A Green Inauguration Visitor's Thrifty Guide to Washington, D.C.
January 14, 2009 12:10 PM ET | Maura Judkis
Welcome to Washington, if you can squeeze in here. We're expecting it to be packed. The White House has even declared the city in a state of emergency for the event. The massive influx of people certainly won't be good for our carbon footprint, that's for sure. And though the weekend is bound to be a wasteful one overall, there are small things you, as an eco-friendly consumer can do to help when you're visiting.
The inaugural planners are on board, according to the L.A. Times. "Not only are we committed to holding an inauguration that is the most open and accessible in history," said Linda Douglass, chief spokeswoman for Obama's inaugural committee, "but we are also committed to making sure that it is as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible." The Environmental Protection Agency is advising the committee on best practices. And I'll be doing the same for you, the visitor—along with some tips for fun green stuff to do while you're here.
The best way to get around D.C. this weekend will also be the greenest and cheapest: your own two feet. Washingtonians are dreading the influx of people to our city because we know what will happen to our public transit, which will be something resembling utter chaos. The expected public transit crowds have already been described as "crush-level." So, if you don't want to wait for crowded trains and buses, put on a good pair of shoes and a warm coat and start walking. Downtown D.C. is not that big, so if you're staying in the touristy parts of town, you'll probably never need to set foot on a train or bus, especially because walking will be faster this weekend, anyway.
Of course, not everyone will be staying within walking distance, considering that hotels have been booked from Virginia to Pennsylvania. If you're reading this eco-guide, I'm guessing that driving to inauguration wasn't at the top of your list, and that's good, considering the disastrous parking situation that's expected. If you do drive, though, consider taking a carpooler. There are plenty of websites that will hook you up with someone desiring a ride, and who will chip in for gas. Try eRideShare or Craigslist. If you can, when you get near the city, park your car near a Metro station and take the train in. Get on a train early if you want to make it to the swearing-in and parade - Metro opens at 4 a.m.
As for cabs: you might as well forget it. There are so many street closings that you probably don't even have a prayer of getting where you need to be on time. If you're staying across the river and need to get around Virginia, try Arlington's EnviroCab service (703-920-3333)- just know that all bridges into the city are closed on inauguration day, so get to a Metro stop instead.
You could also ride a bike, if you have one handy. The Washington Area Bicyclists Association will be operating a free bike valet service on the south side of the Jefferson Memorial, or on 6th street between I and K Streets, N.W.
Another green choice forced upon last-minute visitors: there are no hotels to be found anywhere near this city. That's ok, though, since there are thousands of Washingtonians willing to rent out their places to you. You can get anything from an entire house to an air mattress on someone's floor, all priced accordingly. Staying in a house is greener than a hotel (not that you have the option) because you likely won't be consuming any more energy than the house's original occupants would have. Many of the apartments are in great parts of town, within walking distance of the ceremony, parade, balls and nightlife. Perhaps your carpool buddy can stay with you, if you find a great deal in a close apartment, so that fewer people will need public transit. For last-minute housing, search Craigslist or AirBed & Breakfast.
You'll need reservations now if you want to eat at one of D.C.'s nicer restaurants at any point this weekend. With millions of people expected, many of whom are already beginning to file into the city, tables will be at a premium. For upscale eco-friendly dining, I like the appropriately patriotic Founding Farmers (1924 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.). Food is local, organic and delicious, and the bar's mixologist shakes up prohibition-era cocktails - the restaurant's specialty. Another notable green restaurant in D.C. is Nora (2132 Florida Ave. N.W.), which was the first restaurant in the country to be certified 100 percent organic. Hook (3241 M St. N.W.) in Georgetown was recently named one of the country's best eco-friendly restaurants by Bon Appetit magazine. Those restaurants are both on the pricier side of the scale, though, so if you're looking for something a little more casual, here are a few solid choices:
Vegetate: Seasonal, healthy vegetarian dishes made from local produce. 1414 9th St. N.W.
Java Green: Affordable, mostly vegan food with a Korean spin. 1020 19th St. N.W.
Nirvana: A favorite local vegetarian spot for lovers of Indian food. 1810 K St. N.W.
Organic to Go: If you're in a rush, this grab-n-go organic cafe has three locations near inauguration festivities. 1311 F St. N.W., 1700 K St. N.W., 927 15th St. N.W.
There are two green inaugural balls. The first is on Saturday at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, which shares a building with the Environmental Protection Agency. It's billed as an all-sustainable ball, and every part of the evening, from the food to the electricity for the auditorium, has been made as green as possible (more on this later). Environmental advocate and rapper Wyclef John will perform. Tickets are not yet sold out, but they'll run you $500.The second green ball, on Monday, is hosted by a variety of clean energy advocates, and Al Gore will preside. The ball is in the National Portrait Gallery, and is already sold out.
If you want to go to a ball and you're feeling spontaneous and freegan, you might think about making some friends on Craigslist. Dozens of men and women are placing personal ads for dates to various official and unofficial balls. Don't let their already-paid-for dinner go to waste. You should probably have a ball gown or tuxedo handy if you're going to try this, though - inaugural balls are generally black-tie. Instead of buying a new one, borrow from a friend, buy used, or rent.
Obama has stated his desire to make Washington cool again. We're starting early with inauguration, first by keeping a selection of our bars open until 4 a.m. throughout inauguration weekend. Green bars are not really prevalent here yet, but if you're seeking organic libations, you can try Urbana (2121 P St. N.W.) for wine. A number of bars in D.C. carry organic beer for a toast to our new president, including these favorites of mine: Cafe Saint-Ex, Wonderland Ballroom, The Reef, Busboys and Poets, and the Reef.
For going out at night, again, you're better off bundling up and walking than attempting to get a cab anywhere. A quick guide to D.C.'s nightlife neighborhoods:
Georgetown: Bars here cater to college students, and tend to be a little dressier.
Adams Morgan: The Bourbon Street of D.C.
Downtown: Lots of sleek nightclubs.
Capitol Hill: Rowdy bars full of Hill staffers.
Dupont Circle: Lounges galore.
U Street: Laid-back bars with lots of Democrats and diverse crowds. The former "Black Broadway." Celebrations here on election night were among the most joyous, so expect a lot of energy.
You don't need to shell out hundreds for inaugural ball tickets to have a good time - there are plenty of free things to do in Washington. The biggest free event will be Sunday's inaugural concert featuring eco-celebrities like James Taylor (a supporter fo the Natural Resources Defense Council), will.i.am (supporter of Live Earth), Bono (well known for his humanitarian efforts), and a host of other stars such as Beyonce, John Legend, Bruce Springsteen and Garth Brooks. Arrive early for a prime place on the mall - the concert begins at 2 p.m. and 500,000 are expected.
If the cold is getting to you, visit one of D.C.'s free museums. The National Building Museum has an exhibit on green communities, if you'll be in town early (the museum is closed Sunday-Tuesday to host inaugural balls). There will also be a free exhibition of art inspired by Obama in Georgetown, organized by Shepard Fairey, the man behind the iconic Obama posters. "Manifest Hope" (3333 M St. N.W.) features art that pertains to three areas of reform for the new administration - workers' rights, health care, and the green economy. The exhibition is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday through Monday.