On the road in America – which 'capital' is king?

NEW YORK // I’ve had three weeks in the United States, mostly in New York, broken only by a brief trip to Washington DC. Here, in a spirit of rush-to-judgement superficiality, is a very subjective visitors’ guide to the two cities, and why each can lay claim to the status of “capital of the world”.

Four reasons Washington is the best city in the US

1. Its warm welcome for Muslim visitors. At the US Chamber of Commerce, a stone’s throw from the White House, a couple of hundred visiting businessmen from GCC states and Turkey shared iftar with captains of American industry and senior members of the administration, hosted by SelectUSA. The POTUS had given a welcome address earlier in the day.

2. Its grand monumental style of architecture. DC has the feel that ancient Rome must have had in it heyday: colonnaded porticos, colossal statues and agoraphobic squares. It makes for neck-straining tourism, and gobsmacking Potomac sunsets. An imperial capital for an anti-imperial nation.

3. The lobby of the Willard Hotel. Just around the corner from President Obama’s house, the Willard is a monument to the capital’s role in America’s story. Abraham Lincoln lived at the Willard. Here they made a last-ditch attempt to avert the Civil War. In the lobby, General (later president) Ulysses S Grant used to hold court and grant or deny favours. Hence, some say, the term “lobbying”. Martin Luther King Jr wrote the famous “I have a dream” speech at the hotel. This history just seeps into you by osmosis.

4. Union Station. The lobby is worthy of a cathedral, all stunning neoclassical design with a hint of art-deco. Just around the corner from Capitol Hill, it’s an impressive gateway to DC.

Four reasons why New York is better

1. Freedom Tower and the 9/11 Memorial. From the top of the Empire State Building looking south at sunset, Freedom Tower fulfils all its architects’ most ambitious dreams, gleaming out like a beacon of liberty in the drab brown of lower Manhattan. At ground level, the 9/11 Memorial is one of those places where you really have to swallow down the lump in the throat.

2. Columbia University. Walk through some ancient-looking steel gates on the upper west side and you’re away from the chaos and noise of Broadway, into a calm oasis of academic excellence. All universities should be like this. And all universities should have a School of Journalism like the one established by Joseph Pulitzer in 1912.

3. Flannery’s Bar on West 14 and Seventh Avenue. Not only is this place a real old Irish Manhattan hostelry, but it is also the home of the New York Spurs (fans of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club for the ignorant among you). It’s also the only place in the city where, when the barman Mush sees the name Kane on a credit card, he informs you your money is no good in the house any more. True.

4. Penn Station. Bustling, hectic and slightly anarchic, Penn is a real train station. If DC’s Union is a temple, this is a factory. But a factory in the style of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a true working monument to industry and commerce.

Next week: Four reasons why Boston is the best city in the US.

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