In Washington, DC, Constitution and Independence are not only avenues that span the length of the city but also standards that frame the debates unfolding within it, from the venerable halls of Congress to the teeming Metro cars below. Although politics is evident everywhere, it permeates Washington. The executive, legislative, and judiciary branches balance the scales of the federal government; statesmen trade information across tables at restaurants where the bartenders know their names; and museums explore the vibrant trail that politics has helped us to navigate. The efforts to govern, the conflicts about power, the debates over representation, and the attempts to sustain and prosper that have unfolded here shape our core assumptions about our citizenship. Though at times dirty and self motivated, politics is also a passionate testimony to the evolution of our nation. If you are a political junkie, then come put your ear to the beating heart of our nation's capital.
The walls of The Monocle are ornamented with the tinsel of smiles and signatures that have adorned campaign ads throughout the decades. Even more distracting than the framed features on the walls, however, are the faces of Senators and Congressmen hovering over their steaming meals in between votes at the Capitol, just a few blocks away. Though its menu offers a higher-end selection than most weekend visitors typically seek, The Monocle is a prime perch for pol-watching, particularly in the evenings. Since 1960, it has been a favorite for policymakers, to the extent that the clerk in the congressional cloakroom sometimes calls to advise members of an upcoming vote. When John F. Kennedy moved from Capitol Hill to the White House, his limo driver continued to bring him takeout from the restaurant that had hosted him so many times. Even when the dining room is empty of legislators, its history seeps into each seat and gazes down from each photograph, speaking of a deeply political past.
- Location: 107 D Street NE, Washington, DC.
- Phone: 202-546-4488
- Hours: Lunch from 11:30am to 3pm. Dinner from 5pm until closing.
- Website: www.themonocle.com
In August 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified and women across America were finally given the right to vote by the federal government. Alice Paul, leader of the National Woman's Party, recognized the chasm between suffrage and equality and continued to campaign for women's rights. The Sewall-Belmont House was her home from 1929 to 1972, and also served as a base for the National Woman's Party, which followed her lead and championed women's rights beyond enfranchisement. The red brick townhouse, huddled in the shadow of the marble edifices that adorn most of Capitol Hill, is now home to a museum that traces the evolution of women's rights in the United States and continues to host events and educational programs pertaining to women in politics. The National Woman's Party also persists in its activism from the Sewall-Belmont House, ensuring that the call for progress never ceases.
- Location: 144 Constitution Avenue NE, Washington, DC.
- Phone: 202-546-1210
- Hours: 12pm to 5pm Wed - Sun (Museum under construction and not open to visitors until summer 2011)
- Admission: $5 suggested donation.
- Website: www.sewallbelmont.org
Politics and Prose
A refuge for the harried and an oasis for the inquisitive, this independent bookstore and coffeehouse has been a landmark of north Connecticut Avenue since 1984. Politics and Prose's two founders sought to build a collection of literature that represented Washington and offered to all who lived there a sanctuary built on the written word. While an impressive selection of books on current events and politics poses at the front of the store, volumes on art, adventure, mystery, and cooking populate the remaining shelves. Children may explore a section of their own on the lower level. Since its founding, Politics and Prose has served as a vital stop on the routes of countless book tours, and its website boasts a calendar saturated with daily events. Prominent authors who have read at the store include Wallace Stegner, Julia Child and Bill Clinton. Cozy, yet airy, Politics and Prose invites exploration, both among its shelves and in between its pages.
- Location: 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC.
- Phone: 202-364-1919
- Hours: 9am to 10pm Monday through Saturday. 10am to 8pm Sunday.
- Website: www.politics-prose.com
The Old Ebbitt Grill
Washington's first saloon is drenched in the overflow of political wheeling and dealing. Founded in 1856, the Old Ebbitt Grill has called several locations in the District home, but it has always remained close to the centers of power. Now huddled across from the White House, the dark rooms of this bar and restaurant are populated by a mix of intrigued tourists and influential locals seeking a drink or a rich meal. President Teddy Roosevelt, a dedicated patron of The Old Ebbitt, is said to have hunted many of the animal heads that project from the walls, adding a calculated ruggedness to the restaurant's densely elegant decor. Lines of waiting diners leak onto the sidewalk during most meal hours, eager to settle into a darkened booth and speculate about schemes woven among tables and across mahogany bars. Reservations are recommended for those hoping to soak up some of Old Ebbitt's political excess.
- Location: 675 15th Street NW, Washington, DC.
- Phone: 202-347-4800
- Hours: 7:30am to 1am Monday through Friday. 8:30am to 1am Saturday and Sunday.
- Website: www.ebbitt.com
The words that ignited a revolution are now nearly drained of color, but their meaning still anchors our democracy. The Declaration of Independence articulated the American Revolution, and the Constitution gave architecture to its results. Both of these fundamental documents are on display in the National Archives' Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, alongside the Bill of Rights, which ensured that the value of the individual was not dwarfed by the authority of the new government. The evolution of the United States has left a trail of documents, recordings and images that the National Archives seeks to track and preserve. This debris of our past is a vivid illustration of our progress. Much of it is on display in the Public Vaults, where boisterous Senate debates and campaign speeches weave around patents and the Emancipation Proclamation. Since President Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone in 1933, the National Archives has become increasingly devoted to engaging the public in its purpose. Be sure to check its website for a calendar of upcoming events before you visit.
- Location: 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC.
- Phone: 202-357-5000
- Hours: 10am to 5:30pm. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- Admission: Free
- Website: www.archives.gov
For 134 years, the highest court in the nation temporarily borrowed space in the United States Capitol. When Congress finally appropriated funds for the construction of a separate Supreme Court building, Chief Justice (and former president) William Howard Taft instructed, 'It must conform in design with the Capitol. It should be enduring. And Mrs. Taft says it should be easy to keep clean.' Taft's first two requirements were clearly met. The softly shadowed marble columns that flank the Great Hall provide a gateway into the Court Chamber, where an ominous clock looms over the chief justice's center seat, haunting each oral argument. When the Court is not in session, docents give hourly lectures in the chamber about the Court's history and role in the government. Visitors may also attend oral arguments during session, but must arrive early in order to be admitted. For those with shorter attention spans or tighter schedules, a 'three-minute line' allows you to rotate in and out of the back of the Courtroom more quickly.
- Location: 1 First Street NE, Washington, DC.
- Phone: 202-479-3000
- Hours: 9am to 4:30pm, Monday through Friday. Closed Federal Holidays.
- Admission: Free
- Website: www.supremecourt.gov/
Every president since John Adams has temporarily transplanted his life, both public and private, to the illustrious 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue address. Each day, thousands of people peer through the White House's front gate - some awed by the stately, pillared structure and the family living within it, others enraged that their candidate was not elected to reside behind the glowing white walls. Though its inhabitants might change every four years, the White House is a constant emblem of the executive branch. Prestige and ceremony define the White House's public role, but the rooms within it are marked by the subtly personal touches of the first families who have inhabited this national icon over two centuries. The chances of spying a member of the first family are low, but tours of the White House are still extremely popular. Call your representative or senator as early as possible (up to six months in advance) to reserve a place on a tour.
- Location: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC.
- Phone: 202-456-7041. Call your senator or representative for tours.
- Hours: 7:30am to 11am Tuesday through Thursday. 7:30am to 12pm Friday. 7:30am to 1pm Saturday.
- Admission: Free
- Website: www.whitehouse.gov/about/tours-and-events
'Don't go to bed tonight. Something is going to happen' were the anonymous words that punctured 26-year-old Reuters journalist Adam Kellet-Long's calm on August 12, 1961. At midnight, he arrived at the border of East and West Berlin to see shredded sidewalks and barbed wire marking the location of the soon-to-be-built Berlin Wall. The Newseum hosts the largest public display of wall sections outside of Berlin. Visitors can touch a slab of the concrete that divided Germany and then explore how news continued to flow over and around it. Inundated with information in myriad media formats, the Newseum examines how reporting has described history, and how certain events in history have colored the field of journalism. Its exhibits are energetic, intense, and worth revisiting. Each ticket purchased is valid for two consecutive days, but with headlines on display ranging from Puritanism to the modern presidency, there will always be more to see.
- Location: 555 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.
- Phone: 888-639-7386
- Hours: Monday through Saturday: 9am to 5pm. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.
- Admission: Adults $21.95, Seniors, military & students $17.95, Youth $12.95, Children 6 & under free
- Website: www.newseum.org
The Monuments by Night
When the sun sets over Washington, most neighborhoods either fade into darkness or pierce the night with electric shockwaves of pulsing color. The monuments that encircle the Tidal Basin on the west end of the National Mall, however, radiate an ethereal glow. Though the memorials are impressive by day, their messages and magnitude resound more profoundly by night. Gaze up at the words that shaped our nation and our freedoms while under the dome of the Jefferson Memorial, or wander through the life and New Deal innovations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the FDR Memorial, dedicated in 1997. The Vietnam Wall stretches in eloquent commemoration of the many lives that were stolen by that controversial war, and Abraham Lincoln sits in his own temple, at last removed from the conflict of a battle waged at home. Prepare for a long (but manageable) walk around the Tidal Basin if you plan to see all these monuments in a single evening, or avail yourself of one of the many monument bus tours that run nightly from various locations in the city.
- Location: Around the Tidal Basin on the west end of the National Mall.
- Phone: 202-426-6841
- Hours: Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Staffed 9:30am to 11:30pm or later.
- Admission: Free
- Website: www.nps.gov/linc/index.htm
The United States Capitol
Liberty weighs 15,000 pounds when portrayed in bronze. From her lofty perch atop the iron dome of the United States Capitol, the Statue of Freedom gazes unblinkingly eastward, impervious to the lively discourse and fierce embroilments seething beneath her feet. The Capitol Visitor Center offers guided tours of the building, which you can reserve in advance online or by calling your senator or representative. Before meeting up with your tour, stop by your senator or representative's office to pick up some free Gallery Passes so that you can witness these famous debaters contend over legislation in person. The daily agenda for both the House of Representatives and the Senate is posted online. The House and Senate Galleries are open whenever either body is in session, and from 9am to 4:15pm during scheduled recesses, times subject to change.
- Location: Visitor Center entrance on First St, NE, between Constitution Ave & Independence Ave
- Phone: 202-226-8000
- Hours: Tours run from 8:50am to 3:20pm, Monday through Saturday.
- Admission: Free
- Website: www.visitthecapitol.gov