Tuesday, August 15, 2006

WaPo's Best Bets: Ugh.

I'm continually amazed at how hoit and toit the Annual Washington Post Best Bets are, because they more or less arrive every year with a thunderous wet-turd splat and leave everyone involved looking like they're only tangentially involved in the life of the city. Every once in a while, there is a winner that feels truly unique, but mostly it's an exercise in ho-hummery. This year's no different. You can pretty much predict each winner as the page loads, and the criteria for predicting is no more than having heard of something that fits a criteria.

So, for example, if you are currently aware that there are businesses that sell, say, coffee, or hamburgers, or furniture, or shoes, you are going to nail the winners with incredible accuracy. Seriously. If I put a gun to your head and demanded you guess and maintain an 80% accuracy, you will come out of it pretty much unscathed. This level of obviousness, however, begs the question--why go to all the trouble of soliciting votes, counting them, writing copy, publishing HTML and printing little badges for the winners if the whole thing is over and done before the process even begins? Wouldn't it just be simpler for the Washington Post to give Ikea a windowsticker, set a pile of money on fire and call it a day?

The hilarious addition to this year's non-event comes courtesy of DC's own purveyors of lame, the Going Out Gurus, who have actually documented their worthlessness on every page of the Best Bets. Each category has a winner and something like ten runners-up, and the Gurus advertise their bet-hedging fraudulence by tagging about six or seven in each category with "Guru's Pick." Christ. They make the bar to make the NHL playoffs look discriminating. My guess is that the Post included their opinions so that the voters had somebody to whom they wouldn't suffer in comparison.

On with the highlights:

BEST BAKERY: Cakelove.
Yeah. Shock, horror and amazement there. Actually, DC is quite polarized by Cakelove. It inspires antipathy that's far more passionate than the worship. My experience with Cakelove is limited because I am allergic to eggs and they are egg-crazy. At a going-away party for a coworker, an old employer had a Cakelove sampler for everyone to share. Knowing how allergic I am to their wares, I was relieved at first to see German Chocolate Cake--not many egg whites therein, so a safe bet. Unfortch, it turned out that type of cake was the guest of honors fave, and there being two slices, it would be immensely gauche of me to not let dude take it home with him. So, I had chocolate cake with some rich icing and the next four hours of my life were exactly like Requiem For A Dream, followed by the worst hangover in eight years. Anyway, at least Cakelove kept Panera from winning.

Sure, if you wipe your ass with one dollar bills, it's fantastic. To me, brunch is about getting together with a mess of friends and not worrying about how the bottom line is going to affect everyone's pocketbook. Whitlow's is sketch central at night, but my out-of-town guests, from all walks of life, really seem to enjoy brunching there. When it's just me and the WoD, we likes to go to the Four Courts--good smoked salmon and Guinness.

Yawn. Why is it that whenever I eat a Five Guys burger, I feel like, "Cool. It'll be six months before I'm craving this sort of lunatic excess again." And then, not surprisingly, that six months has become a year. Poor forgotten Elevation Burger deserved better than fourth.

BEST CHEAP EATS: California Tortilla
The people at California Tortilla and the people at Chipotle must have sat down to sign a treaty to determine in what ways their cuisine would distinguish itself from each other, because left to their own devices, you just know they'd mass produce food without any dissimilarities. Again, when I have people who really appreciate inexpensive food that's capital-G Good, it's pho at Nam Viet.

This is, annually, Exhibit A on why this whole enterprise needs to be scotched. Now, I am not one of those type whose definition of cool is hatin' on the 'Bucks. The people at the one in my neighborhood are first rate and friendly and they feel like neighbors. But, seriously, the Post should just toss out all of Starbucks votes. The chain has enough tact to never tout themselves as a Best Bet, and it's not like they're going to either cede market share or have some sort of problem with public awareness of their existence if they don't win. So throw the votes out. I know that the Posties could make some kind of case for telling the truth, but, you know what, convicted felons truthfully have opinions on who should be President. We still chuck their votes.

Over on H Street, the Atlas is soon to open as a performance space. H Street Playhouse and Joy of Motion Dance Studio share the block. And wedged in between is a place that escaped the Post's mention, R&B Coffee. With Joe Englert building his after hours Disneyland out there, little R&B won't stay off the radar for long. They'll make this list next year. In the meantime, did you know that there is some sort of law in DC that forbids the roasting of coffee beans? R&B wanted to roast their own beans, but they can't. So, remember, their product would be even BETTER were it not for this stupid ass law.

BEST CRABS: I'm just surprised that the Capitol Hill interns weren't nominated. Wife of DCeiver snarks: "It's been harder to get crabs in DC since Polly Esther's closed. Zing.

BEST ICE CREAM: Coldstone Creamery
Jesus wept, y'all. Coldstone is like cool, molten suck.

The Post says that you can "find a little piece of the Bronx" at Maggiano's. If so, we're guessing that the piece was probably some sort of cyst that the Bronx had surgically removed.

Here's one we emphatically agree with. The Gurus, of course, would have been hospitalized with scenester-douche withdrawal if they didn't pick Cafe Saint Ex.

BEST STEAKS: Ray's The Steaks
Okay, soooo, people have heard about this Ray's The Steaks place? Because we've been worried that the owner hadn't yet jackhammered it's existence into our subconscious yet. Good, good. Maybe, you know, the beatings will stop. If you want good steaks without the attendant melodrama, drive another half mile up the road from Ray's and discover the Boulevard Woodgrill, which didn't make the list because not enough asshats eat there.

Here's one the voters got right. But it's really more of a wine paradise.

BEST DANCE CLUB: Clarendon Ballroom
Also, one of the best places to see idiots standing in line at 1:48am on a Saturday night. Hey! Dimwits! You wasted your entire evening!

BEST GAY BAR: Not wanting to offend any gay people, because one day they might actually meet one, the Guru's basically picked every single bar except Remington's and Nation. I'll state firmly that I do not believe--not even for a second--that any of them have ever set foot inside the Green Lantern. No love for the Eagle, though? Tsk, tsk. It's a vibrant subbacultcha.

I wouldn't call it a particularly happy hour. Not unless the definition of happy has been expanded to include crippling self-delusion and rampant brain rot.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR: Sigh. Tonic should have won, and Toledo Lounge and Tunnicliffs should have made the list. But this is speaking as someone who only goes to bars that start with the letter T.

BEST PLACE TO TAKE OUT OF TOWNERS: We love that one of the finalists was "The Monuments." I mean, no shit, genius! It's surprising that it wasn't listed as "Derrrrrrrrrrr, uhhhhmmmm, uhhhhhh...duh Monuments! We likey monuments!" I just imagine a room full of drooling man-children, clapping their hands and crapping their pants. The Gurus picked this, which means they actually gave "Derrrrrruhhmmmmuhhh Monuments" some "thought." They crunched their little faces up, wondering where they might, maybe...just maybe take someone from out-of-town. Then one of them said, "I know! What about those mon-yoo-ments!" Then the room erupted into gasps of relief and they all cracked open some Pabst to toast their ineffable fucking brilliance.

What many people don't know is that the Zoo is also not a half-bad place to leave children to die. The National Aquarium makes the list, as well, but the link fails to specify whether it's the one in Baltimore or the one in Washington. Trust me, you don't want to take them to the one in Washington unless you aim is to punish said children.

Here's the truth. If the people at the KenCen went on a ten-year commitment to not include any programming that was even remotely related to theatre--indeed, if they dedicated themselves exclusively to hosting mahjongg tournaments--we don't doubt that they'd nevertheless win this category again and again and again.

BEST LOCAL BAND: As voted on mainly by people who go to one show each year, and haven't purchased a new album since that "dope Steve Winwood joint" from 1988.

BEST MOVIE THEATRE: WTF? How does the AMC Tysons Corner 16 get voted into 9th place? Don't get me wrong, it's a perfectly serviceable movie theatre, but what is there to get passionate about? It'd be like, "Dude! When I want Doritos, I go to the 7-11 on the corner of 7th and Rhode Island! Holy shit! I'm telling you. You just have to try it sometime! That is just the best fucking place to buy Doritos!"

BEST PLACE TO HEAR LIVE MUSIC: How does the Nissan Pavillion at Stone Ridge even make this list?! I can promise you, YOU DID NOT HAVE A GOOD TIME AT THE NISSAN PAVILLION AT STONE RIDGE LISTENING TO LIVE MUSIC! No one EVER has, and no one EVER will, until a band named And You Will Know Us By The Way We Fucking Burned Down The Nissan Pavillion at Stone Ridge goes out on tour in support of their debut album Seriously, We Are Going To Fuck Up The Nissan Pavillion at Stone Rich Something Awful.

BEST BOOKSTORE: Barnes and Noble.
Oh, COME ON NOW! Poor little Trover Shop finished TWELFTH?? And how does Books-A-Million get on this list? Has anyone in the past calendar year walked into a Books-A-Million and NOT said to themselves, "Sigh. Well, I guess I'll see if there's anything interesting in the Books-A-Million. Sigh. I'm bored as fuck."

BEST DAY SPA: Elizabeth Arden Red Door
This award should have probably been rescinded after it was learned that they can't, won't or don't color black people's hair. But I guess the Post would have had to read their own effing newspaper to find that out, wouldn't they?

Oh, good. I really hope that scrappy Swedish company makes it to the big time.

Oh, good. I really hope that scrappy Seattle company--ooops, hold on, I think I'm having a seizure.

This year, give her something that says, "I'm not a woman anymore, I work for the Federal Government."


DC1974 said...

I've said it before. And I'll keep saying it. Until there's a change or we leave Washington. (I'm betting on the latter.) The Post's Best Bets would not be that big a deal if there was something to counter it.
Take SF, for instance, sure the Chron (and the Contra Costa Times and the Mercury News) all had a "best of feature." And yes, being the middle brow general interest papers that they were they should have been called "best of the local REIT-owned mall."
But that was the audience.
And it didn't matter because there were like a dozen other best of features from every niche imaginable.
SF Bay Guardian: check.
SF Weekly: check.
East Bay Express: check.
San Francisco Magazine: check.
Diablo Magazine: check.
7x7 Magazine: check.
And all those other weeklies and magazines whose names I can no longer remember, like the Marin weekly and the one for San Joser.
Chicago was no different. The always great Chicago Reader had an annual best of. As did the other upstart alt-weeklies.
I'm sure that someone at CP thinks the whole enterprise is beneath them. But frankly, the whole enterprise of the CP is beneath the rest of us so they should just give in. I've never seen an alt-weekly that didn't do a best of issue. I'm sure the CP thinks this makes them "ballsy" and "cutting edge" and "unique" and "anti-establishment."
No it just solidifies that they are "irrelevant" and "weak."
Why that came out like a Zagat's review. I don't know, but I'll stop now.

Jillian said...

Two things make me sad about DC, as illustrated by the Post. . . lack of good brunch choices (in the way of which you speak) and lack of good coffee choices. There is really no reason why every (and I do mean every) neighborhood shouldn't have the basics.

Johnny Shades said...

Effing brilliant.

What bothers me most this year is: (1) PF Chang's winning "Best Chinese Restaurant," as opposed to an actual Chinese restaurant. Maybe even one in Chinatown. And (2) the Sports Club LA coming in DEAD LAST in the "Best Gym" rankings.

If there were a category for Best Mexian Food, I'm sure Lauriol Plaza would have won. I swear, this whole Best Bets contest makes me want to go on a 3 state killing spree every year.

PK said...

If the Nissan Pavilion was nominated, shouldn't the actual title have been "Your Car Sitting on 66 Waiting To Be Gouged For Parking at the Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge"?

Man. The entire Style section, along with all of its online compatriots, needs to be destroyed. I know you're friends with Amy Argentsinger, but let's face it, it's all a collossal waste of ink and energy. The only benefit that it delivers at this point is that it gives bloggers something to rant about every time they run some dumbass list or human-interest piece about a Loudoun County high school screamo band. It's entertaining, but sort of embarrassing at the same time.

Dara said...

Great post.

The results are just an indication that the system is flawed. Being popular is not the same as being good.

Anonymous said...

I think that were it not for this blog, I would get so angry at the world that my face would catch fire. Thank you, The DCeiver, for pissing in the wind so that others might not have to.

TUL said...

Bravo, DCeiver, Bravo... now if you excuse me, I have to clean off the iced coffee I spat out onto my monitor from laughing so hard

Kriston said...

But this is speaking as someone who only goes to bars that start with the letter T.

Yup. I'll catch you at the Townhouse Tavs.

DCepticon said...

Does El Tamarindo count as a "T" Bar?

Red Line said...

Where did dc1974 used to live? Slipped my mind.

Anyway, nice write up. The monuments section made me laugh at my desk.

nm said...

TUL, is that a Starbucks iced coffee? :-)

Anyway, WaPo needs to limit Best Bets to DC/MD/VA-owned and operated businesses. Then businesses like Ann Taylor Loft and Starbucks wouldn't even be an option in the voting. I'm not sure why they can't do that.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Just wanted to add that "Maggiano's" is, in fact, part of a chain based in Chicago. What - are Pizza Hut and Domino's not qualified?

bourbon belle said...

Great post. I had to ask my best friend (a longtime DC resident) if that was really the "Best of DC" or the "Best of Lexington, KY."

Terry in Silver Spring said...

I think that the voting should be divided into two categories: folks that live in the Virginia suburbs and everyone else. The "everyone else" voting group would pick up more of the truly interesting spots around town.

I wish M.E. Swing's would get a bit more respect as a coffee shop. They've been a DC fixture for decades. I told the G St staff about my mother patronizing the shop during WW2 when she worked the nightshift with C&P Telephone. They told me about an unadvertised blend that I started taking to her. The smell and taste were exactly what she remembered. Wonderful customer service and the locally roasted coffee is good, too.

Anonymous said...

I gotta say that I hate Tunnicliffs with a burning passion. A few years ago I took a friend there and had the worst experience I have ever had at a restaurant - and considereing the handful of other time I had perviously eatern there - I shouldn't have been surprised. We waited and waited for a menu, asked several times, no menu. Finally after two guys came in and got a menu and ordered, one of our menu requests was finally granted. Of course the guys had practically finished eating by the time we got our food. Then we had to wait (though not as long as we did for the menus) to get the bill. Haven't been there since and will never, ever, ever go back. It may have gotten better, but I will never find out. I am ususally pretty forgiving, but not in the case of Tunnicliffs.

Of course since DC is the land that voted Starbucks the best coffee place, and will eat outside breathing in fumes and wearing parkas at the drop of a hat, Tunicliffs is still in business. If there were any justice it would have died at the last change-over of owners. Sometimes justice delayed is justice denied.

Sadly, I could handle mediocre service if the food was great and the place was an institution but neither is applicable in the case of Tunnicliffs. Their idea of a fried shrimp po-boy is crappy bread, beautiful green leafy lettuce (not iceberg like it should be) and three
huge shrimp (not small one crammed over the entire sandwitch). I cried
when I saw it. Beats me why people eat there when Eastern Market is right across the street and there are at least two other places to eat on that block of 7th. Of course these are the same people that still keep Bread & Chocolate on the corner of Penn and 7th in business and while their food looks good, paste tastes better.

DC is not a food town. There are nice ethinc choices, but with regards to quality and service, D.C. patrons most often don't give a damn. Of course, I am from New Orleans and a restaruant that served mediocre food would have closed in a week - maybe - and that would depend on the time of year and location. And yes, being from NOLA does mean I think Starbuck's coffee sucks the big one.

OK rant over.

Anonymous said...

I think that the voting should be divided into two categories: folks that live in the Virginia suburbs and everyone else. The "everyone else" voting group would pick up more of the truly interesting spots around town.

Bullshit, Terry. I live in the NoVa suburbs, and I can tell you right now I wouldn't have cast a vote for Starbucks, had I chose to participate in this abomination of a poll in the first place. Can we talk about how sick I am of stereotyping? Christ on a fucking cracker - find a new topic, DC internet. Or Silver Spring internet, for that matter.

Anonymous said...

It can't be totally illegal to roast coffee in DC, I've seen them roasting coffee at that place accross from Hanks Oyster Bar in Dupont...

Anonymous said...

2 Amys for Best Pizza? Are you effing kidding me. Thats not pizza.

pelagius said...

The only notice I've paid this list until now is in stuffing the ballot box so my favorite run-down, dirty tapline beer bar made the cut. Now I see that I shouldn't have even bothered. This list is indicative of WHY I HATE DC. My god, could they have fit any more chain stores on there? Are there any indigenous businesses here? Did "Olive Garden" win Best Italian Food, or did that honor go to "The Cheesecake Factory".

Anonymous said...

i'm in the process of moving from NYC to DC in two weeks. i had come to terms and was excited. this list has made me want to start cutting.

JS said...

Jesus dude, why haven't I been reading your blog daily? This shit is hilarious.

Stern is blogging said...

How can you hate on "Rays?" The Woodgrille is a dump with poor management and shitty $10 steaks, which explains why people don't go there.

You get what you pay for at each establishment.

Good article otherwise. F Starbucks. Yeah I drink it.

The Deceiver said...

Uhhhhh, if you say so, man. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the people who own the Woodgrille aren't trying to beat you to death with how gosh-darned ICONIC they are. I guess what keeps me reluctant about walking into Ray's is the simple fact that when I go out to dinner, I'm looking to eat, not participate in some foodie clusterfuck telenovela.

divine ms. k said...

Actually, DC is a pretty damn good food town, you just have to look harder than you do in a place like NYC, Seattle, San Francisco or Chicago.

Just an hour-n-change away in Little Washington, we have one of the top five restaurants in the nation. We have the best Vietnamese restaurants on the right half of the country. There is a smallish but zealous (and growing) community of chefs devoted to using nothing but local, seasonal ingredients.

I mean, yeah, when you just look on the surface, at the knobs who vote PF Changs the best Chinese restaurant, you'd think that the Cheesecake Factories of the world had addled the brains of everyone who lives here. But just because you have to look harder for it doesn't make what you find somehow worse in quality.

(Confidential to anonymous: Try the oyster appetizer at Bazin's on Church in Vienna, or the foie gras at Equinox, or the chicken korma at Delhi Club, or the cha gio or caramel fish at Huong Que, and then come back here and tell me DC isn't a food town. I organized a restaurant weekend for 25 people whose combined foodie creds put the entire Food Network staff to shame [not that that's hard these days] and they were all quite suitably impressed with the DC Food scene.)

Constantine said...

I've never seen an alt-weekly that didn't do a best of issue. I'm sure the CP thinks this makes them "ballsy" and "cutting edge" and "unique" and "anti-establishment."

To their credit, the Seattle's alt-weekly The Stranger managed to do a "best-of" issue while simultaneously mocking the entire enterprise by publishing a "Best of our Advertisers" issue.

Anonymous said...

I had a great time at Nissan Pavillion. Course, that was like the first or second night they were open for a show at least 10 years ago. The great time had nothing to do with the music, and I refuse to go back.

Consul-At-Arms said...

Great sendup of this WP feature. I've linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2006/08/re-wapos-best-bets-ugh-metro-section.html

Anonymous said...

HILARIOUS! Thanks so much for your comments. I spent 3-4 years in DC before leaving to return to graduate school. When contemplating coming back, I made a list of pros and CONS: Ann Taylor as a fashion statement clearly fell on the con side.

Anonymous said...

I have to hand it to the Cheesecake Factory though, those avocado egg rolls are orgasmic. I don't think I order anything else when I go there.