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Tourists In D.C. Head To Unlikely Places As Government Shutdown Continues


Here in Washington, D.C., today, a weekend snowstorm prompted federal offices to close. Of course many workers have already been away from their offices for more than three weeks because of the partial government shutdown. Also because of the government closures, tourists haven't been able to visit the city's most popular museums. As NPR's Rebecca Ellis reports, this has meant crowds in some unlikely places.

REBECCA ELLIS, BYLINE: Capitol Lounge is a popular watering hole for political staffers located just two blocks from the U.S. Capitol. So when the government stopped functioning, the owners knew their business was in trouble. They made a quick pivot.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Furlough shots, furlough shots, furlough shots.

ELLIS: Since the shutdown, the bar has been slinging shutdown-themed cocktails half-off for federal employees. Co-owner James Silk says it's worked.

JAMES SILK: It's been overwhelming. We're not the type of place that usually has a line out the door upon opening.

ELLIS: He feels especially fortunate, as many nearby businesses say they've lost half their customers.

SILK: People who come in here who are furloughed want a laugh, and they want to be able to enjoy themselves.

ELLIS: Erin Buckley is one of these people. For her, the government shutdown has resulted in looming unpaid bills and too much free time.

ERIN BUCKLEY: I've been doing a lot of mail prepping, hanging out by myself. I cleaned out my closet, like, three times. But mostly I've been very bored.

ELLIS: Buckley works for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, though right now she's weighing getting a second job to help her out with student loans. Until then, she's roaming the district, looking for something cheap to do.

BUCKLEY: I've got to discover the city in new ways. But also, I can't really spend money. So...

ELLIS: It's not just furloughed employees looking for a place to go. Tourists arriving in D.C. have found all the Smithsonian museums closed - no Museum of Natural History or Air and Space. Bartender Dara Dike says her bar full of furloughed workers has become a destination spot for many of these out-of-towners.

DARA DIKE: There'll be a tourist in from Florida, from Canada. We had a group come in from Australia.

ELLIS: Lots of places in and around the district are noting an unusual spike in people. Arlington National Cemetery has seen a big bump in families visiting the grave sites of loved ones. Private museums are booming, as is the National Aquarium in Baltimore and, across the Potomac River, Old Town, Alexandria, Va. Alexandria's little-known apothecary museum, which long ago filled orders for the likes of Martha Washington, is now holding back-to-back tours, a rarity for January. Down the road is a tavern once frequented by Thomas Jefferson. On a tour there is Chris Keefer, an analyst for the federal government.

CHRIS KEEFER: You know, getting a little antsy, so we came out today to take in some of the local history.

ELLIS: He's enjoying the sightseeing during this long federal shutdown. But...

KEEFER: This now is three weeks. So I think that's the longest period of time I've taken off in my entire career (laughter).

ELLIS: And as nice as the city's colonial sites are, he'd really rather be at his desk. Rebecca Ellis, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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