Things to Do

Best of Washington 2021: Great New Ways to Have Fun in DC

The best of what's new in local theater, museums, dog parks, and other entertainment. Plus, an old favorite.

Photograph by Lauren Bulbin

Best Social Mash-Up

Dog-Park Bars

Plenty of restaurants and bars with outdoor seating allow patrons to bring well-mannered pups on a leash. But few have areas where you can let your dog off-leash. Until recently, that is. New spots such as Barkhaus in Alexandria (529 E. Howell Ave.; 703-419-3947) and Bark Social in North Bethesda (935 Prose St.; 240-253-6060) are dog parks, coffee bars, and bars rolled into one. It’s always a good idea to watch your pet, but employees do monitor for aggression. Just know: It’s best to pre-register your dog (including supplying vaccine information) and brush up on each park’s rules before going. You’ll pay a daily fee for your pet, about $10, or can spring for a membership.


Best New Outdoor Reading Nook

Rooftop of MLK Library

DC’s central library got a kids’ slide, recording studio, and 3-D printers during its $211-million renovation, but we’re most looking forward to bringing a book to the rooftop terrace. Like a green oasis within the bustling city, patches of flora extend into panoramic views of the Portrait Gallery and Capital One Arena—an ideal spot to lose yourself in a bestseller on a sunny day. 901 G St., NW; 202-727-0321.


Best Theater Pivot

Rorschach Theatre

While actors around Washington were stalled at home during the pandemic, the small Rorschach Theatre ditched Zoom and tried something new. Part field trip, part interactive play, Distance Frequencies involved participants receiving monthly deliveries of props with directions for which landmark to visit and instructions on how to follow the story. Chapters took the audience to spots such as Rock Creek Park, the Titanic Memorial, and Kingman Island, where they listened to a recording that talked through a mysterious drama set in 1930s and 1990s DC. After nine months, the piece culminated in a live show over the summer.


Best New Theater Trend

Going Big

After dabbling in virtual productions, telephone plays, and other safe-for-quarantine works, local theaters roared to life again with ambitious plans to bring audiences back. Shakespeare Theatre Company will premiere the pre-Broadway run of a commercial musical for the first time in its history, with a Britney Spears–songbook show, Once Upon a One More Time, kicking off November 30. Arena Stage is also betting big: In a one-night production in September, a live performance of Toni Stone—about the first woman to play baseball professionally in the Negro Leagues of the 1950s—will be shown on the jumbotron at Nationals Park, where it could be seen by as many as 12,000 viewers.


Best New Book About Politics

Kill Switch

Adam Jentleson’s prescient evisceration of the Senate filibuster came out as President Biden was about to be sworn in, and it’s essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the dynamics of modern legislative paralysis. Jentleson, a former aide to Harry Reid, gets into the history and impact of the filibuster in a book that’s both illuminating and infuriating.


Most Novel New Indoor Play Space


Leave it to the Brits to give a fresh entertainment venture a cheeky name. London-based Swingers, which opened its first US location just south of Dupont Circle in June, features two nine-hole indoor mini-golf courses with “crazy” holes that require players to thread a ball under a water wheel or around an upright sphere. You can also tee up on cocktails, DJ’d music, and “street food” including tacos and burgers. 1330 19th St., NW; 202-968-1080.


Most Novel New Outdoor Play Space

Big Axe Barn

If you’ve ever thought, What I’d like to do while I drink beer is throw an axe, head to the Farm Brewery at Broad Run, near Haymarket, which last year opened a 12-lane outdoor axe-throwing platform. Book ahead to sling a sharp implement at a bull’s-eye. Wear closed-toe shoes just in case. 16015 John Marshall Hwy., Broad Run; 703-753-3548.


Museum We Missed Most

National Gallery of Art | Reader Pick

It was easy to take Washington’s museums for granted: Our world-class institutions were there to wander into—most of them for free—whenever we needed an art or science or history fix. Until the pandemic shuttered them. And while many of us missed gazing upon “Luncheon of the Boating Party” at the Phillips Collection or ducking into the Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery, the museum that readers missed most, according to our Instagram poll, was the National Gallery of Art. During the height of Covid, it seems, a dose of Calder or Kandinsky, of Vermeer or van Gogh, would have been welcome.


Best New Indoor Reading Nook

Planet Word

There are no shushing librarians in the language museum’s grand library, where words from almost 50 books are brought to life by a team of sound designers and artists. Open a tome on the long maple tables for a projected light show accompanied by narration. Looking for a spot away from the action? Pull a title from the towering shelves and cozy up in a poetry nook hidden behind the stacks. 925 13th St., NW; 202-931-3139.

This article appears in the September 2021 issue of Washingtonian.