The U.S. Capitol Building
Capitol Hill is a venerable neighborhood just east of the Capitol building, best known as the main residence in the city for the legislative and judicial branches of the U.S. government, and for the staffers who run the place. Rare is the visitor who skips a visit to the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court steps, or the Library of Congress, but time permitting you should make an effort to head further east to see this beautiful neighborhood, and to have a nice meal on Barracks Row while listening to the politicos chatter away. The Hill extends several miles east of the Capitol to RFK Stadium and the Anacostia river.
Capitol Hill, just east of the Mall, plays a central role in the country's political life, as two of the three branches of the federal government—the legislative and the judicial—are located here. The government spills far over into the neighborhood itself, as this is the favorite residential section of town for congressional staffers, as well as any other type of politico you can imagine. Streets are abuzz with intense political debate, and you'll encounter this head on when visiting a neighborhood bar or restaurant.
It's definitely worth it to learn a little more about the American political system before visiting "the Hill". The United States is the world's oldest democracy, and the sight of that democracy in action is a beautiful one. To get a basic understanding of how the system works, read the Constitution. This founding document established the three branches of American government. The executive branch consists of the President and the various departments and bureaucracies he oversees, and can be witnessed in other areas of the cities. Capitol Hill is the home of the legislative and judicial branch.
The Capitol, the heart of Capitol Hill, is home to the United States Congress, made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate has 100 members - two from each state, regardless of population. The House consists of 435 members, each of whom represents a district of similar population. The House more or less directly represents the people of America - although sometimes redistricting, powerful interest groups, and the pressure of party loyalty gets in the way - and with its intense partisanship and representatives from every corner of the political spectrum, it makes for a fine political soap opera. The Senate is seen as somewhat more refined, with more experienced and more serious politicians, but it is often frozen by gridlock, thanks to antiquated rules like the filibuster, which requires a supermajority of 60% to pass even the most basic bills. This is by design - the Founding Fathers intended for the Senate to be a check on the raw populism of the House, where the rights of the minority would be protected and the two parties would be forced to compromise on the issues of the day.
The process by which a bill becomes law is also outlined in the Constitution. The process begins when the bill is introduced by either a Senator or a Representative. The member who introduces the bill becomes its sponsor, and other members can sign on as co-sponsors. Once a bill is introduced, it is referred to the appropriate committee. There are 20 committees in the House, 16 in the Senate, and four joint committees made up of both Senators and Representatives. All members of Congress serve on at least one committee; the most senior member of each committee serves as its chair. The committee must approve each bill before it can be sent back to the floor; this process tends to weed out all but a few promising bills. On the House or Senate floor, the bill is read and full and debated - a process that can stretch on for weeks or months - and amendments are frequently added, which may or may not have anything to do with the bill itself. If the bill makes it through this process - only a small percentage do - it starts all over again in the other chamber. In most cases, the two chambers will pass slightly different versions of a bill, which then must be reconciled in a conference committee, a special joint committee that exists solely for this purpose. Finally, bills that pass both houses are sent to the president, who signs or vetoes the legislation.
At every stage, behind the scenes players wheel and deal to make sure their priorities have a voice in the process. At the lowest level of the Hill hierarchy are the interns, the best and brightest college kids and law students who assist Congressional offices with basic tasks, from getting coffee to sending letters to constituents. Many interns eventually graduate and become staffers - such as legislative assistants, who advise the member of Congress on legislation, press secretaries, who make sure the Senator or Representative is treated favorably by the media in DC and back home, and caseworkers, who help constituents deal with federal agencies. At the head of each office is the Chief of Staff, one of the Senator's or Representative's most trusted advisers. While there are a few old hands on the Hill who are as powerful as the members of Congress themselves, most staffers eventually leave. Some join the press, and some return to their home districts to run for office themselves. Many, however, become lobbyists - powerful and well-paid political insiders who are hired by corporations or special interests to persuade members of Congress to vote the way they want. While lobbyists have a bad rap, they are an essential part of the political process, giving all types of non-profits and associations a chance to make their voices heard - although it would be naive to pretend that some interests don't have more influence than others.
Despite its position at the center of American democracy, Capitol Hill is worth exploring regardless of your interest in politics. It is a historic neighborhood of eighteenth and nineteenth century rowhouses in a wide range of architectural styles, and a wandering stroll from the Capitol to Barracks Row along residential side streets is a nice way to take in this quintessentially Washingtonian neighborhood. The upscale dining scene here has exploded in recent years, particularly along Barracks Row (centered on actual seventeenth century U.S. Marines barracks at 8th and I St) and along Pennsylvania Ave. North of the Capitol Grounds is grandiose Union Station, which is both a major point of entry into the city, and also a historical landmark in its own right, with a beautiful, gilt main hall. The other big historical attraction is the huge Eastern Market, which is a fine place to browse, admire, or grab something good to eat.
If you are a U.S. citizen, contact your Representative's local office before your trip. Often, they will be happy to hook you up with goodies like tours of the Capitol, the White House, and other attractions, general DC travel tips, and maybe even a meeting with the Representative him/herself.
The Blue and Orange lines have stations just south of the Capitol Grounds at Federal Center and Capitol South. Further from the city center Eastern Market and then Stadium-Armory can be reached on the same line. The former is the most convenient stop for exploring the Capitol Hill neighborhood, as well as the eponymous market and Barracks Row. Stadium-Armory is closest to both RFK Stadium and the Congressional Cemetery.
The most prominent stop is certainly at Union Station, 40 Massachusetts Ave, ☎ +1 202 289-1908 on the Red Line, which is an easy walk from the Capitol, and is right by the train station.
Union Station is the central train station for the whole city, and trains come and go primarily along the ACELA Northeast Corridor, although you can likely find a train heading in any direction, and the majority of them are owned by Amtrak.
Union Station is also the end point for the MARC Trains heading north through the Capital Region of Maryland to Baltimore. As the MARC serves primarily commuters, train departures and arrivals are concentrated at the beginning and end of the work day.
Routes #90, #92, and #93  are the most useful routes here—they run along 8th St from Barracks Row, past Eastern Market, and then north along Florida Ave to U St.
#96 and #97  run south from Union Station, right past the Capitol Building, then head east along E Capitol St. The former then heads south to the Congressional Cemetery, while the latter goes to RFK Stadium.
Coming from the Mall, #90, #92, #94, #95, and #96 head east along Independence Ave, and then down Pennsylvania Ave.
The D.C. Circulator' Union Station–Navy Yard Blue line runs M-F 6AM-6PM (extended and weekend service on Nationals game days) from Union Station, past the Capitol Building, Eastern Market, and Barracks Row, before heading south to Navy Yard.
Street parking throughout Capitol Hill's side streets, once you get far enough east of the Capitol Building, and away from Eastern Market and Barracks Row, is usually not too hard to find. The traffic patterns are disastrously convoluted, though—even by D.C. standards. Main east-west routes run along Constitution and Independence, as well as Pennsylvania and Maryland Ave. Coming from east of the river, the main bridges are at Pennsylvania Ave and E Capitol St. There are no main roads heading north-south throughout the area, only the complex diagonals.
RFK Stadium has big public lots, where you can actually park your car without having to sell your house, and it's a relatively easy drive from outside the city, as it's just off I-295/DC-295. The traffic, on the other hand, is properly a nightmare in about a square mile radius around the stadium during events.
Taxis are easy to catch around the clock in the western portion of this area, particularly around monuments and main dining strips, but you will not find them in the residential areas.
The Contemplation of Justice, U.S. Supreme Court
The main attractions on Capitol Hill are all concentrated in the U.S. Capitol Complex, grounds managed by the Architect of the Capitol, covering roughly the three blocks east of the Mall. These include the Capitol Building and its grounds, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, Library of Congress, and congressional office buildings.
- Capitol Building, ☎ +1 202 226-8000, . M-Sa 8:30AM-4:30PM. The center of the legislative branch of America is home to the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as numerous impressive paintings, statues, historical exhibits, and one magnificent dome. A new Visitor Center recently opened, which features an exhibition of the history of the Capitol and of Congress and serves as the gateway for all tours. The Rotunda is the heart of the Capitol building. Soaring 180 feet, it features a ceiling fresco of George Washington and a 300-foot-long frieze depicting centuries of American history. Other rooms include the National Statuary Hall, the original meeting place of the House of Representatives, the Old Senate Chamber, the Crypt, which features 40 Doric columns and a marble head of Lincoln, and the Old Supreme Court Chamber, where both the Senate and the Court have met. The best place to see democracy in action is in the galleries of the Congressional Chambers (the Senate is in the north wing, the House in the south). It is on the floors of these two chambers that bills are actually debated and voted on. You can also sit in on any committee hearing, which is where much of the day-to-day work of Congress is conducted. While a few same-day passes are available, tours of the Capitol building can be arranged through the Visitor Center website (or by calling or emailing your Representative's or Senator's office a few weeks in advance). You may not bring food/drinks inside. Only the smallest and thinnest bags will be allowed. If lines for security are long, an alternative is to use the tunnel from the Library of Congress. Free.
- Library of Congress, 10 1st St SE, ☎ +1 202 707-8000, . M-Sa 10:30AM-5:30PM. With three buildings and more than 144 million materials, this grand library has the largest collection of books in the world. In 1814, after the original Library was destroyed in the War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, donated his personal library of more than 6,000 books to reestablish it. The largest of the library's buildings is named in his honor. The most popular points of interest are the massive main reading room and Great Hall. On the Winter and Summer solstices the Great Hall is filled with an odd silver glow that gives the impression you are surrounded by floating clouds, and this makes those days the most crowded. The main reading room is known as the Sacred Room, and is absolutely stunning. You must be 18 or older to use the reading rooms and have a user card, which can be obtained by presenting a driver's license or completing a self registration form. Guided tours will not bring you into the reading room, but will take you up in the dome, where you can see the room in its full glory. There are also a number of rotating exhibitions from the Library's vast collection on display at any one time, as is the Gutenberg Bible, one of the first books ever printed. Free.
- Supreme Court, First St & Maryland Ave NE, ☎ +1 202 479-3211, . M-F 9AM-4:30PM. This is the home of the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, charged with interpreting the Constitution and protecting equality and justice for all. The Neoclassical building, just opposite the Capitol, was constructed in 1935; until then, the Court met in various locations in the Capitol. The imposing facade, with its lofty portico, Corinthian columns, and wide marble staircase, is familiar from TV news as the place where spectators, protesters, and journalists gather to witness the defining rulings of our generation. The court is in session from October to April, with oral arguments heard Monday through Wednesday. If you want to see an argument, you have two options. The hardcore line up in front of the building, sometimes camping out for days, to hear the entirety of the day's arguments, but there is another line, often shorter, for those who only wish to hear a three-minute sampling of the case. The rest of the year, public lectures are held every hour in the courtroom. The spiral staircases on the sides of the court room are beautiful and impressive parts of the building not to be missed. Other things to see, besides the courtroom itself, are the Great Hall, with its long line of busts depicting former Chief Justices, and the Lower Great Hall below it, where you can watch a short film about the Court and see a stone and aluminum sculpture of the legendary Warren Court, as well as a statue of John Marshall, the Chief Justice who established the Supreme Court as we know it. Free..
- U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Ave SW, ☎ +1 202 225-8333, . 10AM-5PM. The national conservatory is one of the least visited attractions around the Mall, and that is one of the best reasons to visit. The botanical collection is extensive, the climate is often a welcome respite, and the catwalk through the leaf canopy in the jungle room is a favorite. Bartholdi Park, south of the conservatory, is small but majestic, centered around the Bartholdi Fountain.
Capitol Grounds Monuments
Supreme Court spiral staircase
The presidential monument choices on the Capitol Grounds are odd. Each of the presidents honored here are better known for presidential trivia and undistinguished presidencies. President Garfield is best known for holding the nation's second shortest presidency of little more than six months, ended by his assassination in 1881. His near predecessor Ulysses S Grant is considered one of the country's worst presidents, whose tenure was marked by corruption and alcoholism. He is better remembered as the Union General-in-Chief during the Civil War, and indeed the monument is solely dedicated to that image.
- Statue of Freedom. A classical female figure stands prominently atop the Capitol Building's dome. Her right hand rests upon the hilt of a sheathed sword; her left holds a laurel wreath of victory and the shield of the United States with thirteen stripes. Her helmet is encircled by stars and features a crest composed of an eagle's head, feathers, and talons, a reference to the costume of Native Americans. She would, no doubt, be an iconic emblem of America, were it not so hard to make her out without binoculars
- Peace Monument. A monument in memorial of U.S. naval deaths at sea during the Civil War stands at the northeastern end of the Capitol Reflecting Pool, bearing an assembly of four statues. Grief weeps over History at the top. Facing outwards is Victory, holding a laurel of victory, and flanked by young Mars and Neptune. Facing the Capitol is the statue of Peace, holding an olive branch, and surrounded by symbols of prosperity.
- James Garfield Monument. In tribute to the tragically slain president, the statue's base is surrounded by three statues of a student, a warrior, and a statesman, representing his distinguished academic, military, and political careers, which preceded his short tenure as the nation's leader.
- Robert Taft Memorial. Grandson of the 27th president William Howard Taft, Senator Robert Taft's had a distinguished career of his own in the United States Senate. At the memorial his figure stands in front of an enormous carillon tower with 27 bells. The bells ring every quarter-hour, although the best time to visit is undoubtedly the Fourth of July, when the bells ring to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner at 2PM.
- Ulysses S Grant Memorial. Grant's monument occupies the single most prominent location on the Capitol Grounds, directly over the reflecting pool. His statue emphasizes his cool, calm demeanor in the midst of battle—he is flanked on both sides by artillery and cavalry units clearly in the heat of battle.
- Congressional Cemetery, 1801 E St SE. All sorts of notables from American history found their final resting place here, from composer John Sousa to FBI founder J. Edgar Hoover.
- Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E Capitol St SE (bet. 2nd & 3rd Sts. SE), ☎ +1 202 544-4600, . M-Sa. This library, one of DC's hidden treasures, is a must-see for any English literature fan. It houses more than 300,000 books and manuscripts - the largest collection of Shakespeare's works in the world - and more than 50,000 works of art. The Great Hall is open to the public, while the Tudor-style Reading Room is open only to students and scholars. The library also has an Elizabethan-style theatre for plays, lectures, and readings and a flower and herb garden on the east lawn. Free.
- National Guard Museum, 1 Massachusetts Ave NW, ☎ "+1, . M-F. This small museum documents the history of the National Guard, with a particular focus on the Guard's role in homeland security and the war on terror in the last century.
- National Postal Museum, 2 Massachusetts Ave NE (Next to Union Station), ☎ +1 202 357-2700, . Daily 10AM-5:30PM. The Smithsonian's own philatelist Shangri-La has one of the world's largest collections of rare stamps, as well as exhibitions of how mail has been delivered throughout history, and other ways that the mail shapes culture. Free.
- Sewall-Belmont House, 144 Constitution Ave NE, ☎ +1 202 546-1210, . W-Su 12-4 pm. This house, which dates to 1800, has been the headquarters of the National Woman's Party since 1929. Exhibits document the long struggle for women's rights.
- Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave NE, ☎ +1 202 289-1908, . Not just a train station or metro stop, the grandiose 1908 Beaux Arts building by legendary American architect Daniel Burnham makes it worth a look—the ceremonial entrance is stunning. Open long after the museums close, it contains shops, restaurants and a cinema. A large monument to Christopher Columbus stands outside the building.
The Great Hall inside the Library of Congress
- RFK Stadium, 2400 E Capitol St SE, ☎ +1 202 547-9077, . RFK is D.C.'s long-time stadium, with a location seemingly planned by L'Enfant, and once one of football's greatest venues, but its age is starting to really show. And that's not just the building—the tenants are all jumping ship. First the Redskins moved to Maryland, then the new Washington Nationals headed for the Waterfront. D.C. United (see below) is still here, and their games are about the most fun you'll ever have at a soccer game in the U.S., kept raucous by both the area's enormous Latino population and the enduring success of the club. But they too are planning an exit strategy—possibly to Poplar Point in Anacostia. If you come here, for soccer, a concert, or another big event, remember that while it may not look so pretty, in its heyday it was one of the greats.
- DC United, 2400 E Capitol St SE (RFK Stadium - Stadium Armory Metro), ☎ 202-587-5000, . Directly related to the RFK Stadium entry, the DC United are the last sports team remaining at the stadium. A founding member of the MLS, and with four MLS cup titles under their belts since 1996, United matches are always exciting. With a rabid and diverse fanbase, relatively inexpensive tickets, and an excellent tailgate atmosphere in lot 8 before the matches, these are not to be missed. Tickets run $23-52, and for most matches only the lower bowl is on sale, so all seats are good. Premium matches (such as friendlies against European clubs) can run slightly more, and the upper bowl opens for these. For the full experience, hook up with some members of the Barra Brava supporters club before the match in lot 8; as long as you're friendly, sporting black (do NOT wear the colors of the opposing team), and willing to stay on your feet, jumping up and down and learning their chants, they'll gladly hook you up with a $32 ticket that gets you into their designated sections, 135-138. These special tickets are cash only, and become available 15 minutes prior to kickoff; you must be accompanied by a member to purchace. $23-52.
Union Station and Eastern Market are big shopping destinations in the city. Union Station houses a big shopping mall inside with plenty of high end and mid-range stores, while Eastern Market is much more offbeat, and geared to a lazy day of browsing. Outside these two heavyweights, Capitol Hill is an unorthodox shopping destination, but it does have a relatively small collection of unique and offbeat shops dispersed throughout the neighborhood, especially on Pennsylvania Ave near the Library of Congress and by Barracks Row.
- Capitol Hill Books, 657 C St SE, ☎ +1 202 544-1621, . M-F 11:30AM-6PM, Sa-Su 9AM-6PM. Housed in a small, old rowhouse next to Eastern Market, this bookstore is a local favorite, jam-packed with used books on every imaginable subject. For a delightful surprise, be sure to open the cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms.
- Eastern Market, 306 7th St SE, ☎ +1 202 698-5253, . Tu-F 7AM-7PM, Sa 7AM-6PM, Su 9AM-6PM. D.C.'s biggest public market has been housed since 1873 in a nineteenth century brick building, just a few blocks from the Capitol. The market itself is open every day except Monday, but weekends bring an additional influx of vendors ranging from local farmers to antique furniture. The market burned down in 2007 and was for a while housed in a temporary structure, but it reopened in June 2009.
- Homebody, 715 8th St SE, ☎ +1 202 554-8445, . Tu-Sa 11AM-7PM, Su noon-6PM. Selling mostly home furnishings, this store is better suited to locals than travelers, but its selection is unique and stylish enough to merit a visit if only to browse. And there are original works of art and accessories, which are easier to take home.
- Groovy D.C., 428 8th St SE, ☎ +1 202 544-6633, . M-Sa 11AM-7PM, Su noon-5PM. This is a very eclectic gift shop with unique gift cards, gags, and other arts & crafts. It's a little on the expensive side.
Capitol Hill's dining scene is built on locals. Neither suburbanites nor travelers seem to know that there is a lively neighborhood east of the Mall, and even Washingtonians from snobby NW addresses are only starting to wake up to Barracks Row. That's all good news—restaurants here cater to repeat diners, and to a sophisticated crowd. While this is starting to change, you are still unlikely to have a genuinely bad experience here.
Union Station offers just the opposite—plenty of bad options catering to diners who will never be back. B. Smith's is the one restaurant inside worth seeking out. Otherwise, knock-off Chicago pizza at Uno's is OK for a sit down meal; the cafeteria food on the bottom level is best for the cheapest and quickest meals.
- Bistro Italiano, 320 D St NE, ☎ +1 202 546-4522. M-F 11AM-2PM, Sa 11AM-2PM,5PM-10PM. If you come to this neighborhood restaurant, everyone will necessarily assume that you are a local. It's your traditional Italian-American checkerboard tablecloth restaurant, and only a little larger than a hole-in-the-wall. The food for the price in this neighborhood is exceptional. $8-15.
- Good Stuff Eatery, 303 Pennsylvania Ave SE, ☎ +1 202 543-8222, . M-Sa 11:30AM-11PM. Flagship location of the soon to be franchised burger joint. Renowned locally for its handmade burgers, handcut fries, handspun ice cream. $8-15.
- Jimmy T's Place, 501 East Capitol St SE, ☎ +1 202 546-3646. Tue-Sun 6:30AM-3PM. An original Capitol Hill greasy spoon diner and a must visit for the charm alone. Regulars include Congressmen, hill staffers, supreme court justices and plenty of police. Cash Only. $5-15.
- Mangiardo & Sons, 1317 Pennsylvania Ave SE, ☎ +1 202 543-6212. M-F 7:30AM-3PM. It's far from the action and has limited hours, but this deli has served classic Italian subs to locals for about 55 years, who will universally tell you these are the best sandwiches in the city. Order the "G-man" if you want a local favorite. $4-6.50.
- Pete's Diner, 212 2nd St SE, ☎ +1 202 544-7335. 5AM-3PM daily. Similar to Jimmy T's Place and worth the trip if you are coming from the Capitol South metro stop. The prices are extremely low in these parts, the waitresses are friendly, and the diner food is certainly adequate. $3-6.50.
- Cafe 8, 424 8th St SE, ☎ +1 202 547-1555, . Su-Th 11AM-10:30PM, F-Sa 11AM-11PM. Some argue that Cafe 8 is being outshined by newer flashy Mediterranean cooking on the Hill (like Cava Mezze), but this remains a reliable, established place for a good dinner on Barracks Row. The head chef hails from Cafe Divan in the Northwest, and the best items on the menu are accordingly skewed towards Turkish cuisine. As with Divan, the mezzes oddly enough are overshadowed by the great kabobs (especially the Iskender, and good Iskender is hard to find outside of Turkey). The Turkish very thin take on pizza—pides, are also a hit, and a cheaper option. $9-20.
- Cafe Berlin, 322 Massachusetts Ave NE, ☎ +1 202 543-7656, . M-Th 11:30AM-10PM, F-Sa 11:30AM-11PM, Su 4PM-10PM. Dinner is overpriced and not in the same league as other options on the Hill. Lunch (before 4PM), on the other hand, is a steal. And the back patio is a wonderful place to drink a few draught German beers on a warm day. $8-30.
- Las Placitas, 517 8th Street SE, ☎ +1 202 543-3700, . 11:30AM-11PM daily. Well above par Salvadoran and Mexican cooking, with very fresh ingredients, in the heart of Barracks Row. On weekends, it gets very crowded, but if you can get a table, it remains a fun spot for a meal. $10-20.
The gilded ceiling of Union Station
Capitol Hill is somewhat of a budding Georgetown, and the high-end restaurant scene, long one of the city's best, is really taking off lately. Reservations are a must at most of the following.
- B. Smith's, (in Union Station, to the right upon entering), ☎ +1 202 289-6188. Su-F 11:30AM-3PM,5PM-9PM; Sa noon-3PM,5-9PM. Some of D.C.'s best upscale soul food and Creole cuisine is served here, in a beautiful, dining room, which was once the presidential waiting room at the station. B. Smith's is rather famous with visiting celebrities, as well as national politicians. They'll probably get a private room, but you might nonetheless see some famous fellow diners. Best for brunch/lunch. $25-60.
- Belga Cafe, 514 8th St SE, ☎ +1 202 544-0100, . M-Th 11:30AM-3:30PM,5:30PM-10PM; F 11:30AM-11PM; Sa 10AM-11PM; Su 10AM-9:30PM. One of the neighborhood's longest running favorites on Barracks Row serves perfectly fine Belgian cuisine, and has at all times at least five fine Belgian beers on tap (and a host more besides). Reliable food, best for dinner, and pricey. $20-50.
- Charlie Palmer's Steakhouse, 101 Constitution Ave NW, ☎ +1 202 547-8100, . Lunch: M-F 11:30AM-2:30PM; dinner: M-F 5:30PM-10PM, Sa 5PM-10:30PM. Charlie Palmer is a national celebrity chef, and his steakhouse vies with two others for the title of the city's favorite steak (and those Republicans like their steak). On the scale of the three, it sits comfortably between trendy and traditional. And of course, it sits somewhere the other steakhouses do not—literally right across the street from the Capitol Building. The views are fantastic. Don't worry if you don't like steak, as this is an all-around outstanding restaurant, with a variety of excellent American dishes. $35-85.
- Johnny's Half Shell, 400 N Capitol St NW, ☎ +1 202 737-0400, . M-F 7AM-9:30AM,11:30AM-2:30PM,5PM-10PM; Sa 5PM-10PM. Seafood restaurants are popular throughout D.C. and the whole of the Mid-Atlantic, but many of D.C.'s offerings are disappointing, and cater more to visitors and clueless politicians. Johnny's is a big exception, and some of the best entries on the menu are from outside the region (like the Maine lobster). $35-65.
- Montmarte, 327 7th St SE, ☎ +1 202 544-1244. Tu-Su 11:30AM-2:30PM; Tu-Th 5:30PM-10PM; F-Sa 5:30PM-10:30PM; Su 5:30PM-9PM. D.C. has only a few standout, dedicated French restaurants, and this is one of them. It's considered one of the best restaurants throughout all of Capitol Hill, and one of the better French restaurants in the city. The atmosphere, unlike the cuisine, is casual. $25-40.
- Sonoma, 223 Pennsylvania Ave SE, ☎ +1 202 544-8088, . Lunch: M-F 10:30AM-2:30PM; dinner: M-Th 5:30PM-10PM, F-Sa 5:30PM-11PM, Su 5:30PM-9PM. The current dining rage in the country is Italian-inspired cooking with the California philosophy of simplicity, fine (Californian) wines, and local ingredients. This restaurant has excelled in this category, and packs in serious foodies into a crowded, but very trendy space—reservations are a must every day of the week. The lounge upstairs is similarly beautiful and fashionable (and crowded), with a fireplace and big windows. $20-45.
There's certainly no shortage of bars in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, most of which are concentrated around the West side of the Capitol, and on the Eastern Market/Barracks Row strips. Catering to a diverse crowd of overworked hill staffers, lobbyists, lawyers, lawmakers, Marines from the nearby Barracks and neighborhood locals, there's something for everyone.
- 18th Amendment, 613 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, ☎ +1 202 543-3622, . M-Th 4PM-2AM, F 12PM-3AM, Sa 11AM-3AM, Su 11AM-2AM. Trusty's sister bar in Eastern Market, with an excellent draft selection, pizza and pub food, average prices. Happy hour M-F 4PM-8PM.
- Banana Cafe & Piano Bar, 500 8th St SE, ☎ +1 202 543-5906, . M-Th 11AM-10:30PM, F-Sa 11AM-11PM, Su 10AM-10PM. This Barracks Row Cuban/Tex Mex/Puerto Rican bar and restaurant has a piano bar on the second floor with a piano man well and above the average. The food here is fine; the Cuban food is better. The upstairs bar has an excellent happy hour special upstairs featuring $3 margaritas, and there is patio seating in good weather.
- Capitol City Brewing Company (Cap City), 2 Massachusetts Ave NE, ☎ +1 202 842-2337, . M-Sa 11AM-1:30AM, Su 11AM-midnight. Cap City is always packed and popular. For that very reason it deserves something of a warning—the drinks are below average and overpriced, ditto the food, and both the crowd and the staff tend to be rude, especially on crowded weekends. On the upside, the building is rather beautiful, as it is in the Old Post Office Building, and it has a rooftop patio.
- Hawk and Dove, 329 Pennsylvania Ave SE, ☎ +1 202 543-3300, . M-Sa 11AM-1AM, Su 10AM-1AM. Capitol Hill dive bars don't really live up to that name. The neighborhood is populated with yuppies and Hill staffers. The name refers to general positions on U.S. national security policy. TVs are tuned to CNN. Regardless, this is a good bar, with cheaper drinks than you'll get elsewhere in the neighborhood, and it approximates the look well enough!
- Mr Henry's, 601 Pennsylvania Ave SE, ☎ +1 202 546-8412, . 11:15AM-midnight daily. Once the regular home to Roberta Flack, this place has seen some ridiculously famous clientele—Burt Bacharach, Carmen McRae, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Ramsey Lewis, and Johnny Mathis were all fans. The live music continues upstairs, but for the most part this is just a nice neighborhood style and mildly divey pub, particularly gay/lesbian-friendly, and a block off Eastern Market.
- Pour House, 319 Pennsylvania Avenue, ☎ +1 202 546-0779, . M-Th 4PM-2AM, Fr 4PM-3AM, Sa 10AM-3AM, Su 10AM-2AM. Loud and rowdy sports bar with pub fare and some seafood. Saturday and Sunday brunch starting at 10AM. Happy hour M-Th 4PM-7PM, F until 9PM. Sits below its classy sister bar, Top of the Hill.
- Scheiss Haus, 319 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, ☎ +1 202 543-3622. M-Th 5:30PM-2AM, F-Sa 5:30PM-3AM, Su Seasonal. Intimate basement pub underneath the Pour House, self-styled as "old world." Excellent beer selection. $$.
- Top of the Hill, 319 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, ☎ +1 202 546-7782, . M-Th 5:30PM-2AM, Fr 5:30PM-3AM, Sa 7PM-3AM, Su Seasonal. Cozy bar with a fireplace and plush chairs. The slightly-classy sister bar of the Pour House, which sits below. Happy hour M-F 5:30PM-8PM
- Trusty's, 1420 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, ☎ +1 202 547-1010, . Su-Th 4PM-2AM, F-SA 4PM-3AM. Trusty's is as about as local as you can get on the eastern side of Capitol Hill. A true neighborhood dive bar, and removed from the rowdy Eastern Market/Barracks Row scene, Trusty's is generally populated with long-time and new neighborhood residents alike, most of whom know each other and the bartenders. It's a good place to get a feel for people who actually live in the area, and the burgers, cheesesteaks, and chili are amongst the best in the city. Drafts and cocktails are served in mason jars, and cans of Tecate and PBR are always on special. Most importantly, it's one of the last places in the city purporting to be a dive bar that actually still has dive bar prices. An excellent place to get loaded before heading to a D.C. United match at RFK Stadium!
- Tunnicliff's, 222 7th St SE, ☎ +1 202 544-5680. M-Th 11AM-1AM, F 11AM-2AM, Sa-Su 10AM-2AM. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary, this is just a good bar. Prices are cheap, it's right by Eastern Market, wooden interior, and there's patio seating. The menu offers decent Cajun cuisine. As a plus, dogs are allowed on the patio, and rest assured, they come in droves.
- Wisdom, 1432 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, ☎ +1 202 543-2323, . M 6PM-midnight, Tu-Th 6PM-12:30AM, Fr 5:30PM-3AM, Sa 7PM-3AM. Quiet, off the beaten track lounge located in East Capitol Hill, specializing in delicious cocktails made with fresh fruit and the largest Absinthe selection in the city. For a romantic night, grab one of the private tables for two behind curtains and discreet servers who won't bother you unless called.
View over the Mall from the Capitol
A small hotel or B&B on the Hill is a great choice for a stay in D.C., and one that is usually overlooked. It's a great neighborhood for walking, has a fine nightlife and dining scene, and is well-served by Metro.
- Carriage House, 3rd & South Carolina Ave SE, ☎ +1 877 893-3233. Capitol Hill is full of lovely old residences, and this provides a nice opportunity to stay in one. It is furnished with antiques, has WiFi, separate coach house, central courtyard, and an (uninspired) continental breakfast. $125-215.
- Maison Orleans B&B, 414 5th St SE, ☎ +1 202 544-3694 ([email protected]), . A little B&B with three rooms in a beautiful old rowhouse. Friendly and knowledgeable owner, small garden in the back, WiFi, continental breakfast. $125-180.
- William Penn House, 515 East Capitol Street SE, ☎ 1 202 543-5560 ([email protected]), . A quaker house that offers dormitory beds. $30-50.
- Capitol Hill Suites, 200 C St SE, ☎ +1 202 543-6000, . This is a fine, undistinguished (but for the location) option for extended stay on Capitol Hill. If you just want to get out of the sun for a second and rest your bones, the lobby is quite comfy. $170-370.
- HIlton Garden Inn, 1225 First Street NE, ☎ 202-408-4870, . New hotel one metro stop from Union station with modern decor and on-site restaurant. $140-300.
- Courtyard Washington, DC/U.S. Capitol, 1325 2nd Street NE, ☎ 202-898-4000, . Located on the Metro’s Red Line, one stop from Union Station. $139-199.
- Hotel George Washington, 15 E St NW, ☎ +1 202 347-4200, . A trendy boutique with airy rooms and a French restaurant next to Union Station. $140-300.
- Liaison Hotel, 415 New Jersey Ave NW, ☎ +1 202 638-1616, . A boutique hotel between Union Station and the Capitol, whose rooftop pool (only open during warm months) has a fantastic view. $140-250.
- Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, 400 New Jersey Ave NW, ☎ +1 202 737-1234, . The hotel occupies a full city block in the heart of Capitol Hill, between the Capitol and Union Station, and has a lovely, large, plant-filled atrium. Avoid the absurdly overpriced hotel restaurant, unless you're in the mood for a $10 bowl cornflakes. $250-450.
- Phoenix Park Hotel, 520 N Capitol St NW, ☎ +1 202 638-6900, . Hotel of the Irish! Rooms are furnished in an eighteenth century Irish Manor style, Irish entertainers are at the Dubliner bar, and it's also right next to Union Station. $220-500.
The Raleigh-based chain Port City Java, 701 North Carolina Ave SE, +1 202 544-7770, M-F 6:30AM-7PM, offers free WiFi. Otherwise, the two public libraries in the neighborhood offer both public terminals and free WiFi, or you could just enjoy the public WiFi on the steps of the Capitol Building!
- Northeast Branch Library, 330 7th St NE, ☎ +1 202 698-3320, . M,W 1PM-9PM; Tu,Th-Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM; Su 1PM-5PM.
- Southeast Branch Library, 403 7th St SE, ☎ +1 202 698-3377, . M,W,Sa 9:30AM-5:30PM; Tu,Th 1PM-9PM; Su 1PM-5PM.
- The obvious destination is just west of the Hill, the National Mall, and the proximity is one of the main reasons to stay on Capitol Hill in the first place.
- For a radical change of pace from Capitol Hill nightlife, consider heading just north to the Atlas District to have a beer at one of its very offbeat bars and clubs.
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