Archive for February, 2014


The Tune Inn

Rewarding myself by occasionally patronizing various local eateries is something I decided should be incorporated into my daytime D.C. biking adventures.  So at the end of each month, I will be having lunch at a different restaurant, and then posting my review of it. For this final post of the inaugural month of this blog, I rode to The Tune Inn, located at 331 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of southeast D.C.

The legendary Tune Inn opened in 1947, and has been family owned for three generations. The bar has been the city’s best self-proclaimed “dive” for more than 60 years, and remains so despite being almost destroyed by a catastrophic fire just a couple of years ago. The subsequent renovation resulted in some big changes, such as an entirely modernized and upgraded kitchen. The bar also boasts an expanded beer selection with a new tap system that is light-years more advanced than the old, delivering beer as cold as it can get without freezing.

Fortunately, however, none of the significant changes during the massive renovation were aesthetic.  The renovation seems to have turned back the clock at the decades-old Capitol Hill bar, returning it back to its quirky best. The bar, back bar, and decor remains original.  Most of the bar’s iconic taxidermy displays were unscathed by the blaze, except for two stuffed deer rumps, which had been over the ladies’ room door. They perished in the fire. A deer’s hind quarters — shot by owner Lisa Nardelli’s father — is mounted over the men’s room door. A huge stuffed black bear — shot by Nardelli’s husband on a bow-hunting trip – has returned to its home, holding a can of beer behind the bar alongside a stuffed squirrel. And chandeliers made of antlers hangs again from the ceiling. Even the booths and tables, which sustained significant damage, were reordered in the same make and model.

But even more than the environment, it’s the staff, the clientele and the food that makes The Tune Inn what it is.  For more than 60 years, loyal locals, politicians and hungry tourists have ventured into The Tune Inn for classic bar food such as Bacon and Cheddar Potato Skins, homemade Pulled BBQ Pork, or deep-fried Mac & Cheese Wedges.  On my most recent trip I opted for one of my two favorites – a sandwich named Joe’s West Virginia. It consists of freshly cooked roast beef, piled high, with American cheese and their signature Bon Ton sauce, grilled on rye bread. My other favorite is Tony’s Beer Battered Burger.  Falling clearly in the category of good but not good for you, Tony’s Burger is grilled, dipped in beer batter, dropped in the deep fryer and then topped with cheese.  Order either of these sandwiches with a side of fresh-cut fries, and settle into a booth or take seat outside if the weather is accomodating, and enjoy.  When it comes to classic bar food, it just doesn’t get much better.

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Gravelly Point Park offers an impressive view of the D.C. skyline, and by crossing the Potomac River via the 14th Street Bridge, it is just a short bike ride away in Virginia.  Once there (MAP), you can continue to ride in either direction on the 18-mile long Mount Vernon Trail which runs through the park.  If you ride north up the trail, you’ll find such attractions as the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove, the Navy – Merchant Marine Memorial, or Theodore Roosevelt Island at the northern end of the trail.  Riding south, you can ride through Old Town Alexandria, all the way to George Washington’s estate located at Mount Vernon at the southern end of the trail.

But the main attraction of this small waterfront park just north of Ronald Reagan National Airport is that the airport’s runway is just a few hundred feet away, making it one of the best spots in the United States for experiencing airplanes without leaving the ground.  Depending on wind direction, planes either take off or come in for a landing there, sweeping by at high speeds and as low as a hundred feet directly overhead.

The takeoffs are louder, but the landings are much more dramatic when the planes fly close enough as they pass by to shake the ground.  Combined with feel of the wind vortices swirling off the wings, it can create the impression that the planes are coming in too low and may crash.  Adding to the fun is the fact that as these planes are coming in for a landing, they must make sharp turns in order to avoid flying over restricted airspace nearby, such as the space over The White House.  During flight rush hours, which roughly correspond with the automotive equivalent, as well as Sunday afternoons, as many as 30 planes an hour land or take off.  That’s one every two minutes.  At slower times, the action takes place every eight or nine minutes.

The park includes an open, grassy area, as well as shaded areas under willow trees.  It also has picnic tables and a boat launch.  So pack a lunch, take a break from all the history and heritage on the other side of the river, and enjoy a leisurely ride along the banks of the Potomac River, and a fun, lazy afternoon plane-spotting in Gravelly Point Park.


The USS Barry Museum Ship

If you go for a bike ride along D.C.’s southwest waterfront, and I highly recommend that you do, you should proceed east on the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail until you get to the waterfront at The Washington Navy Yard.  Located on the north shore of the Anacostia River just east of Nationals Park, you will find the Navy’s oldest shore establishment. Known as “The Yard,” it is the former shipyard and ordnance plant of the U.S. Navy in southeast D.C., and currently serves as a ceremonial and administrative center.

On the waterfront at The Yard you will find the USS Barry (DD-933) moored at Pier 2 (MAP).  She was one of the Navy’s eighteen Forrest Sherman-class destroyers when commissioned in 1954.  She supported the 1958 Marine and Army airborne unit landing in Beirut, Lebanon.  And in 1962, she participated in the Cuban Missile Crisis as a member of the task force that quarantined Cuba in response to evidence that Soviet missiles had been installed on the island.   She spent most of her career in the Caribbean, Atlantic, and Mediterranean, but also served in the Vietnam War, for which she was credited with destroying over 1,000 enemy structures and earned two battle stars. During the final portion of her active career, in the 1970’s, she was home ported in Athens, Greece as part of the Navy’s forward deployment program.

Decommissioned in 1982, she began her new career as a museum ship and permanent public display two years later when she was brought to The Yard.  She currently lies moored in the Anacostia River and serves as a distinctive attraction for visitors to the historic area, with some of her internal areas opened for visitors to tour. Some of the museum ship’s areas open for viewing include the machine repair shop, the crew berthing room, the ward room, the mess deck, the bridge, and the combat information center.  She is also used for training and shipboard familiarization, and as a ceremonial platform.

Many local residents think the ship was named after “D.C. Mayor-For-Life” Marion Barry, but she was actually named for the illustrious Revolutionary War naval hero, Commodore John Barry.  An officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War and later in the United States Navy, John Barry is widely credited as “The Father of the American Navy,” sharing that moniker with John Paul Jones.  As most naval historians note, Barry can be classed on a par with Jones for nautical skill and daring, but he exceeds him in the length of service to his adopted country and his fidelity to the nurturing of a permanent American Navy.   He had great regard for his crew and their well being and always made sure they were properly provided for while at sea.  Barry was also a religious man, and began each day at sea with a reading from the Bible.

I have been to the waterfront at The Yard several times, and each time I practically had the place to myself.  It is one of D.C.’s true hidden gems.  And although I know there are some people who’d prefer to keep it that way, this is another place worth knowing about and visiting that is just too good not to share.


UPDATE:  Unfortunately, after 34 years in D.C., the USS Barry is no longer at the Washington Navy Yard.  Unable to move under its own power since the ship’s internal systems were in layup and out of commission, on May 7, 2016, tugboats towed the ship to Philadelphia, where it was dismantled and sold for scrap.


Memorial Statue of Mahatma Gandhi

In a city that is home to an abundance of memorials, including a large number which honor our country’s military figures and war heroes, the memorial on Massachusetts Avenue between Q and 21st Streets in northwest D.C. (MAP) stands out as different. It is different because the bronze statue in the small park in the DuPont Circle neighborhood honors the leader of a foreign independence movement who promoted strict nonviolence.

The memorial to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi stands across the street from the Embassy of India, and was presented to the city as a gift from the people of India and the Indian-American community. The figure stands nine feet tall, is perched atop a granite base, and is surrounded by Gandhi quotations carved into granite.

After numerous non-violent demonstrations, fasts, and boycotts, as well as several periods of imprisonment, Gandhi eventually led his native India to independence from British rule through his philosophy of non-violent confrontation. However, despite seeking a unified India, the two independent states of India and Pakistan were instead created and Gandhi was greatly distressed by the partition. Soon afterward bloody violence broke out between Hindus and Muslims in India. In an effort to end India’s religious strife, Gandhi resorted to fasts and visits to the troubled areas. He was on one such vigil in New Delhi when a Hindu extremist who objected to Gandhi’s tolerance for the Muslims, fatally shot him.

In India Gandhi is recognized as the Father of the Nation, and his birthday is celebrated as a national holiday. Known as Mahatma, or “the great soul,” during his lifetime, Gandhi’s persuasive methods of civil disobedience influenced leaders of civil rights movements around the world, especially Martin Luther King Jr.  Albert Einstein once wrote, “Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth”.

Gandhi is perhaps one of the best known political leaders in the world, but here are some lesser known facts about him. He married his wife when they were both 13 years old. Then after having a number of children, he informed his wife that he planned to follow the Hindu practice of brahmacharya, which meant going celibate. They stayed married anyway, until her death in 1944. Despite being a lawyer, he was terrified of public speaking. Gandhi did not get his start as an activist in India. He began his legacy as an activist in South Africa, where he had moved when he was unable to find employment in India. Gandhi was pen pals with the Russian author Leo Tolstoy. And he had a set of false teeth, which he carried in a fold of his loin cloth. He put them in his mouth only when he wanted to eat. After his meal, he took them out, washed them and put them back in his loin cloth again.

Another little-known fact about Gandhi is that he often rode a bicycle, as a means of transportation to commute to work in his younger days, as well as for exercise and enjoyment in his later years. The great protestor and crusader even took on causes pertaining to cycling, such as when he wrote about and protested against a bike licensing law aimed at African natives in Johannesburg. So he was not just a great advocate for the Indian people, he was an advocate for cycling as well.

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The Historic Willard Hotel

On this day in 1861, Abraham Lincoln and his entourage were holed up in the Willard Hotel, where they had gone in order to avoid an assassination attempt. So on today’s bike ride, I went by to see the historic D.C. hotel for myself.

The Willard Hotel is located at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), just two blocks east of The White House. It is a luxury hotel, with a history of famous guests over the years. In addition to Lincoln, Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Lincoln, Taft, Wilson, Coolidge and Harding all stayed at the Willard.  President Grant also stayed there, and frequented the Willard lobby during his presidency, where he coined the term “lobbyists.”  And two vice-presidents actually lived there during their terms in office. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in his hotel room at the Willard in 1963 in the days before delivering it from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  The Willard also hosted Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the words for The Battle Hymn of the Republic in her room at the hotel early one morning.  Among the Willard’s many other notable guests are P. T. Barnum, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, General Tom Thumb, Samuel Morse, the Duke of Windsor, Harry Houdini, Gypsy Rose Lee, Gloria Swanson, Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens, and Buffalo Bill.

But it was back in 1861 that the soon-to-be President not only arrived, but arrived at the hotel unexpectedly, and in a disguise. Lincoln had been travelling by train from his home in Springfield, Illinois, to his inauguration in D.C., and had planned to stop in Baltimore on the way. Shortly after departing Springfield, however, his aides received reports of a planned assassination attempt in Baltimore.  Secessionists were planning an attack involving several men armed with knives who would attack when Lincoln walked down a narrow corridor as he switched Baltimore and Ohio Railroad trains at the President Street Station in Baltimore.  So his train was ordered to proceed immediately to D.C.

The plot in Baltimore was uncovered by Lincoln’s head of security, Allan Pinkerton, who would later go on to found the famous Pinkerton private detective agency. Following a contentious election during which slaveholding states threatened to secede from the Union, angry southern conspirators vowed to kill the man they perceived as an abolitionist President before he entered office. Working undercover, Pinkerton met with a secessionist named Cipriano Fernandini, who turned out to be the leader of the assassination plot. During that meeting one of Fernandini’s co-conspirators stated, “That damned abolitionist shall never set foot on Southern soil but to find a grave. One week from today the North shall want a new president, for Lincoln will be dead.”

Even when news of the plot reached Lincoln, he argued for keeping the Baltimore engagement, much to his aides’ frustration. But a stubborn Lincoln finally submitted to his wife’s insistence that he abandon his plans, and the attack was successfully avoided. Lincoln remained at the Willard Hotel under heavy military guard, holding meetings in the lobby and carrying on business from his room, until his inauguration on March 4, 1861, when he became the first President from the Republican Party.

Ironically, Lincoln went on to direct his inaugural address to the South, proclaiming once again that he had no intention, or inclination, to abolish slavery in the Southern states.

Currently, you can stay in the John Adams Presidential Suite at the Willard Hotel for $3,500 per day.  But it was less expensive in Lincoln’s day.  The hotel maintains a small historical display in a hallway just inside the northeast entrance. There you can see a copy of Lincoln’s hotel bill.  Lodging for him and five members of his family totaled $148.50 for their ten-day stay.  Room service, which included private meals, whiskey, brandy and champagne, and other incidental items, comprised the rest of the $773.75 bill.  Lincoln paid the bill with his first paycheck as President.

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The Exorcist Stairs

On M Street in the upscale Georgetown neighborhood of D.C., directly across the street from the Key Bridge, are what’s referred to as the “Exorcist Stairs” (MAP).  The base of the stairs is right next to the Exxon station across from the bridge.  Climb the 97 steps to the top and you’ll reach Prospect Street where you’ll find the red brick “Exorcist House” a few steps away at 3600 Prospect Street.

Made famous in “The Exorcist,” the 1973 classic horror movie about demonic possession written by Georgetown University alumnus William Peter Blatty, the dark, narrow stairs are a part of the movie’s climactic scene in which a Jesuit priest rids himself of the devil by hurling himself out the window of a house and down the steeply sloped stairs to his death.  The stone steps at the end of M Street, were padded with 1/2”-thick rubber to film the death of Father Karras. The stuntman tumbled down the stairs twice. And during filming, Georgetown University students charged people around $5 each to watch the stunt from the rooftops.

I rode to the spooky stairwell to see them for myself.  They’re not nearly as scary in the daylight as they are within the context of the movie.  But they’re worth a quick visit, if only to be able to say you’ve done it.

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UPDATE (3/13/2019)- The 36th Street stairway between M Street and Prospect Street in Georgetown, also known as the Exorcist Stairs, has now been designated as a D.C. Historic Landmark.  The city’s Historical Preservation Review Board (HPRB) granted the landmark status to the stairway, including the retaining wall on one side, and the old Capitol Traction Station building on the other.  The Board also recommended that the site be nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.  But oddly enough, it is not because of the attention and fame that the famous movie gave the stairway.  In fact, it may be in spite of it.

The Prospect Street Citizens Association, in partnership with the D.C. Preservation League, pushed for the designation to protect the stairway from demolition as part of the construction of a new five-story, 21-unit condo building, complete with a two-story underground parking garage, as well as a rooftop pool, yoga studio and communal wine cellar, that will soon be going up at the site of the iconic former Exxon station near the base of the stairway.

For the decision and recommendation, the HPRB based their actions on a report written by the city’s Historic Preservation Office, which cites the “historical significance of the station whose soaring clock tower and arched windows make it an example of Romanesque Revival architecture popular at the time of its construction. The steps and retaining wall, meanwhile, contribute to “the historical and architectural significance of the site,” the report reads.

I am glad the landmark status has been granted to the site by the city.  And I hope that it will eventually be listed on the National Registry as well.  But regardless of the city’s reasons for the 36th Street stairway’s designation, I will always seem them as the Exorcist Stairs.


The Palace of Wonders Museum

On one of my recent bike rides I stopped by the Palace of Wonders Museum, which is located in the up-and-coming H Street corridor (MAP), just northeast of D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.  The Palace of Wonders, also sometimes referred to as The Red Palace, is a two story bar with a view of an intimate vaudeville stage from both floors.  The Palace has the most astounding live burlesque shows, vaudeville acts, and other performances every week with stunts, magic shows, dancing girls, aerialists and contortionists, and various sideshow performers.  It is one of the more unusual places in D.C., describing itself as “the only museum-of-oddities with a dedicated vaudeville stage and full bar in the world.”  But it’s the bar’s museum that is a real “showstopper.”

The museum at the Palace of Wonders showcases over half a thousand carnival and side show artifacts, mummified memorabilia, and an eye-popping array of oddities from around the world.  There is a stuffed unicorn, a five pawed dog, x-rays of a sword swallower, skulls, mummies, two-headed chicks, mermen from Fiji, a mysterious “Sea Wurm,” wet specimens in formaldehyde, and other exhibits that pay homage to the great dime museums of the past.  And the Palace often presents lectures, demonstrations and tours of their intriguing collection of oddities.

An added element to the Palace of Wonders is the fact that the unique combination of the exhibits being in a bar means you can experience being in a museum surrounded by drunk people.  You can’t get that at the Smithsonian.


UPDATE:  In a blow to the world of weird entertainment, The Palace of Wonders in D.C. has closed permanently.  If and when the museum’s vast collection of exhibits again goes on display, I will report it in a future post on this blog.

The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue

The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue

The monument that towers over the National Mall in downtown D.C. is universally recognized as our nation’s memorial to the ‘father of our country” and first President, George Washington.  Although it was initially proposed over one hundred years before its completion, it languished in the planning and construction stages for decades.  Finally, on February 21, 1885, The Washington Monument was official dedicated.  But few people know that the 555-foot and 5-inch obelisk was not the first monument built in D.C. to honor the new nation’s first leader.  Twenty-five years earlier, on February 22, 1860, a statue to memorialize Washington was erected in D.C.  On today’s bike ride, I went to that earlier Washington monument.

The momentum to honor George Washington first surfaced before he died in 1799. The Continental Congress of 1783 passed a resolution to erect a monument to this hero of the American Revolution in the soon-to-be-built Federal capital bearing his name.  But when a frustrated President Washington was struggling to finance and oversee construction of the new capital city on the Potomac River, he pulled the plug on funding for his own memorial.  The project resumed when plans for a memorial were adopted during the centennial of Washington’s birth in 1832.  Work on the project was interrupted by political quarreling in the 1850s, and construction ceased entirely during the Civil War. Finally, in 1876, inspired by the United States centennial, Congress passed legislation appropriating funding for completion of the monument.  It was completed almost a decade later.

By this time, however, the more modest monument, The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue, had already been installed almost a quarter of a century earlier.  The bronze equestrian statue of Washington riding his horse during the Battle of Princeton depicts him in the heroic, idealized Romantic style.  It was installed where the Foggy Bottom and West End neighborhoods meet, in the center of a park in the traffic circle at the intersection of 23rd Street, K Street, New Hampshire Avenue, and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP).

The statue is part of the “American Revolution Statuary“, a group of fourteen statues in D.C., and are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

This monument may not be the most well known, or the biggest, but it does predate the more well-known monument on the National Mall.

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The U.S. Postal Service Headquarters

On this day I rode to the U.S. Postal Service Headquarters because on this day in 1792, President George Washington signed legislation creating the U.S. Postal Service. The USPS headquarters building is located in southwest D.C., at 475 L’Enfant Plaza (MAP).

In 1707, the British government established the position of Postmaster General to better coordinate postal service in the colonies. In 1737, a 31-year-old American colonist named Benjamin Franklin took over as Postmaster General. He was later fired for subversive acts on behalf of the rebellious colonies in 1774. Franklin then returned to America and helped create a rival postal system for the emerging nation. The next year he was reappointed postmaster general by himself and other Continental Congress members.

Although the Articles of Confederation written in 1781 authorized Congress to establish and regulate post offices from one State to another, the formation of an official U.S. Postal Service remained a work in progress until February 20, 1792, when President Washington formally created the U.S. Postal Service with the signing of the Postal Service Act. The act outlined in detail Congressional power to establish official mail routes. The act also made it illegal for postal officials to open anyone’s mail. In 1792, a young American nation of approximately 4 million people enjoyed federally funded postal services. The cost of sending a letter ranged from 6 cents to 12 cents. Under Washington, the Postal Service administration was headquartered in Philadelphia. Later, in 1800, it followed other federal agencies to the nation’s new capital in Washington, D.C.

The Postal Service was transformed from a Federal agency into a corporation run by a board of governors in 1971 following passage of the Postal Reorganization Act. Today, the modern USPS sorts and delivers more than 700 million pieces of mail each day, except Sunday. It has the nation’s largest retail network, which is larger than McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wal-Mart in this country, combined. It is the nation’s 2nd largest civilian employer, with more than 211,000 employees. It has the world’s largest civilian fleet of vehicles, with approximately 212,000 cars and truck, at last count. The Postal Service also moves and delivers mail using planes, trains, boats, ferries, helicopters, subways, float planes, hovercraft, mule, and by foot. There are even some routes in the country where the mail travels by bicycle.

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The Marine Corps War Memorial, commonly referred to as The Iwo Jima Memorial

I frequently use the anniversary of an historical event as the basis for my choice of a destination for my daily bike ride.  Since today is the anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. Marines’ invasion during World War II of the island of Iwo Jima, I chose to ride to the Marine Corps War Memorial, also commonly referred to as the Iwo Jima Memorial.

It was on this day in 1945 that the Marines’ invasion of Iwo Jima, named “Operation Detachment”, began.  At the time, Iwo Jima was a barren Pacific island guarded by Japanese artillery.  But to American military minds, it was prime real estate on which to build airfields to launch bombing raids against Japan, only 660 miles away.

The battle began with an American military aerial bombardment of the Japanese defenses on the island.  This lasted 74 days and was the longest pre-invasion bombardment of the war.  Underwater demolition teams known as “frogmen” were then dispatched by the Americans just before the actual invasion. When the Japanese fired on the frogmen, they gave away many of their “secret” gun positions.  The amphibious landings of Marines subsequently began on the morning of February 19th.

As the Marines made their way onto the island, seven Japanese battalions opened fire on them. By evening, more than 550 Marines were dead and more than 1,800 were wounded. The capture of Mount Suribachi, the highest point of the island and bastion of the Japanese defense, took four more days and many more casualties. When the American flag was finally raised on Iwo Jima, the memorable image was captured in a famous photograph by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press that later won the Pulitzer Prize.  It is this photograph upon which the Iwo Jima Memorial was designed and built.

The Iwo Jima Memorial is a military memorial statue located just outside of the walls of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia (MAP).   As inscribed on the front of the memorial, it is dedicated “In honor and memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 1775.”  The location and date of every major Marine Corps engagement up to the present are inscribed in chronological order around the base of the memorial, including the battle of Iwo Jima.

The official dedication of the memorial by President Dwight D. Eisenhower occurred on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the Marine Corps.  In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation that flag of the United States fly from the memorial 24 hours a day, one of the few official sites where this is required.

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