While my Irish sister Carol was visiting recently, we spent our first week walking around DC—the White House, the monuments, neighborhoods. The second week of her visit, however, was the first week of the Government Shutdown so we had to find alternate entertainment. Friends of hers had visited Alexandria, VA, and recommended it. So on an unusually hot October day we hopped on the DC metro and left the District!
When we arrived in Alexandria, we decided to forego the free trolley that cruises up and down King Street (the main street) and walk through Old Town to the riverfront instead. That was a great way to see the little shops and restaurants. I was expecting total upscale but King Street had everything from funky to high end. It would be very easy to spend a day (and money) going from shop to shop.
We also passed a few hotels. The Hotel Monaco (a Kimpton Hotel) is built on the site of the Marshall House, a Civil War era establishment. I peeked into the hotel lobby because it looked unusual (what is now known as a "boutique hotel") but it was the plaque on the wall outside that really made me pause. (Of course I researched it when I got home and found its Wikipedia entry.)
When we finally got to the visitors' center—close to the river—we picked up brochures on walking tours. Some of the attractions and historical sites have an admission fee, but the visitors' center has a one-price-for-everything ticket that is cheaper than paying separately. (You don’t even have to visit everything to make it a bargain!) I only had one place in mind, though, so we didn’t take that deal.
But before we took any tour, it was time for lunch. Yes, had to have vegetarian options. Also had to have cold cold drinks because it was hot. Carol chose Red Rocks Neapolitan Bistro with its $10 lunch menu. She had a lovely grilled vegetable panini (roasted zucchini and eggplant with goat cheese “served on fresh flatbread daily and accompanied by a side of mixed greens”) and I had the meatball panini just to see what it was (“homemade meatballs, aged provolone, roasted red peppers”). It was here Carol introduced me to Magners Irish Cider . Husb and I often drink Woodchuck at home, so I am familiar with hard cider. What I didn’t know, and Carol pointed out, is that Magners is supposed to be served over ice. It says so on the can. (American servers, please take note!)
After lunch we headed toward my destination: Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, which encompasses two buildings that were a tavern and the City Tavern and Hotel (the latter is still a restaurant). Gadsby’s, “America’s five-star hotel of the 18th century,” was the “center of political, business, and social life in early Alexandria,” according to their website. That means it was a place where “everybody knows [their] names”—presidents George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, and more. Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural ball was held there in a beautiful ballroom. Just like hotels of today, the building has been used as a meeting house, a performance space, and of course for overnight accommodations.
Anyone who attended elementary school in the Northeast has toured Colonial-era buildings, most of them homes. We’re all familiar with the narrow stairs and the fireplace in each room and the wooden floors. This was my first opportunity, though, to see a real tavern with meals on the first floor and bedrooms up above.
The 21st-century Gadsby’s is a wonderful piece of history lovingly cared for. Our tour guide was both informed and amusing (he’ll tell you the ghost story if you ask [every tavern has one]). The commercial ice well--so important for anyone interested in a cold drink!--has just been restored. And, as it used to be, rooms are available for rent by the public for events (although not for overnight stays).
I wanted to stay longer than our tour, just to look around and picture the history—think about the people who had walked those same floors—but we had dinner reservations in the District and so had to head on back to the Metro. On the way, I picked up a cool pair of Halloween earrings in a jewelry shop and Carol bought a little souvenir for someone back home. And as I walked past the restaurants, I made mental notes on places to eat so that I could lure Husb to come along to Alexandria. One day is a nice visit but it's not enough.
Photo of Magners Cider from their website. Photo of Gadsby's Tavern from their website.