Two Great Choices for a Visit in Washington DC
A Tale of Two Houses: Washington DC Secrets
By Kurt Jacobson
Entering the world of natural light from the depths of the DC Metro, steep stairs deposit passengers onto Dupont Circle.
Sprawled all around are streets named after US states or alphabet characters convening like the spokes on a spinning bicycle wheel.
What seems like dozens of streets are a mere four that split in two just before reaching the traffic circle. Driving this jumble of streets for the first time is daunting in our modern age, and test the ability of drivers dodging cars, pedestrians, and bicycles. During rush hour pedestrians risk life and limb just crossing the streets in the traffic circle.
A Slower Paced Era
However, if we take a look back one hundred years ago we will find a slower paced era when parties, balls, and concerts were the highlight of the social season. DC’s elite gathered to see and be seen and Dupont Circle was one of the social hotspots.
By the time the roaring twenties came around the party was in full swing with jazz and champagne in abundance. Lucky for tourists, this well preserved, the trendy area is home to dozens of restaurants, bars, embassies, historic landmarks and some hidden gems that still remind us those happy times long ago.
Let’s take a look at two of my favorite destinations off the maps of most visitors and take a trip back in time.
Anderson House was built by Larz Anderson, a wealthy socialite, and diplomat. The home was perfect for being in the social spotlight and showing off wealth and status. Larz met and married Isabel Weld Perkins, who also came from a wealthy family. Larz, a staunch Republican quit his post as ambassador to Japan when the Democrat-Woodrow Wilson was elected president. The thought of working for a Democrat was too much to bear.
For more than 30 years Larz and his wife Isabel used the lavish mansion to entertain dignitaries and show off their art collection, including 16th-century tapestries of Diana the Huntress.
“Anderson House has had a good deal of experience in entertaining foreign guests, and it has proved a fine setting for the purpose. It was arranged for stately functions of a limited size, and its approaches and succession of rooms make a suitable background.” Said Larz Anderson on hosting distinguished guests that included the King and Queen of Siam.
All the modern conveniences
This 1905 mansion had most of the modern conveniences available at that time like electricity, elevators, central heat and telephones. The outside area had a walled garden, a three story carriage house, and tennis courts. The fifty-five room mansion was trimmed in opulent imported marble and ornate iron staircases. This was a home fit to host DC’s elite in extravagant dinners, inaugural receptions, concerts, and dramatic performances during the social season-January through Easter.
When my mom took me there I was expecting it to be boring and lifeless, but the house told a story even a jaded young man from Alaska could appreciate. I could imagine being invited to a party and greeting Larz and Isabel decked out in the latest fashion. With a chilled glass of champagne in hand, guests would enter the music room where a band played from the balcony above. Life was good to the Andersons!
Larz died in 1937 with no children. Isabel oversaw the gift of the Anderson House and its contents to The Society of the Cincinnati.
Larz had been a member of this oldest of American patriotic organizations started by George Washington and felt it would be a good headquarters for the Society.
Washington DC Heroes
Open to the public since 1939 the mansion serves as a reminder of the American Revolution, the Civil War, Spanish American War and the heroes who fought to gain our freedom we enjoy today.
With visiting hours Tuesday through Saturday 10 to 4 and on Sunday 12 to 4 admission is free! Take a docent guided tour to get the most of your visit. Many visitors rave about the one hour house tour. A recent visitor told docent Larry Ragard, “What a wonderful find in the city of Washington to be able to learn more about the American Revolution in the setting of a beautiful historic mansion that preserves the memory of that vast event.”
The Anderson House is available for private events and is a popular place for weddings. Visitors can also use the library Monday through Friday 10 to 4 to conduct research on American history. The best part of a visit to the Anderson House is telling friends and family back home about this virtually unknown DC attraction and the story the walls can tell.
An old-timey Inn
On the opposite side of Dupont Circle in Washington from the Anderson House sits another little-known house. The Tabard Inn started as a residence in the “mini-mansion” area of Dupont Circle. This property, stitched together from three consecutive homes on N Street, comprise the Inn opened by Marie Willoughby Rogers in 1922. You can feel the history oozing from the floors, ceilings, and artwork throughout.
The first time I visited I mistook the address, 1739, as the date the building was constructed; the inside made it feel that old and authentic. As we entered on a cold January night for dinner; their restaurant was dimly lit and noisy giving it the feel of an old tavern our founding fathers might have met at under candle light. The floors creak, and the stairs groan as you investigate the interesting art and knick-knacks calling the curious to come take a look.
The Tabard Inn is just a five-minute walk from the Dupont Circle Metro station making it a perfect place for visitors to stay or dine. That is as long as you don’t care the Tabard Inn has no televisions in the bar, restaurant or any of the guest rooms.
Here guests are coaxed into pulling a book from the shelves in their rooms for literary relaxation. Get lost in Bill Bryson’s latest, or go back in time and read one of many historical books on Americana and the world travels from their extensive collection.
The small bar in the restaurant is an inviting place for a glass of wine and an appetizer, as is their lounge area. You might sit next to someone rich and famous or just another lucky tourist; who, like you, found this unique inn that is DC’s oldest continuously operating lodging establishment.
Eating breakfast, lunch or dinner at the Tabard is a treat. Since being bought at auction following the death of Ms. Rogers, the new owners insist all menu items be made from scratch.
The Tabard also tries to source products locally but my favorite part of the restaurants’ policy is; no microwaves (aka food destroyer) in the kitchen! Try the wild trout from North Carolina, pork chop from Iowa or a Mediterranean inspired grilled leg of lamb for a main
dish paired with a glass of wine.
Dining alfresco in Washington
In warm weather, the outdoor patio is a refuge from our busy world. Thoughtfully placed flowers and plants co-mingle with interesting art, making the patio a must if the weather cooperates. An occasional sparrow flits by hoping for a crumb or two while you enjoy this outdoor dining experience.
If you stay overnight in the Inn your breakfast is free. Although they don’t offer the entire breakfast menu for free the selection is adequate for most appetites.
If you want to book a room at the Tabard Inn be advised every room is unique. All are clean and comfortable, but have no elevator service; so get a lower floor if that is a concern. I found the Tabard to be one of the quietest hotels I’ve stayed at in DC as well as one of the most interesting. Each time I go I make a point of wandering the common areas to reacquaint myself with both odd and interesting art.
It is sort of like revisiting old friends. The food is always good and the staff friendly and efficient. With all the chain hotels out there why not stay in an elegant townhome from Washington DC’s glorious past instead? The Tabard delights those who want something better than an ordinary hotel stay.
Although DC has had some turbulent times in the past, I recently asked a reception desk clerk in The Dupont Circle Hotel if he thought the neighborhood was safe. He told me, “This is the safest neighborhood in DC.” The rest of DC also feels safe to walk and I visit our nation’s capital often but am more cautious at night.
I hope you find these two gems as inviting as I have. They are close together making it easy to visit both on the same day and have time leftover to see other Dupont Circle shops, restaurants, and attractions. The area has come a long way since I first visited in 1987 and is ready to welcome all to one of Washington DCs’ most interesting neighborhoods.
1739 N St NW
Washington, DC 20036
2118 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
Kurt Jacobson lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and spent many years as a professional chef. Now he travels the world and shares his stories here and on other travel websites.