Our First Best & Worst Issue Shows How Much DC Has Changed

Middle: DC first lady Effi Barry graced our debut Best & Worst cover in 1979, while shock jock Howard Stern adopted a devilish pose in 1982 (right).

When Washingtonian published its first Best & Worst issue in July 1979, Washington was dreaming of diamonds–baseball diamonds.

Washington Star sports columnist Morris Siegel was voted “worst tease” for predicting every six months that baseball was returning to DC. He was off by only 26 years.

Looking back at that 1979 issue is a reminder of how much the area has changed. Back then, we told readers they’d have to go to Baltimore for a decent bagel. Now there are good places here, including Bullfrog Bagels on H Street, Northeast.

We were also decades away from the local designer-coffee explosion. Washingtonian recommended that caffeine-seeking readers trek to the Apple House in Linden, Virginia–more than an hour from DC–for the best cuppa joe. Readers’ picks for best coffee: 7-Eleven and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Some of 1979’s bests are mere memories now. You’ll find no cold comfort at Bob’s Famous Homemade Ice Cream, once a Georgetown staple. There are no chocolate-chip cookies baking at the YWCA at 17th and K streets (strangely, they were the best), no Hamburger Hamlets ladling up winning onion soup, and no expense-account lunch-es at Le Lion d’Or.

But a surprising number of standouts are still going strong. Strosniders Hardware in Bethesda still provides expert advice and supplies to unhandy homeowners. All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, voted best Washington book by our readers in 1979, still ranks as one of the city’s favorite detective stories. DC’s Iron Gate Inn–named best outdoor cafe–eventually closed, reopened in 2013 as the Iron Gate, and now has a gorgeous patio and a really good restaurant.

While there are many more restaurants and bars here now than were dreamed of in the first Best & Worst, a remarkable number of bests deserve their accolades even today. The Peking duck at Peking Gourmet Inn in Falls Church still sizzles. The Palm, chosen as best for lobster, still crushes in the crustacean category. And we’d still drink a toast to Clyde’s Bloody Mary and a mug of beer at the Dubliner on Capitol Hill.

The natural beauty of our area endures, too. Our declared 1979 best afternoon delight: “Finding a secluded spot at Great Falls and spreading a blanket and opening a bottle of chilled white wine.” The worst? “Having a park ranger come along thirty minutes later.”