Originally published January, 2014
Columbia Heights is bounded on the east and west by Sherman and 16th Street, and goes, on the south, from Florida Avenue, up to the magnetic North Pole. (Just kidding, I’m just too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia.) When most people think of CoHi (ha ha!), they think of the huge corporate monstrosity that glowers over the CoHi metro station like some huge glowering monstrosity, but I’m not going to talk about that. People who live in CoHi never go to the outdoor mall, unless they, like, vomited into their roommate’s trashcan and have to go to Target buy them a new one. The outdoor mall only revived the neighborhood in the sense that if you wanted to live in CoHi after college, you could tell your parents, “look, there’s a big mall with a Target and a Best Buy and a 24-hour IHOP, it must be totally safe there,” and then they’d grumble and write you a check. All the best parts of CoHi are far from the town center thing, although I will admit that I once saw a hilariously entertaining fight right next to the fountain, between a skinny kid and a fat kid, both of them around 13, in which the skinny kid darted in and out, stinging the fat kid with jabs for a minute or two, before the fat kid just picked up a nearby bicycle and swung it downwards onto the skinny kid, clobbering him and instantly ending the fight. Moral of the story: fat kids are strong.
IS IT EXPENSIVE?
Not really. The houses up here are bigger than in, say, Shaw, so there are more rooms to rent, and I think people think that CoHi is far away from stuff and thus inconvenient. For the people who live here though, the “stuff” that it’s far away from (downtown, Virginia, etc.) is stuff that you want to be far away from, so that’s actually a plus. I know people who have one-bedrooms for about a thousand a month, which isn’t bad, though it takes a little hunting. And you might be next to a crack house. But it’s really cheap considering you have easy access to Rock Creek Park, Adams Morgan, U Street, Mount Pleasant, etc. You could make a case that it’s one of the best locations in town, assuming you work relatively nearby.
STUFF TO DO
CoHi is the coolest DC neighborhood by default (though it may soon lose that title to Petworth). The other contenders are really just pretenders (see what I did there? Rhyming); U street has become a lateral AdMo, and H Street is filled with bros and is so far away that you might as well ask me if I want to have drinks in Dundalk.
CoHi has some pretty cool bars, mostly along the 11th Street corridor. Wonderland used to be cool, and is still physically a pretty cool dive-ish bar, but at some point it became the default destination for the types of guys who think “The Hangover” is hilarious, yes, but more importantly, is a literal blueprint for adult life, and the types of girls who wear sparkly sweaters and Uggs and who, as they drift off to sleep at night, muse on the type of diamond ring their future husband will buy them. (It’s always “princess cut,” of course.) It can still be okay on an off-night, but weekends can be dicey.
Room 11 is horrible, don’t ever go there! Never ever. Okay, hopefully a lot of you stopped reading right there. Room 11 is actually the best bar in the city, and I agonized over including it in this post, lest the already-scarce seating get even scarcer. But what the hell. Room 11 is a “nice” bar, but it dodges all the horrible “nice bar” cliches; the sterile Sharper Image aesthetic, the stupid novelty club liquors (“Qreme”), the bitchy staff who think they’re better than you even though they clearly majored in business administration at Florida State. The interior is quirky, the owners (who often work there) are really friendly, and the drinks are excellent. In the winter, go for the mulled wine, and in the summer, go for the “Devil in Mexico,” a tequila cocktail that, after about eight of them, had me sitting on the patio one July night thinking, “I literally have no idea or control over what I’m going to do next.” (I fell asleep.)
KBC, just up 11th, is a cool, cozy neighborhood bar with a laid-back crowd, and the best burgers in the city. Also, drinks are free there two nights a week. For me, anyway, because my friend works there. Probably not for you. Forget I said anything about it.
There are also many interesting dining options in Columbia Heights. The Coupe serves fancy-ish diner food (it’s owned by the same people as The Diner), but more importantly, it’s open 24 hours, so you can go there in the middle of the night when you’re high as a ki- er, and want a midnight snack! It’s one of the very few late-night dining options in a city that’s embarrassingly short of them. Also, you may overhear one night, as I have, a fascinating exchange between a married man and his mistress, in which the mistress harangues the guy about when he’s going to leave his wife for her, as he silently eats his hashbrown bowl, and then they go have sex in his car.
Across the street is Maple, an intimate little Italian bistro. I recommend the bruschetta. If you take a date there, they may not think you’re sophisticated, but they may think you’re at least considerate enough to pretend that you’re sophisticated, which has always worked just fine for me.
Over by Target is Pho 14. They definitely have the best pho in town; the broth is so rich and nuanced and complex, it actually tastes how Kanye thinks he sounds when he goes on rants, but does not. The banh mi sandwiches (autocorrect changed that to “bang me sandwiches,” which sounds like something an actor would say in a pirate-themed porno) are also top-notch. Plus, it’s so cheap that whenever I eat there, and they bring the check, I’m like “holy crap, they undercharged us, let’s just throw down some cash and get out of here before they realize their mistake!”
Finally, there’s Coffy Cafe, because every neighborhood needs a coffee shop. This place has two levels and is open into the late evening, which is vital. They have great coffee and ambience, and plenty of seating. And no, that girl across the room isn’t looking at you because she’s attracted to you, she’s only looking because you’re staring at her and she’s trying to decide if she should pepper spray you before she calls 911 or just call 911. Which is to say, yes, definitely go talk to her!
Jolly Hispanic dudes who are cool to you even though they pay a ton of taxes to your country yet are still treated as a non-citizen, that one person in every office who is half-jokingly called a “hipster” because they wore Converse All-Stars to work once and now thinks of themselves as a hipster even though they unironically like Maroon 5, bartenders (jesus, they look ten years older in direct sunlight!), white guys who breakdance, families who are doing their part (and then some) to address the urgent shortage of screaming infants and toddlers in public places.
STUFF YOU FIND ON THE CURB ON TRASH DAY
LSAT/MCAT study guides that have clearly only been read like a third of the way through, bike frames that have had every single removable component stripped off, partially torn trashbags filled with red Solo cups, used, bundled-up disposable diapers lying on the pavement as if they were tossed from a car window.
BY FRANKLIN SCHNEIDER