News & Politics

The Ultimate Guide to ’90s Washington

Espresso martinis are back. The Clinton-Lewinsky melodrama is onscreen. And ’90s nostalgia is peaking. Ready to revisit our last best boom times?

Photograph by Jeff Elkins

It doesn’t take a keen psychologist to explain why the 1990s have become a subject of pop-culture fascination. Snapshots from the decade feel almost like pictures of a foreign country: peaceful, prosperous, possessed of an almost comically naive faith in the future. Look at those people who thought presidential blowjobs and the Y2K computer bug were the Republic’s greatest threats! Can you believe that was us? Twenty-one years—and a Supreme Court–adjudicated national election, a burst tech bubble, a devastating act of terrorism, a disastrous foreign quagmire, a worldwide financial panic, a white-nationalist political upsurge, a calamitous global pandemic, and an attempted coup d’état—wiped that optimistic smile off our faces. In the wounded America of 2021, we look at the ’90s with envy.

And yet, as the Clinton impeachment drives ratings on FX and Monica Lewinsky shows up in Vanity Fair and DC-area bars rediscover the joys of cosmopolitans and the kids throw ’90s-themed parties, we wanted to look back with something other than just bemused jealousy. To revisit the decade is to see the roots of many of our 21st-century dysfunctions, such as the rise of permanent political war. But you also discover the first green shoots of many more pleasant things about contemporary Washington, from improved representation of women in the corridors of power to the flowering of a truly creative local food scene. The ’90s may seem like the last good time, but they were actually the decade that, for better and worse, created the city we now inhabit.

– Michael Schaffer


A Mini Encyclopedia of ’90s Washington

José Andrés had just gotten to town. “The West Wing” was on TV. And a bunch of other DC things that started before the turn of the century

Photograph by Jeff Elkins



A Facebook of ’90s DC People and Where They Are Now

What happened to Webb Hubbell and five other bold-faced names of the era

Photograph by Jeff Elkins



Pizza Bagels, Strawberry Lemonade, and 6 Other ‘90s Drinks and Dishes You’ll Find Around DC

Baked brie, anyone?

Photograph by Simo Ahmadi.



Washington, Dirty City: The Juiciest ’90s Scandals, In One Timeline

Two-timing heads of state… Sex, lies, and D.U.I.’S in the Washington Football Team dynasty… A dismembered member…