by melanie fonder kaye | November 19, 2014 | People
DC does holiday magic like few other places, so we asked five local tastemakers to give us their insider tips on how to make the most of the season—from holiday dining and festive outings to must-see musicals and spa retreats.
A blanket of snow lends an air of magic to the Capitol Building around the holidays.
Lifelong DC native Chris Adcock says that his deep love for the city translates directly into the best part of his day—sharing some of DC’s best-kept secrets with guests at the Jefferson Hotel. When pressed to narrow down the “best of” list for DC around the holidays, the Clefs d’Or–certified concierge begins with the US Capitol Building Christmas Tree. “The People’s Tree, as it is named on the US Capitol grounds, is decorated by craftsmen, artisans, and elementary school students from the state chosen each year,” says Adcock, noting that this year’s tree is from Minnesota.
He also points to another of his much-loved seasonal traditions, the 10th annual Downtown Holiday Market (November 28 to December 23, centered at 8th and F Streets NW, 202-215-6993). The market is filled with “handcrafted items from small, independent merchants,” with something new every year. From jewelry and candles to toys and hand-knit items, there is something for everyone on your gift list.
Lights are a festive must, and for Adcock, there are three essential stops on any local holiday lights tour: ZooLights (The National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-633-4888); King Street in Old Town Alexandria (703-746-3301); and the Mormon Temple Grounds in Kensington, Maryland (9900 Stoneybrook Dr., 301-587-0144).
The ice-skating rink inside the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, where visitors can enjoy works by Joan Miró, Sol LeWitt, and Roy Lichtenstein in between figure eights, is “a personal favorite” (202-216-9397). Still, there’s nothing quite like a beautiful blanketing of snow to put one in the holiday spirit, so Adcock recommends a wintertime walk on the National Mall. “Washington is very peaceful during the winter, especially when it snows,” he says. “Strolling on the mall is amazing!”
Patrons flock to Red Apron Butchery in Union Market for its charcuterie and tomahawk steaks.
When asked to name his number-one recommendation for a holiday dinner, David Hagedorn, a chef and restaurateur turned author and columnist, doesn’t need a moment to think. “Chef Fabio Trabocchi’s Fiola in Penn Quarter and Fiola Mare, with its stunning Potomac River view of the Kennedy Center, are the ne plus ultra destinations for Christmas Eve dinner,” he says. “At the former, the Feast of the Seven Fishes includes Belon oysters, osetra caviar, baccalà, barbecued eels, Nantucket bay scallops, Nova Scotia lobster, Japanese Madai snapper, and halibut with truffles. Expect rarified ingredients at Fiola Mare, where shavings of fresh Alba white truff les can be added to anything upon request.” (Fiola, seven-course dinner for $160, premium wine pairings for $110, 601 Pennsylvania Ave., 202-628-2888; Fiola Mare, 3050 K St. NW, 202-628-0065)
If a more traditional Christmas dinner is a must, Hagedorn suggests the “amazing” feast at the Inn at Little Washington (309 Middle St., Washington, VA, 540-675-3800). If the first thing you want to do Christmas morning after opening presents is eat, then his recommendation is Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt (1201 24th St. NW, 202-419-6755). This year, newly appointed Executive Chef Ryan LaRoche and Chef de Cuisine Brad Deboy will offer a three-course holiday menu from 11:30 am to 9 pm.
For those looking to create their own DIY holiday feast using everything DC has to offer, Hagedorn points to Union Market (1309 5th St. NE), “which gives you a really good idea of how far Washington has come to be a food town.” It’s the place to go, he says, for bubbly from Cordial Fine Wine & Spirits; cheeses from Righteous Cheese; oysters from Rappahannock; charcuterie and tomahawk steaks from Red Apron Butchery; lobster from The District Fishwife; and chocolates and hot chocolate sticks from Co Co. Sala.
For those entertaining guests over the holidays, Hagedorn recommends the dim sum brunch on Saturday at Wolfgang Puck’s The Source (575 Pennsylvania Ave., 202-637-6100), “a total Washington insider destination”; sunset cocktails on the roof of the W Hotel (515 15th St. NW, 202-661-2400); and oysters in the Oyster Bar at Old Ebbitt Grill (675 15th St. NW, 202-347-4800).
Francesca Zambello’s well-traveled production of The Little Prince, which has appeared in London, San Francisco, and Houston, lands in Washington.
“Washington is synonymous with meaningful family entertainment—and so much of it is free,” says Kate Gibbs. “What’s happening at the holidays really magnifies what goes on in the Washington area throughout the year, both for visitors and for locals.”
She calls the annual National Christmas Tree lighting on the Ellipse “a traffic stopper” (December 4). Those who didn’t win the ticket lottery can still visit the tree daily from dusk until 10 pm, or start a new tradition with Christmas Illuminations at Mount Vernon, a holiday themed fireworks show in its inaugural year (3200 Mt. Vernon Memorial Hwy., Mt Vernon, 703-780-2000).
For theater-going families, Gibbs points to two stage adaptations of beloved children’s books at the Kennedy Center (2700 F St. NW, 202-467-4600): Rachel Portman’s The Little Prince at Washington National Opera (December 19–21); and the world premiere of Andy Mitton’s musical The Gift of Nothing (November 19–December 28, appropriate for ages 4 and up), based on the best-selling book by Patrick McDonnell, in which a cat searches for the perfect present for his best friend, the dog who has everything.
For the grown-up crowd, Gibbs recommends the eye-popping, Tony-winning revival of Pippin at the National Theatre (December 16–January 4, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave., 202-628-6161), which mixes Broadway belters with aerialists and acrobats.
The first family at the 2012 lighting of the National Christmas Tree.
Every year, dozens of friends and family members volunteer over Thanksgiving weekend to help put up the lights, hang the stockings, and trim the eight trees that transform Vice President Joe Biden and Second Lady Jill Biden’s home for the holidays. The stockings on the living room mantle are hung annually for their five grandchildren, as well as their dog, Champ. From room to room, Carlos Elizondo infuses local touches from across America into every year’s theme.
His entertaining and decorating advice is simple. “Holidays are all about family and tradition,” Elizondo says. “People can look around their own home and be creative.” Elizondo likes to find innovative ways to use everyday items—such as creating a tree entirely from books to showcase the Bidens’ love of reading. Think of how to incorporate your family traditions into your celebrations, Elizondo says.
For holiday décor, Elizondo works with Rachel Gang, co-owner of Helen Olivia Flowers (128 N. Pitt St., Alexandria, 703-548-284). Each summer, Elizondo meets with Gang to plot out the holidays, from designing spectacular magnolia-leaf garlands to repurposing sheet music into holiday wreaths. Elizondo also went antiquing at The Old Lucketts Store in Leesburg, VA, a treasure trove about an hour northwest of the city, where dozens of vintage and antique dealers set up shop. (42350 Lucketts Road, Leesburg, VA, 703-779-0268)
Elizondo takes care with selecting menus, which are often provided by the renowned Susan Gage Caterers (7411 Livingston Road, Oxon Hill, MD, 301-839-6900). The social secretary has collaborated with Gage herself for years and appreciates “how creative she is and how she tries to mix it up.” In particular, during the holidays, Elizondo opts for the signature individual chicken potpies—“a phenomenal comfort cuisine.” To keep the youngest Biden contingent happy, Elizondo calls in Washingtonian Raeanne Hytone of Rae Bakes (202-333-4967), whose creative cookies always surprise and suit the occasion.
Finally, what holiday party is complete without the sounds of the season? The vice president’s residence often hosts military musicians and local school ensembles, and in the past, Elizondo has drawn talent from Washington’s Best, a consortium of musicians who represent a range of styles, from jazz trios and swing bands to solo violinists, and who are available by the hour for parties and events. (Prices vary by ensemble, 202-232-4942)
Many of the most memorable moments of Elizondo’s work have taken place during the holidays. “The best part is sharing the magic of the vice president’s residence with so many people at the holidays.”
The relaxation room at the Mandarin Oriental Spa.
Mary Kong-DeVito of Naked Botanicals—and the original “Girl” on popular DC blog Girl Meets Food—has been playing with skincare products and essential oils for more than a decade. After a full day of holiday shopping in Georgetown, she recommends sneaking away to The Boutique Spa at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown. “The nice thing about the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown is that you feel like you’re away from the hustle and bustle,” she says. “It’s a nice escape from the stress of holiday shopping.” The Historic Chimney Stack Couple’s Retreat features a 70-to 110-minute aromatherapy couples’ massage beneath a 130-foot smokestack, finished with private time to enjoy strawberries, Champagne, and the stunning views. (Starts at $900, 3100 South St. NW, 202-912-4100)
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s extensive, customizable menu is perfect for large groups of visiting family and friends. “It’s a real crowd-pleaser,” says Kong-DeVito. “Everyone’s going to find something they love.” Soak up the scents of the season with a specialty holiday package: The Peppermint Scrub and Massage includes full-body exfoliation with a peppermint stick scrub and a customized full-body massage. ($215, 1330 Maryland Ave. SW, 202-554-8588)
“People who are very conscious of the environment and just conscious of what they put on their skin,” says Kong-DeVito, will want to try the country’s first LEED Gold–certified spa, Nusta Spa. A specially curated two-hour holiday package, Scents of Winter, features a custom aromatherapy massage oil blend, rose sugar body scrub, wrap, facial mask, face massage, scalp treatment, and full-body massage. Guests also enjoy warm spiced cider and complimentary take-home products—the perfect happy ending. ($240, 1129 20th St., 202-530-5700)
photography by shutterstock (mall); andrew harrer/bloomberg via getty images (capitol); george hixson (the little prince); Mark Wilson/getty iMages (tree lighting)