Bomboland Illustration (For Express)

One of the great things about D.C. is that everyone ends up here for different reasons. Some are born here. Some grow up — or still live — nearby in Maryland or Virginia. Some move here for college and never leave. Some stay for a little while and then move on. Some come here because of politics. Some don’t want anything to do with politics. That’s part of what makes our annual Best of D.C. issue so fascinating: Much like D.C. itself, it’s always changing, even as certain things stay the same. This year, like last year, we split up the coverage into two sections. One features our editors picks — the places and activities we love the most at the moment. The other is full of your picks — dozens of places to go and things to do as voted on by you, our readers. — Sadie Dingfelder, Thomas Floyd, Rudi Greenberg, Zainab Mudallal, Kristen Page-Kirby, Rachel Podnar and Stephanie Williams


(Chris Cruz)

Best place to blow off steam

Nuboxx

701 Second St. NE

We live in stressful times, so it’s only natural to want to punch things, right? When I do, I head to Nuboxx, a boutique boxing gym in NoMa. The space has the luxe perks of a SoulCycle — towel service, showers, merch, keyless lockers and all-natural toiletries — and the classes have the feel of an old-school boxing gym with blaring hip-hop music. Nuboxx offers four types of 60-minute classes ($35 drop-in) that host up to 12 people. Off-peak classes ($20 drop-in) tend to have no more than six, which means more one-on-one time with the instructor. Technical Boxing, my go-to class, uses timed rounds to focus on footwork, shadow boxing, speed rope and, of course, hitting the heavy bag and the trainer’s target mitts. Boxing Conditioning takes it up a notch, with shorter rest periods. Strength and Conditioning doesn’t involve boxing — it uses intervals and circuits to improve strength and speed — and 30/30 is a mix of boxing and strength and conditioning. Whatever the class, the trainers are sticklers for technique, so you’ll be looking like a pro in no time. I’ve always left the studio on an endorphin high, drenched in sweat and feeling as badass as Michael B. Jordan’s character in “Creed.” Except my gym is less grimy. Z.M.


(Andre Chung)

Best music venue at The Wharf

The Anthem

901 Wharf St. SW

When The Wharf opened a year ago, the development transformed D.C.’s Southwest waterfront — and the city’s music scene. The Wharf is home to three venues within spitting distance of one another, and I’ve caught several concerts at each. While the midsize Union Stage and the intimate Pearl Street Warehouse are both welcome additions, I keep coming back to The Anthem because there’s nothing quite like it. The place looks huge (and it is, with a capacity of 6,000), but it can still feel weirdly intimate. If you’re on the general-admission floor, it’s like you’re at a giant version of the venue’s older sibling, the 9:30 Club. If you sit in one of the so-called Super Excellent Seats that line the balconies, you feel like you’re at a theater. Head up to the bleachers on the third floor and it will remind you of an arena (albeit one with superior sightlines and sound that’s dynamic even from the way back). The venue officially opened with a Foo Fighters show and has since drawn arena-size names (Lorde, The Killers, Jack White), living legends (Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson) and everything in between over nearly 150 performances. When it comes to D.C. music venues, the 9:30 Club has always felt like home to me. If The Anthem keeps this pace up, I might need to submit a change of address. R.G.


(sadie dingfelder (express))

Best island getaway

Heritage Island

575 Oklahoma Ave. NE

A 7-acre mass in the Anacostia River, Heritage Island is an unintentional monument to the patient persistence of nature. Created in wetlands ruined by the Army Corps of Engineers in the early 1900s, Heritage Island and Kingman Island — its larger, drier neighbor — have been thwarting developers’ dreams ever since. Over the years, plans to use the islands as landfills, parking lots and a children’s theme park have fallen through, and a little forest has sprung up instead. These days, Kingman Island is home to a popular annual bluegrass festival, but Heritage Island gets precious few visitors — just a handful of hikers who don’t mind the vine-choked trails and mosquito-infested puddles. I go to watch great egrets fish in the marshes and to listen to catbirds squawk in the brush. Plans are still afoot to build outdoor classrooms, a floating lab, an environmental education center and more, and I worry these developments could displace the very nature they’re intended to showcase. But I may not need to worry too much — a boardwalk built on Heritage Island just last spring is already being drowned by the river. S.D.


(Mansion on O street)

Best rainy-day activity

Treasure hunting at The Mansion on O Street

2020 O St. NW

Actually five interconnected Dupont Circle rowhomes, The Mansion on O Street is a private club, bed-and-breakfast, museum, concert venue and flea market, and it also hosts a popular weekly brunch. But my favorite way to explore the oddball space is by going on one of its treasure hunts ($30-$45 per person). Choose from several rotating themes — my favorite is the Rock & Roll Hunt — and then poke your way around the home’s 100-plus themed rooms. Three that are easy to find are the two-story log cabin room, an animal-print-intensive safari room and a guest room where Rosa Parks used to stay (she was friends with the mansion’s reclusive owner, H.H. Leonards). As you wander around, gently push suspicious-looking bookshelves, mirrors and oversized paintings — some of them will swing open to reveal hidden rooms. That’s your ticket to finding treasures like Prince’s jacket from “Purple Rain,” a chair shaped like a giant stiletto heel, and several musical toilets. S.D.


(Bluejacket)

Best D.C. art that comes with a beer

Bluejacket

300 Tingey St. SE

From a practical standpoint, the label on your beer can doesn’t matter — it’s what’s inside that counts. That hasn’t stopped craft breweries from turning now-ubiquitous cans into works of art. In D.C., no one is doing cans more distinctively than Navy Yard’s Bluejacket, which started its brewery-only weekly can releases in March. While many brewers take either a brash or uniform branding approach that might make all their cans blend together, Bluejacket puts the art first, with most of each can’s label dedicated to a stylized, unique image (with typography that is simple, clean and to the point). When Bluejacket released an IPA called Turnstiles, for example, Kris Mullins, who designs the cans as Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s creative director, used an image of a Metro station ceiling. The label for Open Window shows a squinting dog with its head poking out a car window. Freak Scene features a bold, retro drawing of a suited-up man with four eyes. “Every one of the beers has a backstory, and with the images — metaphorically or otherwise — we’re trying to telegraph something about the feeling we get from the beer itself,” Mullins says. “It’s an expression of what’s in the can.” R.G.

Best place to feel like you’re eating at a diner in Spain

Flip It LJ Diner

1432 Park Road NW

When it comes to restaurants, D.C. has a bevy of options — except for good diner food. That’s what made Flip It LJ Diner, which opened last year, such a welcome addition to the landscape. The restaurant has all the tried-and-true breakfast offerings (served all day) — big stacks of pancakes, waffles, homemade biscuits and gravy, New York-style bagels — but also offers a surprisingly vast selection of Spanish comfort foods that add a nice twist to the traditional diner experience. Craving carne asada with a side of chicken and waffles? Or maybe you want to add corned beef hash to your taco salad platter? Flip It is where the best of both worlds come together. S.W.


(Inner Loop)

Best group to write home about

The Inner Loop

theinnerlooplit.com

When Rachel Coonce and Courtney Sexton convened the first meeting of The Inner Loop in 2014, more than 75 people showed up — way more than they were expecting. “We were pretty shocked,” Coonce says. Apparently, the D.C. area was thirsty for what The Inner Loop offers: a monthly public reading featuring a mix of local authors, from the famous to the up-and-coming. “I really wanted to create this community, because writing is often a very solitary endeavor, and writers need to be able to get outside of their own heads,” Sexton says. The free meetings rotate through different spots in the city and encourage writers to get chatty with one another. “We try to keep it fun and informal; there’s usually alcohol available,” Sexton says. The project has grown over the years to include a writer’s residency and a podcast, but the monthly readings are the group’s beating heart, the founders say. “They aren’t just for writers,” Coonce adds. “They are for readers, too.” S.D.


(Kenny Mitchell)

Best bar for singing along with strangers

Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub

713 King St., Alexandria

Sometime into your second beer at Murphy’s, you may catch yourself shouting “MacIntyre!” along with the crowd during a rendition of “Old Dun Cow,” or clapping during the pauses of “The Wild Rover.” This might even happen on your first visit, because it’s that easy to fall in love with this cozy, friendly bar in Old Town. Murphy’s celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, so it’s safe to say many first-time visitors turn into regulars. The food is good and the Guinness is poured properly, but the real draw is the live Irish music. According to general manager Kenny Mitchell, there hasn’t been a single night in all 40 years of operation without live music. And you can still catch Pat Garvey, who played on Murphy’s opening night in 1978, singing “Finnegan’s Wake” and the like a few times each month. But try not to get carried away, or you might end up onstage with him like I did, miming green alligators and long-necked geese, helping the crowd learn the hand motions to “The Unicorn.” R.P.


(James C. Jackson)

Best people-watching

The Line hotel

1770 Euclid St. NW

D.C.’s hippest hotel isn’t just for hipsters. Sure, you’ll see 20-somethings in high-waisted jeans sipping Todd Thrasher-designed cocktails at Brothers and Sisters, one of the hotel’s in-house restaurants, but they will be sharing the stainless steel bar with scruffy activists and polished international travelers. This isn’t an accident — the huge, open lobby of The Line encourages mingling by refusing to bow to stodgy ideas like demarcated spaces. As you explore the airy atrium (which was reclaimed from a 112-year-old church), you’ll find restaurants overlooking or nested inside other restaurants, and a coffee bar overlooking a fishbowl-like recording studio — the headquarters of Full Service Radio, a local podcasting network. That means if you hang out long enough with your latte at The Cup We All Race 4, you’re likely to see all sorts of DMV musicians, DJs and tastemakers. The daily culture clash that happens at The Line’s lobby can keep a dedicated people-watcher occupied for hours on end. S.D.


(Jack Coleman)

Best new comedy venue

The DC Comedy Loft

Bier Baron Tavern, 1523 22nd St. NW

Comedy thrives in dark, dank spaces. Expose it to fresh air or daylight and it withers and dies. Don’t believe me? Check out all the great comedy happening at Bier Baron’s DC Comedy Loft, a duplex that includes a large upstairs stage and a small subterranean showroom. The cellar is my favorite, though finding it isn’t easy — you have to walk through the downstairs bar, down a hallway and past a kitchen. Since opening in July, the space has becoming fertile ground for all kinds of interesting experiments. Every Monday night, for instance, there’s the Comedy Shuffle, an open mic where local comedians try out new material and get eviscerated (or, to put it nicely, workshopped) in real time by their peers. The brainchild of Bier Baron general manager James Gaghan, the two spaces give the bar the flexibility to book big-name comics as well as shows tailored to more niche audiences. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing “Chelsea Lately” writer Chris Franjola, who will swing by Saturday and Sunday. S.D.


(Margot Schulman)

Best place to catch a Broadway show not on Broadway

Arena Stage

1101 Sixth St. SW

There’s an intimacy to Arena Stage productions that proves surprising. The facility’s sprawling glass exterior looms over Sixth Street, but the Kreeger Theater — the most traditional of the three spaces within Arena — is a cozy, 514-seat room. While “there’s not a bad seat in the house” can be a tiresome cliche, in this case it’s applicable. The productions, however, can be larger-than-life. It was at the Kreeger Theater that Tony-hoarding musical “Dear Evan Hansen” got its start three years ago. That show remains one of the hottest tickets on Broadway, nearly two years into its run. This past summer, audiences were treated to the world premiere of the breezy movie-turned-musical “Dave,” featuring a creative team packed with Broadway staples. The next time a show comes through Arena for an out-of-town tryout, do yourself a favor and snag a ticket. Then, make sure to brag to your friends about seeing that Broadway hit up close and personal before the show even made it to the Big Apple. T.F.


(Simo Ahmadi)

Best all-you-can-eat vegan brunch

Equinox Restaurant

818 Connecticut Ave. NW

I’m allergic to dairy, so whenever I look at a restaurant menu, I have to play a guessing game as to what I can eat — or overwhelm a server with tons of questions. So I tend to eat vegan often out of convenience. There’s no better feeling than walking into a place and knowing I can eat everything on the menu. And at Equinox’s Sunday brunch, I literally have. For 3½ hours every week, the fine dining establishment gets casual, ditching the china and fancy tasting menus for a $35 buffet-style all-you-can eat smorgasbord of some of the city’s best plant-based cooking. The brainchild of co-owner Ellen Kassoff Gray, as executed by her husband, chef Todd Gray, this vegan brunch isn’t trying to replicate meat dishes. Ironically, “I call this sort of a carnivore’s approach to plant-based cooking,” Todd says. “I don’t try to do things that are trying to be things they aren’t.” The menu rotates monthly, but you’ll almost always find a healthy selection of vegan pancakes, breads and spreads, fondue and desserts. Todd recently started using JUST Egg — a mung bean-based substitute that’s closer to the real thing than a tofu scramble — in addictive, bite-size breakfast sandwiches. You’ll also often find the chef working the room and cheerfully passing out samples of one of his latest creations. R.G.


(Laura Metzler Photography)

Best children’s book section

Solid State Books

600 H St. NE

Reading is all about imagination, and Solid State Books provides a space that inspires young minds to soar. A plush forest with hand-sewn leaves suspended above, the children’s section rewards the usually banal activity of browsing by hiding reading nooks and crawl spaces in what appear, at first, to be ordinary shelves. You’ll also find all the latest titles for woke kids, including “Julian Is a Mermaid,” a lavishly illustrated story that gives children (ages 4-6) permission to follow their dreams, even when they run counter to gender norms. For older readers (14 and up), check out “The Hate U Give,” the story of a black student grappling with identity issues at a mostly white prep school. All the classics are in stock too, so if you want to run with the space’s woodland theme, pick up a copy of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” and read it to your little ones under the tree. S.D.


(Geoff Livingston)

Best festival that almost didn’t happen

Funk Parade

funkparade.com

This year’s edition of D.C.’s Funk Parade got off to a rocky start when organizers announced in March that the free daylong festival was on the brink of cancellation due to a lack of funds. But supporters swiftly came to the rescue and donated enough money to keep the funk going in May. This is just one example of how the annual festival, which began in 2014, has brought the community closer together and created a high-profile platform for funk and world music in D.C. The brush with death made this year’s parade feel even more community-bonding than usual, as if the crowd had a heightened appreciation. It was also a larger celebration of D.C.’s music scene, with the night portion of the festival stretching into venues all across the city, not just along the U Street Corridor as in years past. For me, the best part is getting to see local acts like free jazz ensemble Nag Champa and R&B group Dior Ashley Brown & The dAb Band reach a new (and much wider) audience. The Funk Parade’s big return felt like a win not just for the festival, but for D.C. music as a whole. S.W.


(Kate Arion)

Best new way to chill out

Forest bathing

Whatever forest works for you

Feeling stressed? Of course you are. The news in this very paper probably raises your blood pressure daily. Wait, don’t stop reading. There’s another solution: forest bathing. This trendy new way to chill comes from Japan, where it’s known as “shinrin-yoku” and has long been prescribed for a variety of ills — and for good reason. Studies suggest forest bathing might lower the risk for Type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. Best of all, it’s easy to do. Just find some woodsy area and take a walk — but not a fast walk. Stop and sit at the foot of a tree, or lie down in a pile of newly fallen leaves. Sniff the soil, listen to the cicadas, wave goodbye to the last butterflies of fall. You’re going to look like a crazy person, so if you’re not comfortable communing with nature on your own, consider going on a guided walk. My favorite local naturalist, Melanie Choukas-Bradley, leads regular forest bathing walks, including a daytime tour on Oct. 31 at the Enid A. Haupt Garden behind the Smithsonian Castle. Or check out her new book, “The Joy of Forest Bathing: Reconnect With Wild Places & Rejuvenate Your Life,” which offers simple, practical ways to try forest bathing on your own. S.D.


(LeRoy Armstead)

Best way to experience Burning Man without leaving D.C.

Sunset & Chill

Olde City Farm & Garden, 925 Rhode Island Ave. NW

The Renwick’s current Burning Man exhibit is a good way to see some of the festival’s large-scale art, but what it’s missing are the parties — the bacchanals of radical self-expression. For a more authentic Burning Man experience in D.C., check out Sunset & Chill, an every-other-Saturday-evening outdoor get-together with live DJs, light installations and fire-dancing (tickets are $10). The organizers — Ethan Sapperstein, Sam Stevens and Wade Hammes — aim to create a collaborative environment where people can express themselves through dancing, contact juggling, acro-yoga and other so-called “flow arts.” “It’s about people from different walks of life coming together and creating something new and different for a few hours,” Sapperstein says. Will the party keep going even when the weather gets cold? “We intend to keep hosting … as long as people keep showing up,” he says. Now that’s the playa spirit! S.D.

Best grocery store for whatever you’re cooking

Jumbo Food International Supermarket

3201 Brinkley Road, Temple Hills, Md.

If you’re a serious cook, there comes a time when you need something weird — at least by American grocery store standards. Mine came when I was preparing Anthony Bourdain’s cassoulet and needed pig skin to line the pot. I asked at my local grocery store and got some very weird looks; then a butcher suggested Jumbo Food International Supermarket. Asian, Hispanic and African grocery stores and the like have always been a place to grab ingredients that never make it to the “international” section of the local supermarket, but Jumbo has products from all around the world, all in one spot. Want to make menudo? Here’s the tripe! Recipe calls for Chinkiang vinegar? You got it! Want to make your own bacon? Jumbo has pork belly for $3 a pound and it’s ALWAYS in stock. The seafood section is pristine (you always want a fish counter that smells nothing like fish), has an incredible variety and all the fishies are whole; the men with terrifyingly sharp knives will prep them any way you want. If you’re a cook with high standards and a sense of adventure, then Jumbo is your kind of place. K.P.K.


(Sailor Oyster Bar)

Best impossible restaurant that’s worth the drive

Sailor Oyster Bar

196 West St., Annapolis

You really only need a few things to open a restaurant. A good-sized kitchen? Nope. A stove? Nope. An oven? Nope. When Scott Herbst, owner and operator of Sailor Oyster Bar, walked into the building for the first time in 2016, he realized he couldn’t have it all. “I knew that it wasn’t going to have the traditional kitchen, just because of the layout of the building,” which was constructed in 1910, Herbst says. “I sat down with my chef at the time and we started brainstorming about what we could do if we were on a boat. After an hour, we had this outline of a menu and we were like, ‘We can do this.’ ” The menu they arrived at includes oysters on the half shell, crudo, charcuterie, toasts and preserved seafood like sardines from Portugal and mussels from Spain — and it’s all done with nothing but a toaster oven, one induction burner, a sous vide machine and a kitchen blowtorch. Diners — who should be prepared to share dishes and eat too much — will walk away from the table knowing that the chefs of Sailor Oyster Bar have kept their cool in the kitchen all night long. K.P.K.

Best way to pretend you’re at an amusement park

4DX at Regal Gallery Place

701 Seventh St. NW

Anyone who’s been to Disney World or Universal Studios knows about the co-called “4D” experience — when a 3D movie is supplemented by mobile seats and practical effects. Since January, the Regal Gallery Place Stadium 14’s 4DX theater has brought amusement park thrills to downtown D.C. The ticket comes with a hefty price tag ($23-$26), but a moviegoer willing to splurge can now watch the latest 3D blockbusters complete with dynamic seats, gusts of wind, splashes of rain and more. My recent screening of “Venom” proved to be an apt showcase for what 4DX has to offer, particularly when Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock buzzed through the streets of San Francisco on a motorcycle while my seat shifted, slid and rumbled with every turn. Or when, as Venom eerily licked a victim across the face, I felt drops of water hit my cheek. The 4DX experience kind of made this campy mess of a movie fun — is there a better endorsement than that? T.F.


(John J Coyle Jr )

Best solution for a long Maryland commute

MTA Commuter Bus

mta.maryland.gov

The D.C. commute is a hellish landscape with no escape. Take your car and you’re surrounded by drivers who deserve death for blocking the box. Take Metro and you’re … on the Metro. Those of us who live in many Maryland suburbs or exurbs, though, are lucky. The Maryland Transit Administration’s commuter buses are pure luxury compared to literally any other option. They have comfy seats. They have Wi-Fi. MTA has two dozen or so routes into D.C., and they start running early and stop running late. They’re also cheaper than Metro or driving: For me, getting from home to work and back on Metro costs over $12 and involves a 30-minute drive to the station. Driving the whole way takes an hour, with $15 parking. The bus? Eight bucks and a 10-minute drive. Plus, you get to make friends whose real names you never know, like my buddies Catholic Missal Guy, Snore McSnoreson and Curly Bangs. So sit back, relax and let the driver take on all the idiots who don’t know what a turn signal is. K.P.K.


(Andre Chung)

Best place to celebrate D.C.’s weird side

Rhizome DC

6950 Maple St. NW

Sitting on a quiet and unassuming residential street in Takoma is a house where artists of all disciplines unleash their weirdest, most off-the-wall projects. Did you know that you can turn a giant inflatable dinosaur into a musical instrument? I didn’t either, until I went to Rhizome DC last year and saw the guy behind Sgt. Pepper’s Plastic Inevitable Pet Sounds making piercing ambient drone music by rubbing up against a balloon animal. Most bookers would scoff at the idea of having an act like that play in their space, but that’s all a part of Rhizome’s charm. The venue is not only a space to hear obscure bands, but a place to learn and experiment: The robust schedule offers a wide selection of workshops, lectures and exhibitions, such as a six-week meditation series focused on experimental music and a journaling workshop where participants learn to capture memories from their dreams. As one of the few DIY arts spaces left in the area, Rhizome is a crucial venue for local creatives to freely express themselves in a safe and nonjudgmental space. S.W.