Penn Quarter’s cultural offerings range from paintings at the Smithsonian American Art Museum to an outdoor holiday bazaar. Photograph courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Penn Quarter is home to historic and thriving cultural venues, offering everything from world-class plays to a cinema where you can sip a microbrew while watching an independent film. Here are some of our favorite places to spend an afternoon or evening in downtown DC—plus a look at events on the calendar.
511 Tenth St., NW; 202-347-4833
Ford’s Theatre is one of the country’s most famous theaters thanks to its unique history: Abraham Lincoln was assassinated there in 1865 while attending a play. The theater doubles as a museum, with audio tours and talks most days. Onstage this month: Actor Edward Gero reprises his role as Scrooge for the third year in Ford’s production of A Christmas Carol, based on the Dickens story.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D St., NW; 202-393-3939
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has a reputation for staging innovative, fresh-from–New York plays, such as Clybourne Park, which played at Woolly prior to its 2011 Pulitzer Prize win. Onstage this month: Catch the famed Chicago improv troupe Second City (alums include Mike Myers, Steve Carell, and Tina Fey) performing Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies through January 8.
Lansburgh Theatre and Sidney Harman Hall
During his 25 years with Shakespeare Theatre Company, artistic director Michael Kahn has given Penn Quarter two new venues: the 451-seat Lansburgh Theatre (450 Seventh St., NW) and the 775-seat Sidney Harman Hall (610 F St., NW; 202-547-1122). The company excels at classical plays, but it also takes risks with edgier works and regularly screens broadcasts from London’s National Theatre, such as John Hodge’s play Collaborators (December 19, $20). Onstage this month: Much Ado About Nothing, the much-loved romantic Shakespeare comedy featuring the sparring couple Beatrice and Benedick. Director Ethan McSweeny relocates the action to 1930s Cuba, with Latin music and lots of dancing. Information is at shakespearetheatre.org.
513 13th St., NW; 202-783-4000
Although primarily a music venue, the Warner Theatre hosts the Washington Ballet’s Washington-themed version of The Nutcracker from December 1 through 24. Set in a Georgetown mansion, the ballet reinvents the Nutcracker as George Washington and the Rat King as King George III; it also includes a Waltz of the Cherry Blossoms and a live orchestra.
Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture
Eighth and F sts., NW; 202-633-1000
Housed in one of the most striking buildings in Washington—the historic Old Patent Office, now known as the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture—the Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to works by more than 7,000 American artists from the last 300 years. On the third floor, the Lincoln Gallery features contemporary artists such as David Hockney, Nam June Paik, and James Rosenquist. Downstairs, you can find works by Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and Georgia O’Keeffe. On view this month: “Multiplicity,” which looks at the art of contemporary printmaking. It runs through March 11.
National Portrait Gallery
Across the Reynolds Center’s glass-covered Kogod Courtyard, the National Portrait Gallery celebrates American icons and the artists who memorialized them with a collection of presidential portraits as well as works by artists ranging from Gilbert Stuart to contemporary painter Kehinde Wiley. On view this month: “The Black List,” photographs of prominent African-Americans by Vanity Fair contributing photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, through April 22.
Film and Festivals
Landmark E Street Cinema
555 11th St., NW; 202-452-7672
Forget beat-em-ups and hammy blockbusters—Landmark E Street Cinema, with eight screens, specializes in indie movies, foreign films, documentaries, and cult classics. The theater has a concession stand with monthly beer specials as well as an espresso bar with pastries, cookies, and chocolates. Onscreen this month: Fridays and Saturdays at midnight in December, a rare chance to see 1930s and ’40s films on the big screen, such as Citizen Kane (December 2 and 3), King Kong (December 9 and 10), and Duck Soup (December 16 and 17).
Downtown Holiday Market
F St. between Seventh and Ninth sts., NW
December 2 through 23, F Street turns into an open-air holiday bazaar during the Downtown Holiday Market. Nearly 180 craftspeople are showing wares from noon to 8 daily. In addition to antiques, fashion, ceramics, jewelry, paintings, and other crafts, the market features musical performances each day—from hip-hop artist Christylez Bacon to the Americana group North Meets South.
This article appears in the December 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.