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Monday, November 17, 2008

City paper Best of 2008

You are now reading the first Washington City Paper Best of D.C. issue since 1987. In that last issue, the paper’s writers celebrated Manute Bol as best Washington Bullet and “Shit Happens” as the best bumper sticker. It also dished shout-outs to such standbys as Whitlow’s Restaurant on 11th Street NW and famed Southeast club Tracks.

Even as Bol retired and the Bullets underwent a name change, as “Shit Happens” disappeared from bumpers into the American lexicon, and as Whitlow’s and Tracks became part of D.C.’s commercial history, Washington City Paper didn’t feel too compelled to update our Best-of picks.

The 21-year layoff could be seen as a credit to our city’s towering monthly, the Washingtonian, which has diligently covered the Best-of waterfronts. This glossy, we’ve felt, has done a wonderful job of rating restaurants, people, places, doctors, hair salons, etc. Well, until the Varipapa incident, that is.

Let me explain: In October 2006, the Washingtonian did a best-of dentists thing. Part of the presentation was a list of the area’s Top 152 general dentists. Included on the list was a dentist named Charles A. Varipapa.

Now, we here at Washington City Paper appreciated Varipapa’s dental skills quite a bit. But our internal rankings had him somewhere between 165 and 170 on the general dentist list. With an upgrade in mouthwash and perhaps some better mags in the waiting room, we agreed, Varipapa could move up. But to place Charles A. Varipapa in the Top 152 appeared like an atrocious act of overrating.

So we decided to get back into the Best-of game. We even cooked up a theme and plastered it about town on our ubiquitous placards in store and restaurant windows. We think “Celebrating the Classics” speaks to our long-awaited, much-anticipated re-entry into the world of Best ofs.

At first, our notion was that we’d examine the old warhorses of Washington society—the great, traditional restaurants, the great names, the tried-and-true haunts—and tell you something brand new and exciting about them.

It took a matter of days for that particular conceit to crumble under the weight of its own undoability. Take the Old Ebbitt Grill, a place that yields nearly 31,000 Google hits. Are we really going to fashion a new take on this standby?

We’re not, and we didn’t.

That’s not to say that this whole “Classics” theme is a bust. Think about it. Everything in this town is classic. The people: We read over and over again descriptions of our nerd style, of our stuffy, conservative tastes. And if stuffy and conservative are code for anything, it’s “classic.”

The architecture, too, is classic, or classical or neo-classical or Georgian neo-classical. Think all those sweetass columns on the Supreme Court, White House, and the Capitol building are there for decorative purposes? Damn right—classic decorative purposes.

You want more classic? Here you go: Levine School of Music. Set on a classic bluff in classic Northwest, a classic Washington institution that churns out classically trained pianists.

The half-smoke—classic snack. Connecticut Avenue—classic urban boulevard. Rock Creek Park and the Anacostia River—classic reference points for a divided city. Metro escalators—classic boondoggles. Dorothy Brizill—classic urban activist.

The deeper you go, the clearer it becomes—a Best-of publication that doesn’t address this region’s classics is an irresponsible Best-of publication.

What follows is more than 25,000 words that reflect a search for excellence in every corner of this classic and growing region. We have picks in here ranging from burgers to coffee tables to record stores to ANC commissioners. It may not make up for our 21-year absence, but it’s a start.

If your excellent doesn’t jibe with our excellent, please send your gripe tobestofbitching@washingtoncitypaper.com. —Erik Wemple

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