Guests who attended The Altaire Grand Opening celebration in Arlington enjoyed specialty cocktails, beer and wine, complimentary bites from local restaurants, live music, giveaways and grand tours of the luxury apartments. Photos: Mark Van Bergh
It has always been said to never judge a book by its cover, at least that was always told to me as a child. This is how I felt as I approached Morrison House, a new member of the Autograph collection. As I opened the door I was greeted by a softly lit entrance with a fresh linen scent, almost as if I stepped right off King Street into a storybook, providing a quiet reprieve from the heat and chaos of the outside. I was swiftly swept into a cozy bar area, immediately made to feel at home.
The Study at Morrison House is an intimate bar located within Morrison House, a boutique hotel. Situated in a small residential street, just a block over from the hustle and bustle of King Street, they specialize in a seasonal rotation of small plates and signature house-made cocktails.
As I settled into the soft leather backed bar chairs, the bartender Cynthia immediately introduced herself and offered me the signature cocktail of the evening and the rest of the summer, the Gin Chamomile Milk Punch. The punch was incredibly refreshing, and proved to be a good choice even for those who are not fans of gin. The mixture of gin and chamomile was a lovely floral experience for the tongue, and the pre-frosted glasses were a nice added touch for the warm weather.
As the taste was something I had never encountered before, I was intrigued – so much so that I asked Cynthia how it was made. The process takes two days and involves a bottle of gin and many bags of chamomile tea, eventually combined together with milk. As the process is incredibly lengthy, she informed me she gages the necessity based on any events that are being hosted at the hotel.
As I sipped my punch, I noticed the variety of ages and faces around me, telling me that while it can feel like an old fashioned hotel from the outside, you walk in and all your expectations are immediately transformed, especially with the incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff. This space is made for everyone, no matter their age or food and drink favorites. Whether you want a small bite or a glass of local Virginia rosé, The Study at Morrison House has something to offer for your particular palate.
As I finished my drink, food slowly began to be passed around, starting with “Mom’s Pimento Cheese,” a creamy pimento cheese served on the flakiest crostini I have ever encountered. As soon as I finished my bite, I was able to speak to Chef Peter McCall, the mastermind behind the spot’s food program. He told me his focus was on seasonal ingredients and plates, he rotates the menu based on the fresh vegetables and other ingredients he can get from the farmer’s market. On top of that, he wanted the emphasis to be on the cocktails, with a nice flavorful bite to go along with their signature drinks. When I mentioned how much I enjoyed the pimento cheese, he smiled and said it was actually his mother’s recipe. The small plates aspect adds to the overall experience in the sense that you can hold a nice conversation and be able to enjoy rotating varieties of fresh food as well.
If you are looking for an elegant bar where you can come relax and enjoy a refreshing cocktail for a good value, The Study is the ideal place. The concept here is that of a best-kept secret, a place where you can have a cocktail and conversation, away from everything else going on. Especially in the hot days we are bound to encounter in the DC area’s summer, it is a welcome break from the overpowering haze and humidity outside.
Bars are more than the drinks they serve. Behind the beer, cocktails and spirits is the lay of the land, the setting, the vibe. It goes without saying that without good product, any establishment will falter, but a backdrop that melds with its culinary offerings will only serve to heighten the experience for the customer.
One way to achieve this elevated interior ambiance is by allowing professionals to take over, because it’s often not as simple as taking the ideas from your brain and putting them into practice.
That’s where Streetsense comes in. The company is described as an experience-focused design and strategy collective, and has continually delivered spectacular interior architecture on an international level. You’ve likely seen their decadent design around the District, including at Ivy City’s Coconut Club, Shaw’s The Dabney and Penn Quarter’s Daikaya, to name a few.
One step into their Bethesda office and you’re greeted with a number of creatives all huddled up, sketches adorning drafting boards, posters lining the walls and retro knick-knacks placed throughout the space. And while the Streetsense office has a certain feel, the company’s aesthetic is as diverse as their extensive roster of clients.
“We do more than just design and we think differently because we actually understand the analytics and demographics of our areas and bring people to the table,” design director of interior architecture Jason Maringola says.
Variables for the Streetsense process include the typical timeline, budget and service, but one goal that never wavers regardless of scope is the team’s ability to connect with the client. This can mean traveling to South Carolina and visiting dive bars or hopping on an international flight to tour dojos in Japan.
“There are a number of restaurant projects I’ve worked on where we’ve gotten to travel with the clients to really dig in beyond mood boards, Pinterest and Instagram and figure out what they’re trying to draw from,” says Brian Miller, senior design director of interior architecture of Edit Lab at Streetsense. “We want to know how they think people get together over food and drinks, how people socialize, about how communities are oriented around those concepts.”
This part of the process is what has always driven Miller and Maringola, who both grew up with a strong unwavering desire to work in architecture. As a child, Miller’s family moved around from town to town and he took note of buildings commanding attention. And for Maringola, even at an early age he’d memorize floor plans of homes his parents toured, sketch them out and offer critiques.
The collective childhood wonderment of all things hospitality design is reflected in their day-to-day, including the neverending goal of getting inside the brains of bar and restaurant owners to render artistic mockups that reach beyond visually interesting interpretations of what could be pretty or trendy. Instead, Streetsense seeks to establish a dominant thematic concept able to operate as a focal throughline. From there, they’ll determine one clear option with secondary layouts.
“I think we try to drive an approach that’s not to get us excited or the client excited, but about the people walking in the door of that business,” Miller says. “What’s going to make a really good experience for them? Is it a quiet night out? Is it a birthday?”
Maringola adds that their design isn’t really for the client. And while discussing the looks and feels of their babies, striking a balance between doing something personal and artistic is the toughest part of the process.
“Our clients are taking a risk, they’re putting a lot of money out to create a space and to trust us. The most rewarding thing for a client to tell us is that it’s better than they imagined. Most clients aren’t visual, so when they see the space and people interacting in the space, it goes from night to day. Then, they realize we really created something unique for the community,” Maringola says.
Some of the clients they work with aren’t backed by a corporate entity with limitless coffers, Miller says. When dealing with mom and pop shops, decisions are made with an understanding that livelihood could be on the line.
On the flip side, with larger clients, out of towners might require an entire education on the culture of a location or neighborhood. What makes this particular area unique? What does it need? For this, Streetsense sets up tours and activities to help the companies learn about their future clientele.
“The work our studio does [is] with extremely neighborhood driven places,” Miller says. “Clients look to us for that understanding, and some of our more exciting projects are when we get to work on a lot of places within a small area. This allows us to kind of create an ecosystem like [we created] in Blagden Alley.”
Big or small, Streetsense’s interior hospitality designs craft unique experiences for visitors. And with backdrop details such as lighting, theme and decor under their supervision, our favorite restaurants, coffee shops and bars can do what they do best; serve you.
“I always think of it as production design for a movie,” Miller says. “If that setting isn’t right, you know it’s not right.”
“But, the big thing is we could do all the beautiful design in the world but if the food sucks, service sucks, whatever we do won’t mean a thing,” Maringola says laughing. “That’s the catalyst.”
To learn about Streetsense, visit www.streetsense.com.
DC’s sense of style has improved a ton over the last decade. While there are still those confined to the rigid rules of offices – meaning pencil skirts and blazers, and not always in the best fit – a lot of locals have begun to display their creative side through garments and fabrics. Though some of this is just an organic change in mindset, there have been tastemakers in the District using their own sense of style to lead the charge. We talked to a few of the many stylish people in the city and asked about the life of an influencer, where DC’s trending and the feedback of their Insta followers.
The Fashionable Man
On Tap: When did you start your blog? What sparked that decision, particularly with DC in mind?
Cory Luckett: I probably started five years ago, and the reason why I started was because my aunt told me I should. My aunt was talking to me about my interests, and how I enjoy clothes. One day, she was like, “You should start a blog,” and I immediately figured it was a good point.
OT: How do you differentiate between things you’re sponsoring and things you just enjoy?
CL: I try not to differentiate at all. I try to keep everything as organic as possible. I try to make it appear to the outside audience like everything is authentic, because ultimately it is. I’m not going to take a sponsorship I’m not going to wear from a company I don’t like. Just because I got free shoes, it doesn’t mean I’m going to post about [them]. If there’s shoes that I’m getting paid to promote that I really like, and if there’s shoes that I bought at a boutique that I really enjoy, the posts for those are going to be very similar. I’ll shout out both companies. I want to show that I like these things, and I always try to mix it up.
OT: How much research do you do before putting together outfits?
CL: I don’t do much. I dress through observation, and my style is based on things that I like that I see people wearing. It’s really just my personal sense of style.
Follow Luckett on Instagram @the_fashionable_man and check out his blog at www.thefashionableman.com.
District of Chic
On Tap: How would you describe DC fashion?
Elisabeth Pendergrass: I’ve always thought of it as a melting pot, in a way. There are a lot of international people that have moved here, and it’s a transient city so you get influences of Southern style and New England preppiness and an urban element as well. It depends on where you are, but it’s not like New York because you just don’t have the [same amount] of people. It’s fairly diverse and it’s definitely more than just suits.
OT: What kind of feedback have you gotten since embarking on this journey?
EP: At the beginning, there was a little bit more negative feedback because you’re putting yourself out there, [but] nothing that was ever enough to make me feel like I made a mistake. I’ve definitely discovered this supportive community through it and met some incredible, creative people through the years. There’s definitely been great feedback from readers, and it’s always really encouraging.
OT: Do you go through waves of trends?
EP: I’m just always looking at trends. If it’s a beauty or fashion trend, I put a lot of work into it. The most intensive work I do that people don’t see is photo editing in [Adobe] Lightroom. That’s what I spend the most time on. That, and writing content. I try to be very thoughtful.
Blonde in the District
On Tap: How did Blonde in the District begin?
Danielle Sauter: I started Blonde in the District in 2014 as a creative outlet with the goal to encourage women to look at style as a tool to boost self-confidence as it had done for me.
OT: What are some things about DC’s fashion scene you’ve noticed since starting your blog?
DS: DC fashion has come a long way from when I started my blog. I’m seeing more people having fun with what they wear – as it should be – and breaking outside of the whole DC stigma of professional wear. I used to think DC style was stuffy, but I’m happy to see it changing. I think DC style influencers have had a huge impact in shaping DC’s fashion scene for the better.
OT: How much experimentation do you go through when piecing together outfits?
DS: I do love to experiment with trends, but I won’t wear something just because it’s on trend if I don’t love it. I spend a lot of time putting together outfits, especially if it’s for a styled shoot. I always put thought into what I wear each day. You never know who you’re going to run into, so it’s best to be prepared.
On Tap: What inspired you to start displaying your style?
Anchyi Wei: I’ve always had people stopping me to ask about my outfits, but what really kicked this off was my coworkers taking photos of what I wore to work every day and putting them on a Tumblr [account] called “Anchyi at Work.” After a couple years, and with much encouragement from local bloggers, I started to transition that into my own blog [and] Instagram.
OT: How much does the work culture of DC play into its fashion scene?
AW: It is still conservative and practical overall due to the nature of most of our workplaces. Plenty of people love what I wear but say they can’t get away with it on a daily basis. I work as a contractor in a federal agency, and I definitely stand out. If we collectively all take “workwear” to another level and incorporate more creativity, I don’t see why it can’t become the norm.
OT: What’s your favorite part of keeping up with the fashion world?
AW: Putting together outfits is the most fun part of the whole process of content creation. I generally don’t do too much research but already have an idea for styling based on trend reports, street style and runway images I’ve came across. If I’m stuck about an item, I’ll Google “street style” to get some ideas.
A Costume Conversation with Trove Founder Kelly Carnes
“Halloween doesn’t hold the monopoly on dressing up.” DC-based Kelly Carnes, founder of the new virtual store Trove Costumes, is extremely enthusiastic about accurate costumes. Her new e-market is set to launch this month and will offer people a vast database of rentals, with elaborate costumes for anything from themed parties to cosplay-friendly conventions. In the lead-up to the store’s opening, we chatted with Carnes about how there’s no excuse not to wear costumes, how their staying power goes beyond October 31 and how pop culture fashion affects her everyday wear.
On Tap: What made you want to start Trove Costumes?
Kelly Carnes: I think the power of play is transformative and Trove will make costumes accessible to everyone. People can make money renting out their own costumes or save money by renting other people’s costumes, giving them greater access to this creative, empowering medium.
OT: What would you tell people that may be skeptical about dressing up for a convention or movie premiere?
KC: Costumes are empowering. One of the beautiful things about the cosplay community is how inclusive it is. Every kind of body and ability can be celebrated. There’s particularly strong representation by cosplayers of different ability, in part because assuming the qualities of a character you admire and respect can make you feel more powerful.
OT: How often do wardrobes from pop culture inspire your personal style on a day-to-day basis?
KC: A lot. I’m wearing Deadpool leggings right now! I find so much creative expression in curating and donning elaborate costumes to bring a character to life that to then put on “muggle clothes,” as we say, makes me feel like Superman putting my Clark Kent glasses back on. I don’t feel fully myself. Living this costume lifestyle has made me far more bold in my style choices.
OT: What are some of the elaborate costumes people can look forward to on Trove?
KC: It will serve as a platform for people to exchange directly with each other. But as its founder and best customer, I will certainly be renting out my extensive wardrobe on Trove! I have a list of almost 300 costumes and accessories I’ll be listing in my wardrobe, which include some of my most valuable and elaborate pieces.
For more information on Trove Costumes, visit www.trovecostumes.com.
Living in the DMV spoils us.
We have free access to world-class art at nearly every turn. But beyond its revered and iconic collections, the District is also home to an incredible array of artists working in experimental forms, crossing disciplines, and breaking down boundaries between tradition, style, design, politics and social justice. These artists are creating and chronicling the cultural landscape of DC today. They are not just leaving their mark on the city, but are also asking us to examine our own place in it – in a multitude of unexpected ways.
Consider Northern Virginia native JD Deardourff, with works installed everywhere from overpasses to the bottom of a pool, who is helping to literally repaint the face of the city. Or Xena Ni, a designer who describes her interactive installations as “civic journalism storytelling physical sculpture lawsuit art,” and that’s in addition to her line of feminist superhero underwear. Or a performance by Maps Glover, which may as well be a portal into a whole other experience of the world you think you inhabit.
While their mediums and inspirations vary, their commitment to making a social impact will never go out of style.
On Tap: There is sometimes tension around the term “street artist” and what it means to different people. Do you identify as a street artist?
JD Deardourff: I probably would just say artist. The way I got into it was primarily as a screenprinter – that’s sort of my go-to art form – and one of the cool things about it is a rich tradition of wheatpasting and dissemination of imagery, either giving it away or pasting it in alleys or on light boxes. I was doing it before I was doing more “corporate stuff.” I’m an artist who does screenprints, murals, paintings and collages.
OT: When you’re getting ready to start a new project, what are the main factors that you consider and what motivates your creative process? What draws you toward a new project?
JD: I like to think of it as a “one for them, one for me” situation. Some of the work I get to do pays for me to do other projects for free. Murals and commissions are probably half the time. The other half of the time is some personal projects I’ve been working on. I had a show last year where I sold all of the artwork I had and it was also the release of my first zine, Uncanny Fantastic. It’s basically a catalog of all of the personal art that I’ve done in comic book form. I’m working on volume two of that zine, so making a new body of work, which will correspond to the pages of the zine I’m going to drop in September.
OT: It seems like your career has progressed pretty quickly. Does it have to do with DC?
JD: It feels like I planted a shitload of seeds like five years ago and the way that they’ve built up is that they all bloomed simultaneously. For example, conversations for one mural project I’ve been working on near Hotel Hive started in 2016. Sometimes, there’ll be something that’s like two years in production and that will coincide with something where I get an email the week before.
OT: What are some of your favorite projects?
JD: I love doing shows. Last year, a highlight was a solo show I did with CulturalDC’s Mobile Art Gallery at Union Market. And then I’m super proud of Uncanny Fantastic. The recycling truck for the DC DPW [Depart of Public Works] has my artwork on it. This pool in Silver Spring is super cool. It’s in a building call Central. When the art direction is solid, those murals look the best.
JD CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
My family (especially my eight-year-old nephew), my genius girlfriend Kelly + my friends, but mostly just my dog Bruce
Spotify, live shows + music (The Ramones, The Clash, classic rock)
Actually making artwork
My little field notes book
OT: Do you think that mural arts are rivaling the “high art” that DC is known for?
JD: I think definitely it’s one of those things where this art form has gained momentum. More and more people are commissioning murals. Initially, there were more bar and restaurant-type clients and now I think it’s cool to get, for example, law firm types interested in that kind of vibe. You get more of a critical mass. I don’t know if it’s a bubble sort of situation, but it’s definitely on the uptick.
OT: How do you feel that impacts both the physical and cultural landscapes of the city?
JD: I think it’s good. For instance, Pow! Wow! just happened in NoMa and it’s is super cool in terms of the murals making that neighborhood what it is. It’s all the flavor. I understand some people might call it art-washing or make arguments that it can be bad for the community, but I don’t feel that way. And I think those battles are kind of over. It’s creating a cool flavor that wasn’t there 15 or 20 years ago.
On Tap: What brought you to DC and the art space that you exist in now?
Xena Ni: I had just finished my fellowship at Code for America and was leaving Oakland where I was living. I was just sitting on the train and intentions for the next year popped into my brain. I wanted to make weird art with people. I was keeping an eye out for that when I moved to DC. I’d been assured by one of my coworkers that there were people doing weird things in DC.
OT: And did you find them?
XN: Yes! I’m a designer and I’ve always been adjacent to art. But it was really coming to DC and finding my dream job that gave me mental space to take my art practice more seriously. An organization that’s been really great in DC has been The Sanctuaries. I participated in one of their fellowship programs. We were learning more about how art can respond to events like protests, and also to think more about how to work with communities in a respectful way.
OT: Do you feel like the people or places or themes or issues that you’ve encountered here have guided the work or the projects that you’ve chosen in a specific way artistically?
XN: I have met a lot more working artists or artists who are taking their practice seriously, and realized how important it is to just know and be friends with other artists who are going through the grind. Collaborations have been so energizing.
XENA CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
The archive (a daily writing ritual)
My IUD (affordable healthcare and reproductive freedom make so much possible)
A clunky, squeaky, dependable Raleigh Sprite bike
Public parks (Kalorama Park, Kingman Island, Banneker)
Overflowing cart of art supplies
OT: What are a few projects you’ve worked on in the past couple of years that really stand out to you?
XN: One that’s been really top of mind: the most recent iteration of it is called “Transaction Denied” and it is a room-sized, immersive multimedia installation, which showed at UMBRELLA in April. It tells the story of what it takes to apply for food stamps in DC and what happens when the government spends a lot of money to make the system work, but there’s not a lot of accountability and the government and the vendors dispute responsibility and as a result, thousands of people in DC either lose their benefits or face unusually long delays that are also really damaging.
OT: What did that look like, visually?
XN: It takes abstract oppressing social issues and creates interactive, immersive big pieces to bring attention. I also wanted people to do something. People left their reactions, or their own stories on the walls of the exhibit.
OT: Where will the installation go next?
XN: That installation is evolving. My co-artist Mollie Ruskin and I learned about a lawsuit a collection of legal aid organizations had brought against the city to seek justice for all the people who had lost their benefits or faced delays. We are now working with one of the main organizations that brought the suit, Bread for the City, and they are going to install it temporarily in their space.
OT: Any other notable projects?
XN: I also like traditional, representational art. [This project] started off with not having any photographs of what my older relatives looked like when they were young because they couldn’t afford photography or they had to destroy when the Communists took over, and I just started drawing what I thought my grandmother looked like when she was my age. It felt like I was reclaiming my history and also underscoring that I could never actually access that history. It has morphed into this less personal project, which is drawing possible portraits from the future.
OT: How do you draw portraits from the future?
XN: It’s like time travel in portraiture. It’s work that usually happens one-on-one with someone interested in orienting. It’s partially like a guided meditation [or] playful interview where I transport people to a scene from their possible future life. What I’ve really enjoyed about it is both what people come up with and their emotional reactions. Usually someone cries.
On Tap: You do a lot of performance art, as well as working within more traditional mediums. What drives you creatively?
Maps Glover: DC has this electric energy that forces you to address social issues on a daily basis, and so that’s really what has kept me here and fueled my practice. A lot of my work really is a commentary about social dynamics. Where are we going? What are we trying to understand?
OT: Is that why you came back to DC?
MG: Yes. I started making art in college and transitioned into doing things in New York. Coming back home, I wanted to see what I could contribute to this scene. There weren’t a lot of artists that were doing performance and I really wanted to dive into understanding what that felt like in DC. I felt like DC was a really good space to do it because it’s the intersection of politics and anti-establishment.
OT: When you’re approaching a new project, what are the most important factors?
MG: Sometimes it’s a matter of what is fueling me at the time. Sometimes it’s something I feel really passionate about, or sometimes I have personal relationships with the subject, whether it be police violence or some of the work that really feels like an introspective experience of me analyzing my internal dialogue through visual interpretation. As an artist, I personally feel like it’s our responsibility to be social commentators. There are issues that may come up that we may not be fully familiar with, but to creatively explore those topics, I think that artists should try to be more fearless in taking on different spaces that don’t necessarily relate to them.
OT: In those instances, how do you get to the point of understanding something well enough to create something that you feel can open the dialogue?
MG: I think that you should educate yourself first and foremost. At the same time, the artistic process is a learning one. It’s kind of like this experimental method and then it becomes this conversation of how does this connect to the larger picture?
MAPS CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
Talenti mint gelato
Hugs from my very special friend
My mom’s cooking (tries to get down to her house every other week to grab a plate of food)
OT: There are times when it must be a struggle between letting this process happen and also being aware of what it means to people once you put it out there.
MG: That happens all the time, honestly. I’m always looking for the experience that I’m having to be real and true to myself and then I just see other people witnessing that – the authentic experience that I have within myself. For example, I did an exhibition at the Transformer gallery back in October and I really wanted to create a space that was a response to the spiritual connection that I was really beginning to have a dialogue about in my work.
OT: How did you do that within the bounds of a gallery?
MG: We had six weeks with each artist. We transformed Transformer. My religious background is Christian, so I was eventually crucified within the center of the stage. I had a friend who grew up in a cult, so she did a kind of ritual ceremony. I had a friend create a website live and DJ at the same time. It just had so many layers, and that is why I felt like the piece was successful.
OT: DC is in an interesting place in terms of what it does and doesn’t support in the arts. What do you think that looks like in terms of opportunities right now?
MG: We need safe spaces for artists to be able to live and support themselves in a city that is continuously changing. If you don’t incorporate or consider the creatives who are part of the fabric of why people even come to this city, then what’s the point? The amount of channels and space for artists of all kinds to show is just very limited and everyone is scratching for the same resources. To get to the higher levels of creativity, people leave the city.
It all starts with family.
Because without support at home, transgender people can find themselves spiraling, according to Earline Budd, a transgender woman of color who has been an activist in the DC transgender community since the 1990s.
“One of the most outstanding issues we [trans people] face is estrangement from family,” she says. “Then housing becomes an issue because you’re homeless and you have to survive, which was my case at age 13.”
Budd says because she faced homelessness at such a young age, she found herself in and out of the criminal justice system and doing sex work just to survive.
“The struggle when I got out [of jail] was still not having any housing and having to grow up on the street,” she says. “In my case, I contracted HIV.”
The 60-year-old activist says she’s heard stories like hers from younger transgender people throughout her work with various LGBTQ+ support organizations. Not having a support system, especially at a young age, is the catalyst for many of the other adversities transgender people face throughout their lives.
Because once she was put out on the street, Budd had limited options as a trans woman of color, especially back in the 1970s. But things are different now, according to Budd there are more places transgender people can turn to when they’re in need. DC’s own Casa Ruby is one such place.
Casa Ruby is the “only LGBTQ+ bilingual and multicultural organization in the metropolitan Washington, DC area” that provides an array of services including housing, health and social programs to help LGBTQ+ individuals hurdle any barriers they may be facing at the time, according to its website.
Thirty years ago, Ruby Corado, a transgender Latina immigrant, arrived in DC and realized there were no services available to support her needs. This led to the eventual formation of Casa Ruby, Inc. followed by the opening of the first Casa Ruby Center in June 2012.
“Today, Casa Ruby employs almost 50 people [and] provides more than 30,000 social and human services to more than 6,000 people each year,” according to the organization’s website.
Holly Goldmann, director of external affairs at Casa Ruby, agrees with Budd in that many of the plights transgender people experience “start at home,” especially for transgender women of color. But that’s where Casa Ruby comes in.
“We’re there to provide the most vulnerable population in the city with life skills to save their lives, make sure they’re not dismissed and give them a family,” Goldmann says. “We want to make sure they’re always welcome – not just at Casa Ruby, but in the world.”
Goldmann says Corado plans to establish a second wellness center under the Casa Ruby name in Southeast DC, with the tentative opening date scheduled for some time in June. Budd reveals she was ecstatic for this news and commends Corado for all of her service to the transgender community over the years.
“Ruby has been absolutely phenomenal when it comes to stepping up to the plate,” Budd says. “She’s seen as a kind ear and someone who has been very important in our community.”
Along with Casa Ruby and other organizations focused on trans rights in the District, Budd says DC in particular serves as a beacon of hope for transgender people because of its policies addressing gender identity.
“DC is probably one of the most liberal places where you can come and be your authentic self,” she says. “It’s a leader because of all the things that have been put in place for transgenders.”
In 2014, then DC Mayor Vincent Gray announced that public and private health insurance plans regulated by the DC government were required to cover transition-related care. But transgender rights in the DC justice system were acknowledged long before Gray made his declaration.
Since 2009, the District has permitted transgender inmates to be placed according to their gender identity, and to begin hormone therapy while in custody. Peter Nickles, who served as DC’s attorney general in 2009, wrote in a statement that “these provisions, along with other aspects of policy, will help to ensure that the rights of transgender prisoners are respected and that their unique needs are accommodated, to the extent practicable, while they are incarcerated.”
Budd says this policy, along with gender transition health insurance coverage, makes DC a place where transgender people feel more heard and accepted.
“We’re probably one of the first places in the country where the Department of Corrections developed a policy for trans inmates,” she says. “That’s unheard of in a lot of other places.”
Charlotte Clymer, a transgender woman activist for the Human Rights Campaign, says while she feels lucky to live in DC because of how the city’s police department has improved its treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, there are still shortcomings.
“There is a lack of understanding about LGBTQ+ people and the obstacles we face, so when police interact with us, they are not always passionate or sympathetic,” Clymer says.
While there is still work to be done, there is also a strong movement within the city to address these misunderstandings. The Capital Pride Alliance is one of several DC organizations dedicated to enlightening people about the barriers faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community.
At the annual Capital Trans Pride celebration on May 18 and 19, Capital Pride Alliance Board Member Ian Brown says the nonprofit held workshops on issues faced by the trans community in order to make them more visible.
“When you’re able to put a face with an issue, it becomes human,” he says. “You can no longer ignore it. That’s something I think is missing in the larger context of policy and national change. Our visibility is very important.”
The Capital Pride Alliance is holding its annual Capital Pride Celebration from May 31 to June 9 at locations all over the District. This year, the theme is “shhhOUT” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a series of demonstrations in New York City which served as a catalyst for the modern LGBTQ+ liberation movement.
Brown says while this year’s theme largely has to do with acknowledging this important moment in the history of LGBTQ+ rights, it also makes a statement.
“We wanted to acknowledge the forces that continue to try to silence our community,” he continues. “In being about to shout, we’re definitely giving a shout-out to our past and how we’re here now proudly speaking out in the present day.”
Budd, who will serve as a grand marshal at the Capital Pride Celebration, says she is honored for the chance to tell her story through this appointment and hopes she can inspire more transgender people to follow in her footsteps as an activist.
“I do it because I’ve been there and I believe someone has to be a mentor and be there for those who are coming through now,” she says. “But it’s not easy [to be an activist] when you don’t have some place to lay your head.”
Celebrate Capital Pride from Friday, May 31 to Sunday, June 9 around the District. Learn more at www.capitalpride.org.
“A mural’s not going to stop anybody from getting murdered. But is it less likely for bad things to happen on a super visible corner? Probably.”
I’m sitting across from Brandon Hill and Peter Chang when Hill tells me with full earnestness that it’s easy for an artist to tell the narrow story of, “We painted a mural, so things are better now.” But it’s the ability to shift a community’s perception by making a street corner feel safer that truly makes an impact.
We’re sharing a high-top overlooking an eerily empty Nationals Park on a recent Saturday morning, just a stone’s throw from the pair’s latest mural capturing the Americana spirit of DC baseball. When I arrive, the artists are putting some final touches on their new work, and it’s immediately apparent to me that the founders of creative production brand No Kings Collective embrace the hustle.
I don’t mean this in a buzzwordy kind of way. They’re not “creatives” or “tastemakers” that press the flesh at events and slap their name onto a project for brand recognition. They haul gallons of paint, set up ladders, break down scaffolding, brave the elements. They paint for a living.
But that isn’t to say they don’t use their brand for good. They’re both adamant about supporting the city’s art scene, especially in neighborhoods that benefit directly from their work.
“We’re all about bringing accessibility for arts and culture to the DC community,” Chang says.
He brings a fierceness and intensity to the conversation, one that commands respect, as he and Hill open up about some of the misconceptions of how No Kings came about and what they actually do.
“I’ll take this chance right now to set that straight. We’ve done a mural for Turner Elementary in Southeast. We have multiple projects in Ward 7 and Ward 8. We work with so many different nonprofits in the city. We’re all about not taxing the artists, not taxing the people. Almost all of our events have been 100 percent free.”
The artists say community projects like Turner Elementary are no-brainers, and while they are working artists relying on paychecks from commissioned pieces, they go above and beyond on a regular basis to give back to the city’s many neighborhoods – especially those that are struggling.
“I think artwork in public spaces is the bee’s knees,” Hill says after letting me know that he’s about to get super meta for a second. “I just think that it’s the bee’s knees to be able to get paid for something that benefits the public.”
A SCRAPPY START
No Kings is a familiar name in the District, attached to a myriad of projects and pop-ups. But like so many of us that play in creative spaces, what they actually do sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of their hip factor.
“It’s interesting to hear how we’re perceived because I know what the story is, and it’s a lot more scrappy than it might seem,” Hill says.
The pair banter like an old married couple, ribbing each other mercilessly and bouncing ideas around weighty topics off one another in the same breath. Their friendship goes back 14 years to senior year of college; Hill hails from Baltimore originally, but has called DC home for the last decade, and Chang grew up in Silver Spring.
Chang says as a brand, No Kings stretches back to 2009 but became a business in 2013.
“A lot of people don’t understand a lot of the things we’ve done even before No Kings was a brand,” he says. “They think we’re just this thing that popped up out of nowhere.”
I ask the guys for clarity: No Kings is a group of artists that does large-scale public fine arts projects and gets people really excited about art content and art happenings. They use the term creative agency(ish) to demonstrate they’ve got the resources to take on projects much broader in scope than what a typical artist or art group could tackle.
When it comes to division of labor, Chang gives Hill full credit as creative director for the past year. And Hill says Chang’s ball game is creative direction in the agency(ish) space, “where murals or public artwork can be merged with social happenings or activations and require real strategic planning.” They split administrative work, business development and other unsexy parts of the daily grind evenly; they both have zero interest in taking all the credit or making it about themselves.
“We just do what we have to do when we have to do it to get things done,” Chang says matter-of-factly. “Everything just falls under the No Kings wheelhouse, so anything we produce, we just tell people we [are doing it].”
Their refreshing lack of pretention extends to their team of five part-time artists who support projects as needed. They’re not looking for the biggest names in the local art world. They need problem solvers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.
“Just because someone’s a really, really talented artist doesn’t mean they’d be a good worker to paint murals because you have to problem-solve a lot of practical issues, and those issues do not exist in a controlled studio,” Hill says. “Sometimes you’re just fighting the weather or you’re coming in at night to do your projection work. You’re always defeating something and none of that can aesthetically be shown. People see flowers. You need a mixed bag of art and contractor: someone who can think with both of those brains.”
GOOD ART FIRST
It’s been a busy year for No Kings, with no plans to slow down anytime soon. The agency(ish) turns 10 this year, and Chang says they’re going big. Next up is their three-day block party to close out Apple Carnegie Library’s StoryMakers Festival on June 27-29, and the launch of a No Kings-themed corned beef and kimchi sandwich at old-school Brentwood deli MGM Roast Beef on July 13.
Hill says they’re also currently working on 15 walls throughout the city, and while the Nats mural had its big unveiling in mid-May, he still plans to make minor changes throughout the summer to ensure it’s fan-proof. He wears the hat of a sentimentalist and a pragmatist simultaneously, walking me through the symbolism of this homage to America’s favorite pastime while also being real about the high-traffic location of the artwork.
“A really good piece of art can age, so that was a challenge to think through. How can we execute these more pressing goals – to reflect the organization and baseball as a whole and to make it as Nats-y as possible – but then also make sure it’s something that can age well both from an aesthetic and technical perspective? There’s going to be beer and popcorn and children and people leaning on the wall. How do you keep this thing looking good?”
Hill takes the collaboration seriously, especially because the team approached No Kings directly and had a vision in mind for what they wanted the piece to represent. He likens murals to getting a tattoo, where you navigate any gray area with your tattoo artist before deciding what that rose or anchor is going to look like on your body. But with the Nats, he and Chang had to encapsulate the feeling of newness in the ballpark while also reflecting the nostalgia and family values tied to the sport.
“Baseball is a really unique thing because it goes back to the 1850s, but it’s [also] a completely modern thing. Everything in this ballpark is modern – alien grass, alien dirt, Under Armour – there’s technology in this park, right? But we still think about it with a nostalgic lens. That’s a constant challenge [with] anything that’s OG: trying to always be relevant, [and] trying to explain its newness and oldness at the same time.”
Hill and Chang had another first this spring in terms of creative direction for a commissioned project. Amtrak contacted them to help visually inform its annual Sustainability Report, taking form in a mural behind social sports company DC Fray’s Brentwood office [full disclosure: No Kings shares office space with DC Fray, which owns On Tap Magazine]. Hill collaborated with Amtrak’s creative team to tell a visual story about what Amtrak does through the piece, including the incorporation of lesser-used colors in the railroad service’s color palette.
Now, he’s working with Amtrak’s head designer in the sustainability department to bring the report to life by the end of this summer, with photos of rail workers and other Amtrak employees in front of the mural on hand. Hill is all about the process: he’s drawn to projects that give him the opportunity to inform the public, and possibly shift their perception of a piece or area.
“I love the ability to be able to defend work and tell a story. If you were already familiar with a piece, that’s the best kind of art because you get to learn new things about a thing you thought you were already familiar with.”
I’m not the first reporter to ask the artists how they feel about the potential impermanence of some of their work, but they tell me it’s something they take into consideration often. Hill says in a weird way, painting a building that might be demolished soon is actually desirable because they can take greater risks with the content and attract more eyeballs.
“If it’s a really awesome piece and it’s got a shelf life, people are going to rush and make sure to catch it before that shelf life’s over.”
I ask another common question because I find it truly fascinating: how do they feel about their work being so Instaworthy? Hill doesn’t view the selfie as a unique issue for art but says it’s strange nevertheless to have an entire group of people who have nothing to do with fine art distributing your work.
“When I’m on the computer designing, I am not inserting a little character of a person to figure how good they will look,” he says.
Still, he says it’s a net win for artists if their work is included in a vanity shot on someone’s Instagram, and someone in another city can easily follow the photo credit back to the artist’s website and consume their content. Chang cuts to the chase with a more direct answer.
“A lot of our clients will say, ‘We want it to be Instagrammable.’ And we’re just like, ‘Why don’t we make good art first? And if it’s good, then people can decide [if they want to post it to Insta].’”
BREAD + BUTTER
Nearly 90 percent of No Kings’ current output is commissioned work pitched to Hill and Chang, but they remain selective about what projects they take on. The real bread and butter, they tell me, is the opportunity to take projects they’ve been asked to approach in a traditional way to the next level. Sometimes this happens by chance, and other times because they’re charged up about the subject matter and know they can take it up a notch in record time.
The former “Work It, Gurl” mural on 14th Street is their self-described bread-and-butter case study. The piece (originally meant to be a 20 x 20-foot mural on a building wall) was commissioned by the Whitman-Walker Clinic at Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center to bring visibility to their work in the LGBTQ+ community.
When the guys learned about the clinic’s efforts, they refused payment, got a grant from the DC Office of Planning and reached out to their sponsors for support. No Kings painted the entire building and threw 14 events in two months.
“We just ballooned that,” Hill says. “We had this public art thing, but we went beyond the aesthetic to try and figure out: How can it be used? Who can we help? But we don’t know everything so it’s kind of like if you build it, they will come, right? We knew people would interact with it. But we didn’t know how, so let’s execute the aesthetic and then let’s just see what else can happen.”
The inspiration for these projects seems to be mostly altruistic in nature, but I see a bit of a competitive flicker in their eyes – not competitive with other artists in the market, but with themselves to face the challenge of making something bigger than anyone originally though it could be.
“That’s why our goal for every event that we do, every mural we put out, every project and collaboration that we do, [is to] push the bar further,” Chang says.
A more recent example, and undeniably their most successful art event yet, was 14th Street’s UMBRELLA in April. The opportunity to plan the three-day pop-up in a mixed-use development fell into their laps; they were approached about using the space before it was torn down and decided to put something together with people they respect who are doing cool things in the District.
“Afterwards, our project manager was like, ‘Wow, I think that was the most successful art fair that DC’s ever done,’” Chang says. “And Brandon and I were like, ‘We threw an art fair?’ And then we looked back at it and we were like, ‘Yeah, it was an art fair.’”
The guys are particularly proud of this effort, as they should be – the event was planned in a whirlwind month-and-a-half and brought in at least $100,000 for participating artists.
“We made zero dollars on UMBRELLA,” Chang continues. “We didn’t take a commission. That money directly impacted those artists.”
They also speak in earnest about the crowd that UMBRELLA – and all No Kings events – brought out. Chang says it’s super diverse, which feels uncommon in what they describe as a segmented city that still self-segregates itself along money lines.
“When you go to our events, it’s all ages, all races, all different demographics. I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve been proud of is to create excitement for the arts for everyone.”
REAL RECOGNIZE REAL
I’m admittedly surprised when Chang and Hill get real with me about how they’ve had to fight to carve out a space for themselves as working artists in DC’s creative scene. They recall countless galleries and “creatives” who wouldn’t give them the time of day a decade ago; and now, some of those same folks are reaching out to collaborate with No Kings. In fact, Hill says their name is reflective of their struggle to get into the “polished art scene” in their early days.
“It strikes a nerve because we’ve been busting our asses for 10 years and no one gave us the time of day or recognition,” Chang says. “Now [when] we get a little bit of it, people come out of the woodwork just hating.”
Hill keeps it light, inviting the haters to come out and work one of his days.
“Be my guest,” he says, chuckling.
Even still, he says the memory of No Kings’ evolution is long, deep and littered with lack of acceptance from DC’s art scene.
“[The haters] are still just not getting that a smaller city can make a bigger footprint by working together and not being divisive. If someone is going to say ‘No,’ I already can’t work with you. So we’re just going to do our own content and work with people that want to work.”
At the end of the day, the guys remain unphased because they knows the proof is in the pudding.
“When it comes down to the actual creatives in the city who are doing stuff, it’s just real recognize real,” Chang says. “I know who is actually putting in the work and they command respect, as we command respect from other people in our industry. The more you can open people’s eyes up about what’s going on in the city, and what artists are doing and what real creatives are doing, then the people who have just been masquerading really can’t get away with it anymore. I think it’s slowly happening.”
But Chang and Hill are still playing the game, because they are in DC for the long haul and they’re not about burning bridges – as tempting as it may be.
“I mean look, this ain’t 8 Mile,” Hill says. “I’m not going to drop a mic after the rap battle and be like, ‘F–k you all,’ you know? It’s a small town. You’ve still got to work with these people. It’s not personal, right?”
Resiliency seems to be the secret sauce for No Kings; there’s a lot to be said for maintaining a thick skin and positive attitude when you have to play in the same sandbox with artists determined to compete for the same resources instead of banding together to create and promote interesting content.
“They view us as this new guard or whatever, but me and Brandon have been here 14 years,” Chang says.
“On a lift working,” Hill chimes in, before Chang tells it like it is yet again.
“We’ve seen trends come and go, but we’re here to play forever.”
The way we experience commerce is changing.
In the Internet age, shoppers who make the effort to visit bricks-and-mortar expect more than an experience. They want to activate good – whether through self-improvement, support for local artists or improving the workforce.
Take the brand-new Apple store, now housed in the Carnegie Library, which was lovingly restored to include a learning atrium and upgraded space for the resident DC History Center. Initial fears that Apple would exploit and destroy the Beaux-Arts space have evaporated amid excitement that locals are promoting the stylish, revitalized platform. This includes a three-day block party hosted by creative agency No Kings Collective at the end of June to wrap up Carnegie’s six-week StoryMakers Festival.
The way we travel is going through the same evolution. In 2019, if someone is going to pause Insta and actually go somewhere, the most attractive hotels are those integrating social awareness, the arts and cutting-edge comfort with the guest experience – and enriching the local scene in the process.
Guests are not just buying a hotel room. They are selecting from a menu of self-improvement, artist and small-business support, and modern style. The stylishness is immediately obvious when you walk into Eaton DC, located on the quiet side of Franklin Square downtown. The enormous windows, lush natural foliage and blonde paneling immediately impart a sense of balmy well-being.
But style – and Instagramability – is only part of the experience.
“Eaton DC not only serves as a hotel, but at its heart, as a platform reimagining hospitality as a vehicle for art and radical progressive social change,” says Katherine Lo, founder of Eaton Workshop, which encompasses the hotel.
The lobby includes a recording studio, home of Eaton Radio, and Lo is excited to officially launch Eaton Media later in 2019.
“As one of the core pillars of Eaton Workshop – culture, impact, media, wellness and house – Eaton Media’s mission will support underrepresented filmmaker voices and stories in line with the brand’s radical and progressive values, championing diversity and inclusivity across gender, race, identity and more,” she notes. “We will curate, develop, produce, distribute and celebrate original, rarely seen and commissioned short films from filmmakers whose development as artists and storytellers we are truly honored to support.”
Meanwhile, LINE DC leads with style and a sense of history. The hotel is an AdMo Insta-star for its location in a breathtakingly restored 19th-century neoclassical church (the church’s organ was transformed into a contemporary chandelier).
“The LINE is wholly shaped by the neighborhood that we’re part of, and by the city at large,” says Morgan H. West, creative/culture director at the LINE.
Guests can peer into the glass-enclosed recording studio, home of Full Service Radio, a community podcast network and Internet radio station. Recent episodes include “Opaline: Briona Butler’s Iridescent Utopia in DC” and “WPA Live Series: Veronica Swift & the U.S. Air Force Band.”
The LINE also operates the Adams Morgan Community Center, a community and nonprofit incubator space that provides free space and capacity for the arts and philanthropic efforts, with priority given to artists and nonprofits in Ward 1.
“Whether it’s through partnerships with the DC Public Library, the Ward 1 nonprofits working in the Adams Morgan Community Center, or the artists featured throughout the hotel and in our rotating public art program – we’re proud of the constant cultural and creative exchanges that happen across our spaces,” West says.
But not every stylish, socially conscious hotel needs a radio station. With a focus on modern budget travelers, Pod DC has led the way in integrating city life into its amenities and using them to move guests out into the District beyond the museums and monuments.
Guests can access Cove, DC’s homegrown coworking brand, to get work done or network with local entrepreneurs. And rather than operate an onsite gym, guests use the nearby Washington Sports Club. Local guides lead walking tours from the lobby, and guests are encouraged to use the bike and scooter sharing services to get around.
And Pod DC has not sacrificed style in the process. Guests entering the lobby are mesmerized by the 60-foot-long multimedia art piece, created by painter Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann and glass artist Joseph Corcoran. The building also features other local artists through a partnership with CulturalDC, a nonprofit that partners with real estate developers and government agencies to ensure that arts and culture efforts are showcased across the city.
DC’s urban development incentives have certainly helped hotels looking to embrace local arts and community initiatives. But these Washington hotels have baked social and cultural dynamism into their brands as well as their business plans, and in the process are anchoring themselves in local life in a way that hotels have too often missed out on. I think it’s time for a staycation.
Call Your Mother
Park View’s bagel shop has become a fast favorite for delicious bagel creations worth waiting in lines out the door for. In keeping with the theme of being a “Jew-ish” deli, the spot pays homage to another Jewish icon – musician, rapper and overall cultural phenomenon Drake. Photos of Drake and his mom are on view throughout the bathroom, complemented by the pastel wallpaper and kitschy colors Call Your Mother is known for. 3301 Georgia Ave. NW, DC www.callyourmotherdeli.com
No Kisses’ lush rainforest-meets-the-70s vibe is apparent even in their three differently designed bathrooms. In one, lemurs, owls, peacocks and more watch over you while you do your business, or can perhaps star in your next social post. The spot’s overall use of wallpaper is enough to make me want to plaster my own home with the most interesting patterns I can find and accent everything with jewel tones. Come for the cozy neighborhood bar vibes, stay for the bathrooms and their woodland creature stars.
3120 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.nokissesbar.com
Arlington’s Bayou Bakery brings Southern charm to the DMV. Its bathrooms are plastered with old-school recipes torn from the pages of Southern cookbooks. Ladies can look upon desserts and pastries, and guys can get the inside scoop on the savory side of Southern cuisine. 1515 N. Courthouse Rd. Arlington, VA; www.bayoubakerydc.com
The classic Shaw bar has four bathrooms, but you know you’re in for a good night when you find yourself in a stall that’s plastered with stickers. You can spot Stranger Things’ Eleven, NSYNC-era Justin Timberlake and Keith Haring drawings on the wall in this bathroom. There’s something new to be spotted with every trip. 2047 9th St. NW, DC; www.satellitedc.com
The Wharf’s destination for modern Mexican fare is visually stunning across the board, and the bathroom is no exception. The bold colors and low lighting make the spot the perfect background for your next Instagram story or selfie. Don’t just take it from us, though – last summer, People Magazine included it in a roundup of best bathrooms nationwide, and the bathroom was up for supply company Cintas’ award for “Best Bathroom in America.” 98 District Sq. SW, DC; www.mividamexico.com
Maydan quickly became a favorite in the city’s burgeoning dining scene upon its opening in late 2017. The large oven that centers the restaurant is a design element itself, as is the colorful food the travel-inspired spot serves. Its bathrooms feature a fish-shaped faucet, graffiti-like drawings and even a depiction of a tiger asking, “Please let me watch.” Don’t worry, he’s just a drawing and he can’t actually see you snap a selfie. 1346 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.maydandc.com
From April 27-29, Awesome Con once again took over DC’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center bringing a score of fun events for casual and hardcore fans alike.
On the weekend of both Avengers: Endgame and Game of Throne‘s epic battle-fueled “The Long Night,” fans carried a high level of enthusiasm for all things comic and fantasy. Awesome Con only helped add fuel to the burning fire of fandom by offering a ton of exhibits, panels and guests including Luke Cage’s Mike Colter, The Punisher’s Jon Bernthal, and numerous names from shows like Steven Universe and Riverdale.
Other features including a special exhibit celebrating 80 years of Batman with memorabilia from movies, life-size costumes and poster-size prints of select cover art.
Photos: James Coreas