Bob Frasca is partner-in-charge of design at D.C.’s ZGF Architects. Frasca, who received his Master of City Planning from MIT and his Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Michigan, has chaired the AIA Committee on Design and served on the board of the Architectural Commission of the University of Washington.
Best Historic Architecture
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Gordon Bunshaft’s iconic design is located just blocks from the Newseum (site of the D.C. Host Chapter party during the AIA conference). It currently has a fabulous evening installation. Song 1 is what artist Doug Aitken calls “liquid architecture.” The museum’s fa'ade is used as an enormous video screen, and the installation includes an urban soundscape. The installation is best viewed from more than one location and the museum plays starring and background performances as well. It reminds me of my youth when we looked forward to summer nights at the drive-in movies. This is a do-not-miss event.
Monuments by Moonlight
There is no better time to see D.C.’s monuments and memorials than at night. The evenings are cooler, the buses of tourists have retired for the night, and there’s a great sense of grandeur and peacefulness. We often take people on a tour after dinner. The newest memorial is a fitting tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., and the views across the Tidal Basin to the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial are beautiful. It’s a very pleasant walk from the Lincoln Memorial, too.
Best New Architecture
The Smithsonian’s Kogod Courtyard
The Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery share a site in the exciting Penn Quarter. A beautiful courtyard separates the two, and Sir Norman Foster enhanced the space with a delicate yet intricate glass roof. The undulating glass-and-steel structure gracefully protects visitors from the elements but, more importantly, respects the historic buildings. Every time I visit, the space is filled with people. It’s a great place to sit and admire some great historic D.C. architecture, too.
Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Architecture
A number of city neighborhoods are being reborn and turning into the most popular destinations for locals and tourists alike. The U Street Corridor, which was devastated by the 1968 riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., is alive with 24-hour restaurants, a strong music and theater scene, and a great mix of home-grown and national retailers (especially home design stores). And new housing mixes the old with the new. Don’t miss a DC landmark, Ben’s Chili Bowl. Ben’s was the only establishment spared during the riots. I love their original half smoke with spicy chili sauce. Another great area is the H Street Corridor, which has also undergone revitalization after years of neglect. Here the scene is for a younger crowd includes delicious restaurants and nightlife. Grab a cab or take a longer walk from Union Station. And the DC Streetcar will be in place next year.
Best Dining, Drinking, and Shopping
Restaurant Nora under chef Nora Pouillon is one of my go-to DC restaurants. Located near Dupont Circle, Nora’s was the country’s first certified organic restaurants. The building has a history too: It is a 19th century grocery store. I love the seasonal menus and the wine list is terrific.
Graffiato is Food Network star Mike Isabella’s first restaurant on his own. Try the tasting menu in this Chinatown location for a great deal on a delicious and diverse meal of shared plates. His tapas are done the Italian way.
For a classic DC experience, try the pleasant Tabard Inn. Located in a series of Classical-Revival and Romanesque-Revival style rowhouses just five blocks from the White House in Dupont Circle, the hotel and restaurant is elegant and quiet. Even better, the outside patio experience is great on a nice spring evening.
Off the Record is located under the Hay Adams Hotel, across Lafayette Park from the White House. It’s got a rich history and you never know who will walk in the door.
The old Hotel Washington has a new owner—W Hotels—and an updated roof terrace. P.O.V. has amazing views over the White House grounds with refreshing cocktails and comfortable seating. See the National Mall light up at night from this great location.
Also near the White House, the Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel is where President Grant coined the term “lobbyist” after the people who would gather in the lobby while he enjoyed a drink in the bar. Who can argue with that? They also have a terrific scotch bar.
Finally, near the Convention Center and the Verizon Center, PS7 has unique cocktails for any mood. It’s a fun place to slip away to during Convention.