Metro Monopoly: An underground world

In Crystal City, it feels like nothing has changed since 1976.

I was intrigued by the mall’s promise of a world of living, shopping, working and eating without ever setting foot outside. After traveling five stops from Foggy Bottom on the blue line, I stepped off the Metro into what looked like a small-scale airport, with overhead signs pointing to landmarks to ensure you don’t get lost.

Crystal City was built to look old. It reminded me of the 500-year-old Grand Bazaar in Turkey, with its 61 covered streets and 3,000-plus shops. It feels like a giant antique building, with its fake cobblestones and painted windows – but with the addition of food court staples, like Dunkin’ Donuts and Sbarro. My mom remembers this mall from her days at GW, and it seems like nothing has changed since it opened.

Everything you need to live is here. In a span of 30 seconds, I passed the Village Cobbler and the Relaxation Station, where stressed patrons received acupressure. This pathway led to a stock trader’s club and a dry cleaner. Further along, medical and dental offices sit across from one another. A clinical psychologist’s office is down the hall.

Interior pedestrian concourses connect five shopping areas that span more than 10 city blocks. These elevated and underground passages also connect to 17 hotels, apartment complexes and office buildings. The unique array of stores is kitschy and oddly specialized, including Puppet Heaven and Ship’s Hatch. This is not a place to look for fashionable clothing. You won’t find current brands like Gap or H&M. You will, however, find a Dress Barn.

One highlight of the mall is the Northern Virginia Art Center. Paintings of lavender fields, sailboats and the Georgetown waterfront greet visitors.

Broadcast junkies can take a peek at the PBS Headquarters, where you can pay homage to Big Bird. Visitors can choose from three sweaters and take a picture with a wooden-cutout of childhood icon Mr. Rogers. But the food options are slim.

The novelty of Crystal City can only last so long before you begin feeling trapped. If you feel unsettled being underground for so long, you can look from behind a glass at the interior pedestrian concourse.

Though Pentagon City may be the place to go for a more conventional, lively shopping experience, instead of staying in on a cold, winter day, make your way underground and take a journey to Crystal City.

The passages are winding, so I would suggest leaving a trail of bread crumbs.

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