Metro, still better than driving through gridlock, but not as good as usual

Strange things are definitely happening with DC public transit, and unfortunately it’s not fun for visitors or residents. A couple of weeks ago, on our way home from The Who and the What at Round House Theatre, our conductor abruptly announced that all passengers should get out at Woodley Park Station. We emerged and determined this looked like it might be a big delay, so even though it was raining we decided to take our chances on walking home as it only added one mile to our walk. As we went up the stairs from the platform, we saw smoke curling in from the southbound tunnel and the station manager was rushing people out of the station. That was a completely new experience for us, and still rare but more common than it should be.

In Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC we extol the virtues of the Metro system, especially Metro Rail, as a speedy and convenient way to get around the area.DC has some of the worst traffic in the country, and Metro is especially valuable during the otherwise gridlocked after-work hours when you’ll be wanting to get to your neighborhood for a great evening out. To a large extent, Metro still deserves to be your #1 travel choice for speed and reliability.

However, you may have picked up on news coverage that parts of the system have been discovered to need unusually high levels of maintenance. The operators of the system have announced “SafeTrack Surges,” or week-long periods when entire parts of the system will have reduced or no service. There’s one in progress right now that has two stations in SE DC completely closed until July 3rd.

That is clearly a huge inconvenience for thousands of locals.  For visitors, unless you are staying near one of the closed stations or outward from them, these closures shouldn’t have much impact on your enjoyment of the city.

Along with these Surges, some lines trains are running less frequently or “single tracking” at night and on weekends. While this is frustrating, the trains should still be able to get you home, you’ll just be waiting longer.

What can you do?  We suggest, first, doing a little bit of advance research:

  • Metro’s website: this web page has information on scheduled work that may disrupt your travel, through the end of the calendar year
  • Google: type “transit stops near [street address of your hotel or apartment]” into Google’s search field to learn more about public transit nearby
  • Your local hookup: call or email your concierge, Airbnb host, or a friend to ask for some backup transit advice
  • Your smartphone: download and set up Google Maps on your phone, which offers the best up-to-the-minute advice on transit options when you are on the ground in its Directions feature.  These include walking, Metrorail, buses, driving and hailing an Uber; speaking of which, download and set up the Uber app on your phone if you haven’t already.
  • Your wallet:  Of course, Uber and taxis are more expensive than public transit.  You may need to adjust your travel budget upwards for your trip this year — and invest in a decent pair of walking shoes, which will give you much more flexibility in this immensely walkable city.

Once you’re here in DC, you can use Google Maps/Directions, the Uber app, and the kindness of bartenders and theater house  managers to navigate the terrain.  And remember, in most neighborhoods in DC and almost all the neighborhoods we’re sending you to, you can hail a cab on the street or at a hotel as well (Shirlington is the main exception, and hailing an Uber works fine there).

Even with these delays, if you need to get on a weekday night from your just-closed museum on the Mall to a 6 PM dinner reservation in Bethesda, for instance a Metro Rail train is still a WAY better bet than trying to make the drive with thousands of homeward-bound commuters on the road. Hopefully, we’ll pass through SafeTrack Surges by the end of the fall, and get back to the more normal state in DC, which is of having one of the most useful and reliable transit systems in the USA.

Gallery Place Neighborhood Overview

Business suits stride by cargo pants to the rhythm of bucket drums amidst a swirl of activity.  Daytimes bring tourists, office workers, shoppers and neighborhood residents, while evenings bring sports fans, culture vultures and gourmands.  Whether day or night, come to the Gallery Place neighborhood to be at the nexus of local, national and international Washington. You’ll be joining the fun and people-watching all of the visitors, residents and workers buzz up and down the sidewalk.

“Gallery Place” is named for the three art museums that are part of the neighborhood, with the primary axis running along 7th St NW.

If you’re headed to Gallery Place for a Great Evening, you can ease the transition from a day of touring by putting one of the museums here on your late afternoon to-do list and therefore have only a short walk to supper and the rest of your fun.

To the north, between F & G Sts NW, sits the stately building that houses two museums: the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, both full of fascinating stuff with lots of timely, of-the-moment exhibits.  The marvelous interior courtyard is a wonderful rest stop for the active visitor, with its year-round fountains and covered atrium. Four blocks to the south at Constitution Ave NW is the National Gallery of Art with its companion sculpture garden. A world class art collection shelters in two buildings, one neo-classical and the other post-modern, while giant sculptures grace a fenced enclosure around either a fountain or an ice rink depending on the season. Well worth a few hours browsing during daytime hours.  And, like most museums in Washington, all three of these are entirely free.

The National Archives is the other major national museum in the neighborhood, at Pennsylvania Ave and 7th Streets NW. In addition to serving as the almost sacred home for important documents in our nation’s founding, a small exhibition space usually has some engaging show on about a facet of American history.

Other similar attractions in this museum-rich neighborhood charge a fee:  the Newseum and the Spy Museum.  We would recommend either one, with the Spy Museum being particularly worth the cost of admission for families and lovers of Disney-type attractions; the Newseum is more hit-or-miss especially given the steep price tag.

In between all of these museums are three major theaters – Woolly Mammoth’s below-ground ground jewel box and the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s two stages, the Harman and the Lansburgh – which often figure in editions of Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC. and in evening-out info on this website.

Celebrity chef Jose Andres holds a lot of territory in these blocks with Jaleo, China Chilcano, Zaytinya and Oyamel all dishing up delicious meals. We would point you to any of these for a lively, tasty dining experience, along with Graffiato or Rasika.  Any of these places will require both a reasonable-sized wallet and probably an advance reservation:  save a lot of cash and time at fast-casual choices Protein Bar, Teaism or Merzi.  Sweet teeth can be satisfied with the counter service at Pitango Gelato, Bakers and Baristas, or Red Velvet Cupcake. Thirsty travelers can hydrate at the District Chophouse, a brew pub whose bourbon barrel aged stout is a special treat, or Proof, an above-average (if perhaps too loud) wine bar.

If you’re surrounded by Capitols or Wizards jerseys, you can feel sure there’s a game on at the expansive Verizon Center. If you’re surrounded by families with kids in tow, then there’s probably a circus or Disney on Ice filling the enormous arena.

Two Metro stations serve the neighborhood, Archives/Navy Memorial to the south has Green and Yellow line trains while Gallery Place/Chinatown, with entrances in several spots in the neighborhood, has Green, Yellow and Red Line service.

Oh, and don’t be fooled by the “Chinatown” moniker — though there is a substantial and attractive Chinese-style “Friendship Archway” at 7th and H Streets NW, locals dismissively refer to this area as “China Block” (since it is hardly large enough to merit “town”), and pretty much none of the Chinese restaurants here are better or more interesting than what you’ll find in a strip mall closer to home.

Insider tip: If you’re yearning for some quiet moments, there are benches along a pretty pedestrian area just north of the Navy Memorial proper that are a great place to take a load off for a while and watch the passing scene, perhaps with a cup of tea from nearby Teaism or a pastry from Paul’s French patisserie.

This is the first in a series of posts in which we’ll provide a little more detail and context about the neighborhoods we send you to for Great Evenings Out. Please let us know if you’ve discovered anything in Gallery Place we should have mentioned either by commenting below or writing to us at peteandsara@greateveningsout.com.