If you're reading this you're probably coming to wonderful Washington, D.C. to experience the 2018 edition of AFI DOCS (formerly SILVERDOCS) from June 13th through June 17th. The Nation's Capital, not to be confused with the Capitol Building, is a wonderful place where it never cools off during the summer and every tourist is equally pissed that not all white houses are The White House.
AFI DOCS continues to take place at two traditional venues (Landmark E Street and the AFI Silver Theater) for the main slate along with the Newseum for opening night, four of the Smithsonians for special screenings and a free, first-come-first-served screening of Kinshasha Makambo at the United States Institute of Peace. While it seems like everything is centered in downtown D.C. it's important to know AFI Silver and Landmark E Street aren't remotely close to each other—more on that later!
Now there is a slight chance you've booked your accommodations correctly and are inside what is locally known as "D.C. Proper." That means you're staying near the fun-sounding sections of Penn Quarter, Metro Center, Convention Center or U Street/14th Street. This little sub-section of the city is fairly decent for tourists and loaded up with an assortment of Pret A Mangers, Five Guys, Walgreens and a handful of places to go out with the rest of the tourist crowd. Maybe you're wealthy and staying in Georgetown, once a notable shopping district now is home to countless empty storefronts and an Apple store.
But what if you were sold on something more affordable and told to spend your nights sleeping in Crystal City or Pentagon City? Or maybe you want to stay closer to the AFI Silver theater? Well then you're still in D.C., friend—"D.C. Metro" that is. Just like how folks from Los Angeles and New York can be insanely territorial about which part of the city you're in, D.C. has that except with Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland. This isn't an issue, per se, because it's just as easy to get into Downtown D.C. from Virginia or Maryland. So what can you expect?
If you're here you're probably in the faux-city known as Crystal City or Pentagon City. Made up of dozens of looming towers and underground pathways, these sister cities have exactly jack going for them aside from being the corporate home to Bloomberg News, Boeing, WETA and the DEA Museum. There's also the Pentagon nearby but don't confuse that with Pentagon City—they're split by the highway. Or you're over in Rosslyn, a city built around defense contractors and the original site of DARPA. Rosslyn is what grows when you keep building efficiency condos for $3,000/mo and convincing large-scale companies to convince their workers to be closer to work. It's also deceptively hilly.
Welcome to Silver Spring, soon-to-be-former home of Discovery Communications! Surrounded by almost nothing except a questionable outdoor mall, the former location of Piratz Tavern (now Lina's Diner and Bar) and a very expensive carnivore option. But don't let that get you down as Silver Spring has a motley collection of eating options (Pollo Campero, a Guatemalan chain that first spread into the U.S. through the D.C. Metro area; Tastee Diner, a small chain diner that still features horse racing). But once you leave the main drag of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road you'll notice things tend to turn into massive apartment buildings and minor desolation. In fact, your decision to stay here is almost insane and now you'll slowly starve to death as you watch documentary films.
So you've scheduled your films and have been assured it is easy to get from the Landmark E Street to AFI Silver Theater to meet your showtime. Well, you're wrong. If you order an UberX right outside of E Street to go to Silver you're looking at a minimum 30-50 minute drive.
Even if you hauled ass over to Metro Center for a straight shot to Silver Spring station on the Red Line that is at least a half hour on a good day. It is never a good day in Washington, D.C. on the Metro.
For the duration of AFI DOCS you can expect delays on the Blue, Yellow, Orange, and Silver lines. If you're unfamiliar with public transportation that means giving yourself at least an extra 30 minutes if you're going to Landmark E Street from Virginia; make that an 70 minutes if you're going to AFI Silver. The Red Line is scheduled to be normal functionality which means if you're going between E Street (Metro Center or Gallery Place Chinatown) and AFI Silver (Silver Spring).
If you're taking Metro, now is the time to tell you about our fun, insanely unfriendly user interface. To ride the train or bus comfortably, you need a SmarTRIP card. These are available at any Metro station before getting on the train. Now for the fun part: SmarTrip cards! A required resource to ride the Metro, SmarTrip cards are a pain in the ass to get. The Wikihow is surprisingly relevant. The other fun part of D.C. Metro is the fare system, which is different for every station. Rather than have a base fare, each station is an increment of $2-5 dollars. On average, it'll cost you $3.65 to go from Metro Center to Silver Spring during peak fares. And bus transfers aren't free. Metro sucks but it's air conditioned in the train cars.
So, you want to eat something besides Pret A Manger and Cosi while you're here.
You want to really get a feel for what it takes to survive in the nation's capital. Well, okay!
AROUND LANDMARK E STREET:
Lincoln's Waffle Shop (504 10th St NW):
This place is a true double-edged sword. On one hand, it is the best diner in the area for the food it will serve you. But it is also the de facto spot for throngs of tourists waiting to get into their prix fixe at Hard Rock Cafe or waiting for their timed ticket at Ford's Theater to be served. If you have time to kill before your screening at Landmark E Street and want food that isn't shitty cardboard rectangular pizza nor Qodoba then this is your best choice. Closes 4:30 pm weekdays, 3pm weekends.
Harry's Restaurant (436 11th St NW):
This is where you come to eat if you secretly want to drink four beers and then eat an absurdly large sandwich. By day it attracts a mix of tourists, day drinkers and the occasional full-time bathroom occupant who will be done in a few minutes in an hour or two. As night approaches it's a mix of local workers, office folks and again people who would rather have four beers but swear they're getting dinner soon. Everything's slightly sticky and the children may look terrified but it's the single halfway decent place within a block.
Ollie's Trolley (425 12th St NW)
"THE SINGLE GREATEST HAMBURGER IN ALL OF WASHINGTON, D.C."- a thing locals have ingrained in their head. Ollie's is a stand-out as it's attached ass-to-ass to Harry's Restaurant. In lieu of Harry's more dive quality (but not dive prices) Ollie's is the Circus Circus of hamburgers. Random tsotchkes are everywhere and refills are extra. But Ollie's burger and fries are satisfying despite not being cheap. You want an Ollieburger with Ollie sauce and a side of fries (they arrive caked in Old Bay, no exceptions). Everything else on the menu is a Bob's Burgers-style of constant experimentation that can be approached if you like to gamble with your guts. Cash only and roughly $14-17-a-person but it's Ollie's.
Elephant & Castle (1201 Pennsylvania Ave NW)
Welcome to the British-themed version of TGI Fridays. The Chicken Tikka poutine is the most unique thing here and can be consumed quickly at the bar, which will be filled with a mix of midwestern tourists and the occasional college sports fan. "Why include this," you ask. This is food for the person that wants a bar but actually wants to eat a meal. It is the only bar/restaurant that actively tries to kick you out if they notice you're alone so you can be in and out under 20 minutes.
Central Michel Richard (1001 Pennsylvania Avenue NW)
Dinner only during the week, brunch on weekends. Big mix of policy wonks and first dates looking to impress each other by only ordering three of the top shelf whiskies while droning on about what their shitty day job is. Gets very crowded fast and impossible without reservation to walk in. Sitting at the bar and eating is the best option and the great equalizer while listening to someone tell someone else what a big deal they are. The $11 fried cheese balls and $26 fried chicken are surprisingly worth their inflation.
Mackey's Public House (1306 G St NW)
This is legitimately the shittiest place you could choose to eat and the farthest walk from E Street. By walking here you've passed not only a McDonalds, a District Taco (the local meh version of a Chipotle), but an entire food court made up of 80s-throwback grease traps. All of these are better. The only reason this place exists is because of nearby lobbying/ad firms crammed with kids who believe this bar is a "dive" and not just cheap because they throw ice in urinals after demanding $11 for a cup of hummus. The only reason I include it is because if you ever want to see the low-end of the "movers and shakers" inside Washington's various jerk-off lobbying firms here they are enjoying overpriced hummus and being told to fuck off by the staff from Waiting... .
AROUND AFI SILVER:
Panera Bread (literally next to AFI Silver):
You don't want to eat here. It is literally the closest meal near the theater but it is never not crowded. No matter the day nor time there is always a line. Imagine every awful coffee shop you've ever walked into where no one moves and everyone tries to charge their phone at once. This is that same place but with bagels.
Anything Across The Street from AFI:
Seriously all of it is good. From tapas, ethiopian food, thai and a Pollo mf'in Campero. If you're in the need for something fast look no further than Pollo, the Guatamalan chain of lightly fried and baked chicken is the greatest gift you can give yourself. There's also a Chik-fil-a around the corner but Pollo Compero is by far your best cheap and fast chicken choice.
Red Lobster (8533 Georgia Ave)
I mean you do you.
Quarry House Tavern (8401 Georgia Ave)
It looks like a dive but really it's a very nice, accommodating bar with food options and people having strong opinions on how to drink beer. It is worth the walk past the other options inside the Silver Spring mini-mall near AFI.
What are the theaters like? Glad you asked.
LANDMARK E STREET
All theaters are underground after a short escalator or elevator ride. There is parking nearby if you're brave enough to rent a car for this trip. Unfortunately the screenings will be happening in Theaters 1, 6, 7 and 8. Theater 1 has the largest capacity while 6, 7 and 8 are some of the smaller screens. AFI likes to pack screenings and you will be sharing space with a
E Street also offers a full bar with a vast selection of beer, cocktails and spirits. If you're not imbibing that there's also the normal fare (soda, popcorn) mixed with alternate choices (fruit slushee, coffee, tea, stuffed crab pretzel). Once you're downstairs, though, you'll be effectively cut off from any data or phone calls. Also the only bathrooms are near where the escalator leaves you off, which is a good five minute walk from the farthest theater (8).
Three theaters make up the almost 18-year-old theater and you won't be in the best (Theater 1) unless you're going to the June 14th screening of Bathtubs Over Broadway. Theaters 2 and 3 are your standard multiplex raised seating and have no issues in the audio or visual department. They are, however, deceptively smaller than Theater 1 and roughly seat 70-90 with Theater 2 being the smallest.
AFI Silver has a selection of beer, wine and general snacks that rank itself a bit higher than your local multiplex (hummus! Whole Foods brands! Maybe hot dogs?). They do have some of the best popcorn in the area.
SMITHSONIANS/U.S. INSTITUTE FOR PEACE
While AFI and Landmark are always movie theaters the other screening locations are not (with the aforementioned caveat). Some Smithsonian entrances have mandatory metal detectors (like Air and Space) while others require manual bag checks for anything ranging from a purse to a messenger bag (nearly every other one). If you have any type of messenger bag or backpack, you have to wear it in front of of you.
Otherwise welcome to this shitty, shitty place. Also try the Half-Smoke.