Washington restaurants and museums get creative for their TV close-ups

From the "Bill Clinton" drink to "the best sandwich in America" only available to W Hotel guests, food shows have had quite a tall order covering the District. The Washington Post’s Maura Judkis shares D.C.'s best known culinary treats that you may have seen on TV. (Casey Capachi/Casey Capachi/Casey.Capachi@washpost.com)
November 27, 2013

With the rising popularity of television programming devoted to dining and drinking, producers have been forced to get creative to satisfy the appetite of audiences hungry for travel and entertainment tips. Shows about Washington have been known to focus on dishes and drinks that aren’t even on the menu but make for good TV.

At the Tune Inn, for example, the show “Drinking Made Easy” had bartenders whip up about 30 obscure concept cocktails before settling on the blue “Bill Clinton,” a sex-themed drink that no one had ever heard of before the show aired, according to bar owner Lisa Nardelli.

If only producers of shows focusing on the city’s other cultural offerings were half as creative. What the outside world knows about Washington’s non-culinary attractions is largely limited to such cliches as the Mall museums, the monuments and such official buildings as the Capitol and the White House.

Never mind that the Clampett family of CMT’s “My Big Redneck Vacation” visited Anacostia’s Big Chair sculpture. Or that “Only in America With Larry the Cable Guy” spent the entire show joking around at the FBI’s defiantly untouristy Quantico training facility and visited parts of the Pentagon not open to the public.

According to Leslie Green, spokeswoman at the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, her agency gets at least two requests a week to shoot on Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets NW, a two-block stretch that is the single most popular photo op under her office’s jurisdiction.


A sign for the International Spy Museum. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The Smithsonian Institution, of course, has an entire channel devoted to its holdings, its museums and, as spokeswoman Becky Haberacker puts it, such larger “Smithsonian themes” as history, culture and science. Several Smithsonian artifacts (such as the Hope Diamond) have been featured on the Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum” show. But that program typically focuses on a single object in a museum’s collection as opposed to a particular museum as a place to visit.

The International Spy Museum might have the highest profile outside Washington of all the city’s museums, with numerous spy-themed segments appearing on the Travel Channel, the History Channel, the Tennis Channel — about tennis star/spy Alice Marble — and a planned piece on AMC about George Washington, or “the founding father of American espionage,” as museum spokesman Jason Werden calls him.

The Newseum is a close second, and not just because the ABC political affairs show “This Week” was broadcast from one of the museum’s two in-house television studios for several years. “Mysteries at the Museum” has featured such historic news-gathering artifacts as an ankle-camera that photographer Tom Howard sneaked into a criminal execution.

Along with the Smithsonian, both museums are frequently sought after as backdrops to interviews with the museums’ experts. Espionage is particularly hot topic these days, lending the Spy Museum a built-in edge over its competitors.

But as far as some of this city’s hidden gems are concerned — its theaters, galleries, parks and other playgrounds — they have yet to be discovered by the camera.

Michael O’Sullivan

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Michael O’Sullivan has worked since 1993 at The Washington Post, where he covers art, film and other forms of popular — and unpopular — culture.
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