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Winter 2004 | Civilized D.C.

Winter 2004 | Civilized D.C.

Take away the gossip, scandal, and partisan politicking and Washington, D.C., is still a nice place to catch some high drama

Anyone visiting Washington, D.C., hoping to find Tex-Mex on every block and cowboy hats on every head is in for a disappointment. As one local explained, "The life of the city doesn't revolve around who's in the White House like it did in the past." Despite what you may think about the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, D.C. remains an open-minded enclave with a diverse array of cultural attractions supported by a vibrant LGBT community. According to U.S. Census figures, the number of Washington households of same-sex partners increased 66% between 1990 and 2000. On September 8, Mayor Anthony Williams created an Office of LGBT Affairs. "The goal of the office is to ensure that the district's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents are fully integrated into the city's civil and economic life," said Wanda Alston, who was appointed as head of the organization.

Though the most visible signs of gay life continue to appear amid Dupont Circle's Victorian row houses, Beaux Arts mansions, and bustling beau bars, out travelers can expect captivating queer charms up and down the Potomac. I stayed at the fashionable Fairmont Hotel, which straddles colonial Georgetown and cosmopolitan Dupont Circle. With an austere modern facade sheltering its elegant amenities, it seemed a sturdy enough spot to withstand the last emasculated wisps of Hurricane Ivan.

The most spectacular of this Day After Tomorrow-like weather was witnessed during dinner at the Roof Terrace Restaurant at the Kennedy Center, a rousing prelude to a Cole Porter tribute conducted by Marvin Hamlisch with the National Symphony Orchestra Pops . As lightning flashed outside the restaurant's enormous windows--despite the unruffled air of Washington's cultural elite inside--it wasn't hard to imagine the city besieged by the Axis of Evil. But by the opening bars of Porter's "Blow Gabriel Blow," other than a few freak tornadoes in suburban Virginia, the elements had been subdued. (Patrons are in for more high drama on December 5, when Sir Elton John will be among six performing arts icons to receive the Kennedy Center Honors of 2004.)


Mind you, the Kennedy Center isn't the only performing arts space in Washington. On any given night curtains are rising on upward of 200 performances throughout the metropolitan area. I caught a fantastic production of David Henry Hwang's gender-bending M. Butterfly at the Arena Stage, the first not-for-profit theater in the United States. For one night during each show of the season, the theater's gay and lesbian subscription series, Out at Arena, offers receptions with cast members, lively post-show discussions, and food from local caterers. Placido Domingo's Washington National Opera has a similar subscription series called Out at the Opera. Its tagline: "See warriors, queens, politicians--and that's just the audience!"

The next day I was eager to explore. The wind and rain had abated, leaving behind an inert, steely sky that made the entire city seem even more important than it already thought it was. A sniper paced atop the White House as about 200 college students jogged down Constitution Avenue with "Run Against Bush" T-shirts plastered to their sweaty bodies. Bush's war on terrorism has left visible scars on the capital--unsightly concrete barriers surround the White House, Washington Monument, and Capitol building--but a strong sense of national pride, even for a jaded cynic like me, was hard to suppress upon viewing the grandiose ideals written on the Mall's memorials, monuments, and museum walls. The right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," as written on the Jefferson Memorial, filled me with the hope that sooner or later my partner and I would legally marry in this country. It was set in stone. Later, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I found it hard to maintain that hope. Marble epithets crumble in the face of photographic evidence. Though the groundbreaking exhibition, "Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945," has left the building for a nationwide tour through 2006, the museum remains haunted with stark reminders of just how tenuous any pursuit of happiness really is. The exhibition can be viewed online at

The September 21 opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, a striking honey-colored limestone building set between the U.S. Capitol building and the Air and Space Museum, was decidedly more celebratory, despite a few protesters who sought to emphasize the holocaust that occurred when native tribes were exterminated at the hands of American soldiers. I had walked around the mesa-like structure two days earlier, as organizers were making last-minute preparations for the event: erecting scaffolding, raising banners, and positioning portable toilets. With everyone abuzz about this new landmark museum, it might have been easy to overlook the numerous visual arts offerings located off the Mall, but I sauntered on.


Housing more than 3,000 works spanning from the Renaissance through today, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is the only place in D.C. to see a Frida Kahlo painting. Opened in 1987 in what was once, ironically, a male-only Masonic lodge, it is "the only museum in the world dedicated to exclusively preserving and honoring the achievements of women in all disciplines, periods, and nationalities."

The previous day I visited the Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle, an intimate assortment of modern art housed in what was once the private home of art collector Duncan Phillips. "Calder/Miró," an exhibit that traces the visual dialogue between Alexander Calder and Joan Miró, runs through January 30. At nearby hot spot Firefly, chef John Wabeck has created dishes inspired by the work of both artists. The adjacent Hotel Madera offers a package, "From Palette to Palate," that runs for the duration of the exhibit and features a $315 weekend rate that includes deluxe king accommodations for two, tickets to the exhibit, an exhibit catalog, and the three-course Calder/Miró menu at Firefly.

Unfortunately, you can't eat the art (not even the Fabergé eggs) at the Hillwood Museum and Gardens, where the most comprehensive collection of Russian Imperial art in the West resides on the former estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Postum Cereal Co. The museum's Gay Day, held every August since 2002, features a performance by the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C., lectures exploring gay figures in Russian history, and a peek inside Mrs. Post's powder room.


Though one could conceivably spend every waking moment inside a museum, a trip to D.C. would not be complete without strolling down the charming colonial-era streets of Georgetown. The Metro doesn't stop there, so you'll have to get off at the closest stop and walk. Two area restaurants are not to be missed: the Mendocino Grille, which features fresh California cuisine, and Mie N Yu, where you can experience menu items from regions all along the Silk Road: Far East Asia, North Africa, the Mediterranean, and India.

Anybody up for a march on Washington?

Links From This Article

Fairmont Hotel
Roof Terrace Restaurant
National Symphony Orchestra Pops
Arena Stage
Placido Domingo's Washington National Opera
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals, 1933-1945 Exhibit
National Museum of the American Indian
National Museum of Women in the Arts
Phillips Collection
Hillwood Museum and Gardens
Mendocino Grille
Mie N Yu

The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. We suggest that you confirm all details directly with the establishments mentioned before making travel plans. Please feel free to e-mail us at if you have any new information.
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