Distinctive destinations: Exploring D.C. hotspots along the road less traveled

“How GW are you?” asks the MyGW Web site’s quiz, which countless bright-eyed, eager freshmen take each summer at Colonial Inauguration. With choices such as “Ride the Metro after midnight” or “Visit the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial,” how could one spend four years of his or her life here and not be GW?

The National Mall is a GW student’s backyard; the White House is a next-door neighbor. These are marvelous sightseeing options for out-of-towners, but for those students who will soon be leaving the District, graduation weekend should be memorable for reasons other than a cap and gown. For every weary graduate who has been there and done that, The Hatchet has compiled a list of 10 places of interest you may not find in a guidebook.

Shelly’s Back Room

Claiming to be one of D.C.’s few locales where the true cigar connoisseur can enjoy a nice smoke and a fine meal, Shelly’s features an extensive menu of cigars for sale – but you can also bring your own favorites from home.

In addition to cigars, the bistro also hosts a bar with a broad selection of scotches, bourbons and other rare and imported liquors and brews. Set in a lounge-like cabin atmosphere with plenty of comfortable couches and tables, Shelly’s is sure to be the place to unwind with a nice smoke and a drink while watching the Nats game on one of their large plasma screens.

Shelly’s offers an air purification system to allow both smokers and non-smokers alike to enjoy themselves comfortably, but non-smokers should be aware that there are no non-smoking sections.

“We’re concerned about the ban on indoor smoking (currently being debated by city officials),” manager Tony Rubbo said. “We might get an exemption (if it passes), but if not, we’d be out of business.”

Serious cigar smokers can also take advantage of one of Shelly’s 100 private humidor lockers (temperature and humidity controlled) that provide permanent homes for your Monte Cristos, Astons and the like. Be aware that Shelly’s does not take reservations and can be crowded on Friday and Saturday nights, so come early to avoid the rush.

For hours and a full menu of cigars and food, visit Shelly’s Back Room’s Web site at www.shellysdc.com. Shelly’s is located at 1331 F St. N.W.

-Brendan Polmer

Torpedo Factory Art Center

The Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va., has come a long way since its days as the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station during World War II.

Strangely enough, a building that once housed an ammunition manufactory has become a leading producer of an entirely different product: art exhibitions. The remodeled building now serves as the creative offices of more than 180 artists, who create sculptures, jewelry, paintings and other forms of artwork under the watchful eyes of thousands of visitors.

“Our artists have been shown nationally and internationally,” said Trudi Van Dyke, the center’s director. “We have a wide variety of artists – some have been here for 30 years. Others are young and emerging, and they’re exploring different ways of using media. Our fabric sculptors and contemporary printmakers have a young vitality.”

The factory also contains six galleries with changing exhibits, the most recent of which features Ann Barbieri, an abstract painter who was chosen as the center’s artist of the year. Her show, “Informality,” will remain in the Target Gallery until June 5.

Most of the works in each artist’s space are available for purchasing. The Torpedo Factory also shares a space with the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, and the bustling Alexandria waterfront lies just outside its doors.

The Torpedo Factory Art Center is located at 105 North Union St. in Alexandria, Va., closest to the King Street Metro stop. Admission is free.

-Maura Judkis

Clarendon Ballroom

After four years of going to all of the typical D.C. club outings, LuLu’s has become a yawn, and Dream can actually induce sleep.

The spacious Clarendon Ballroom offers an alternative with a perk most others don’t have. The club hosts swing dance lessons and open dancing from 9 to 11 p.m. with a live band. Taught by Tom Koerner and Debra Sternberg, who together have won many swing dance accolades including the United Kingdom National Championships, beginners and experienced dancers alike are in good hands.

As the dancers spin around the room, they might feel as though they are actually back in the swing era due to the club’s interesting d?cor. Owner Nick Langman described it as “very 1940s.”

“We decorated the club in an art deco style, with big columns and curtains. We have a gold ceiling with chandeliers and an 88-foot-long bar,” Langman said.

When the club isn’t swinging, it offers other types of dancing.

“We have live bands on Thursdays, mostly rock cover bands, and DJs on Fridays who will do top 40 music,” Langman said. The club also has a rooftop bar and caf? open Wednesday through Friday nights, weather permitting, and drink specials vary throughout the week.

Each week, Koerner and Sternberg bring a different band to the ballroom. Tuesday, dancers can swing and Lindy-hop to Daryl Davis, and on May 24, the club will feature MitchWoods and his Rocket 88s.

The Clarendon Ballroom is located at 3185 Wilson Blvd., near the Clarendon Metro stop. You must be 21 to enter. The ballroom is closed Saturdays for private events.

-Maura Judkis

Haunted D.C. and Alexandria walking tours

In such a historical city there’s bound to be a few ghosts roaming around – a president here, a senator there, not to mention the thousands of bureaucrats packing the District. With more than 20 years of “ghost-chasing experience,” Original Ghost Tours of Alexandria, Va., will lead you through graveyards and historical sites, all the while wearing 18th century garb. Just take the Metro to King Street for a spooky tour on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

“We really enjoy abandoning people in graveyards,” joked Cynthia Young, vice president and guide at Original Ghost Tours. “People have a lot of fun. Lots of college kids come out (for our tours).”

The Washington Walks Capital Hauntings tour is also sure to leave you shaking with fear or fascination. The tour leaves from the McPherson Square Metro’s White House exit on Fridays at 7:30 p.m., and explores the haunted history behind Lafayette Square, where “the restless ghosts of presidents, a first lady, assassins and military officers roam the hallways of old homes, a church and even the White House,” said Carolyn Crouch of Washington Walks. There’s also a “Most Haunted Houses” tour of D.C. that Washington Walks offers Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.

“A lot of bad arguments and sometimes even scandalous things happened (in D.C.), and (when) somebody ends up getting shot they come back as a ghost,” Crouch explained. “The White House is also haunted by a Presidential Circle of Death.”

Or is it an Axis of Evil? Sounds scary either way.

For more information on the Alexandria tour, call 703-519-1749. For more information on Washington Walks tours, visit www.washingtonwalks.com or call 202-484-1565.

-Brendan Polmer

The U.S. Botanic Garden

April showers may bring May flowers, but at the U.S. Botanic Garden, spectacular and rare flowers bloom year-round. For those who have been aching for some nature after the departure of the cherry blossoms, the garden is a place to see everything from a nearly extinct species of plant, to well-loved favorites such as roses and hibiscuses.

Making your way through the Botanic Gardens is tantamount to groping through a maze. Or a rainforest. Or a desert. After all, the building contains plants from any climate imaginable – all under one roof.

Be sure to check out the rare and endangered species room, where you can look at some of the few remaining specimens that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world. Also, savor a few moments in the meditation garden before hiking through the jungle garden and the desert room. The orchid garden is not to be missed.

The Botanic Garden, which has been around since 1816, offers weekly tours of the venue and its outdoor garden, Bartholdi Park, every other Tuesday at noon. An exhibit of decorative flower pots is on display until October, and two permanent exhibits detail plants of importance and how they grow.

The U.S. Botanic Garden is located at 100 Maryland Ave. S.W., near the Federal Center or Capital South Metro stops. The Garden is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission is free.

-Maura Judkis

The Old Post Office

While there are few tall buildings in D.C., the Old Post Office at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue offers a pristine view of the District from atop its 315-foot observation tower for free.

Built between 1892 and 1899, the structure was originally erected to house both the D.C. and the U.S. Post offices, and now contains the Bells of Congress, a gift from England in 1976. Don’t forget to bring a camera to this hidden treasure.

In addition to the observation tower, the Old Post Office hosts a food court featuring a wide assortment of cuisines. A variety of bands and dancers perform daily for the public.

For more information, visit http://www.nps.gov/opot or call 202-606-8691.

-Brendan Polmer

Gravelly Point

Imagine sitting down for a picnic on a beautiful patch of grass right on the Potomac River, with memorials and monuments in the distance. All of a sudden, you hear a deafening roar. You look up and see more than 80 tons of aluminum screaming over your head. Welcome to Gravelly Point.

The park, located immediately north of the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, is a haven for those who know of the spot; but many aren’t aware of this unique locale.

Gravelly Point features sports playing fields, picnic tables, open grass areas and a boat launch to the Potomac. It offers great views of the District from a comfortable distance and gives the feeling of being outside of the hustle and bustle of the city. And of course, for the aviation enthusiast, having planes flying directly overhead at 200 feet is always a plus.

Access to the area is somewhat tricky, and you have to know what you are looking for. The park is accessible by taking the Metro to National Airport, walking inside the terminal and exiting the lower level. Upon leaving the terminal building, turn right and keep walking north. Past the building, you will pass a parking lot, followed by a row of hangars, after which you will see an asphalt bike path. Continue along this path until you reach the park. It is about a 15-minute walk from the airport Metro stop.

Don’t worry about finding the exact location of the park – the smell of jet fuel will let you know when you’re there.

-Gabriel Okolski

Moonlight Kayaking Tours on the Potomac

For a last glimpse of Washington before leaving GW, see the city like you’re never seen it before – from a kayak. Take a tour with Atlantic Kayak along the waterfront at Georgetown; paddle past the Kennedy Center and under the Key Bridge and loop around Roosevelt Island. Tours leave from the Georgetown waterfront, and can last from just a few hours to overnight.

For an entirely different kayaking experience, take a moonlight tour that leaves at 6:30 p.m. from Georgetown and lasts three hours. The lights of the city will reflect onto the Potomac, and so will the starry night sky.

Atlantic Kayak caters to both experienced and novice kayakers. All tours include a brief lesson and promise a “relaxing, memorable tour,” according to its Web site. All equipment is included in the tour cost.

In addition to the Georgetown tours, the company offers routes through Piscataway Creek, a tributary of the Potomac. Instead of monuments and bridges, the tour features glimpses of wildlife such as bald eagles, heron, turtles and beavers. Tours range in price from $44 to $54.

For a tour schedule, visit Atlantic Kayak’s Web site at http://www.atlantickayak.com or call 1-800-297-0066.

-Brendan Polmer

Great Falls Park

Washington, D.C., is a city known for Watergate, not waterfalls. But the latter can be found in nearby McLean, Va., at Great Falls Park. Acquired by the National Park Service in 1966, the park features scenic waterfalls carved out of the former Potomac Canal, which was designed by George Washington.

“This is a wonderful park because it is so full of history,” said Delores Morrisseau, a volunteer for the National Park Service. Near Great Falls is the historic town of Matildaville and several old intact locks from the canal.

The park is an excellent location for outdoor activities from biking to horseback riding. Hikers can choose from several trails ranging in length and difficulty throughout the 800-acre park.

“The river trail is the best,” Morrisseau said. “The view is gorgeous because it takes you up high and around the river. You can see a lot of kayakers here, including practicing Olympic kayakers.”

Springtime is considered the best time to view the falls because of higher water levels from rain. Though swimming and wading are prohibited, picnicking is welcomed, and grills are available for use.

Only 14 miles upstream from the District, Great Falls Park is an ideal locale for basking in the sun and the beauty of nature.

Great Falls Park is located along the George Washington Parkway. Detailed directions can be found at http://www.nps.gov/gwmp/grfa/index.htm. Entry to the park is $5 per vehicle.

-Maura Judkis

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.