Local writer and photographer reveal the ‘hidden’ Washington, D.C.

Emily Pearl Goodstein, front, and Beth Kanter in the sanctuary of Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Photo by Jared Foretek.

Beth Kanter and Emily Pearl Goodstein spend a lot of time thinking about places, from their broadest significance down to the smallest minutiae: from the history of a place to how best to photograph it.

Their new book (Kanter the author and Goodstein the photographer) explores the “hidden” places in Washington, D.C., from the beer lab at D.C. Brau brewery to the undercroft of the Lincoln Memorial and the stairwell at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, where a collection of stars have signed the walls. Some of the places hold local lore, some require special permission to access and some are just modest neighborhood spots unknown to most outside of the area.

“No Access Washington, DC” is the duo’s third book together, the culmination of a relationship that’s spanned more than 12 years and began at another special place for the both of them: Kanter’s dining room table.

It was 2006 when Kanter, a journalist, asked her children’s babysitter to invite her friend and fellow George Washington University student, Goodstein, to her family’s Rosh Hashanah dinner. The babysitter, Elissa, had long told Kanter and Goodstein about one another.


“I walked into this really beautiful Rosh Hashanah dinner and it didn’t really feel like the first time I was meeting you, because I’d been hearing about your children and you for all these years before,” Goodstein said. “As far as important Jewish places for me in D.C., I’d say Beth’s table.”

Years later, Kanter was approached by her editor about a book profiling local chefs and restaurants. She’d need a photographer, and at the time, Goodstein — whose full time job is in digital marketing — was running a local blog for her photos. Kanter thought they’d make a nice team, and it was at her table where they’ve since plotted each of their three books.

Of the over 40 places featured in “No Access,” which was released in the fall of 2018, Kanter and Goodstein acknowledge that Sixth & I is particularly special. Goodstein is a member and even got engaged in the stairwell. The synagogue is also where they memorialized Elissa, the friend who introduced them, after she died of cancer in 2013.

Comedian Rob Cordray began the tradition of signing the stairwell walls in 2006. Today, the signatures cover an entire flight and are working their way up the next one.

“These walls don’t need to talk,” the book reads. “They tell stories. They also crack jokes, make political predictions, and can even hum a few bars.” There are too many notable names to list, but comedian Joan Rivers, former Vice President Al Gore and writer Elie Wiesel have all scribbled somewhere, to give you a sense of the breadth.

Others don’t even write their names, opting instead for a drawing or a question, like “Is this a shul or a rock club?”

The city has been the muse for both Kanter and Goodstein: Kanter has been a resident since 1991; Goodstein has lived here all her life. In their two previous books, the duo interviewed and photographed local chefs and their food, creating food tours of the District. For both of them, the city has something of a chip on its shoulder, often thought of by others as full of transients, lacking in real community. Of course, they both say that perception couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“I’m drawn to telling the stories of the people in this city, to dispel this caricature that seems to be pervasive around the country and around the world, that D.C. is full of people who just breeze in and out or the people aren’t real,” Kanter said. “There are so many people who make their lives here and hold up the institutions that are sacred and make this city so special. That’s what I’m interested in.”

The two don’t know what their next project will be. Kanter, a member of the traditional egalitarian minyan at Adas Israel Congregation, is thinking through what she wants to turn her focus towards next. Goodstein is a bit busy planning her wedding, which — naturally — will be officiated by Rabbi Shira Stutman from Sixth & I.

But readers can probably count on one thing: Their next project won’t stray too far from the city they’ve been documenting for years.

“We don’t just want to show a sliver of the city,” Kanter said. “We want to tell the stories of the people who live here, and we want to show off the beauty here.”

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