A host of politicians, world leaders, non-profit powerhouses, and creative minds call the nation’s capital home. It’s where global change takes shape, and history is made.
But those changemakers still eat, drink, and shop like the rest of us — and local businesses serve up all they could want and more.
Washington, D.C.’s bustling small business scene has everything from a Prohibition-inspired gin distillery to a coffee shop that uses technology to roast its beans to perfection.
What it is: A bar that prices drinks based on current market value.
Why it's cool: The Big Board treats beer like a commodity: The price of beer changes depending on the current supply and demand in the market, just like stocks. Beers are listed on a big board -- hence the name -- that displays the prices in real time, so if you're lucky you may pay less for the same beer than the guy who walks in after you.
What it is: A sewing studio out to revive D.C.'s crafting scene.
Why it's cool: Bits of Thread is proving that crafting is not a dead hobby. This Adams Morgan-located sewing studio teaches group and private sewing lessons, holds open sewing sessions, and sells all the things you need to make anything out of fabric. It's also bringing more kids around to this fun and useful skill with lessons designed for smaller fingers.
What it is: A combination dive bar and fish-and-chips shop.
Why it's cool: Inspired by punk, this underground pub place pays homage to The Sex Pistols and Sid Vicious while serving up some of the best beer-battered fish and chips the capital has to offer. It tries to serve only female cod, which it says has better meat and also perfectly complements the cheap PBR/whiskey specials.
What it is: A savory and sweet pie shop and rehearsal studio.
Why it's cool: Known for its incredible variety of pie fillings, DDP serves pies in both sweet and savory flavours. The pancake batter pie is a specialty, as is the vegan chilli pie. Continue to the back of the shop and you'll find a fully-equipped rehearsal studio for rent, complete with amps, mics, and a five-piece drum set.
If you can't make it to the storefront on H Street, hunt down DDP's Pie Truck, which sells most flavours daily.
What it is: A restaurant built out of shipping containers.
Why it's cool: Just opened in January, El Rey is a sustainable taqueria made entirely of recycled shipping containers -- that includes the dining area, the kitchen, and the bathroom.
They come together to form an outdoor courtyard area (with a retractable roof for inclement weather) that makes a perfectly pleasant place to sit down with a couple of their mouthwatering tacos and a margarita.
What it is: A website that takes the hassle out of event planning.
Why it's cool: Event Farm started as an event production company. When the owners became frustrated with their own guest registration process, they developed a digital means to making event-planning quick and easy. Now, the tool is being used by companies and event planners around the country.
Their online tools offer customised invitations, ticketing, guest registration, and mobile check-in for targeted audiences, virtually taking the hassle out of planning events.
What it is: A brash craft brewery.
Why it's cool: Flying Dog is known for a few things, besides its quality craft beer: The names given to its different brews, such as Raging Bitch IPA and In Heat Wheat, and the near-gruesome artwork that graces the labels of its bottles.
It's a brewery whose history was greatly influenced by 'Fear and Loathing' author Hunter S. Thompson, and the company's 9.2% ABV Gonzo Imperial Porter was brewed in his honour.
What it is: A startup that uses crowdsourcing to fund real estate development and financing projects.
Why it's cool: Fundrise gives individuals the ability to invest directly in local real estate projects so they have the power to build the places they care about. Think of it like the Kickstarter of neighbourhood development: Fundrise eliminates the middle man and puts enriching a city back into the hands of the people who live there.
Fundrise is currently crowdsourcing funding for a number of projects in D.C., as well as one in Philadelphia and one in Portland.
What it is: A Prohibition-style gin distillery.
Why it's cool: Founders Michael Lowe and John Uselton were the first to bring craft distilling to D.C. in 2011 when they scooped up a 90-year-old warehouse in an Art Deco-inspired neighbourhood. Each batch of D.C.'s signature gin is bottled by hand on site.
The distillery is named for The Man in the Green Hat: WWII veteran George Cassiday, made famous for supplying bootleg liquor to U.S. Congressmen during Prohibition. He operated in the basements of the House Office Building and the Senate Office Building, until the feds caught on.
What it is: A sustainable pet supply store.
Why it's cool: Playing off its Capital-based location, Howl To The Chief specialises in natural, holistic, and organic pet food. Coupled with its grooming service and a bakery counter that carries natural and organic dog cookies, candy, and birthday cakes, it's a great date spot for you and your four-legged friend.
What it is: An environmentally sustainable fine jewelry store.
Why it's cool: I. Gorman is a family-operated, high-end jewelry store that sells beautiful items in a 'no pressure environment.' The store prides itself in being environmentally conscious by using more sustainable materials and energy efficient equipment. It also carries jewelry made from recycled metal, conflict-free diamonds, and fair-trade gem stones.
What it is: A bar and pub that celebrates Chicago and Detroit.
Why it's cool: Whether you're from the Windy City or Motor City, you can kill your homesickness at Ivy and Coney. Just opened this winter, the bar is a haven for Chicago and Detroit expats to hang out and forget they're not in the Midwest. On tap are 'local' beers -- think Goose Island and Bell's -- which are served among free-flowing Chicago-style hot dogs and other stadium snacks to munch on while you root for da Bears.
What it is: An online social media hub for college students that makes school easier.
Why it's cool: Koofers takes advantage of all the technology available to us today by serving as the ultimate resource for college students. Like other social networks, Koofers lets students connect with each other, but it also grants free access to testbanks, practice exams, professor ratings, and even a class schedule maker.
With over 1 million users, Koofers has also become a job-hunting tool, featuring a Campus Recruiter solution that allows employers to find and vet candidates for internships and job opportunities.
What it is: A mum-run game and puzzle store.
Why it's cool: Labyrinth Games & Puzzles is a family-friendly, community-focused store featuring an array of non-electronic (read: old school) board games, RPGs, puzzles, and mazes. Many of the games are sourced from small, U.S. artisans or fair trade importers, and new inventory can be 'tested' by shoppers at the tables in the back.
Labyrinth shines in its outreach programs, partnering with local elementary and middle schools to teach children essential social and cognitive skills. It introduces a new game each week at its after school enrichment program, coordinates lending libraries, and organizes family game nights.
What it is: A unique cap-maker.
Why it's cool: The Legends USA specialises in the eye-catching, flat-brimmed, five-panel hat. With an emphasis on youth, fun, and 'timeless appeal,' its trademark cap comes in a variety of prints that range from floral and camo to scenes of migrating geese (seriously). Hats are made of 100% cotton, feature genuine leather labels, and retail for $US34 -- a reasonable fee for instant coolness.
What it is: An absinthe bar that offers roughly 30 types from around the world.
Why it's cool: Absinthe was banned in the U.S. and parts of Europe for nearly 100 years because of the alcoholic wallop it packs (labels can climb as high as 130 proof). Libertine takes you on a globe-trotting adventure with its $US15 flights of the licorice-flavored liquor, including several brands specially ordered from Europe.
Clear your head with samplings from the bistro-style menu, which includes crispy quail, Louisiana crawfish bisque, and thyme-sprinkled spud wedges with a black garlic aioli.
What it is: A gardening service that transforms your backyard or rooftop into an edible landscape.
Why it's cool: The Love & Carrots team believes the local food movement is a critical catalyst in environmental activism, but most people are intimidated to get gardening. Combining years of expertise in urban agriculture with a passion for fresh and local food, it helps clients design, install, and maintain organically grown vegetable gardens in their D.C.-area homes. Want tender lettuce greens in the cold heart of winter? Love & Carrots will show you how.
What it is: A three-in-one dining destination.
Why it's cool: Located in the Penn Quarter neighbourhood, Menu / MBK is a local market, casual bistro-bar, and six-seat chef's table -- offering three ways to enjoy Belgian-born Chef Frederik De Pue's innovation in the kitchen. The best place to enjoy cauliflower panna cotta and Chapel Hill Farm veal meatballs is on the third and fourth floors, where BistroBar takes a new approach to menus by organising its diverse fare by four price points ($8, $US14, $US18, $US25).
What it is: A vintage home furniture store that's like visiting grandma's house.
Why it's cool: Instantly recognisable by its hot pink exterior, Miss Pixie's is a treasure trove of unusual 'furnishings and whatnot.' Owner Pixie Windsor carefully curates the store's inventory from auctions within a 100-mile radius and empties a truckload of items -- from farm tables and upholstered pieces to original artwork and tchotchkes -- every Thursday. A matriarch of the community since 1997, Windsor bakes Safeway brand chocolate chip cookies every night and keeps a plate by the cash register to 'keep the boyfriends occupied' while the chickadees shop.
What it is: A coffee shop that uses technology to perfect the roasting process.
Why it's cool: Owner Joel Finkelstein preps Qualia Coffee's beans in a U.S. roaster machine in the back room, using a computer program he designed to track every step of the process. The shop doubles as the home of Fresh Off the Roast, Finkelstein's small-batch roasting company that's dedicated to sourcing recently harvested beans sourced from around the world. Whether serving up the flavours of Rwanda, Nicaragua, Sumatra, or Papua New Guinea, Qualia Coffee strives to provide the customer with as much information as possible about their brew.
What it is: A restaurant that puts three-course menus to shame.
Why it's cool: Transformed by a James Beard winner, this copper-floored former garage puts out both a 16-course 'Progression' menu and a 24-course 'Journey,' described as a 'farm-to-craftsman-to-art-to-table' dining experience. The latter offers such oddities as liver parfait, cuttlefish, and something called reindeer moss served with whipped hare. Patrons reportedly have to sign a two-page contract to cement their reservation, and phones are banned at the table.
What it is: A film distribution company and brick-and-mortar store that showcases African and African-American works.
Why it's cool: The Sankofa bird, a symbol of reflection, is often pictured looking backward with an egg in her beak, constantly checking as she moves into the future. Sankofa Video, Books & Cafe aims to be a space where thoughtful consideration of the past and future takes place through literature, music, and film generated by and about people of African descent. The cultural and intellectual center offers opportunities for self-expression and discussion through screenings, book signings, scholar showcases, and at the café, where meals are prepared with the myriad flavours of the Diaspora.
What it is: Local, organic, kosher soups, delivered to your door.
Why it's cool: Inspired by 'The Omnivore's Dilemma,' Sara Polon decided to get involved in the local food movement by doing what she does best: soup. All soups are made with local, organic ingredients, and they're all kosher. 'Subscribe' and receive a menu for next week's soups, then place your order and pick them up or have them delivered for the days you specify. You can also get Soupergirl soups from the brick-and-mortar shop.
What it is: A 1980s childhood-themed bar.
Why it's cool: Mario Kart, '80s toys and candies, grilled cheese, and more than 40 types of beer and mixed beverages (any of which can be made into an ice cream float) create a whimsical bar scene that will trigger all sorts of nostalgia. Thomas Foolery comes stocked with games that any Millennial will appreciate, and has a number of 'bar rules' to keep the atmosphere loose. For example, you can come dressed as Carlton from 'French Prince of Bel-Air' and perform the running man to get 10% off any item.
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