Dupont Circle

Bohemian Living in a French-style Neighborhood
Diverse dining *  Art perusing * Embassy fêtes

Charles L’Enfant designed the nation’s capital based on a French city, and there’s no place that has more ooh-la-la than Dupont Circle. The fountain-graced circle, surrounded by zipping cars, sky-towering shade trees, and a bevy of one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants, seems straight out of a French provincial town. What better reason do you need for a staycation?

[stay]  Embassy Row Hotel

Cool luxury
The sun-drenched rooftop pool

Tucked just off Dupont Circle, Embassy Row Hotel is what they call a “boutique lifestyle hotel,” the sort of place you may never want to leave. First of all, let’s talk about the rooftop saltwater pool and bar, where you can lounge on big bold cushions and sip frozen cocktails (Exotic Kiss – yum!). There are water spin classes and yoga by the pool. The fun, colorful, whimsical decor features teal blue accents, funky furniture, and hints of D.C. including silhouettes of presidents behind the front desk. There’s an awesome game room with ping pong, free popcorn in the lobby, a 24/7 gym, and a lobby cafe and bar. The guest room itself was comfortable, with sleek gray and turquoise decor (though the a/c was a tad loud). Be sure to take a picture with the painted Angel Wings out front, part of Colette Miller’s global quest to “remind humanity that we are angels on Earth.”

[eat] A world of choices

French fare

 Dupont Circle is a restaurant destination. I can’t just recommend one or two go-to places—there are too many to choose from, and more popping up all the time. That’s what makes it so exciting! But you know that, since you live here too. Some of my classic favorites include: Bua, a Thai classic that’s been around for decades; Bistrot du Coin, a très French bistro; and Agora for Turkish/Mediterranean fare.

[splurge]  Komi

It may look unassuming from the outside …

And then there’s Komi. David and I received a gift card from friends, which is the only way we could afford to eat here. But it was an all-evening-long dining experience that we remember to this day. There’s only one prix-fixe menu (they take some food restrictions into consideration) entailing an evening-long parade of dishes. Each plate was beautifully presented in a swirl of herbs and effervescent foam and exciting color. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of goat, but if you have to eat it anywhere, let it be here. We splurged for the wine pairing, which, really, you have to do it. The sommelier emailed me the list of wines we tried (yes, we drank all of these—the reason for the Uber home):

  • Sparkling Moschofilero, “Amalia Brut,” Ktima Tselepos, MANTANIA, GREECE, NV
  • Pinot Gris, Paul Blanck, ALSACE, FRANCE, 2011
  • Madeira, “Rainwater,” Broadbent, MADEIRA, PORTUGAL, NV
  • Montagny Premier Cru, Maison Roche de Bellene, BURGUNDY, FRANCE, 2011
  • Riesling Kabinett, “Jean Baptiste,” Gunderloch, RHEINHESSEN, GERMANY, 2012
  • Tibouren Rosé, “Cru Classé,” Clos Cibonne, CÔTES DE PROVENCE, FRANCE, 2013
  • Etna Rosso, “Aetneus,” I Custodi, SICILY, ITALY, 2008
  • Rioja Reserva, “Viña Alberdi,” La Rioja Alta S.A., RIOJA, SPAIN, 2008
  • Brachetto Blend, “Bigaro,” Elio Perrone, PIEDMONT, ITALY, 2013

[fun]  Admire modern art in an intimate setting

Renoir’s triumph

Art-lovers converge on the Phillips Collection for one famous painting in particular: Renoir’s massive “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” the pièce-de-rèsistance acquired by museum founder and collector extraordinaire Duncan Phillips in 1923. What I love about Renoir is that he didn’t do ugly. He aimed to depict the joy of life, not bring you down. “Why shouldn’t art be pretty?” he said. “There are enough unpleasant things in the world.” And this painting does exactly that, with its depiction of all of his friends enjoying lunch at Maison Fournaise on the isle of Chatou in the Seine, near Paris (where you can dine at exactly the same spot today, by the way). The woman with the dog is Aline Charigot, one of his favorite models who ended up becoming his wife. Actress and model Ellen Andrée is in the center of the painting, esteemed art collector Charles Ephrussi is in the back, in a top hat, and the list goes on.

You’ll find many, many other masterpieces in this intimate museum housed in a historic mansion and adjacent former apartment building, including the chapel-like Rothko Room designed to the artist’s precise specifications and the Laib Wax Room, made entirely of beeswax. If your staycation starts on Thursday, be sure to join fellow Washingtonians for Phillips After 5, featuring live music, gallery talks, food, and a cash bar (reservations recommended).

[fun]  Tour a maze of a house

You need to see this eccentric, luxurious, rambling, wacky inn/museum/events center to believe it. Tight corridors, secret doors, and Escher-like staircases connect the 100+ guest rooms of the Mansion on O Street, each one decorated in its own unique style. The John Lennon Room has one of his guitars, for example, while the Log Cabin room has an aquarium in the headboard. Every niche and corner is stuffed with fascinating memorabilia: fine art, books, yard-sale discoveries, and other what-not (much of which is for sale). It’s definitely an option to spend the night—guests have included rock stars, CEOs, politicians, even Rosa Parks back in the day.

But there are all kinds of other things going on here as well. Check out the schedule of concerts, brunches, lunches, dinners, and special events (including their popular Tea). Self-guided tours are available on Sunday, Monday, and holidays.

[fun]  Play diplomat for a day

South Africa Embassy

While the embassies may look forbidding, many of them actually host special events, inviting you into their stately rooms. What an amazing way to lap up some culture, food, music, and cultural fun! The Embassy of Argentina, for example, offers tango lessons. The Embassy of Italy holds a Sicilian ball. You can go wine-tasting at the Embassy of Croatia (sampling Croatian wines, of course), and celebrate Bastille Day at the Embassy of France. The House of Sweden offers some 95 events, including concerts, movie nights, seminars, plus ongoing art exhibits (the House of Sweden, by the way, has one of the coolest, sleekest architectural designs around).

[fun]  Artsy stuff

Dupont Circle has become an artist haven, with galleries sprinkling its bustling streets. The best way to take it on is on the Art Walk, in which galleries and studios are open for perusing, oftentimes with wine and snacks. Some of the big-name galleries include Studio Gallery, IA&A at Hilyer, and Toolbox Pilates Art Studio. A couple more artsy experiences to keep in mind:

? Dupont Underground

Trendy and hip, this unconventional art venue occupies abandoned train platforms beneath Dupont Circle. All kinds of events take place here, including concerts, art shows, and performances. Artists have transformed the concrete walls and tunnels with graffiti, lights, and full-on installations. Enter on 19th Street between Starbucks and Cafe Dupont.

? Barbie’s latest quirky, irreverent takes on current events

4th of July

For a fun pass-by, check out Barbie Pond on Avenue Q. The anonymous artist/house owner of the house at TTKT provides in their front yard an ever-changing presentation of Barbies and Kens in various costumes and scenes, reflecting the season, current events, or whatever strikes the fancy. The dolls might be fleeing a scary pumpkin, swinging beneath a disco ball, jumping out of Easter eggs, celebrating Pride, or encouraging passersby to VOTE (they don’t shy away from politics). You’ll be inspired, guaranteed. Check them out their Instagram page