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Regional Profiles – Northeast – Washington DC: Suddenly Hip Again

According to the New York Times, Washington DC is “suddenly hip again.”

Generally, few HBS-ers move to DC, which is a shame. Compared to other HBS post-graduation hotspots like New York, San Francisco, or London, the cost of living is lower and a fabulous life is available for much less. (For what it’s worth, when I lived in DC before grad school, I had a massive room with my own balcony in a big, rambling house in Mt. Pleasant for $550 per month.) Plus, given the employment mix of Washington, DC, you will be parking yourself for a few years in one of the most counter-cyclical cities in the U.S.

For folks contemplating those few remaining jobs in private equity or a life as a lobbyist, I can’t offer much advice on the bottle service and kobe beef scene in DC, but, I have no doubt, it exists in spades. Nonetheless, here are a few great reasons to move to DC.

If you are the kind of person who gets excited by celebrity sightings of folks like White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel or MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews, there is just no better place to be.

The amount of free culture available is truly gluttonous, with nearly every museum in town offering free admission. Check out the Gutenberg Bible at the Library of Congress, Whistler’s hauntingly over-the-top Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery or a chunk of the Berlin Wall or the collection of dresses from famous first Ladies at the National Museum of American History. You will never run out of ways to entertain your folks on the cheap, I promise. Plus, visit the National Museum of the American Indian both for its ridiculously good food spread, which is worth the trip alone. For those who find the Smithsonian scene too touristy, there is a burgeoning local art and music scene.

Really good fast food. When you are short on cash or after a long night out, you will be very grateful for the greasy genius of Ben’s Chili Bowl. Ben’s Chili Bowl, a landmark DC destination in the U-Street Corridor, doles out great milkshakes, half-smokes, chili dogs and chili cheese fries. Lining up with the throngs there will put you in esteemed company – Miles Davis, Bono, Duke Ellington, Bill Cosby and Barack Obama have also dug in.

Lots of great outdoor spaces. Go for a run in Rock Creek Park — which is twice the size of NYC’s Central Park – or walk around the Tidal Basin during cherry blossom season and then over to the Maine Avenue floating fish market for a fresh sandwich or some chowder. Ride your bike over to Haines Point for some golf or, in my case, miniature golf. If you are feeling ambitious, gather your friends and a cooler full of beverages and go tubing down the Shenandoah River.

Easy to get around. DC proper is pretty darn small, you can walk almost anywhere. Compared to many cities, DC has lots of bike lanes. And, the city has the cleanest subway stations I have ever been privy to. (Be warned, I did have a stranger yell at me my first day in town for eating a muffin on the subway unlike my hometown of NYC where I could eat a five course meal on my lap while riding the L train without anyone batting an eye.)

DC is a great place for outdoor drinking in the warmer months with plentiful happy hours and events of all sorts, a nice treat in a city that is always a firm 8-10 degrees warmer than Boston. Check out the Hirschhorn — the Smithsonian’s contemporary art museum – which offers frequent after hours parties with drinks, djs, performers like Dan Deacon and revelry throughout the museum and on the outdoor plaza. Other favorites are the back patio of Wonderland Ballroom in my old neighborhood or 18th Street Lounge if you are feeling swankier.

Living in a city that affords you the privilege of strolling -ok, standing in human traffic– just a few blocks from your home to witness the historic inauguration of President Barack Obama is pretty spectacular. Watching the Fourth of July fireworks in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial or passing the White House on your way to CVS just to buy a pack of gum is exceptional. Tour the Capitol, the Supreme Court, or the White House in your spare time. Enjoy.

February 23, 2009
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