It takes a seasoned insider to know the ins and outs of Washington, D.C., and we’re not talking about politics. James Ryan just took over as the general manager of The Darcy, one of D.C.’s most elegant hotels, located just blocks from the White House and the National Mall, and featuring top-notch restaurant Gerrard Street Kitchen. But Ireland-born Ryan has made D.C. his bailiwick since his hospitality career began, previously helming the InterContinental Wharf hotel as GM and boasting the Willard, the St. Regis and the venerable Hay-Adams on his resume as well.
Here, he shares his favorite spots for adventures a bit off the beaten path, as well as a few classics — think the Einstein Memorial and the giant blue rooster, which, it turns out, is not actually called “the giant blue rooster.”
InsideHook: Where can I get a cup of coffee and go for a good walk?
James Ryan: Bluestone Lane Coffee is located on our lower level at The Darcy, which is my personal favorite — I love all their healthy options. However, if I need a brisk walk, I head over to Logan Circle to Slipstream, where they have great hearty sandwiches and coffee cocktails.
How about a restaurant where only locals go?
The Red Hen is my go-to for a dependably good yet fuss-free meal.
Where should I go for a big night out on the town?
Head to the recently reopened Heist, where celebrities including Michelle Obama and Dave Chapelle have partied.
Best budget eats in town?
If you love Venezuelan food, like I do, try Arepa Zone.
Where can I go for the best dessert?
Crepeaway on L Street holds me over until I can get my next French fix in Paris.
Best place for a sunset cocktail?
Hi-Lawn is a cool place for drinks and games while enjoying the sunset at their rooftop bar-restaurant.
Best neighborhood to take a long stroll if I want to get better acquainted with the city?
Take a long stroll down the U Street Corridor for authentic cuisine, unique boutiques and amazing nightlife.
One of DC’s Best New Restaurants Serves Eisenhower’s Favorite StewElsewhere you’ll find a waterfront wine bar, shellfish towers and cheese galore
What’s a less-visited but must-see D.C. monument?
The giant blue rooster [Ed. Note: “Hahn/Cock” by artist Katharina Fritsch] is on the roof terrace of the National Gallery of Art’s East Building. You can see a great view of the city from here. The Albert Einstein Memorial is well known, but if you look down you can see the star map with more than 2,700 metal studs marking the positions of the planets, stars, sun and moon.
D.C. is known for its parks. What’s your favorite one, and why?
Along the border of D.C. is Great Falls. The rapids on the Potomac River there are breathtaking, you’ll see some expert-level whitewater kayakers and meet a ton of cute pups while you hike along the river.
We’d like to get out on one of the rivers surrounding D.C. — any suggestions as to how to do that?
Rent a kayak or paddleboard at the Boathouse in Georgetown to see the monuments from a different angle, then end your day with the great dining and shopping options in Georgetown.
What food does your city do better than anywhere else?
You can’t go wrong with a half-smoke from Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street. There’s even a vegan option.
What’s the best thing that you can only do in D.C.?
The best things you can only do in D.C. are visiting the Washington Monument and the White House.
I’m looking for a low-key brunch. Where to?
Best place to eat a meal or have a beer outside when the weather’s better?
Urban Roast is a really fun outdoor dining spot.
What’s the best way to get around town?
D.C.’s a super walkable city. I recommend taking the Metro to get from end to end, but then make the most of your visit by walking the majority of the way.
Finally, what’s the best book to read about the area before I come?
After you learn about the museums and tourist attractions in the Smithsonian Guide, read the latest edition of the Not For Tourists Guide to Washington DC. The book breaks D.C. down by neighborhood and highlights cultural attractions you won’t find on the National Mall.
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