By Christopher Reynolds
Los Angeles Times (TNS)
You’re worried about the next president. I’m here to change the subject. But only a little.
That next U.S. president, looking out at Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, will see a different city from the one that President Barack Obama saw in January 2009. The nation’s capital is wealthier, safer, livelier, tastier, more populous and more ready for tourists than it has been in decades.
It’s a remarkable cityscape, thanks to a diversifying local economy, redevelopment and an influx of millennials who like living downtown without cars. In September, I set out to explore some new or changed places.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE
On Sept. 24, after decades of talk about a Washington museum focusing on black Americans, the Smithsonian Institution at last cut the ribbon on one.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, designed by David Adjaye, now stands on the National Mall, a bronze beauty on a greensward long dominated by gray stone.
Its jagged walls are inspired by three-tiered Yoruban crowns. The coated aluminum lattice work echoes the 19th-century ironwork of black artisans in the American South. And I’m betting that the problems I saw in the museum’s first week – long lines, balky escalators, missing maps - will be rapidly solved.
What matters most is the journey inside, starting on the bottom floors with slavery’s beginnings. It’s haunting to stand in a darkened gallery, looking at shackles and slave-ship hardware, hearing ocean waves. It was doubly powerful during the museum’s first days, when visitors, mostly African-Americans, crowded into every gallery determined to see everything.
Advancing through history, you pass a slave cabin from South Carolina, a Klansman’s hood and civil rights-era artifacts. You see and hear black performers and read of struggle, strength and genius in politics, business, science and the arts.
You can see Harriet Tubman’s silk shawl (a gift from Queen Victoria), Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves, James Baldwin’s passport, Michael Jackson’s fedora, a statue of 1968 Olympian medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos, their fists raised in a Black Power salute; and a Barack Obama 2008 campaign button. I was startled to learn that only about 3,500 artifacts are on display. It seems like more - in a good way.
Info: 1400 Constitution Ave. NW; 844-750-3012, nmaahc.si.edu. Free admission; reservations (through March 2017 no longer available) accepted for timed entrance tickets. Limited number of same-day tickets.
NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART
A blue rooster looms over Pennsylvania Avenue, and that’s good news. It means the National Gallery of Art has completed the expansion of its East Building, where curators hang contemporary works.
The renewed building opened Sept. 30 after a three-year closure. The 15-foot-tall rooster on the new roof terrace is a 2013 work by Katharina Fritsch. A few steps away, the sculptures of Alexander Calder and canvases of Mark Rothko dominate the tower galleries.
The expansion gives the East Building space for about 500 pieces from the museum’s permanent collection (up from about 350) and three temporary exhibitions. Through Jan. 29, one is “Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959-1971,” which travels to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art March 19-Sept. 10.
Info: 4th Street at Constitution Avenue NW; 202-737-4215, www.nga.gov. Free.
The ragged, industrial Navy Yard neighborhood along the Anacostia River was trouble for decades. Then the city chose to build a new Washington Nationals baseball stadium here in 2008. Since then, successes have snowballed in the surrounding Capitol Riverfront area.
Nowadays, fans drink beer at the Bullpen and play cornhole in a courtyard surrounded by shipping containers. A few blocks away, the mile-long Anacostia Riverwalk begins, passing stacked kayaks at the Ballpark Boathouse, a new marina, and a reclaimed lumber shed that now houses five restaurants.
Info: Capitol Riverfront, www.capitolriverfront.org. Arsenal at Bluejacket Brewery, 300 Tingey St. SE; 202-524-4862, www.bluejacketdc.com. Most dinners $13-$26.
COMPASS ROSE AND 14TH STREET CORRIDOR
Compass Rose, a restaurant in a converted row house, has a dining room abuzz with millennial patter and a menu inspired by the world travels of owner Rose Previte. It’s also part of the great nightlife boom of the 14th Street Corridor.
In 2013, The Washington Post declared the area in “gentrification overdrive.” Compass Rose opened in 2014. This year Previte added a Bedouin tent in back for private parties.
Info: 1346 T St. NW; 202-506-4765, www.compassrosedc.com. Dinner small plates: $8-$20 each. Bedouin tent: $70 per person, plus tax, drinks and tip.
Northeast D.C.’s Union Market, once a wholesale zone, was reborn in 2012 as a food hall. Since then, its 40 or so local artisan vendors have won a big reputation, and it’s rubbing off on the surrounding area, which includes Gallaudet University.
Info: 1309 5th St. NE; 301- 347-3998, www.unionmarketdc.com. Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays.
Until 1972, the Watergate Hotel was just one part of an office-and-apartments complex on the Potomac River.
Then came the bungled burglary of the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate offices, which eventually brought down President Richard Nixon and made Watergate a household word. But things didn’t go so well for the hotel. Owners changed. In 2007, the hotel fell idle. But in June it rose again, redone to make the most of its 1967 opening and notorious history. Groovy new furnishings in its 336 rooms echo the complex’s curvilinear exterior. The complex also has a spa, the upscale Kingbird restaurant and a rooftop bar.
Info: 2650 Virginia Ave. NW; 202-827-1600 or 844-617-1972, www.thewatergatehotel.com. Doubles $425 and up.
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