You're stressed by travel. You're overwhelmed by the conference schedule. You're wondering how on earth you're going to hit the ground running for AWP. Here's what you truly need to know.
The conference hotels are in what is referred to as Woodley Park, but that term refers primarily to residential areas; there isn't a significant nightlife. Luckily you're right near some great neighborhoods, and there is a metro entrance right by the Marriott. Dupont Circle is one stop south on the red line (head toward "Glenmont"). Cleveland Park is one stop north on the red line (head toward "Shady Grove").
Adams Morgan can be accessed by walking over the Duke Ellington Bridge--from the major intersection of Calvert & Connecticut Avenue, by the Omni, turn onto Calvert and walk a long curve toward the right, and up a hill, following the road as it changes into Adams Mill. Sounds more complicated than it is; drunk college kids do it all the time.Lots of dive bars along this stretch. The Diner is open 24/7 and a great place for brunch. Madam's Organ has a live music and a really raucous blues bar atmosphere. The Black Squirrel has the best beer selection in the neighborhood (yes, even better than The Reef up the street--I'm sorry but someone has to say it, even though The Reef has been around forever). Oh, and Bourbon has five different types of fried potatoes on their menu: curly fries, waffle fries, sweet potato fries, shoestring fries, and tater tots. Yep, I'll see you there.
The U Street neighborhood is a $7-10 cab ride. Highly recommended that you check it out (Ben's Chili Bowl! Busboys & Poets! speakeasy cocktails at The Gibson! which is so cool they don't even have a real website, so you can get an actual description here), but anyone that tells you to metro to a nearby stop on the green/yellow line is crazy--that is a horribly inefficient route from Woodley Park. There's theoretically a connecting bus line from Woodley to U Street, but it is unreliable. I say you taxi.
One bus line that IS reliable is the 42, which snakes through Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan (along Columbia Road), and up into Mount Pleasant.
Give yourself about 20 minutes to get to any of these neighborhoods. It looks like it should take less than that, I know. But trust me. That means that you're better off picking a neighborhood for each night's offsite events and sticking to it. I suspect 85% of the action will end up on Dupont Circle, but I'm biased by years of living there. If you're staying in Dupont, I strongly suggest grabbing some time for work/wifi at Soho Coffee, some shopping at Secondi, and some exotic vodkas at Russia House.
If you use the metro, as Charlie says, for the love of god--stand on the right! The left is reserved for those walking quickly. Also, be aware that most metro stops have two major exits, which can significantly change where you emerge street-side. If you are getting off at Dupont Circle, for example, use "Q Street" to get to Kramerbooks (a fabulous indie bookstore and late-night cafe) or Teaism (mmmm, sweet potato salad and bento boxes). Use "Dupont Circle" to get to the Big Hunt (many beers on draft) or Bread & Brew, two locations for offsite events this year. Taking the wrong exit will cost you an extra 10 minutes walking time.
Closest liquor store - Sherry's Wine & Liquor at 2315 Calvert Street NW [Right by the Omni, but not within obvious sightline from Connecticut Avenue--go around the corner. P.S. - 10% off all single-malt scotches on Thursdays.]
Closest copy/mailing center - FedEx Office Print & Ship Center at 1812 Adams Mill Road NW [Walk toward Adams Morgan neighborhood; look for FedEx on your right, just before the major intersection of 18th & Columbia Roads.]
Closest grocery store - Whole Foods at 1440 P Street NW [Dupont Circle metro, Dupont Circle exit; head away from the Circle on P Street, crossing 18th Street as you walk; lot parking also available.] Also useful, in Cleveland Park: Brookville Supermarket & Yes! Organic Foods, in the 34oo block of Connecticut Avenue NW.
There is tons of great food in DC, as attested to by Leslie. If you want tips on the great places in nearby neighborhoods, check out DC's Yelp page, the City Paper's "Young and Hungry" blog, or DCist. What I'm going to focus on here are a few places immediately adjacent to the conference hotels.
Open City - This place is gonna be swamped, but that doesn't mean it's a tourist trap. It's a neighborhood favorite because of its cheerful vibe and reasonable prices. Operated by the forces behind Adams Morgan's Tryst and The Diner (two of the most beloved venues in Northwest), Open City has an extensive menu of all-day breakfast options, generously sized salads, burgers, quirky sides--quinoa, glazed carrots--and consistently good specials and wines by the glass.
Lebanese Taverna - This local chain is great for groups sharing Middle Eastern small plates. Elegant but noisy setting (the tables are close together). Specialties include the shwarma, tartare, and falafel; if you're not crazy about garlic speak up in advance, because otherwise you'll be tasting it all night.
Medaterra - I've never understood why this place isn't more popular. Their $5 happy hour martinis are huge, their servers are sincere and attentive (always something I watch for, given my food allergies), no one hurries you on clearing the table, and their plates are generous. No, it's not hip--they haven't updated their menu or decor since 2005. Maybe 2000. But the lamb shank with green beans, the roasted half-chicken with french fries, and the vegetarian Koshari (green lentils and rice) are all great deals.
Tono Sushi - There's usually an automatic suspicion of a place that has $1 happy hour sushi. Don't be afraid! A good deal, with plenty of pan-asian entrees, and they have pretty fast turnover on orders. Just steer clear of specialty rolls than mention spicy mayo, which tends to be layered on way too thick. Not to be confused with Taro Sushi, a very upscale place in Dupont Circle. Sushi experts should consider going to Taro if money is no object.
Mama Ayesha's - A hidden gem. I kind of hate to even mention it here. If you're in the mood for couscous, lamb kebab, or other savory comfort foods, this is worth the 7-minute walk across the Ellington Bridge...especially since the AWP crowds may be far less than those on Connecticut Avenue.
Some people love New Heights (contemporary American, pricey, and not to be confused with "The Heights" in Mount Pleasant). Others swear by The Afghan Grill for its authenticity--Sebastian Junger chose to have lunch there when being profiled by a Washington Post reporter for his most recent book, War. I can't vouch for either personally, but worth a look.
And again, just to be clear--if you were coming to DC FOR THE FOOD, these would not be the places I'd send you. I'd love to take you to Ethiopic for injera and spicy vegetables, or Mourayo for the octopus with fava puree, or Jaleo for brussels sprouts roasted with serrano ham, or Sei for sashimi. But you're coming to DC for the books, and the readings, and the community. So I'm not going to recommend a half-hour sojourn to Rasika just because they serve chic Indian food and the Obamas love it.
That said, if you're looking for a culinary night out, back-channel me and I'll see if I can help. All I need to know is the target neighborhood and cuisine.
People will tell you to go to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, or Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, or to play mini golf at the H Street Country Club. All awesome destinations, but...they're not being realistic about what you can get to from Woodley Park, especially if the weather is bad. Here are four places you can go to get away from AWP for an hour and a half, without derailing your day's schedule.
Smithsonian American Art Museum / National Portrait Gallery - These museums dovetail in a grand space formerly occupied by the Old Patent Office building, housing both a stunning modern/American art collection and, for the history buffs, a chance to see many iconic faces and works. Of all the Smithsonian institutions, this is by far the most accessible to the conference; it is also the only one that stays open until 7 PM on weekdays. [Free. Take the red line metro to Gallery Place/Chinatown stop and use the "Arena" exit; SAAM is immediately across the street.]
Washington National Cathedral - Beautiful, meditative space that is truly unique to our city. The stained glass is worth the trip alone, including a panel that features an embedded moon rock. Overhear a choir practice, go up to the top level and take in the view, and spy the stone carving of Darth Vader. [Free. Inexpensive parking on site; walking distance, if you're ambitious and the sidewalks are not icy.]
National Zoo - When I used to walk that stretch of Connecticut Avenue for work every day, I would turn off and take a five-minute break to watch the quintet of baby cheetahs. Though the cheetahs are a little bigger now, they're still fun to watch--and we've got lion cubs (!), pandas, and an always-entertaining Ape House. [Free. Inexpensive parking on site; reasonable walk from Woodley Park.]
Phillips Collection - Probably my favorite private art collection in DC. Highlights include the beauty of the original Duncan Phillips house, the Rothko room, and works by Degas, O'Keeffe, and Steiglitz. For those staying in Dupont, note that the cafe is a lovely refuge and accessible without paying. [$10-12 admission, but you're supporting a gallery recovering from a major fire; worth the money! Feasible street parking, or take the red line metro to Dupont Circle and use the Q Street exit.]
Monuments? I love them too. And if you've never been to DC, it would be a damn shame to not visit them. The Lincoln Memorial has the best presidential statue--filled with emotion and mammoth in size. The Jefferson Memorial has the most scenic location, though a bit cluttered up with preservation efforts right now. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has the strongest dramatic impact. The World War II Memorial is all pomp and circumstance, wreaths and fountains, but it is done well if you like the style. The FDR Memorial has the best curation of texts, and innovative uses of stone and water. (You'll notice I don't mention the Washington Memorial, which can be seen from afar; nothing is gained in getting up close to the base. And a White House visit requires too much advance planning.)
The problem? All these sites are downtown. Far from Woodley Park. The solution? Collar someone with a car, and GO AT NIGHT. These memorials are all operated by the National Park Service, which means they are open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The NPS websites above have the details; most have reserved stretches nearby for parking, and traffic dies down significantly in those areas after 8 PM. Quite frankly, I love memorials best by moonlight anyway; I even wrote about it for the Washington Post Magazine.
I would like for you to have at least a half-decent time in DC, winter storm oblivion notwithstanding. It is my city. These are my neighborhoods, as you might have guessed from the level of detail above. Please, please, think about coming back to visit when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
If you might want to meet in person during the conference, please consider making it out to either one of my readings on Friday, February 4:
9 AM - "Potomac Review Celebrates Best of 50" with Julie Wakeman-Linn, Kirk Nesset, Sandra Beasley, Jacob Appel, Jennine Capó Crucet, and Marilyn Kallet. [Omni Shoreham Hotel, aka "the fancy hotel," Diplomat Ballroom of the West Lobby.]
7 PM - Reading in celebration of Copper Nickel's latest issue with Sandra Beasley, Anna Journey, Kyle Dargan, Merrill Feitell, David Keplinger, Wayne Miller, and Michael Martone at the Black Cat, 1811 14th Street NW. [Metro to Dupont Circle/Q Street exit, and use Q to walk to 14th Street; the numbered streets should be going down.]
Or just look for me at the hotel bars. I'll have my flask. And if you're coming to this blog for the first time--or for the first time in a while--please check out Crown's trailer for my forthcoming book, Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life.
I know, you're anxious. But it's AWP! We'll make the best of it. See you there~