Lindsay Sutton finds inspiring museums and presidential hotels in the US capital.
It all started with a cigar. President Ulysses S Grant’s wife banned him from smoking at home so he would pop over to the Willard, a block from the White House, and light up in the lobby. Folk trying to influence him waited there and became known as “lobbyists” – or so the story goes. The Beaux Arts building is the crown jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue, which links the White House and the Capitol, and almost every president has popped in or stayed at one time or another. Take “afternoon petit plats” here in the Café du Parc or try the Peacock Alley Tea, with finger sandwiches and decadent pastries. 1,401, Pennsylvania Avenue; tel +1 202 6289 100; intercontinental.com
A couple of blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue and up Tenth Street is the theatre (at number 511) where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated during a production of Our American Cousin on 14 April 1865, just after his victory in the American Civil War. You can stand in the balcony next to the box where he was shot by Southern sympathiser John Wilkes Booth, who then leapt on to the stage to make his getaway. In the basement is a museum tracing the life and legacy of Lincoln. Open 9am-4.30pm. Entry is US$2.50. Visit fordstheatre.org
International Spy Museum
James Bond’s famous car from Goldfinger is on display at the International Spy Museum at 800 F Street, a couple of minutes’ walk away, and comes complete with machine guns, tyre slashers, oil jets and ejector seat. But it’s not all boys’ toys – all the tricks of real-life espionage are here, too, including listening devices, bugs, poison-tipped umbrellas and even satellite surveillance. Entry is US$18. Open daily 10am-6pm (times vary at some parts of the year). Visit spymuseum.org
Returning to Pennsylvania Avenue, go to the state-of-the-art Newseum at number 555. In one exhibit, 80 newspaper front-pages are displayed and changed daily, while the Press Freedom gallery shows how liberal media is across various nations. Perhaps the most powerful of all the collections is in the 9/11 Gallery, where the remains of the twisted broadcast antennae from the World Trade Centre in New York are displayed. Entry is US$22. Open daily 9am-5pm. Visit newseum.org
Charlie Palmer Steakhouse
Continue down Pennsylvania Avenue until you reach Constitution Avenue. At number 101 is Charlie Palmer Steakhouse, a place where DC’s political power-brokers often dine. Overlooking the National Mall and the Capitol, you can play “spot the senator” or “recognise a representative”. The rooftop view is spectacular, as is the exclusively US wine list, with 3,500 bottles to choose from. Go for the prix fixe lunch for US$25. Dinner will easily quadruple that. Tel +1 202 5478 100; charliepalmer.com