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A new show in town

'A teetotal born-again Christian who was often tucked in around 9 o'clock in the evening, George W.

This weekend Washington, DC, felt like a different city. But it wasn't just the masses of tourists and the countless parties and formal balls centered around Tuesday's Inauguration.

Neighbourhood restaurants and bars were bustling, and stores stayed open late. Streets that usually fell quiet after midnight were, in the words of one long-time resident, filled with revelry approaching "New York levels". Another Washingtonian compared the evening traffic on the Metro to New Year's Eve. By all accounts, it was a good time to be in this usually stuffy town.

Conventional wisdom says that the administration is instrumental in setting the tone of this city, and early signs from the Obama administration could be indicating big changes for life in the District.

For one, the new administration is attracting all manner of people to public life – and to Washington. Since the election there has been plenty of coverage of the people from the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago and Harvard University that Barack Obama has tapped for high-profile appointments, while low-level administration positions are drawing a scary number of overqualified applicants.

Even the New York Times - a newspaper overly concerned with assuring its Manhattan readership that, yes, they still live in the centre of the universe – published a piece in Sunday's Style section describing the "deserted" streets of Midtown and quoting a Washington-based flack about the growing influence of the District.

"Washington, not Wall Street, is where all the action is right now," the PR specialist told the newspaper, perhaps a bit over enthusiastically. "We have the money, power and the celebrities. We own all of the banks and financial giants."

While New York is not likely to go anywhere anytime soon, some of Washington's newfound status was in full view at Tuesday's inauguration. Among the usual roster of famous-for-DC faces – pundit Howard Fineman scrambling over a barricade, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg working the press gallery – one could see photographer Annie Leobovitz jockeying for better shots when she wasn't chatting with actor Dustin Hoffman.

In addition to the influx of celebrities and recent graduates, something can also be said for the way in which the new president is approaching social life in Washington. A teetotal born-again Christian who was often tucked in around 9 o'clock in the evening, George W. Bush was rarely seen out on the town. This was particularly true in recent years: Dealing with foreign wars and growing unpopularity at home, Bush seemed to only occasionally venture out to dinner parties with friends on the city's Northwest side and rarely hosted state dinners. In some ways, the president's interaction with Washington seemed to reflect the "bunker mentality" that critics said permeated the West Wing.

Contrast that with Obama's recent weeks in the District: On a recent Saturday afternoon Obama and Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty stopped by Ben's Chili Bowl, a landmark fast-food spot situated in the middle of the city's "Black Broadway". He was seen eating at Equinox, a favorite eatery of political insiders, during Bush's farewell address last week, stopping to watch a few minutes of the speech on the bar's television. He spent Monday painting the walls at a shelter for homeless and runaway teens in the city.

Regardless of the impossibly high hopes people in America and around the world have for Obama, his engagement with people in his new town is certainly encouraging. Perhaps he's just getting to know Washington. Maybe it's just shrewd politics. It was sort of shocking to hear he'd never been to a venerable establishment like Ben's before, and volunteering always promises good news coverage and a photo opportunity.

But seeing the new president out and about in Washington could be signalling a renewed connection between the White House and this city - and a concrete step towards, using Obama's own words from Tuesday morning, restoring the "vital trust between people and government."

Or, at the very least, life in Washington could become a bit more exciting.