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Celeb-watching, cultured living, and more – in D.C.

Having spent our glorious university years in Washington D.C., my friends and I recently decided to reconvene in the U.S. capital for a walk down memory lane.

We met at the newest Kimpton Hotel: the thirty-two million dollar, recently renovated Hotel Palomar which is modeled after the original in San Francisco.

This place is a home-away-from-home to visiting celebrities such as Mötley Crüe and blast-from-our-past diva Chaka Khan – who, we’re told, had gotten an elevator locked down just for her and her huge entourage.

The hotel is unique in many ways; the waiters here undergo rigorous training with a ballet company, a terrific concept to ensure both regular guests and celebrities are served with grace. What’s more, the boutique property’s décor, inspired by the modern elegance of 1930’s French Moderne designers, provides its visitors with a sophisticated, artful sanctuary. The place is conveniently located just off D.C.’s colorful Dupont Circle and is therefore a mere hop, skip and a jump from Georgetown’s quaint shops, restaurants, and million dollar mansions, and only a short cab drive away from the seats of power on Capitol Hill. We were set to have a good time.

We visited one of the newest and most expensive memorials in the nation, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial, unveiled in May 1997. In our collective opinion, it’s the most beautiful as well. Commemorating the 32nd President, the memorial sits alongside the Potomac River, with statues, waterfalls, shade trees, quiet alcoves and reflection pools, each one symbolizing one of his four terms as President. As we walked along the stretch of grass called the mall, I reminisced about my first visit to the site during my “Explorers, Warriors, and Statesmen” class at university.

Off we went to the nearby Lincoln Memorial, located on the far bank of the Tidal Basin where many spend their late-March and April days walking on the promenade, admiring the momentous cherry blossoms. My friend Dana, incidentally, insists that a late night visit is the ideal time to walk under the enormous stone President. We also visited the Titanic Memorial, built in 1931 and located on Maine Avenue waterfront in Southwest Washington. Despite its tragic aura, this place always educes a bit of a giggle nowadays; after all, hard to keep a straight face when catching sight of the large statue, a man leaning slightly forward with his arms spread out, very much akin to the famous Kate Winslet pose in the movie “Titanic.”

We then took a taxi to Georgetown, where I went to university. This is also the location of many film shoots: “The Exorcist,” “Minority Report,” “True Lies” and “Chances Are,” to name a few. Along ‘O’ street, lined with bricks and quaint houses, we walked to the university and stood at the entrance by the Carroll statue and its Gothic towers which took eight years (!) to complete.

We shopped, walking through the high street stores such as the Gap, Victoria’s Secret, J. Crew and Zara, as well as some exotics: Urban Chic, Else, Dean and Deluca, Barneys New York, etc. Of course we also did a quick pop in to the Erwin Gomez salon on Wisconsin Avenue. Erwin Gomez Dana’s eyebrow and make-up guru, (he’s also guru to the Bush twins, D.C. socialites, and tinsel town celebrities such as Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria). He took one look at our (few!) unruly brow hairs before squeezing us in for a serious wax and tweezers tackle. Ouch.

Let me tell you that there’s nothing like a civilized lunch at Café Milano on Prospect Street, the hub of Hollywood’s visiting celebrities (people such as Robin Williams, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt). This is beside all of D.C.’s fat cats: diplomats, lobbyists, the multi-lingual Euro scene, plus the occasional foreign royal (for example, Queen Rania of Jordan). Amid the clutter of Botox-ed faces and enhanced noses, we dug into our lunch entrées of pan-seared Hawaiian sea bass, complete with crispy artichokes in a white wine sauce, and ravioli filled with veal and asparagus in a truffle reduction.

Then off to Capitol Hill, where I was a summer intern for senator Moynihan of New York. Besides this nation’s leaders, the building contains stunning works of art such as Brumidi’s “Apotheosis of Washington.” Tourists can watch senators and representatives speechifying (yes, I just made that word up) in their chambers. I recall that sometimes, this place felt like Toronto, because Capitol Hill has an underground network of trains. For a whole day, an intern might not see daylight (reports of interns turning into vampires are exaggerated).

The Library of Congress sits across the street. Here we would come to study for exams in one of the many regal reading rooms, as our university’s libraries were so full. The fountain in front of Library of Congress is frequently visited by college students that take a dip in it for a quick reprieve from books, or else in celebratory fashion at the end of term.

I should note that in DC, the cabdrivers are extremely diverse, and many have their own opinions on politics. It’s always interesting to share a cab ride with someone who knows both the right short-cuts and current events.

Of course, it’s important to note that life here is not all about politics, as DC boasts quite an art scene here too. A block from the Georgetown University campus is the thirty-year old Govinda Gallery, where Irish descendant and Georgetown alumni, Chris Murray, currently exhibits his rock n’ roll photography and books by luminaries and friends, such as Annie Leibowitz, Anton Corbijn, Jim Marshall, Kate Simon, Andy Warhol and Donovan – just to name a few.

For those seeking something other than pop culture, I recommend the National Portrait Gallery. Recently re-opened after extensive renovations, it portrays men and women who have made significant contributions to the history, development, and culture of the people of the United States. Don’t miss William Jefferson Clinton’s eight-foot high portrait in the America’s Presidents room, painted by William Shanks, whose roster of prominent portraits includes Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, the late Princess Diana, and late U.S. President Ronald Reagan. For more art, check out the Arthur M. Sackler gallery, which houses works from Asia. Close by is the National Gallery of Art, another receptacle of culture not to be missed.

The Shakespeare Theater on Seventh Street is also a must-see. Specializing in classics enhanced with a skillful, imaginative style, its productions rival London’s. This is possibly the best place in America to see Shakespeare today. After all, it was there that we saw a most memorable Hamlet production where four women played different parts of Hamlet’s personality.

In the evening, we trekked off to Indebleu, a contemporary French-Indian restaurant located in one of DC’s most popular dining districts, Penn Quarter. Here we sat in the lounge on a pumpkin colored sofa and ordered “mangotinis,” listening to chilled-out music beats. There are two dining rooms here, decorated in pulsing red and orange and yet strangely serene. We dined on shrimp beignets on red onion chutney accompanied by tomato vodka shooters and seven-spice dusted tenderloin of beef, with braised vegetables and port madras onions, ending the delectable experience with a climax of Oreo kulfi profiteroles and cardamom hot chocolate – Dana’s dream dessert. We highly recommend it.

We were too exhausted for dancing but, in case you have more stamina, my favorite option for that sort of thing is the Eighteenth Street Lounge, where some of today’s most famous DJ’s, people such as Deep Dish, Thievery Corporation, and DJ Hisham, have made their mark.

From Shakespeare Theater to Senators’ inner-circles, local soccer moms to stripping university students, (or so we’ve heard: after all, there are fifteen colleges and universities in the D.C. metro area alone, and tuition bills are getting higher and higher!), the home of Congress and the President is the world’s most exciting political capital. This is a place where one can both grow, mature, develop one’s character, and be entertained. So come visit already.