Dear Politicos— The Magazine is delighted to announce that Garrett Graff is starting today as a senior staff writer. The editor of Washingtonian magazine for the last five years, he is also an accomplished author at work on his third book and he’ll bring his sharp eye to long form narratives and big reported pieces for us.
From 2009 to 2014, as Washingtonian’s top editor, he led an ambitious revamp of the publication and landed many prestigious awards for the magazine, including the Gerald R. Ford Prize for National Defense Reporting, two James Beard Award nominations for its food coverage, and the City/Regional Magazine Association award for general excellence. This year, Washingtonian was a finalist for a record 15 awards from the City/Regional Magazine Association. He managed to do all that while also finding time for writing, and he was a finalist this spring for the Livingston Award for national reporting for his article, “Angel is Airborne: JFK’s Final Flight from Dallas,” which traced the story of the Air Force One flight back from Dallas on November 22, 1963, following the assassination of President Kennedy. His first book, “The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House,” examined the role of technology in the 2008 presidential race. His bestselling second book, “The Threat Matrix: The FBI At War in the Age of Global Terror,” is the definitive history of the FBI since the death of J. Edgar Hoover,, and he is now at work on a book about the Cold War and the government’s Doomsday plans.
A Vermonter and Harvard graduate, Garrett was deputy national press secretary on Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign and later a cofounder of an Internet strategy consulting firm. In 2005, when he was the founding editor of mediabistro’s blog FishblowlDC, he was the first blogger accredited to cover a White House press briefing.
We are delighted to welcome him to POLITICO Magazine, and hope you’ll all find a chance to meet him soonest.
Susan and Blake
Below is the text of my monthly “Editor’s Letter” in the new issue of Washingtonian, my final one as editor.
The stone and steel of Washington make our city appear so much more permanent than it actually is. Looking around at the grand memorials and imposing edifices, it’s easy to forget just how new the landmarks really are.
A generation of Washingtonians still remembers the city without the Jefferson Memorial, which opened only during World War II. The Lincoln Memorial opened in 1922. The Supreme Court moved into its Capitol Hill palace in the 1930s. The East Building of the National Gallery of Art opened in 1978, and even the “old” West Building dates only to 1941. Washington National Cathedral—officially completed in 1990 after 83 years of construction—has dominated the skyline for just a handful of decades.
Of course, even though it long predates any of our lifetimes, Washington itself is one of the youngest major capitals in the world. London already had a million inhabitants in 1801, the year of its first organized census, even as Pierre L’Enfant began mapping the 6,111 acres that would become the District of Columbia out of wilderness, marshland, and farms. Farther from the DC line, growth continues full-force, as once-quiet crossroads like Tysons become global centers of innovation, teeming with corporate headquarters.
As late as the 1950s, mass transit in Washington meant a workman sitting in a hole in the middle of Wisconsin Avenue, waiting for each passing streetcar so he could manually switch its power from the overhead wires in Georgetown to the underground wires that powered the trolleys downtown. Yet this summer—theoretically—Metro’s Silver Line will open, extending the subway system into Tysons as it continues its manifest destiny toward growing Loudoun County.
This issue, our annual celebration of the Best of Washington, is meant to capture some of what makes our area, both the old and the new, so special and exciting. Throughout the feature, which begins on page 58, we highlight 100 favorites—from restaurant dishes and cocktails to stores and parks to one-of-a-kind events and traditions. We also asked notable Washingtonians—including museum curators, journalist Cokie Roberts, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich—for their picks.
The list’s full scope, from vintage stores to brand-new restaurants, evokes all of the change occurring across Washington. When I started working at this magazine nearly a decade ago, I spent a lot of time drinking with friends at Café Saint-Ex at DC’s 14th and T streets, Northwest, and the Wonderland Ballroom in Columbia Heights, both of which felt like the ends of the earth back then. Now, as I mark my final issue as editor, both bars are at the center of thriving nightlife districts, with thousands of new residents flocking to gleaming condos and apartments nearby. Today, Saint-Ex looks out on a Room & Board store, a huge Matchbox restaurant, and a Trader Joe’s.
As thousands of college graduates arrive in Washington this summer to begin jobs on Capitol Hill or at tech companies around the Beltway, they may never understand how pioneering it was of José Andrés to open his tapas restaurant Jaleo near Gallery Place in 1993, years before Abe Pollin’s investment in what’s now the Verizon Center revitalized that neighborhood. Similarly, new arrivals won’t necessarily realize that the FDR Memorial (dedicated in 1997) and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial (2011) haven’t long been part of the city’s marble backdrop.
Journalist Haynes Johnson wrote in his 1963 book, Dusk at the Mountain, “If there is an American dream, it is represented in the stone and steel of Washington.” Ultimately, perhaps that’s what makes the American dream so vibrant—as constant as our stone and steel may appear, they’re always evolving. And that constant change is what makes America—and Washington—thrive.
My “Angel is Airborne” piece from Washingtonian’s November 2013 special issue on the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination has been named a finalist for the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which honors the best reporting and writing by journalists under 35. It’s a pretty amazing list of writers and reporting being honored, so I’m amazed to be in that company. (Last year, actually, Washingtonian won the Livingston Award for Rachel Manteuffel’s piece “The Things They Leave Behind.”)
If you’re interested in reading the piece, “Angel is Airborne: JFK’s Final Flight from Dallas,” you can pick it up here as an ebook on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble for the Nook. It’s actually done pretty well on Amazon, consistently staying one of the top politics sellers in “Short Reads.”
This month marks one of the few occasions I’ve had real sympathy for our food critics. A good burger—a really good burger—can be the highlight of the summer, especially paired with a great beer or, if you’re a teetotaler, a milkshake (see sidebar). Our food writers—Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, and Anna Spiegel—spent three months eating burgers to compile our first-ever roster of the 25 best. But eating too many in a short time can turn unappetizing.
I ran into Anna toward the end of her research as she ate a burger at the London-inspired pub Duke’s Grocery, near Dupont Circle, and she seemed exhausted by all the meat she’d consumed. (I, meanwhile, had just finished Duke’s light, crisp green-papaya salad and couldn’t have been happier.) Her look was understandable: A lot of beef, pork, and chicken was consumed for this month’s cover package.
At first glance, Cheap Eats seems to be about American food (what’s more red-white-and-blue than burgers, pizza, and barbecue?), but a closer look shows just how international our food now is. There’s a Vietnamese-inspired burger, a Mediterranean rendition with lamb, a version topped with Brie, and Ann Limpert’s personal favorite, the Burger Américain at Washington’s best French bistro, Le Diplomate. There’s a delicious Peking-duck-style hot dog in Alexandria and great fried chicken with Greek yogurt in Rockville. The comfort-food section encompasses pho, chicken korma, pad Thai, croquetas, carnitas sopas, and an Australian’s take on fish and chips, not to mention kebabs, Peruvian chicken, and gyros. Pizzas include classics as well as multicultural offerings like Greek and Thai, even an Indian-style pie baked with naan.
Washington’s dining scene has been influenced by wave after wave of immigration, by cultures mixing neighborhood to neighborhood and suburb to suburb. Doro wat is on our list partly because of the surge in immigration following civil unrest in Ethiopia, and our area became a major center of Vietnamese refugees following the war in Vietnam—a dynamic that created at least one unlikely restaurateur. This winter, as I read Andrew Friedman’s history of the Northern Virginia suburbs, Covert Capital, I discovered that South Vietnamese police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan quietly opened a pizza place in Burke after resettling here in the ’70s. AP photographer Eddie Adams had won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1968 photograph of Loan holding a pistol to the head of an accused criminal in a Saigon street as he executed the man—perhaps the most famous photograph of the Vietnam War. It took the better part of a decade before people connected the owner of the restaurant Les Trois Continents, in Burke’s Rolling Valley Mall, to the accused war criminal. According to news reports, Loan actually made a pretty decent pizza before closing the eatery in the early ’90s.
Of course, immigration flows both ways. The Eden Center, a mall that’s the heart of Vietnamese culture in Falls Church, was named after the Eden Arcade, once among Saigon’s toniest shopping plazas, and the Eden Center’s clock tower is a replica of the one near that former landmark. In his book, Friedman tells of Tien Hoang, a Virginia developer who returned to Ho Chi Minh City, as Saigon’s now known, a decade ago as that metropolis thrived. He started building a 500-house subdivision outside the city and a strip mall nearby. The name he kicked around for his Vietnamese mall? Little Fairfax.