheese sandwiches... After eating, we drove a mile or so to somewhere I'd been intending to go since I first tasted Green Hat gin at The Passenger: New Columbia Distillers. Never having been to a gin distillery before, I was charmed by their lovely little tour (every Saturday between 1 and 4, free). The sweet hipster boy who runs the distillery gave us all sorts of interesting information (apparently it's called Green Hat because during Prohibition a man with a green hat used to quietly sell moonshine to members of Congress), telling us about how they make and market DC's local gin, and their distillery is very attractive with big brass equipment that looked very cool. Their spring blend is out this weekend!
Inspired by hipsters-who-make-stuff, we veered back to a newly painted building behind Union Market : the new home of Dolcezza gelato. It was opening weekend so they were doing tours and we got there just in time for the 2pm tour. Another charming young man (I say, sounding 85 years old), this one with a cute little daughter draped around his neck, showed us round their brand new shiny factory and showed us how they make ice cream. It was quite heartwarming to see how excited he was about owning his own factory, and it was all open spaces, high ceilings, shiny Google-ish, with an attractive, airy little cafe area where you can try gelato fresh from the machine, which is apparently the best thing ever. Certainly the little bit of tangerine gelato I was given to taste at the end was amazing. And they're starting a cool coffee program too, apparently. They also mentioned a pop-up cinema is opening next door. Sometimes I wish I'd bought a fabulous house in that area!
With the taste of gelato still in my mouth but the line too long to buy more, we looked at each other: what now? Our friend with the car took charge and the rest of the afternoon was a magical mystery tour of NE DC/just over the border to Maryland offbeat fun. First up, the Glass School in Mount Rainier. I did not know there was a glass school, but sure enough, if you want to do glass painting, or glass blowing, or welding, this studio is full of people having fun doing that (in fact there are two: when I looked up the web address, I also found this other one!). The guy we hoped would let us paint stuff wasn't there, so we pottered around, then proceeded to the Gateway Arts Center, and one of our first experiences of the huge amount of art in this area that I keep reading about on Twitter. We sneaked in early to the launch of two exhibitions curated by John Paradiso (who also invited us into his home to admire his pornographic embroidery work and got me intrigued to explore more of the east DC arts scene...). Then it was off to Community Forklift, a salvage yard that sells all sorts of random stuff like doors and sinks and ephemera... this was a lot of fun. If you're tempted to visit, they're having a garden party on the 29th. We wrapped up the evening with an as-ever superlative meal at the glorious Rose's Luxury (arrived at 4:40pm to find a giant, overexcited queue, and we only just managed to get in!), and from there to Fort Fringe, for the final of the March Madness of Comedy extravaganza that's been going on all month, run by District Comedy and the Capital City Showcase. The winner was Franqi French, who was really very funny. Though I also liked Donnie Sengstack, Hemu Nair and Dana Fleit (even if I'd heard Dana's set before). Look out for them in other DC comedy events!
I went to two plays this week. The first was Hair at the Keegan Theatre, on til 27th April. I love the Keegan Theatre space (I keep hoping they'll do Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens, which would work brilliantly there), and it is a great fit for Hair. I confess I'm not a huge fan of Hair personally, but the staging and performances were excellent. I'm more of a fan of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which I saw, after a lovely little reception in the Kennedy Center's Africa Room (did I say: cake buffet. Oh yes), thanks to the British Council, who are helping bring over some of the best of British theatre. The show involved some imaginative, apt and inspiring puppetry, some really strong performances and cool interpretations, and just the right sort of magical ambience. An unexpected treat. Sorry - it's over now.
I also saw two films. One was playing catch-up: Dallas Buyers Club, fresh from its Oscars success, was brilliant and definitely worth catching. I saw it at the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse where I'd always wanted to go but again it's a pesky location if you are sans car. We cycled again and it was further than it looked! But worth it: a very cool, un-DC-ish, divey, atmospheric type venue with a full menu, table service, and popcorn to be had. Great value. If this place wasn't in such a difficult location, I'd be there every week for their cheap and cool movies and comedy. Later, back on home turf, I really enjoyed the Grand Budapest Hotel at Landmark E Street. Not quite as excellent a film, perhaps, but highly enjoyable, quirky, charming, silly, and generally a very pleasant end to our delightful staycation.
What's coming up that looks cool (I have
Tuesday 25th - Thursday 27th: Japanese film festival? Of course: here.
Friday 28th: Top class comedy? Lily Tomlin is performing at Strathmore!
Saturday 29th: It's the kite festival on the mall during the day... and a one-day-only Bring It On the Musical at Strathmore again. I'm not proud, but I'm going... If you're too cool for that, there's the Cherry Blast arty party at Blind Whino.