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.