Rick LaRue, operator of Chesapeake Drift Studio, in his Silver Spring yard
Rick LaRue of Chesapeake Drift Studio Credit: Darrow Montgomery

D.C. is a town of arts institutions, but new places deserve to be celebrated as well. This year’s collection of arts & entertainment picks from City Paper contributors include freshly opened venues as well as tributes to establishments that have kept us captivated for all our years in D.C.

To see what readers selected in Arts & Entertainment categories, click here.

Best Place To Rave


If you thought one dance music venue with warehouse vibes in D.C. was enough, you’re forgiven for being mistaken. That’s because Nü Androids founder Nayef Issa has given us a concert space we didn’t know we needed: an intimate, 5,500-square-foot hall with vaulted ceilings and a quadraphonic sound system, where you can feel the music pass through you. Rather than overwhelming you, sound resonates without inhibiting casual conversation—no shouting necessary. Culture has already hosted electronic heavy hitters TOKiMONSTA and Mind Against, and true to its name, the modular venue serves up diverse experiences tailored to each new performer. While not technically a nightclub, D.C.’s wildest night out is in Ivy City. 2006 Fenwick St. NE. culturedc.com  —Dave Nyczepir

Best Preshow Entertainment

Alamo Drafthouse

Watching the credits before a movie screening is a matter of personal taste. For some, it’s an integral part of the moviegoing experience, while others would prefer to arrive just as the first production company title card appears on screen. Even if you’re in the latter camp, it’s worth arriving the suggested 30 minutes before showtime at Alamo Drafthouse. Every movie is preceded by a curated selection of videos, sometimes thematically relevant to what’s showing, and sometimes utterly baffling. Regardless, they’re miles better than trivia questions about Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. A friend and I finished dinner early before our showing of Magic Mike’s Last Dance and decided to kill time at the theater, then were rewarded with some grainy ’80s male stripper videos and shaky cellphone footage of Channing Tatum’s youthful days as an actual exotic dancer. Before settling in for Theater Camp, a film likely only appreciated by theater nerds like the ones portrayed on screen, the chosen clips didn’t have much in common besides some bizarre theater kid energy. They were giddy and delightful nonetheless, including a video of a man playing a teapot like a flute and Toni Basil’s unhinged music video for “Walking the Dog,” featuring ballerinas costumed as pink poodles. Alamo prides itself on employing film lovers and spotlighting classic cinema, and it’s clear these preshow reels are assembled by nerds who have dug around the deepest corners of the internet to find their clips. Even their announcement content is tops—what better way to get people to stay the fuck off their phones than having Janeane Garofalo herself give a rambling admonishment to the audience? If you’re going to a showing at a Regal theater on the other hand, do yourself a favor and show up as late as possible, so you don’t have to be subjected to one of the worst pieces of preshow entertainment of all time. Multiple locations. drafthouse.com. —Stephanie Rudig

Best Storytime

Tara Hoot

In a city filled with talented drag artists, it’s nearly impossible to pick the best, but this year, as lawmakers across the country have spewed hate targeted directly at trans, queer, and drag communities, one local queen has stood out. In February, Tara Hoot’s Drag Storytime brunch at Crazy Aunt Helen’s became a target of the Proud Boys, an extremist group with white-supremacist ideologies. Despite threats, the ticketed, sold-out brunch went on as planned, with restaurant and community support—roughly 200 counterprotesters showed up to offer protection and encouragement to attending children, families, and Hoot. Just shy of 50 and new to drag, Hoot, who told the Washington Post she thought of an escape plan in case the worst happened, didn’t back down either. The LGBTQIA community and its allies far outnumbered the few extremists, and Hoot ended the event reading Marianne R. Richmond’s Be Brave Little One to the crowd. “Be brave to stand up and tell what you know,” she read. Trans and queer people walk through a world where the threat of violence almost always lingers, and the recent targeting of drag artists is another thinly veiled attack on trans people. But that drive to keep going is a defining aspect of queerness and pride. Hoot’s Drag-Storytime-will-go-on attitude is a perfect example of queer resilience—wrapped up in a rainbow taffeta boa and sky-high wigs. tarahoot.com. —Sarah Marloff

The marquee outside the Avalon Theatre in Washington, D.C.
The exterior of the Avalon Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Best Movie Theater for Non-Spectacle Films

The Avalon

Blessed be the small, independent movie theater, for it shall show the obscure documentaries and character-driven Oscar bait explosion-averse film fans really want to see. You won’t find state-of-the-art seats or enormous IMAX screens at the Avalon, the precious, two-screen jewel of Chevy Chase. But you will find exemplary iced coffee and an intimate viewing experience. It’s the ideal place to see a subtle film such as Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun; the delicacy of Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio’s performances could get lost in a traditional multiplex setup, but in the petite Avalon 2, you’re immersed in the story. Avalon programmers also aren’t afraid to show specifically focused films that might not resonate with your average moviegoer, such as the 2019 documentary Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, chronicling the creation of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, or Maiden, chronicling the journey of the first all-woman crew to participate in the Whitbread Round the World Race (now known as the Ocean Race). In the latter case, the Avalon’s intimacy allowed me to feel like I was actually on a boat in the middle of the ocean. But even if you want to see a spectacle, the Avalon’s still there for you—yes, it’s showing Oppenheimer this summer. 5612 Connecticut Avenue NW. theavalon.org. —Caroline Jones

Best Theatrical Innovator

Raymond O. Caldwell

Theater has been around for a long time. And still it’s often thought of as a White-dominated space that produces works from dead White men. If this was true, theater would be dying alongside Big Milk. Instead, people like Raymond O. Caldwell continue to breathe new life, create new stories, and bring new perspectives into the art form. A former faculty member and resident director in Howard University’s theater department, Caldwell has been the producing artistic director at Theater Alliance since 2019, where he leads the company in its mission of creating “socially conscious, thought-provoking work that fully engages our community in active dialogue.” As an award-winning director who’s worked with many of the area’s renowned theaters including the Kennedy Center, Signature, Round House, and Mosaic, Caldwell advances his goal of breaking down the self-imposed walls between those of us who call D.C. home by producing plays that fall far outside the scope of “White theater.” He chooses to share Black and queer stories that focus on the Black experiences of living in America. He doesn’t think theater can change the world, but believes the conversations it prompts—and the people it brings together in the audience—might just have that power. “Our community actually has the deepest potential to demonstrate the widest breadth of diversity,” Caldwell told City Paper in June when talking about the LGBTQIA community as a whole. “But that asks us to actually be in space together.” Thankfully, Caldwell continues to make spaces where that is possible. raymondocaldwell.com. —Sarah Marloff

Rick LaRue, operator of Chesapeake Drift Studio, in his Silver Spring yard
Rick LaRue of Chesapeake Drift Studio Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Best Use of Driftwood

Chesapeake Drift Studio

Rick LaRue’s backyard in Silver Spring evokes a coastal sculpture gallery. A Japanese rock garden and myriad planters serve as showcases for several hundred pieces of artfully presented driftwood, all scavenged by the 66-year-old retiree over the past decade while kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay. Presented individually or in thematic groupings, the pieces are rich with personality and alive with graceful twists, grim gnarls, eyelike knots, and embedded rocks. Though LaRue does clean and oil the wood, and names his works, he doesn’t usually alter his finds in any other way. His pieces act as Rorschach tests, inviting the viewer to bring their own interpretation to the experience. Casting your eye around his al fresco exhibit, you may see a swimming unicorn, fingers pointing at the heavens, and Donald Trump in profile—or is it a pig? (Is there any difference?) 

Inside his home are another hundred pieces, including “Cocheta,” his first discovery, which inspired him to begin making art with these found natural materials smoothed and patina-ed by the sea. It weighs 75 pounds and stands over 6 feet tall; LaRue threw his back out in the process of getting it home, but he considered the pain a worthy price. The reverie-inducing piece recalls a headless body with crossed legs, its torso gracefully textured with wavy lines, looping and swirling. The pattern reminded a friend of a Navajo blanket, inspiring LaRue to dub the piece “Cocheta,” a Native American term of unknown origins sometimes translated to mean “that which cannot be fathomed.” That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. LaRue’s work requires contemplation, but always rewards with illumination, both of the imagination and the individual. chesapeakedriftstudio.com. —Nevin Martell

Best Way to Catch Up on Literary Analysis

Politics and Prose’s YouTube Channel

An author talk at Politics and Prose, paired with pizza and beer at Comet Ping Pong, is one of my ideal D.C. weeknight activities. But am I actually buying the book that’s being promoted at said author talk? Probably not. I’m more likely to return to the book years later at a used bookstore or off the library’s long waitlist. And thanks to Politics and Prose’s YouTube channel, I can revisit that talk I attended four years ago with ease. Unlike other bookstores, which only started digitally recording their talks during the pandemic, P and P has been doing this for more than a decade and has uploaded more than 3,000 videos. Even if you come to a book late, you can hear the author’s intimate discussion about the title you’re reading and soak up that extra level of analysis. (This is particularly useful when the person you live with tires of hearing you recite newly learned facts about American urbanism and housing policy.) And if you’ve ever squished into the back of the store for a particularly crowded talk and have been unable to hear everything that was said, well, you can relive those talks as well. youtube.com/@politicsprose —Caroline Jones