Ma la wontons at Great Wall Szechuan House
Ma la wontons at Great Wall Szechuan House Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Of the roughly 1,100 stories Washington City Paper published in 2021, some were bound to rise to the top. Earlier this week, we presented the 15 stories readers clicked on most this year. Now we’re getting subjective and sharing the stories that resonated with us over the past 12 months. The pieces below, selected by City Paper staffers, celebrate the people doing interesting work in the District, explain how problems arise and how they can be solved, and, hopefully, will keep you from thinking about the pandemic, at least for a few minutes. —Caroline Jones

Photo of swimmer Lawrence Sapp by Darrow Montgomery Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Lawrence Sapp Is Ready to Make Waves at the Tokyo Paralympics

By Kelyn Soong

Photo of a construction site by Darrow Montgomery Credit: Darrow Montgomery/file

The Pandemic Has Spurred a Food Truck Turf War at Construction Sites

By Michael Loria

Food editor Laura Hayes singled out two stories that highlight less covered topics: the Paralympics and food trucks that serve laborers at job sites. “My colleague Kelyn Soong does a tremendous job of spotlighting local athletes who are both rising to greatness and underrepresented in other sports sections. This story taught me about S14 classification and made me a Lawrence Sapp fan for life,” Hayes writes. “Michael Loria was an invaluable City Paper contributor in 2021 because of his ability to stories about immigrant communities.  I was fascinated to learn about the different categories of food trucks and how they’re competing with each other during trying times.”

Photo of Angel Reese by Darrow Montgomery Credit: Darrow Montgomery

College Athletes Navigate the New World of Profiting Off Their Name, Image, and Likeness

By Kelyn Soong

Soong, City Paper’s sports editor, and Sarah Marloff, City Paper’s arts editor, both pointed to Soong’s deep dive into how college athletes are beginning to earn money based on their name, image, and likeness, thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision, as a highlight of the year. “Each college athlete has a unique experience and the new NIL rules only amplify that. I really enjoyed learning from the athletes that I spoke to about how NIL would impact them,” Soong says.

Watercolor painting by Julia Terbrock Credit: Watercolor painting by Julia Terbrock

All Politics Are Local

By Washington City Paper staff and contributors

This year began with the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. While City Paper tends to avoid federal news—we are a local newspaper, after all—responding to this event felt necessary. As Soong puts it, “I’m glad we gave local readers the space to share their thoughts and emotions. Darrow Montgomery and J.M. Giordano’s photos brilliantly capture the surrealness of that day.”

A painting of the Washington Football team’s helmet on the grounds of RFK Stadium. Photo by Darrow Montgomery. Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

Dan Snyder Escaped Accountability for the Washington Football Team’s Toxic Culture

By Craig Hoffman

Many things changed this year, but the Washington Football Team’s dysfunction was not one of them. Soong points to this story as an example, noting how Hoffman “sharply points out the absurdity of the NFL investigation into the Washington Football Team that essentially did nothing to hold Dan Snyder accountable for fostering a toxic workplace culture.”

Wayson Jones and Michelle Parkerson in front of the now-shuttered ENIKAlley Coffeehouse. Photo by Darrow Montgomery. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

A New Documentary Tells the Story of a Critical Gathering Space for D.C.’s Black LGBTQ Community

By Sarah Marloff

While breaking news is almost always useful, looking back at the history of places Washingtonians may have forgotten or not known about at all is just as important. Soong, Marloff, and Audience Growth and Engagement Editor Michelle Goldchain especially enjoyed Marloff’s look at a new documentary about ENIKAlley Coffeehouse, a gathering place for D.C.’s Black LGBTQ community in the 1980s.

Rotten Is a Multifaceted Look at Surviving Sexual Assault and D.C.’s DIY Scene

By Sarah Marloff

Doug E. Fresh’s Valentine to Chuck Brown, Go-Go

By Alona Wartofsky

Once Upon a One More Time Needs Another Edit

By Rebecca J. Ritzel

Marloff also pointed to three reviews that exemplify D.C.’s diverse art scene. One is of a book about the District’s DIY music scene, one looks at a musical featuring the songs of Britney Spears (which feels particularly apt this year!), and another pays tribute to D.C.’s signature sound.

Photo of a D.C. Housing Authority police car by Darrow Montgomery Credit: Darrow Montgomery

‘Asshole’ Sergeant Bullies and Harasses Officers in Housing Authority Police Department, Officers Say

By Mitch Ryals

Multiple staffers called out managing editor Mitch Ryals’ careful investigation of the police officers who patrol D.C. Housing Authority properties. The misconduct fellow officers told Ryals about is upsetting. It’s also essential knowledge for anyone who cares about housing in D.C.

Photo of an excluded workers rally by Ambar Castillo Credit: Ambar Castillo

What We Can Learn From D.C.’s Excluded Workers

By Ambar Castillo

Staff writer Ambar Castillo dedicated attention to workers’ rights this year, focusing on the fight of those individuals who were excluded from pandemic-related and other traditional benefits. These individuals perform essential jobs in D.C. and Castillo’s stories remind lawmakers to not leave them behind again.

Photo of Diego D’Ambrosio by Darrow Montgomery Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

Iconic D.C. Barber Diego D’Ambrosio Dies at 87

By Bailey Vogt

Among those we lost in 2021 was a uniquely D.C. icon—Dupont Circle barber Diego D’Ambrosio. Staff writer Bailey Vogt’s remembrance paid tribute to the tough but talented man who spent half a century styling political leaders and ordinary Washingtonians.

Photo of Nzinga Tull by Darrow Montgomery

The People Issue

By City Paper staff and contributors

Photo of ma la wontons at Great Wall Szechuan House by Darrow Montgomery Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Rolling in Dough

By City Paper staff and contributors

Staff photographer Darrow Montgomery says two very different issues stood out in his mind as highlights of 2021. While The People Issue brought interesting Washingtonians together for interviews and portraits, this year’s food issue, organized around the theme of dumplings and other dough-wrapped treats, had Montgomery driving across the region to capture the best bites in the best light.

Photo of Columbia Heights Civic Plaza by Darrow Montgomery Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Temperatures in D.C.’s Heat Islands, Can Register Ten to Twenty Degrees Hotter Than in Leafy Neighborhoods

By Hola Cultura S.P.E.L. Team

Our partnership with Hola Cultura, a nonprofit that works with emerging journalists between the ages of 16 and 25, was a high point of 2021. Their reporting on heat islands and how those hot spots impact the Washingtonians who live there was eye opening.

Photo of Don Zientara by Darrow Montgomery Credit: Darrow Montgomery

End of an Ear-a: The Legendary Inner Ear Studios Closes a Chapter

By Christina Smart

This story, about the closing of a fabled Arlington recording studio where bands like Fugazi, Against Me!, and Foo Fighters recorded and mixed albums, is classic City Paper. Contributing writer Christina Smart pulled great quotes from Inner Ear owner Don Zientara and Dischord Records founder Ian MacKaye and created a story about what happens when we lose a place of cultural consequence. Plenty of other outlets wrote about Inner Ear as well, but our story, as far as we’re concerned, was the best.