Chef Brian McBride’s stick-to-your-ribs food is served family style in stainless steel pots at Blue Duck Tavern. Photo Courtesy Park Hyatt
The new Hotel Palomar Arlington ($270-$500 a night) boasts striking views of Georgetown from its 10-story glass tower just across the Potomac River in Rosslyn. One of 43 hotels in the hip Kimpton Group boutique hotel chain, the Palomar was designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, the firm founded by I.M. Pei, famous for his glass-pyramid addition to the Louvre Museum in Paris. This is no monumental work of architecture, but the relaxed atmosphere is just right. And during the wine-tasting happy hours, the hotel often brings local artists in to display and show their work.
From Rosslyn, hop in a cab to the Blue Duck Tavern (dinner entrees $18-$32) in Foggy Bottom. The buzz is strong for this spot, and it's easy to see why: It effortlessly combines an Americana-harvest, straight-from-the-farm feel with a contemporary dining room and buzzing open kitchen where you can watch chef Brian McBride braise, roast and employ other simple methods. Somehow you have it both ways, here. Wall art made of fall leaves and hints of quilts, along with sculptural, mid-century Cherner chairs and austere Shaker seats, add to the atmosphere. You'll forget you're on the ground floor of the Park Hyatt hotel when those little stainless pots deliver the family-style meats and sides. The rack of black Berkshire pork and lamb shank braised in stout gremolata are standouts, and appropriately hearty.
Just across the Key Bridge from the hotel, visit historic Georgetown, which houses some big names in modern design. Drool over the egg-shaped tubs at Waterworks, handcrafted wood furniture at Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers (some of which is at the Park Hyatt, where Blue Duck Tavern is located) and classic mid-century pieces at Design Within Reach. Be sure to walk down the narrow, cobblestone Cady's Alley (entrance at 3318 M St.), where high-end design shops will take you on a tour of contemporary Europe. Visit Italy at Contemporaria Design and Pedini DC, and France at Linge Roset. Then stop for a pastry, schnitzel, cocktail or espresso among the other architects and designers at the sleek Austrian spot Leopold's Kafe + Konditore.
Get to the Corcoran Gallery of Art by the end of January and catch "Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power" ($14, through Jan. 25) — this is a moving collection of portraits by the legendary editorial photographer known for his work in Vogue and The New Yorker. Here his lens is fixed on the powerful and powerless on both sides of 20th-century current events; soldiers, Vietnamese war victims and violent protesters are presented side-by-side with Avedon's signature strik-ing honesty.
Often overlooked, the National Building Museum makes a great first impression with its 300-foot-long atrium and giant Corinthian columns. This gem of a museum, devoted to the building arts, is just small enough to cover in about an hour, and its exhibits cleverly use technology to engage. "Green Community" (free, through Oct. 2009) explores issue of green design through example communities, interactive charts and fun visuals like ground-up garbage and piles of recycled glass.
On the way home, swing by the 1939 Pope-Leighey House ($7.50) on Route 1, the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Virginia. The 1,200-square-foot home is an example of one of Wright's modest "usonian" homes. Since Wright designed houses to their settings, it's unfortunate the home was moved from its original plot in Falls Church, but today it's on the property of the Federal Woodlawn plantation, so at least you can visit both at once.
Hotel Palomar Arlington 1121 N. 19th St., Arlington, (703) 351-9170, hotelpalomar-arlington.com
Blue Duck Tavern Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, 24th and M streets, (202) 419-6755, blueducktavern.com
Design Within Reach 3307 Cady's Alley, (202) 339-9480, dwr.com
Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers 3300 M St., (202) 338-4292, thosmoser.com
Waterworks 3314 M St., (202) 333-7180, waterworks.com
Cady's Alley 3318 M St., cadysalley.com
Contemporaria Design 3303 Cady's Alley, (202) 338-0193, contemporaria.com
Pedini DC 3340 Cady's Alley, (202) 640-1976, pedinidc.com
Linge Roset 3306 M St., (202) 333-6390, ligne-roset-usa.com
Leopold's Kafe + Konditore 3315 Cady's Alley, (202) 965-6005, kafeleopolds.com
Corcoran Gallery of Art 500 17th St., (202) 639-1700
National Building Museum 401 F St., at Judiciary Square, (202) 272-2448, nbm.org
Pope-Leighey House 9000 Richmond Hwy., Alexandria, (703) 780-4000, popeleighey1940.org