Category Archives: Arts and Entertainment

Teeing Up At The Miniature Golf Course On Hains Point

I’m often surprised by some of the amenities that DC doesn’t have, like cheap bowling (although luckily that can be found just across the pond at Ft. Myer).  Add to that list lots of mini-golf—there are only two spots in the city to get your putt-putt on:  the indoor course at the H Street Country Club and the outdoor course on Hains Point near the Mall.

The East Potomac Golf Course is known best for its nice public golf course, one of three in DC.  But on its grounds is also an 18-hole mini golf course for those of us who prefer putting to driving.  The course opened in 1930, making it one of the oldest courses in the nation.  In addition, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places as the “oldest continuing operating miniature golf course in the country.”

Other than the history, there’s not too much to say about this mini golf, which is fairly standard.  It’s quite old, seen for example in the fact that some of the carpet is warped, some of the features are broken, and there is debris like leaves and sticks on the ground.  But, it all adds to the charm.  And hey, it’s the only place you can play outdoor mini golf in our fine city!

Prices are $6.50 for adults, $5 for kids, and $5.50 for groups of 20 or more.  There was not a crowd when we visited in May, although staff told me that it gets busier later in the summer.  The course is able to host kids’ birthdays and other such functions.

Also on site are a pro shop and a snack bar that serves beer.  After an exhausting game of mini golf, there’s nothing like sitting and cooling off in the afternoon shade with a cold one.

To visit: 972 Ohio Drive SW, (202) 554-7660.  Open April-October, only on weekends during the spring and fall, times vary (see here) but are generally 11am-7pm.  About a half hour walk from the Smithsonian and Waterfront Metro stations.  A car or bike are the easiest options.

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Bahn Mi Bliss at the Eden Center

Every city has its neighborhood cultural hubs, from Little Italy in Boston to Koreatown in New York.  One of D.C.’s best ethnic hotspots is Eden Center, located in Falls Church, Virginia.  This large indoor and outdoor mall complex is home to approximately 120 Vietnamese stores, ranging from restaurants to groceries to souvenirs to salons.  As its website says, it is “the heart and soul of the Vietnamese-American Community for the entire East Coast.”

Because there’s so much going on at Eden Center, especially on weekends, it’s a bit overwhelming to visit and pick a restaurant.  Let me suggest Song Que (“song whey”), a delightful bahn mi shop that also features various grocery/deli items like finger foods to go, hard-to-find fruits, and snacks.

Bahn mi is best described as a French-influenced Vietnamese sandwich, featuring meats, tofu, and pickled vegetables on a baguette.  Options include ground pork, lemongrass beef, and Vietnamese meatballs.  Song Que is somewhat unique in terms of bahn mi at Eden Center and elsewhere in that it has a great vegetarian option—the caramelized tofu skin sandwich.

Also worth tasting are the bubble teas that come in all sorts of flavors, like mango, yellow bean, and jackfruit.  Song Que is nice in that it has table and seats in the back, which many of the other takeout food options at Eden Center do not.

After your sandwich, stroll around the mall, and especially go to the grocery store, called the Eden Supermarket.  It’s a treasure trove of many different ingredients for Asian cooking at amazing prices.  Other great restaurant choices at Eden Center included pho, seafood dishes, and soups.  Here’s a listing of all of the options.

Eden Center, formally the Plaza Seven Shopping Center, started reaching its height when thousands of immigrants settled in the area in the 1970s after the Vietnam War.  Indeed, the clock tower at the Eden Center is an exact replica of that in Saigon.  It’s a great place to step out of America for a couple of hours, and experience the delights and flavors of a different culture.

To visit:  6751 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA (Song Que is located at 6769 Wilson Boulevard), hours vary by store—call for details.  About a one mile walk from the East Falls Church metro, or 1A/1B/1E/1F bus west from the Ballston metro).

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Ground-Breaking Performing Arts at the GALA Hispanic Theater

Our city is awash with the performing arts, from the classic to the fringe.  But a very unique and exciting component of our bustling arts scene is the Spanish-language plays, readings, concerts, and readings hosted by the GALA Hispanic Theater, “the theatre with a different accent.”  It is considered by some to be one of the country’s leading Spanish-language theaters, and along with Teatro de la Luna in Arlington, is one of the two in the national capital area.

Image: GALA Hispanic Theatre

GALA makes its home at the restored Tivoli Theater in Columbia Heights, a Washington, DC institution.  Before coming GALA’s permanent home in 2005, the Tivoli opened in 1924 as a elegant movie theater, but was shuttered in 1976 and fell into disrepair.

GALA stands for “Groupo de Artistas LatinoAmericanos”, and is a full-blown theater company.  Established 34 years ago, it has staged over 165 productions (see the impressive list here).  When I visited, the mainstage performance was a play called “Ana en el trópico,” a translation of the 2003 Pulitzer award-winning and Tony nominee “Anna in the Tropics.”

Nearly all the performances at GALA are in Spanish with English subtitles, and the playbill and other pieces of information are bilingual.  There’s something mesmerizing about watching a play in another language, and realizing how much of acting and the emotions of the stage are communicated by means other than language.  It is incredibly impressive it is to see actors in action who are masters of their craft in more than one language.

GALA’s theater company stages its own productions, but the theater also hosts guest artists such as musicians, dancers, DJs, and poets.  The company is committed to outreach:  the “Galita” program provides bilingual theater for kids, the Paso Nuevo program is a theater workshop for teens, and art exhibitions decorate the walls of the theater lobby.

GALA is an excellent and essential part of the DC community—visite pronto!

To visit:  3333 14th Street NW, Washington, DC.  (202) 234-7174.  Columbia Heights Metro or many buses.  Prices depend on show.

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Honoring Veterans and Preserving Culture: The National Museum of American Jewish Military History

Tucked away on a quiet street in Dupont Circle is a hidden museum that explores the accounts and history of Jewish-American war veterans since the Civil War.  The National Museum of American Jewish Military History is a small treasure trove that documents U.S. history through the eyes of Jewish soldiers, servicewomen, rabbis, and others who have served our country during times of strife.

The museum shares space with the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A., a service organization that supports and assists veterans.  It was founded in 1896 as the Hebrew Union Veterans Association to combat anti-Semitic accusations that Jews did not serve their country during the Civil War.  After a handful of name changes, the current name was decided upon in 1929.

The NMAJMH covers two levels and is divided into a handful of exhibits, some of which are permanent and others which are rotating.  One of the most powerful is devoted to the experiences of Jewish GIs arriving at and freeing prisoners from Nazi concentration camps.  Some American Jewish soldiers spoke Yiddish or other European languages, which was extremely important to organizing the survivors, and provided immense comfort.  Many GIs established life-long friendships or romances with former prisoners or others displaced by the war, and a handful of these stories are displayed with photographs, letters, and other artifacts.

Other exhibits at the NMAJMH include those on female Jewish veterans during World War II; the Hall of Heroes, which lists biographies all of those Jewish vets who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor; and a look at how American Jewish war veterans protested and organized against Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.

What I liked best about this museum in particular is that it is completely told through the eyes of individuals, and therefore has an extraordinarily personal feel, rather than a more overarching and “curated” experience as is the case with most history museums.  So, for example, the exhibit on servicewomen during World War II features the handwritten letters, uniforms, and oral histories of women such as Frances Slanger, the first American nurse to die during World War II.  It is refreshing to be in a museum that so thoroughly focuses on the real people who were a part of history, rather than the history itself.

And, the museum is full of objects donated by veterans, each with its own story and associated memories.  One of my favorites was a small collection of “trench art,” or art made on the front lines during World War I using materials on hand like canteens, bullets, and other pieces from the war.

Chartered in 1958, the museum not only documents history, but actively works to educate the public.  It provides classes, lectures, author talks, and partners with other organizations like Theater J to bring history to life on the stage.  The museum also is still actively looking for donations to the archives, seeking to grow and enhance its collections.  As the U.S. is still engaged in wars in which Jews are serving the museum truly is living history.

To visit:  1811 R St. NW, 202-265-6280.  Open Monday-Friday 9am-5pm.  Dupont Circle metro or many buses. Tours available upon request.

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A Colossal Warehouse of Books

Washington, DC is peppered with some excellent used bookstores, though not as many as one would hope.  The best close by is Capitol Hill Books, characterized by floor to ceiling book jumbles, handwritten signs with arrows in every direction, and a delightfully crabby proprietor.  Other good ones (and some of the only others) are Idle Time in Adams Morgan and Riverby Books on Capitol Hill.  But have you ever dared to imagine an enormous warehouse filled with used books lurking just outside our city?  Neither had I, until I was informed of Second Story Books and Antiques in Rockville (which claims the other Second Story Books on P Street in Dupont Circle as a comparatively miniscule offshoot).

The delight of Second Story Books, which truly is a located in a large warehouse, is first experienced by the used-book smell wafting out of the open garage doors upon your approach.  The place is home half a million books, according to its website, and the sheer variety could keep you browsing for days.  It is one of the largest used bookstores in the country, and not surprisingly, a good part of its business these days comes from online buyers.  It also deals with estate sales and individuals looking to sell books (though beware, similar to a consignment shop, you will get only a fraction of what the book appraisers believe they are able to sell the book for—you’re best off selling in bulk).

The buyer who ventures to the warehouse in person will find dozens of categories to choose from:  rare art, cookbooks, fiction, naval history, young adult, foreign languages, the list goes on.  The website has many of the titles available for browsing, if you are looking for something rare or unique.  The Washington Post pointed out one of the best (or most frustrating) features of the store—because of its sheer size, the title you are looking for may be found in one of a handful of sections.  For example, there are no less than three sections for cookbooks.  But this scavenger hunt is what ends up making the trip enjoyable in the first place!

Prices depend on which sales are going on, but there is no doubt that they are great deals, and better than you will find in the city.  Some trade paperbacks were going for as little as $.50 during my visit, but go up to $15,000 for extremely rare books online.  In order to consolidate space, there is currently a 50% off sale for the entire store (though unclear when that will end).

Second Story Books was started in 1973, and both the Rockville and Dupont locations have been in business for over 20 years.  There used to be a Bethesda until it closed a few years ago, and the original warehouse was located in Alexandria, Virginia.

The bookstore also sells posters, videos, CDs, paintings, and other collectibles.  Whatever you’re in the mood for, one thing’s clear—bring a large tote bag, because you won’t be going home empty-handed!

To visit:  12160 Parklawn Dr., Rockville, MD, (301) 770-0477.  Open Sunday-Wednesday 10-8 and Thursday-Saturday 10-9.  A medium walk from the Twinbrook Metro stop, but if you are planning on lugging anything back, a vehicle may be necessary!

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Where to Buy Kachina Dolls, Sandpaintings, Sealskin Thimbles, and Other Gorgeous Pieces of Native American Art

You may think that finding carefully-selected, idiosyncratic, and precious Native American art is a pleasure limited to the galleries of Santa Fe or the dusty roads outside of Flagstaff, but happily the Indian Craft Shop brings the experience to our Mid-Atlantic and metropolitan world.

The shop is a small yet jaw-droppingly comprehensive little place that has been home to contemporary Native American art since 1938.  It is located in the Interior Department building, the agency that is home to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  It features art from approximately 45 North American tribes at one time, but draws from all 565 federally-recognized Indian tribes (the only qualification to have art selected to be sold in the store). All levels of artisans are considered for inclusion, from amateurs to professionals.  Employees of the Indian Craft Shop travel constantly, scouting out new artists to feature.

And, the selection is magnificent, even though it only takes up one room!  Ivory carvings, basketry, weaving, turquoise jewelry, bronze sculptures, almost any kinds of Indian art that you can think of with artists currently practicing are featured.  My favorite quality is that every piece is signed and dated by the artist, indicating how unique the art is.  To get a better taste of the shop’s wide range of art, check out the online store.

I was very impressed by the willingness of the staff to engage with me in details about the collection, even though I am merely an amateur fan.  If you are seeking to learn more about Indian art, also check out the book selection—a staffer bragged to me that it has every book in print related to Indian art!

Because the Indian Craft Shop is located in a federal building, it is only open during business hours during the week, and one Saturday per month.  You should also be prepared to go through security and show a photo ID.  But once you’re in the building, be sure to check out the National Park Service information center, and plan your next trip outdoors onto the public lands.  Also of interest in the building is the Interior Museum, though it’s currently closed for renovations.

To visit:  1849 C St. NW, (202) 208-4056.  Hours are M-F 8:30am- 4:30pm, and the third Saturday of the month 10am-4pm.  Closest Metro is Farragut West, or S1 bus line.

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Nick’s Nightclub Provides the Rare Opportunity to Boot-Scoot Boogie in DC

You might say country music is omnipresent these days, with modern country bands winning Grammys, topping singles charts, and going platinum.  And although country is traditionally southern, something about the pervasiveness of horses, wide open spaces, and loneliness in the lyrics make me think of the West.

Which is why I was more than thrilled to discover the only country music bar in our North-South border city:  Nick’s Nightclub in Alexandria, or “DC’s Premier Live Country Menu” as it calls itself.  Indeed I believe that this is the only country-themed bar in the area, and as near as I can tell the only one that even has a country night.  This seems odd in a city so close to and influenced by vast Virginia horse country and Appalachia bluegrass territory, and yet I’m not the only one asking the question, “Is Washington A Country Music Town?”  This 2007 Washington Post inquiry discovered that DC’s country radio station receives only 3-4% of the market share of listeners even though the average in America is 12%.

I won’t begin to speculate on the lack of country-ness in our city, but I will tell you that Nick’s offers an haven for those of you seeking a little Billy Ray Cyrus in your night out.  Nick’s is best enjoyed on the dance floor, where line dancers and two-steppers come out in full force, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.  Line dances lessons are offered on Tuesdays (free) and Fridays and Saturdays ($5), and live country bands perform on the weekends.  If swing is your thing, stop by on a Wednesday for lessons and some big band music.

My own line dance lesson was taught by Marcia and was successful!  We learned 3 dances and put them to music in just under an hour, and were able to practice on the dance floor throughout the night (if you go, be aware of the etiquette that line dancers keep to the center while couples twirl around the outside).  If you are not there with a date, be prepared for many gentlemen to ask you to dance!  Nick’s also has a full bar and surprisingly large and cheap menu.   And, apparently, a cowboys-in-their-undies contest—what self-respecting country bar wouldn’t?!

My favorite part of Nick’s is its truly non-Washington crowd.  According to servers and employees who I talked with, most patrons come from Virginia, some as far as an hour away.  You’ll see old-timers with the two-step perfected, dashing young men in Carhartt overalls, and prize belt buckles galore.  What you won’t see are suits, $8 pints, and White House staffers.

All in all, Nick’s offers a good time for those of us dealing with a bit of country music whistfulnesss, and for those seeking a one-of-a-kind night out.  You’ll have to go more than once to experience all it has to offer!

To get there:  642 South Pickett Street, Alexandria, VA 22304.  (703) 751-8900.  15-minute walk from the Van Dorn Metro stop. Cover charge on weekends (ladies free ‘til 9).

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