In general, Washington, DC isn't all that different from Boston, where I am now, though it is of course larger. Boston x 2 or 3 perhaps. Part of me, however, thinks Boston has more of a tradition of creativity - arts and letters - than DC, and that such arts are visible in the city's culture in a way that isn't true in DC. But then again, there are the bookstores...
DC, as it turns out, is one helluva bookstore town. Of course, as I wrote earlier, the incredible Lambda Rising, one of the nation's first LGBT bookstores, closed down recently, which was - and is - very sad news. (The storefront remains empty.) But just a bit down the same street, Connecticut Ave, Kramerbooks & Cafe remains hopping. (Please note audio that starts when the store's website opens!) I went by the place on a Friday night and could not really look at the books - the book space was filled with people waiting for a table, beers in hand. I loved the site of beer drinkers amongst the books, but 1) I worried for the book jackets, as a former bookseller who was taught not to use books behind pads of papers while writing notes for fear of putting indentations into the jackets, and 2) I wasn't convinced many people were buying said books. I walked by during the day and the book section was being more used, as more than a waiting area.
This bookstore brought to mind Boston's own Trident Booksellers & Cafe, which has a bit of a sub-par selection of general books but has a very good magazine/journal selection, quite a bit on Eastern religions/philosophy, and very good food.
Later, I headed over to the amazing Busboys & Poets. OMG. The restaurant looked incredible, the clientele was both gorgeous on the whole and diverse, and the books.... left-leaning literary wonders, my friends. The events listing made me want to move to DC stat. Now *this* place I'd like to see replicated in Boston.
For used books, I wandered into Second Story Books in DuPont Circle, which had a mixed selection that reminded me a bit of the old McIntyre & Moore in Davis Square, with fairly old books, skewing a bit academic (maybe not as much as M&M), and a quiet or sometimes a bit surly staff. I found my current reading selection at this store: Henk Van Woerden's The Assassin, a book I'd never heard of which has proven to be as fascinating as it appeared when I found it on the shelf. Well played, Second Story.
Lastly, I happened by a store that was closed at the time - it was late at night - but also looked pretty amazing: Books for America, also near DuPont Circle (where the conference was, hence...). The website has as its mission, "Building and improving libraries in Washington, DC area schools, shelters, prisons and more; supporting reading programs; and providing children in the Nation's Capital with their first take-home books!" I can get behind all that.
I didn't get to it, but someone else recommended Idle Time Books for a good used selection. And of course, there are most likely millions of other places I didn't see, so pardon any neglected great stores - or just add them in the comments section!
Washington, DC: Go for the cherry blossoms and memorials, stay for the books. Back to you, Christopher.