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News & Politics

Washingtonian’s Best Longreads of 2021

10 great feature stories we published this year

This year ended with a plot twist, eh? Time to hunker down, pour yourself a cup of tea (or something stronger), and let any one of these longreads transport you to a headspace that is not America in the last week of a second pandemic year.

Trump Hotel Employees Reveal What It Was Really Like Catering to the Right-Wing Elite

Photograph by Jeff Elkins

In our print mag we headlined this story “The Biggest Pain in My Butt Was Giuliani,” which was just one among a bunch of dishy nuggets that workers at the former President’s DC hotel served to writer Jessica Sidman after Donald Trump’s administration ended. It’s the most-read story we’ve ever published. That is all.

Inside DC’s Secret Covid Morgue

Photograph courtesy of Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

When Covid first threatened Washington, officials in the District formulated a plan to handle mass death in the most humane way possible. Body-handling teams were assembled, and a special Covid morgue was erected on an unmarked site in the city. Amazingly, the entire operation was a closely-guarded secret until Luke Mullins was given access to the incredible people behind it.

It Was One Wet Hot Vax Summer at Seacrets

Photograph by Laurie Smoker.

Shot, chaser. Mimi Montgomery spent a weekend at Seacrets, the legendary six-acre, 19-tiki-bar compound in Ocean City, to see how people were shaking off their first pandemic year. “Scientifically speaking, you haven’t emerged from living through a pandemic until a pair of boobs topped with glittery pasties have flashed mere inches from your face. Seriously, ask the CDC,” she wrote. And that’s just the lede.

The New York Energy Mogul Who’s Remaking An Eastern Shore Town

Photographed by Lauren Bulbin

Annie Spiegel chronicled Eastern Shore decadence of the opposite sort in her rich profile of Paul Prager. After Prager and his wife built out a luxe summer place in Easton, the wealthy New Yorker began assembling a swanky gourmet empire in town filled with food he personally enjoys. Prager—who owned about 50 percent of Easton’s downtown real estate when we published our story a year ago—had impeccable timing, helping to turn Easton into a magnet for urbanites during the pandemic.

The True Story of Jess Krug, the White Professor Who Posed as Black for Years

Photograph courtesy of YouTube.

Washington was gobsmacked when GW professor Jessica Krug—a woman who had long passed herself off as Black and Latina—published a post on Medium revealing she had lived a double life for years. How could Krug (who once called herself “Jess la Bombalera”) engage in such gross cultural misappropriation for so long? And why didn’t anyone stop her? Let Marisa M. Kashino explain.

The Maddening, Twisted Story of the Diplomat Who Became a Troll

Photographs by Jeff Elkins

Another page-turner: Britt Peterson’s riveting tale about a career Foreign Service officer named Patrick Syring who menaced and threatened the staff at the Arab American Institute think tank so intensely that he was imprisoned—twice—for the same hate crime. The piece examines how frustrating the laws around hate speech can be for the all-too-common-these-days traumatized victims of trolls.

Inside the Making of the Britney Spears Musical

Photograph by Jeff Elkins

Who would have thought that in the biggest year of news in the life of one of the world’s biggest music celebs, Washingtonian would have an angle? And how. The Broadway musical set to Britney Spears’s music is slated to open in Manhattan next year—after its debut here, of all places at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Rosa Cartagena got access to the creators, the directors, and the actors behind the production, and tells the story of how it all came together during the final years of Britney’s conservatorship.

How Washington Mystics Point Guard Natasha Cloud Became the WNBA’s (Unofficial) Minister of Social Justice

Photograph by Jeff Elkins

My favorite sports stories are the ones that you don’t have to be a sports fanatic to really get into. May I present Mike Wise’s profile of Natasha Cloud, a badass athlete and a badass human. Wise caught up with Cloud at the tail end of the year she sat out the WNBA in order to focus on racial justice efforts, and came to learn that the culture wars cleaving Trump’s America were dividing the family of the biracial athlete herself.

Inside the Plan to Make Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post the Everything Newspaper

Illustration by Arsh Raziuddin.

Trump’s America was a boon to the Washington Post, from a traffic perspective anyway. Between the bonkers news cycle that was the 45th Presidency and the seemingly boundless resources that the world’s second richest man has been pouring into the company, the Post spent the last few years on a tear, so much so that it’s long since resembled the hometown newspaper it once was. Andrew Beaujon plumbed the Post’s state of mind just as a new editor—the first female in the paper’s history—laid out her plans for the future.

More and More Women Are Paying Alimony to Failure-to-Launch Ex-Husbands. And They’re Really, Really Not Happy About It.

Photograph by The Voorhes.

The headline kind of makes it sound like it’ll be a rage-read—and well, if you’re an ex-wife who’s all too familiar with the predicament it describes, it probably will be! But Jessica M. Goldstein also manages to tease some rage-humor out of this who-knew history of alimony and the modern wrinkles of divorcing in the age of the female breadwinner.

Kristen Hinman
Articles Editor

Kristen Hinman has been editing Washingtonian’s features since 2014. She joined the magazine after editing politics & policy coverage for Bloomberg Businessweek and working as a staff writer for Voice Media Group/Riverfront Times.