Archive for the ‘Essential DC’ Category

Tai Shan to Leave DC

This morning the National Zoo announced the sad news that Tai Shan, DC’s beloved baby Giant Panda, will be returned to China early next year.  Most in DC have loved the little guy since before he was even born.  We helped to name him (remember?  Tai Shan, meaning “Peaceful Mountain,” was chosen — “Butterstick” wasn’t a choice), and have thoroughly enjoyed cooing and awww-ing at his antics for the past four years.  He certainly learned early on how to please a crowd!  It’s always great to watch him react to crowds reacting to him.  The Zoo has, let’s face it, made quite a bit of dough out of this love affair, but they’ve also done a lot to make them more accessible and give them a better habitat to live in.

Now that winter’s coming on, the pandas’ activity level will be increasing (please let it snow!  they’re supercharged-adorable in the snow!) — and “early next year” is only a few short weeks away — so it’s a great time to squeeze in one last visit.

Tai Shan and Mei Xiang, 2006 (courtesy Bernardo Piereck)

Tai Shan and Mei Xiang, 2006 (courtesy Bernardo Piereck)

We love you, Tai Shan, and we’ll miss you!

Now, Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, let’s get busy working on another baby before you have to move back to China too!

Ben Ali, 1927-2009

Today we got the sad news that Ben Ali, founder of DC institution Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street, passed away Wednesday night of congestive heart failure.   Ben and his wife Virginia opened the restaurant in 1958 and it quickly became a fixture.  Its casual atmosphere and unforgettable chili half-smokes have been a favorite of visiting entertainers, DC luminaries, and everyone else in the city for more than fifty years.  It’s been an attention-getter for decades, and was the only business to remain open through the 1968 riots — and has remained a force in the neighborhood, non-stop, through all the changes U Street has seen over the years.  One thing that hadn’t changed for the past twenty-plus years was the sign behind the counter that read:  “List of Who Eats Free At Ben’s:  Bill Cosby.  No One Else”; that is, until the sign was changed to add the Obama Family (with the notation “but he paid”).

Ben’s has been featured in just about every travelogue related to DC that one can think of!   Recent expansions include the new Nationals Ballpark and Ben’s Next Door.

We at DC Metblogs want to express our heartfelt condolences to the Ali family.  Rest in peace, Ben, and thanks for creating such a great place for us Washingtonians to love.

Bens on U Street (wikimedia).  Thanks for everything!

Ben's on U Street (wikimedia). Thanks for everything!

Hope Diamond Gets A Facelift

A girls best friend?

A girl's best friend? (wikimedia)

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, as you probably know, is the home of the infamous Hope Diamond.  This huge, beautiful  blue diamond came into the museum’s possession in 1958, after it was donated by Harry Winston, Inc.  It’s famous for its size (45.52 carats), its color (“fancy dark grayish-blue”), and its “curse”.

But now, the Smithsonian wants to jazz things up a bit.  They are planning to put the diamond in a brand-new setting, one of three possibilities designed by the aforementioned Winston jewellers.  Which one?  Well, that depends on you!  You can vote for your favorite of the three settings,  on the Smithsonian Channel website.

The good news is, that while the winning setting is being made, the diamond will be shown on its own, outside of any setting.  According to the museum, it’s never been publicly shown that way before.  Cool!

The bad news is, we’ve only got three settings to choose from, and to my eye none of them are really a “Dynasty was cancelled in 1989, so vote for this elegant new classic” version.  What do you think, DC?  Am I too conservative?

So, click on over and vote for your favorite, before the deadline on Monday, September 7!  Then plan your visits to the museum to see the Hope Diamond has been up till now, as it is by itself, and as it will be, in its new setting.  (I hear there are cool dinosaurs and some recent ocean-related thingy over there, too.)

The Last Kennedy Brother

Last Wednesday, we all woke up to the news that Senator Ted Kennedy had passed away.  He’d been in the Senate since the age of 30, serving the Bay State for 47 years.

Saturday, we all woke up to news-channel remembrances and the funeral being broadcast from the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston before his internment at Arlington National Cemetery, next to two of his three brothers (the fourth, and eldest, Joe Jr. was killed in WWII and never recovered).  While I was watching, I decided to head down to view the procession as it went down Memorial Drive to the cemetery. I’d seen the Reagan and Ford funeral processions so making the trip down to ANC would just be keeping up my own little tradition. (Story continues after the jump.)

Waiting for the procession

Waiting for the procession


Restaurant Week Is A Good Thing

I love Restaurant Week!  My former coworker GW doesn’t mess around when it comes to his food, so each time RW is announced he is right on top of reminding everyone and we organize an outing, usually composed of employees and ex-employees of The Firm.  It’s a nice excuse for me to go over and visit old friends, but trust me, sometimes the grass really is greener.

Occidental Restaurant (
Occidental Restaurant (

Anyway…we went to The Occidental, which is one of those places that’s stereotypically Washingtonian (walls covered with politicians’ photos, luxe banquettes hiding the fat cats as they wheel and deal) and which I have always wanted to visit.  It is also, however, located in the Willard and is one of the more expensive places in town, so naturally I haven’t been there.  So, Restaurant Week is the perfect time to check it out.  This year’s price point, $35.09 for three courses, is lower than the price of several entrees on the regular menu, so that is what I call a bargain!

The place is, of course, beautiful; our server was crisp, friendly, and fast, and the food was omnomnom delicious.  Reasonable portion sizes, beautifully presented.  I had risotto, steak, and a chocolate dessert.  All of which was fabulous!  My companions each had different appetizers and one of them had a different entree, and we each tried a bit of the other.  I can tell you that everything which came to the table was wonderful.  The plating was nice, the aromas were terrific, and the flavors were great.  Our cocktails were even mixed well.

Now, Occidental is one of the best places around.  It’s not surprising that the food and drink were thoroughly enjoyable.  What was especially pleasant for me, was that the service was just as wonderful as if we were running up a $500 check.  Folks who complain about RW often complain that the service is bad because the places are so busy.  I’ve been RW-ing for long enough, though, to realize that the best bargains are at the best places.  Occidental, 701, Tosca, etc.  They know how to run their dining room, and they know that the real purpose of RW is to give a person like me a wonderful experience, so that I will go back and pay full price.

Which I will.

Bravo, Occidental!

DC Restaurant Week, August 24 – 30.  Don’t despair, many restaurants (including Occidental) are extending their RW offerings.  Book your table!

Tattoos, But Not on Your Skin

Lastnight a friend and I went to the Twilight Tattoo given by the Third Infantry Division (the “Old Guard”) at Fort McNair in Southwest DC.  Fort McNair itself is nestled along the Potomac just south of the Waterfront Metro stop, and the parade ground in front of the old War College building provided a wonderful setting.  The weather was gorgeous, the soldiering was precise, and the crowd was enthusiastic.  There were lots of students from schools all over the country – we figured the loudest ones were those from Texas.  We learned that 2009 is the Army’s year of the NCO (who knew), “otherwise known as the backbone of the Army,” as the announcer made sure to tell us.  He took special care to introduce all the platoon sergeants taking part in the tattoo – most were Sergeants First Class.  Along with some hokey patriotic songs, we were treated to great demonstrations of skill and talent by the Army Drill Team, the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, and the Pershing’s Own Army Band.  But I think that my favorite part of the evening was at the end, when the soldiers were treated like rock stars by the visiting students on school trips.  They were walking up to rope lines and shaking the outstretched hands of nervous middle-schoolers, as if they were Madonna!  It was awesome and really got me in the mood for Fourth of July (which is my favorite day of the year to live in DC).


Since DC is in the middle of its own Military District, there are always lots of things to do and see if you’re interested in military affairs, or pageantry, at all.  There are several units which perform tattoos or sunset parades around town during the summer, and all of the armed forces’ vocal and instrumental groups give concerts all season long; mostly outdoors, and almost all free.  I’ve listed just a few choices below.  Check them out!

  • Twilight Tattoo – 3rd I.D., U.S. Army.  Fort McNair, 410 P Street, SW.  Wednesdays, 7 PM.  Free.  (Last tattoo is next Wednesday, July 1!)
  • Sunsets with a Soundtrack – West Steps of the U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC.  Free.  Most Fridays at 8 PM.
  • U.S. NAVY Band – US Navy Memorial – 701 PENNSYLVANIA AVE., N.W. – TUESDAYS, JUNE 2 – AUGUST 25 AT 8 P.M. Free
  • U.S. Navy Band – U.S. CAPITOL (WEST SIDE) MONDAYS, JUNE 1 – AUGUST 31 AT 8 P.M. Free.
  • Air Force Summer Concert SeriesWednesday and Friday nights at 8 p.m., from June 3 through Aug. 28 at the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va. Free.
  • Marine Barracks Washington – Sunset Parade, Iwo Jima Memorial.  Tuesdays, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. 2 June – 11 August 200.  Free.
  • And finally, the “President’s Own” Marine Band is playing tonight (June 25) at the Sylvan Theatre (Washington Monument) at 8 PM.

Smithsonian Offers Extended Summer Hours

SS-20 on display at NASM*

SS-20 at NASM*

The three most popular museums on the Mall are now open from 10:00 AM through 7:30 PM daily (except when there’s a special event scheduled).  Hours apply at the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American History, and the National Museum of Natural History until Labor day!  If you, like me, have still not been to visit the newfangled Star-Spangled Banner exhibit, or the Einstein Planetarium, or the new Ocean Hall, because you’re just too tired after a hard week’s work to fight the crowds on the weekend – now is your chance!

I have taken full advantage of the later hours (11:30 AM – 7:00 PM daily) at the National Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum on 8th Street.  It’s thisclose to my Metro stop, Gallery Place, so I visit quite often in the winter when I commute on the bus and train.  In the summer, I bike commute, and my ride takes me down the Mall past the three biggies each workday.  Now, when I’m overcome by the urge to visit the SS20 missile at the Air and Space Museum, I’ll be able to stop in on the way home.

So, DC, take advantage of your free museums, and if you’ve got any touristy visitors coming this summer, be sure to let them know!

*photo by flickr user ptufts, used under a Creative Commons license

Parents Want to Roll Easter Egg Site Off A Cliff

Easter Eggs*

Easter Eggs*

Washingtonian magazine tweets:

Wow, people are super angry about this online White House easter egg roll distribution

And they aren’t kidding.  The newfangled intertubes version of signing up for Easter Egg Roll tickets seems to be universally reviled by Washingtonian readers commenting on the ticketing system.  They complain about system crashes and site errors, with the general sentiment being “at least when I stood in line, it kind of sucked but I knew what my chances were.”  Commenters on are expressing their frustration, along with a dollop of suspicion and a dash of “politics-as-usual”.  I think it’s safe to say we could hard-boil a dozen eggs for coloring with all the steam coming out of their ears!

How about it, DC?  Have you tried it?  Were you feeling trepidation because of the Purple Tunnel of Doom, or Ticketmaster≠Ticketsnow issues?   Is it E-Bay or nothing for you?  Or are you psyched because you didn’t have to stand outside in the rain on this yucky March morning?

* Photo by flickr user mistaric used under a Creative Commons license

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Penny image from US Mint

Penny image from US Mint

DCist probably said it best:

The card’s in the mail. Our phone was broken. It just slipped our mind. Whatever the excuse, we failed to properly wish Abraham Lincoln a happy 200th birthday yesterday.

Yes, we here at Metblogs also neglected our 16th President’s 200th birthday!  We were obsessed with thinking about our own ideas for the upcoming three-day weekend, or remembering fondly the days when Lincoln and Washington each had his own holiday (oh, the 70s…), or — perish the thought — making Valentine’s Day plans.

Nevertheless, we want to wish Mr. Lincoln a happy birthday and we’ll plan to do some rootin’-tootin’ celebratin’ at some of the events around town, like the grand-reopening celebration at Ford’s Theatre on Presidents’ Day this Monday.

In Which We Say Goodbye To 2008

Fireworks 2008 by Flicker user afagen

"Fireworks 2008" by Flicker user afagen


“Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past.

Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go.” -Brooks Atkinson


As we turn the page on the year 2008, we reflect on the past as much as we look forward to the future. That got me thinking about the turbulent year we’ve had here at the DC Metblog, all captured in this edition of the Year in Review.

January 1, 2008: Wayan wishes DC a happy New Year, winning sports teams, and voting rights. Oh well, maybe next year.

January 7, 2008: Tom Bridge supports Governor Tim Kahne’s push to ban smoking in Virginia bars and restaraunts. This would later be killed by the House of Delegates.

January 10, 2008: Alex Ovechkin signs with the Capitals for 13 years and $124MM, the wealthiest contract in DC sports history. Outraged commuters ride the Metro without pants to protest an increase in fares. One had a suspicious package. Hah.

January 28, 2008: Barack Obama draws 12,000 for a rally in DC. Little did he know that he was less than a year away from his Inauguration.

Anonymous v Co$ by Flickr user irrezolut

February 11, 2008: Anonymous brings its war against Scientology to the streets of DC. In the meantime The George Washington University finalizes its massive development plan for Square 54.

February 12, 2008: The Potomac Primary. Obama and McCain sweep races in VA, MD, and DC.

March 10, 2008: NY Governor Elliot Spitzer is disgraced by his infamous prostitution scandal. Tom Bridge views it as a good ad for the Mayflower Hotel; it could corner the “places to bring your $5,500/hour prostitute” market?Metblogger Carl Weaver is accosted by a Secret Service officer when he attempts to photograph a free Tibet rally at the Chinese Embassy.

Metblogger Carl Weaver is accosted by a Secret Service officer when he attempts to photograph a free Tibet rally at the Chinese Embassy.

March 16, 2008: Metblogger Carl Weaver is accosted by a Secret Service officer when he attempts to photograph a free Tibet rally at the Chinese Embassy.

March 24, 2008: Tom Bridge predicts that the Nationals will finish over .500. For more information fast-forward to September 25th.

March 31, 2008: The Washington Nationals open their new stadium.

April 7, 2008: The Washington Post wins 6 Pulitzer Prizes, the best performance by any paper since The New York Times in 2002.

April 16, 2008: DC gets Popemania and hosts more than a million tourists. Some get anti-Popemania.

April 22, 2008: The Capitals are eliminated from the NHL playoffs by the Flyers.

May 6, 2008: Explosion in Falls Church, VA, scares the shit out of everyone in the DC area and rocks the internets. Turns out it was an earthquake centered in Annandale.

May 15, 2008: DC Council pisses off smokers everywhere by entering a tie for highest national cigarette tax, increasing it to $2/pack to make up for their horribly mismanaged budget.

May 31, 2008: LaSalle Partners, who run Union Station, attempt to stop photographers and implement several odd security policies. Eleanor Holmes Norton opens a can of whoop-ass.

June 26, 2008: The Supreme Court kills the DC law banning handguns.

July 4, 2008: Aside from lots of fireworks and patriotism, the entire DC Metblogs team announces out of nowhere that they are leaving to start their own blog. Tom Bridge, Don Whiteside, Tiffany Bridge, Ben H. Rome, and Wayan Vota post goodbye messages almost simultaneously, catching everyone at Metblogs HQ off guard.

September 11, 2008: 9/11 memorials held throughout DC, including speeches by Rumsfeld and Bush at The Pentagon.

Bomb Squad Investigating Abandoned Greenpeace Stuffed Bear At Columbia Heights

Bomb Squad Investigating Abandoned Greenpeace Stuffed Bear At Columbia Heights

September 18, 2008: Greenpeace places life size polar bears throughout DC to raise awareness for global warming. Several bomb scares and shutdowns ensue.

September 25, 2008: Nationals lose the race to 100 losses. .500 would have been nice.

October 1, 2008: Live grenade found and removed in Rock Creek Park. DC collectively sighs in relief.

October 15, 2008: Patrick Pho runs a hugely successful live blog of the final Presidential debate.

October 19, 2008: Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee announces a program to pay middle-schoolers for good grades.

October 27, 2008: Metro police begin controversial random bag search program in stations.

November 2, 2008: Shadow Senator Paul Strauss nailed with a DUI two days before the election. Strauss would go on to take over 80% of the vote in DC.

November 15, 2008: Metbloggers go live with Inauguration Central. Emergency G20 Summit shuts down parts of DC.

December 15, 2008: The George Washington University enters the Inaugural Parade for the first time since 1949. They are the only university in the country with a float in the parade.

December 31, 2008: So as we turn the page on 2008, I just want to wish everyone the best. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.” Thanks for being loyal readers through thick and thin, and all of us here at Metblogs look forward to giving you a great 2009!

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