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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 08/19/2005

Best Bets?

By Jen Chaney

Another year, another controversy over the winners of our Best Bets Readers' Choice Awards.

First, we'd like to thank everyone who participated; readers nominated more than 80,000 locations in 50 categories and cast more than 170,000 votes in our 2005 contest. With that many voices, it's impossible to have an omni-pleasant consensus, so bear with us and respect the majority.

Readers were upset by a number of things, but what seemed to raise the most concern was the near-ubiquitous Starbucks usurping Adams Morgan-favorite Tryst as "Best Coffee Shop." Tryst, a winner in previous years, fell to second place.

In response, several "Got Plans?" readers suggested -- or demanded -- that we ban all national chains from next year's contest. This is slightly problematic.

"Do people really think it's Starbucks, Maggiano's, and Gold's Gym that make Washington, D.C. special?" wrote one reader from Takoma Park. "Have the folks who voted for Cold Stone Creamery ever been to Max's in Georgetown or Summer Delights in Takoma Park?"

While several of us prefer to buy our coffee at locally owned shops Mayorga, Misha's or Murky Coffee, we can't pretend Starbucks doesn't exist, or that thousands of our readers don't buy their coffee there. Likewise, Del Ray Dreamery and Summer Delights make us scream for ice cream and custard, but they cannot compete with the omnipresence of Coldstone.

It's really a numbers game -- would the Starbucks in Old Town garner more votes than Misha's among neighborhood residents? Maybe not. But according to the Starbucks Web site, there are 184 locations within 20 miles of Alexandria, and every vote for a Starbucks in Gaithersburg or Cleveland Park counts as a vote for the whole Starbucks conglomerate. These corporations tout a consistent product in a consistent setting, so it doesn't make sense to break down the results to include every single branch.

As for the Gurus, we designate our favorite local spots as Editors' Picks. We encourage you to check them out, find your favorites, then persuade your friends, Romans, countrymen, countrywomen, co-workers, roommates and in-laws to participate in Best Bets. We hope that you will transform your outrage into suggestions, ideas and nominations for next year. Because even though the outcome will never lead to universal agreement, we think Best Bets are still better than no Bets at all.

-- Fritz and Erin

By Jen Chaney  | August 19, 2005; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Misc.  
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Maybe the national chains should have their votes divided by the number of area units they have?

Posted by: TravisD | August 19, 2005 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Outrage over our perceived collective lowbrow tastes ignores the fact that most folks are followers and only a small minority are leaders. This means that in our fast-paced lifestyles where we're bombarded with multi-million dollar ad campaigns and crave convenience, people generally go with what they know well and don't have to think much about. It takes extra effort to seek out the unique.

Posted by: Rhome | August 19, 2005 12:46 PM | Report abuse

But what is Best Bets FOR? Isn't it to let people know how great certain places are. Everybody KNOWS Starbucks, however they like it or don't like it, and, in fact, everybody knows what Starbucks is like. Same for Olive Garden or whatever other major chain there is. So why even include it--not because it's a chain and chain's can't be likeable, but because there's really no reason for it to be in this kind of a poll. You don't have this poll just to see where everybody goes, do you? Isn't it a way to tell some people who don't know, "Hey, you might like to check THIS place out"? I also like what was hinted at in this blog, that the Best Bets poll should be about things that separate DC from New York or Chicago or San Diego. It would be easy enough to justify eliminating National Chains by describing Best Bets that way from the outset. If there were a way to figure out via poll if people really think Starbucks is the best coffee house after trying all the rest, then great, keep them in. Otherwise, you're polling where people go--what's adequate and convenient, not what's the Best. And that's a waste of everybody's time, because we KNOW.

Posted by: Myke | August 20, 2005 7:57 AM | Report abuse

I'm with Travis D: divide all franchises by the number of stores they have in the metro area. That levels the playing field for smaller stores.

Posted by: Sean | August 21, 2005 10:29 AM | Report abuse

dont include chains at all....With so many gems in this city still hidden to the general population, no one is interested to see Chipotle voted best burrito, McDonald's best hamburger, or starbucks best cofffee.

Posted by: seth | August 21, 2005 11:46 PM | Report abuse

but what about local franchises? I personally eat at (and love!) California Tortilla (a Bethesda based franchise) and Hard Times (a VA based franchise) more than any other restaurants.

Posted by: sarah | August 22, 2005 8:55 AM | Report abuse

And don't forget Five Guys, that's a chain (a locally owned one) that is out of this world and deserves all the accolades it can muster!

Posted by: Bascomb | August 22, 2005 11:32 AM | Report abuse

maggiano's as best italian?? that's a complete joke. there was an onion article a few years ago that was along the lines of "olive garden voted best italian restaurant in milwaukee for 5th straight year." that's what this is turning into.

Posted by: Chris | August 22, 2005 12:21 PM | Report abuse

most disgusting - ann taylor loft being voted best women's clothing store. talk about a lack of taste.

Posted by: ew | August 22, 2005 1:43 PM | Report abuse

This list bothers me every year, but only because the "Best Bets" tag is a complete misnomer. It isn't really the best of anything at all - rather, it's a popularity contest. I mean, objectively speaking, it would be hard to make the case that Gold's Gym is "better" than the Sports Club LA in any way. But since Gold's has at least 10 times the number of area locations as the Sports Club (and happens to be much more affordable), more people vote for it. Ditto with the Cold Stone Crappery vs., say, the Del Ray Dreamery.

So if you guys want to run a true Best Bets contest, you should really poll a panel of experts who have a familiarity with all the nominees. If you want to keep the existing format, rename it to something more fitting.

Posted by: Aziz | August 22, 2005 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps we ought to take all of these outcomes with a grain of salt. If DC-area residents are voting for Maggiano's as "Best Italian," Starbucks as "Best Coffee Shop," and if Panera beats Firehook and Barnes and Noble beats all of DC's independent bookstores, there's a trend here that states: "I like always knowing what I'm going to get-- whether it be soupy pasta, a crappy latte, or a doughy bagel." As long as you have a wallet, you can be a critic, right or not.

Posted by: hg | August 22, 2005 11:28 PM | Report abuse

What bothers me about this "Best Bets" list is what bothers other posters: I wouldn't trust suburban weekend warriots or transient college students and interns to tell me what the "best" things about DC are. That's why I read the Washington Post reviews and the weekly chat, for expert opinions. Why not have the restaurant Gurus tell us what the best sushi restaurant is, not a bunch of people who can't tell that Meiwah is a CHINESE restaurant and not a sushi place?

Posted by: Why Not? | August 22, 2005 11:35 PM | Report abuse

Sakana is by far the best sushi in DC! I don't understand why it never even makes the top ten list of sushi in the city.

I think some of the voting is rigged by owners/venture capital people who invest in certain restaurants....

cynical in dupont!

Posted by: sushi in dupont... | August 23, 2005 2:56 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the outrage, but unfortunately the boards are being dominated by interns, college students, and Capitol Hill staff assistants. So what category do you disagree with most and what is your nominee. I disagree with quite a few, but I am starting with best gym. I think hands down Results is the best. With its loft-like layout and its unique classes it is comparable to Equinox and Crunch.

Posted by: Mary | August 23, 2005 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Why can't there be two separate categories for each thing -- indie and chain??

Posted by: Kate | August 24, 2005 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Three cheers for the suggestions posted by Aziz! Along those lines, maybe the Post should consider revamping the system to have a "Reader's Choice" list, voted on by the readers as they do now and including chains if they so choose, but then having a separate actual "Best Bets" list that would reflect the votes of the Gurus and other local experts like Tom Sietsema, etc. Then readers can compare the lists and make an informed choice, possibly discovering some hidden gems revealed by those in the know (assuming those readers aren't already regularly reading reviews in the Post, the Washingtonian, and other sources). Also, so long as the Post includes on the list the other nominees in a category, even if they didn't win, people can still see and get ideas of local places to try instead of the winning chains.

An interesting thing to note: DC residents tend to bash this city a lot when comparing it to other cities, complaining about what it LACKS, but from the outcry here against the national chains, it's clear that people really do think DC has some interesting local flavor and character to offer! (Or, maybe people just like to complain, regardless of the subject. But I choose to think positive.)

Following Mary's positive example above, I'd recommend people check out SORRISO in Cleveland Park for Italian. I can't wait to go back. It's warm and inviting, reasonably priced for DC, and has very good food - a triple threat! A perfect Rx when you need a mood lift. (Try the cannoli - truly amazing!)

Posted by: AMK | August 24, 2005 3:01 PM | Report abuse

What about the fact that this is an international website, and who knows who the heck is voting? Everyone loves to have an opinion, so who knows if people who live here, have lived here, or want to live here are the voters?

Posted by: ChickieBaby | August 25, 2005 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Get out of Ann Taylor and Nordstrom, and try POP, Nana, Urban Chic, Sassanova, Wild Women Wear Red, Pink November, Fresh, or any of the dozens of other unique, funky and adorable clothing and accessory stores this city has to offer.

Posted by: MEE | August 26, 2005 11:46 AM | Report abuse

You nailed it Myke. Fritz and Erin... please.

Posted by: John | August 26, 2005 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Chris, good one bringing up The Onion article. perfect. F & E - I thought this was the Washington Post, not the New York Post. ouch. Can you say "lowest common denominator"?

Posted by: John | August 26, 2005 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I agree with all the comments above. And Editor's Choice would be much more interesting. But admit it, Starbucks makes the most consistent expresso drinks - I've been disappointed at even the most crowded independents.

Posted by: Steve | August 27, 2005 8:06 PM | Report abuse

ME - the problem with those stores you mentioned is that they don't carry clothing that fits all sizes. i completely understand why the average reader would big a national store. now why they would pick starbucks over misha's, i will never understand.

Posted by: aaa | August 30, 2005 3:40 PM | Report abuse

I like Starbucks.

Posted by: NLH | September 2, 2005 12:45 AM | Report abuse

I prefer Murky Coffee over Starbucks any day, but if you don't agree with the Best Bets list, read the Washingtonian or ask your friends for recommendations. Some people can't afford to buy clothes at ritzy boutiques and don't need "funky" clothes. Most of these posts sound like they were written by elitist snobs who ought to spend their time and money at the establishments that they enjoy, instead of trashing people on the Washington Post website.

Posted by: MAL | September 22, 2005 10:01 AM | Report abuse

On the flip side, Rays the Steaks (small locally owned) managed to get #1 spot for best steak 2 years ago beating out larger chains. But that is not the norm. ShoeFly in Clarendon has been 3rd for 3 years in a row (as I recall)under best shoe category (DSW & Nordstrom were 1st & 2nd for past 3yrs). ICK. Will they ever have a chance to pass the biggies? ShoeFly - you are #1 in my category!

Posted by: LALA | August 20, 2006 11:08 PM | Report abuse

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