— If you’ve visited our nation’s capital, chances
are you’ve glimpsed the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian,
watched primates play at the National Zoo, had your
picture taken in front of the White House and searched for
a relative’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. But
if you’ve already made it to those must-sees, there are
plenty of off-the-beaten-path sights, sounds and flavors
is a guide for those who want to march to the beat of a
different drummer — make that a hundred different
drummers — who converge for a weekly jam.
HILL PARK DRUM CIRCLE
feel the rhythm in your bones before you hear it, long
before you glimpse the spirited percussionists on the hill
as you approach.
of all ages, faiths and skin colors come here to fill
their hearts in this 12-acre urban oasis in a weekly
ritual as sacred to some as church. This is more than a
cacophony of bongos, snares, tambourines and washboards.
beat a drum is to just make noise, but to stroke a drum is
to make it come alive. You find your place in the music
and you transform the music," said longtime drum
circle member William H. Taft, who holds the city permit
that allows the weekly convergence.
isn’t a place to observe but to participate. If the
rhythm itself isn’t enough to draw you in there are the
old-timers who reach out their arms like snake charmers
leading newcomers into the circle where there’s always a
willing dance partner.
Harris, a transplant from Pittsburgh, has been coming
since he was 5.
would come and listen to the men play. I wanted to learn
from all those guys," said Harris, 50, a freelance
stage hand for D.C.-area theaters.
he is a regular who wraps surgical tape around his fingers
to stave off blisters while he beats a djembe to set a
steady tempo for the ever-changing group of players.
Drummers come and drummers go throughout the afternoon and
into the night. Sometimes they are briefly joined by a
saxophonist or even a bagpiper, whose skirls are barely
audible over the visceral rhythms.
a while Harris sounds a whistle to signal the end of one
jam and — after a few moments’ rest — the start of
drum circle is a nod to the freeing of Washington, D.C.’s
slaves in 1862, a year ahead of Abraham Lincoln’s
Emancipation Proclamation, Taft said.
left their masters’ plantations with nothing but their
clothes, religious artifacts and the drums that their
owners had prohibited them from playing for fear they
would use them to communicate secret messages and escape
plans, Taft said. Once emancipated, they "played all
day and they played all night and then they played some
one is sure just when the modern drum circle started, but
some point to a precise date: Feb. 21, 1965, when Malcolm
X was killed. The assassination drew throngs of
African-Americans to the park to mourn, drum and rally,
said Taft, who remembers being there that night.
came, and we drummed all night long, and our spirit still
wasn’t full enough, so we came back again and
again," he said. "Since then we’ve kept it
alive to transform our community and make this — the
highest point in D.C. — an urban village of peace to
celebrate freedom and liberty for all."
Street & Euclid Street NW, Washington, DC; www.nps.gov/mehi/index.htm.
your idea of peace is a little more … uh … peaceful,
stop by the Summerhouse.
if you’ve walked the Capitol grounds before, you
probably missed the red brick walls nestled into the side
of the hill and partly concealed by ivy.
the hexagonal walls is an open-air oasis. There’s a
fountain in the middle and stone benches around the sides
that provide shelter from the beating sun while the open
top and three archways channel cool breezes.
brass-fountain centerpiece used to be fed by a spring, and
passers-by would sip from ladles attached by chains. For
health reasons, the ladles are gone and city water now
streams through the fountain, said Eugene Poole, who
manages the Summerhouse and other projects for the
Architect of the Capitol’s Office.
symbolizes our American ingenuity. This symbolizes our
stick-to-itiveness in going forward with an ingenious
design. This shows the coming together of people to show a
complete vision," he said.
of the structure’s brickwork came from Pittsburgh’s
Peerless Brick Co., the fountain came from the Fischer Co.
in New York City, and the blue stone edging was imported
from Harpers Ferry, W. Va.
landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed the
small outbuilding on the Senate side of the Capitol in
1879 and planned a second one for the House side that was
and members alike, when they were coming up Capitol Hill,
didn’t have a place to rest. They didn’t have a place
to sit down," Poole said. "The Summerhouse gave
them a place to come get a cool drink of water, sit back
and enjoy the breeze and take in some of the sights."
Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20007; www.aoc.gov/capitol-grounds/summerhouse.
would blame you for choosing to see the Wright brothers’
Flyer and the Apollo 11’s command module over the Aymara
tribe’s reed boat or the Ojibwe’s birch bark canoe.
Just don’t choose the Air & Space Museum’s
McDonald’s over the National Museum of the American
Indian’s Mitsitam Cafe.
is an unexpected pleasure on the National Mall, a short
walk from the Summerhouse. Here, hungry tourists and Hill
staffers with discerning palates indulge in foods made
with Native American cooking techniques and fresh,
seasonal ingredients in flavorful combinations. During
peak tourist season it may serve 2,000 customers a day.
else can you find cherry and herb-braised rabbit,
fiddlehead fern salad, duck burgers, octopus salad,
cedar-planked wild salmon or maple-brined turkey?
menu changes frequently depending on what tribes across
the country are growing. Most grow only enough to feed
their own community, but if there is any surplus, chef
Richard Hetzler will frequently buy it and incorporate it
into his recipes.
crops of North American acorns and chola buds last year
meant new additions to the menu — an acorn-foam soup
garnish and a zingy asparagus-and-chola salad.
if an ingredient doesn’t fit, it can’t be used. That’s
a challenge, said Hetzler, who employs 35 cooks and sous
chefs who all want to influence the menu with their
creativity but also keep to tradition.
goal is the driving force behind the restaurant —
although sometimes tradition has to be sacrificed for
modern cultural norms. For example, he considered putting
guinea pig on the menu — a Bolivian delicacy — but
didn’t think he could market it to museum tourists who
may have pet guinea pigs at home.
he said, many museumgoers are adventurous eaters, opting
for raccoon, turtle, alligator and frog legs when they’re
on the ever-changing menu.
range from about $12 to $30. Save room for dessert —
Cherokee bean bread with candied squash, anyone? For
something less savory, try the banana cake with blackberry
sauce wrapped in banana leaves.
They serve beer and wine.
Street & Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560;
MANSION ON O STREET
societies meet here, presidents dine here, rockers play
here, artists exhibit here, weary travelers rest here,
antique collectors find treasures here, Rosa Parks lived
here — and for $10 you, too, can indulge your senses and
your curiosities within the walls of five connected
brownstones that form the district’s most eclectic
are 100 rooms, but don’t be surprised if you only see a
few dozen on your visit. The most fascinating parts —
including a gorgeous stone wine cellar and a two-story log
cabin — are hidden behind secret doors that are yours
for the finding. Is that a hinge in that bookcase? Is
there something behind that mirror? You’re welcome to
visitors are lucky to find four or five secret doors. Only
two people know where all 70 of them are — mansion
founder H.H. Leonards Spero and husband Ted Spero — but
don’t ask them where they are.
not about finding the secret doors; it’s about the
journey. You’re walking through this house and there’s
a possibility that that thing might open up and lead to
something else," Spero said.
almost everything inside — from the furniture to the
knickknacks piled on every surface — is for sale. You
can pick up a pewter coffee urn for $75, a chandelier for
$2,000, an 18th century dresser for $15,000, a fainting
sofa for $125, an ornate birdcage for $1,800, a
hand-carved walking stick for $225 or a book for just a
buck or two.
your mind about an item you’ve picked up? Put it back
anywhere you think it belongs.
mansion comprises five connected brownstones that Leonards
Spero began acquiring in 1980. Since then she’s made the
mansion her home, but it also serves as a boutique hotel,
a virtual flea market, a meeting space and a hall for
wedding receptions. It’s also a venue for public
concerts by artists from Vanilla Ice to Wilco’s Pat
Sansone and exclusive parties including one whose host
required staff to wear live boa constrictors around their
$10 you can explore for an afternoon, for a few hundred
you can rent a hotel room, or for about $35,000 you can
rent the whole mansion and have access to its 14 kitchens,
23 themed guest rooms, 32 bathrooms with deep and inviting
bathtubs, billiard room, 1920s-style barroom, backyard
swimming pool and antique barber chair.
worry if you can’t easily find your way back out. That’s
sort of the point.
like people to get lost because that’s how they really
find themselves, and that’s the whole purpose,"
Leonards Spero said.
O St. NW, Washington, DC 20036; omansion.com.
CIRCLE FRESHFARM MARKET
yourself to a feast for the senses at Dupont Circle’s
year-round FRESHFARM Sunday market.
in the wafting scent of pizza baking on a wood grill and
the sounds of street musicians’ tunes blending into one
another as you walk among dozens of vendors peddling
everything from gourmet popsicles to tomatoes in shades of
yellow, orange, red and purple.
are tall orchids at one stand, curvy cucuzza squash at
another, and at the next a skein of hand-spun wool.
Nearby, you can pick up some handmade soap, a taste of
strawberry tarragon gelato, a bowl of Soupergirl’s
broccoli apple soup or a jar of green garlic pesto — all
produced by the vendors selling them.
Lusty family of the nearby Cleveland Park neighborhood
visits so often that 9-year-old Mercy and 10-year-old Ella
can tell you just where to find the market’s best treats
— apple cider and handmade yogurt. One morning this past
summer, they brought along family friends from Rhode
Island who are used to locally grown produce back home.
They were surprised to find it in the middle of a densely
populated urban center.
used to farmers markets being out in the country, but this
is something to see," said Scott Sullivan of
Coventry, R.I., as his children, 15-year-old Ian and
12-year-old Avery, helped the Lusty sisters survey the day’s
purchases that overflowed from a straw basket. There were
chives, mushrooms, eggs, pork chops, peaches and more —
all ingredients for that evening’s backyard barbecue.
a lot of other markets, Dupont’s prohibits vendors from
selling anything they don’t grow or make themselves.
what makes it special, said Emily Best, 30, an apprentice
farmer at New Morning Farm in Huntingdon County, Pa.,
which sells produce there year-round.
other markets you don’t necessarily know where the
produce is coming from," said Best.
market is a haven for healthy eaters, but those who don’t
mind some extra calories can find plenty to tantalize. At
The Red Zebra’s stand, Susan Painter prepares an
ever-changing menu of wood-fired pizzas available with
quail eggs, goat cheese, chorizo and other unique toppings
she buys almost exclusively from other vendors at the
the precocious Ella Lusty, the food isn’t the best
reason to come to market.
love the scene and the music and the people
watching," she said.
20th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036;