Monday, October 24, 2011

Where to Take Your Mother When She Visits

Let's get this out of the way first: I'm from Ohio. That is the state where a river caught on fire, Jerry Springer was mayor and exotic animals ran amok. And we call "soda" "pop," for christ's sake -- something that makes me a target of merciless ribbing in all workplace cafeterias each time I want to sup from a tasty, tasty carbonated beverage. It's no wonder that my mother would hear the siren's call of Big City Livin', pack her bags and hightail it to a flight out of CVG faster than you can sing "Hang On Sloopy."*

I'm sure others who hail from similarly less-than-exotic locales and now live here will occasionally wake up to find their mothers knocking on their apartment doors. And that begs the question: What do you do with old Mumsy when she waltzes into town?

It only takes a visit or two to exhaust all the standard touristy stuff (and by "standard touristy stuff," I'm referring to the Mall/Smithsonian museums, major monuments, Capitol building and the White House). I pride myself on being a pretty great tour guide, so if you don't want to take the woman who pushed you into this world to the Air and Space Museum for the billionth time, check out the following mama-approved places:

FOR A DAYTIME ACTIVITY: Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens, 4155 Linnean Ave. NW

Hillwood is the former estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post, owner of the General Foods. She was a big collector of Russian art, and she instructed that her home should be turned into a museum after her death.

The estate is a bit out of the way -- off Connecticut Avenue, about a 15-minute walk from the Van Ness-UDC Metro Station -- but it's a beautiful old home filled with intricately carved antiquities. Furthermore, it's surrounded by themed gardens, which are lovely to stroll through on nice-weather days.

Also, since Merriweather Post was known as much for being a socialite as she was for her business savvy, the museum frequently features rotating exhibits of the luxurious clothing she wore (as an example, right now, the highlighted exhibit is Merriweather Post's four wedding gowns, as well as bridesmaid and flower girl dresses worn by her daughters).

Moms love gardens and antiquities. Moms love historical fashion, too. And when the estate's tagline is "Where Fabulous Lives," how could you NOT take your mom for a visit?

FOR A NICE DINNER: Bastille, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria, VA

Talk about "off the beaten path" -- this restaurant is located on the edge of the edge of Old Town Alexandria, in what looks to be a rail yard:

If it weren't for that red arrow, you'd never know there was a restaurant there, right? Let's take a closer look:

Inexplicably located though it may be, Bastille has served my mom and me some of the most succulent, traditionally French coq-au-vin I have ever tasted in my life. And with the exception of Bastille Day, when the restaurant does a celebration and special-event menu, it's never hard to get a reservation and great service.

Full disclosure: My mother lived in France for a year, so the food at Bastille may offer her an extra helping of nostalgia in addition to her glass of Cotes du Rhone. But the bottom line is, there are so many fantastic restaurants in the D.C.-area, it takes something pretty special to make me a repeat customer. My mom and I have eaten here three times.

FOR EVENING ENTERTAINMENT: The Capitol Steps, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center)

Who doesn't love a good political satire set to music? The Capitol Steps have been hamming it up at the Ronald Reagan Building every Friday and Saturday night for years. And if your mom comes to visit, a $40 ticket to listen to such gems as "God Bless My S.U.V." ("God Bless the U.S.A.") and "I'm So Indicted" ("I'm So Excited") will be money well-spent.

FOR THE BEST VIEW OF THE CITY: Skydome Lounge, 300 Army-Navy Drive, Arlington, VA (at the top of the DoubleTree Hotel)

If you've ever crossed the Potomac on I-395, you've probably wondered what that little circular thing is at the top of the DoubleTree Hotel:

That's Skydome Lounge, and it rotates, which means it's a bar AND a ride. Pretty sweet.

The cocktails here are pricy and the trail mix on the tables is of questionable origin, but with sweeping views of the Pentagon, the Capitol Building, the White House, the National Cathedral, the Potomac, and the planes taking off and landing at Reagan National Airport, for my money you can't get a better view of the city (and that includes at P.O.V.).

Trust me: Your mom will be thrilled.

FOR A BUDGET-FRIENDLY BRUNCH: Firefly, 1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW

This is the cute little fancy-backyard-themed restaurant in the Hotel Madera, which is a cute little boutique hotel in Dupont Circle. (I've been inside one of the rooms -- they're nice!) The restaurant specializes in taking dishes your grandma (or mom, perhaps?) might make and jazzing them up for quality meal presentation.

Brunch, in particular, was a delight for my mom and me... and the rest of our family, actually, because I took them all there. And that's why Firefly is so great for brunch -- its menu is fancy, but not so fancy that meat-and-potatoes eaters can't find something they'll enjoy.

My mom and I shared the "Pop Pop's French Toast" -- orange- and vanilla-dipped challah with apple-raisin compote and maple syrup -- and "The Elvis Sandwich" -- peanut butter, bacon, banana and maple-honey on pan-fried challah bread -- and both were insanely delicious. (Although, out of the two, GET THE ELVIS SANDWICH. You won't regret it.)

And at about $12-$14 an entree, you really can't beat the price. Also, they serve their receipts in mason jars a la what you used to catch fireflies in as a kid:

I assure you, that's what this is... my BlackBerry camera sucks.

FOR AN OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH MEMORIAL: The Einstein Memorial, the intersection of 22nd Street NW and Constitution Avenue NW

I lived in the D.C.-area for three years before I even knew this memorial was here. It's quiet and not quite as well-traveled as the other memorials/monuments, and it's kind of fun to take your picture on Einstein's lap. And when you look down and see a map of the universe marked out in little metal dots at your feet, the whole thing makes you feel kind of small and happy to be alive.

That's it! Now, go call your mother -- she probably misses you.

*In truth, Ohio ain't so bad. Cleveland does rock, after all.


  1. Love this! I'm always looking for things to do with my Ohio mama too--she's been visiting for 18 years, so she's hard to impress.

    Did you know there's a place you can stand on the universe at Einstein where the tiniest whisper echoes? It's some acoustics trick, as I learned as a drunken GW undergrad.

  2. not many know about the Skydome Lounge. I took a DC newbie there and much fun was had by all.

  3. Great picks! I need to check out Hillwood one of these days. Thanks! xoxo