If TV anti-heroes like House of Cards‘ Frank Underwood are to to believed, DC is a carnage-packed coliseum defined by a single insatiable desire: the pursuit of power. Perhaps for folks up on the Hill, but they mostly came from afar, and for that one reason. They aren’t the real Washington residents. In pockets of the city where the Washington Monument is a simple speck in the sky, DC is a bastion of odd, offbeat adventure. Join us as we explore six contemporary cultural institutions and events that make DC as culturally intriguing as it is politically potent. Bonus offbeat adventure: New Belgium’s Tour de Fat, an annual celebration of “bikes, beer & bemusement,” lands Saturday, May 31st at Yards Park with headliner Reggie Watts and thousands of local cycling enthusiasts. Don’t miss it!
1. Future Times Records
When it comes to music, DC has always been a city of extremes: it’s boasted the hottest jazz, the funkiest go-go, and the absolute hardest of hardcore. So, rest assured that when we say burgeoning label Future Times is doing futuristic disco, we aren’t talking platforms or sequined bell-bottoms. Marshaling eccentric ’70s beat structures and synth manipulation evoking memories of the VHS era, acts like Beautiful Swimmers and Protect-U create a wholly unique techno aesthetic that is simultaneously retro and of the modern age.
2. Tropicalia Club
An oasis in the increasingly bustling U Street corridor, Club Tropicalia is DC’s secret embassy of international outreach. Taking its name from a cultural and political movement in ’60s Brazil, the club hosts everything from South American pop to African jazz. What better way to experience DC’s international atmosphere than mixing with the world’s most exotic emissaries?
3. The Museum of Unnatural History
An offshoot of author Dave Eggers’ youth education efforts, this oddities shop matches the Museum of Natural History’s scientific grandeur with an equally ambitious sense of imagination. You can browse whimsically exotic animals that never existed, buy dragon tears or unicorn burps, and use a brontosaurus’ bathroom. The best part? The entire endeavor is a front for 826DC, an outreach learning center for DC kids featuring tutoring and writing workshops.
4. Sidamo Coffee’s Traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
Any coffee aficionado will tell you that meticulous methodology is what drives the best brews. In Ethiopia, this means a lot more than a pouring a quick cup: it’s a ritual of grand social and spiritual importance celebrated over centuries. Every Sunday at 2pm sharp, DC’s Sidamo Coffee carries on the tradition and invites visitors to get in on the action. Beans are roasted live, hand ground, and then ceremonially shared with everyone in attendance.
A city of grand power and ambition is best measured by its books. It’s hard to beat the Library of Congress on the catalog end, but what if you need a nail-biter after hours? Tucked just off Dupont Circle, Kramerbooks collects only the most intriguing novels, progressive non-fiction, and oddball literary experiments. The kicker, of course, is that the store is open 24-hours on weekends, making it infinitely more accessible than the deep chasm of all those government archives.
6. Bonsai and Penjing Museum
Horticulture is the ultimate art, a synthesis of science, creativity, and patience that is deeply indebted to and controlled by the Earth’s elements. And Mr. Miyagi isn’t the only one kicking butt at it. Washington’s Bonsai and Penjing Museum features more than 200 specimens: tamed, strangely beautiful plants spiraling beautifully back into the wild with a human longing and sculptural grace.
For one day only (Saturday, May 31), cycling and suds enthusiasts alike will get their fill at Yards Park. The free fest kicks off with a costumed bicycle parade featuring rideable bike art, and ends with a big fat party. Reggie Watts headlines on one of two stages; a Thousand Person Dance Contest challenges attendees with smooth moves; and of course various New Belgium beers flow for all those 21 and over. We can’t wait!