Originally published October, 2013
Capitol Hill is right by the Capitol, and the Hill. So really, it should be called “Capitol, Hill” or maybe “Capitol and the Hill.” (Which sounds like a really terrible yacht-rock duo.) The conventional wisdom is that Capitol Hill is the neighborhood of choice for all of DC’s boring politicos and wonks who trudge to the nearby Hill everyday in bad suits. But this isnt true anymore – many of them are consultants now, so they wear bad jeans. (With one of those “holster” type cellphone cases clipped to the belt. Cool.) Yeah, this is one of those times when the stereotype is actually pretty accurate. Capitol Hill is rife with clean-cut, earnest types who, no matter how much they may differ in their respective political beliefs, are nonetheless united by a shared commitment to never, ever paying more than $9.95 for a haircut.
IS IT EXPENSIVE?
Yes. Not too long ago, Capitol Hill made Anacostia look like Martha’s Vineyard, but the last decade or so has seen the neighborhood gentrified far more ruthlessly and thoroughly than any other gentrified neighborhood in DC. If you enjoy Pottery Barn catalogs and always “like” your friends’ baby pictures on Facebook (STOP IT), then you’ll love Capitol Hill. But yeah, since the main demographic buying houses there have job security for life and comically inflated salaries, you’re going to be paying a premium. If you’re not prepared to shell out a million or two, don’t even bother going to open houses here, unless it’s for the free wine and cookies. In which case, yeah, the open houses here have really good free wine and cookies!
STUFF TO DO
Capitol Hill Books
Weirdly, DC has some top-notch used bookstores but Capitol Hill Books might be my favorite. Inside it looks like the house of an incredibly well-read agoraphobic hoarder, with shelves upon shelves and stacks on almost every available surface. The selection is excellently curated and you can find a lot of rare-ish books and editions among the stacks. Every time I go to this bookstore with someone, we end up staying until the other person is sighing at theatrical volume and checking their watch like an actor in a silent vaudeville short. I bought a book of aphorisms here a few years ago that I read so many times that I basically committed to memory, and now I sprinkle them into conversation to fool people into thinking I’m wise. (“Only the truly superficial don’t judge by appearances.”) (Oscar Wilde said it, but I always pretend that I just thought of it.)
Do you like eating in crowds? No? Oh. Well … how about eating while walking? Oh. Um … well, some people must, because this place is always crowded with people gnawing on turkey legs and funnel cakes while making accidental eye contact with other strangers. The market is cool, though, with vendors coming from as far as West Virginia and Pennsylvania to sell their wares, and it’s not as expensive as you’d think. Across from the food market is the famous Eastern Market Flea. If you like flea markets, but you’re uncomfortable browsing through suitcases stolen off of airport luggage carousels, or half-full bottles of bathroom lotions displayed on a spread-out trashbag, this is the flea market for you! It’s an upscale, sanitized flea market, though in fairness you can get some really cool stuff there. There are definitely some gems among the furniture, though the prices can be eye-wateringly steep. Supposedly you can negotiate the prices down, though I can’t haggle because I have this pathological inability to let anyone know I want/need something from them. You should try being in a relationship with me, it’s hilariously unenjoyable!!
This newer, low-key Capitol Hill bar is probably the hippest place to drink in the neighborhood, though that’s sort of like being the least-doughy Baldwin brother. It’s all relative. They serve beer in mason jars and there are board games that you can unsuccessfully use to talk to women. (“Ladies, care to join me for a game of Risk? No? How about just intercourse, then?”) Upstairs is the school bus bar, which is a bar made of a school bus (duh) and an enclosed patio. If it was in Northwest, I’d probably go there all the time, but it’s in Capitol Hill, so I only go every four years when a relative comes to town and books the cheapest hotel on Priceline and I’m stuck in Capitol Hill on a random weeknight.
This place is a legendary bar that’s been open since forever, which means that the only people who go here are the types of people who, when they go to New York, head straight to Times Square. The bar, the physical bar itself, is really cool, but the crowd can be irritating. A lot of people go here to take iPhone pics of themselves, post them on Facebook with a caption that says, “In Cap Hill’s oldest dive bar!!”, and then immediately go to the restroom and wash their hands, because ew, dive bars. Still, it’s a decent place to get a cheap beer if for some reason you’re out in Capitol Hill, and menu is pretty incredible. Beer-battered burgers and fries, a country-fried steak, and mozarella sticks that might be in four-figure calorie territory per stick. PER STICK. The perfect destination if you want to slowly but tastily commit suicide.
Capitol Hill’s best coffee shop. Even though it’s smallish, they’ve made great use of the space, with a mix of tables and wall-mounted counter space, and the ambience is just right; a touch of snobbishness (if you don’t like elitism, don’t go to a place with “espresso” in the name), but the baristas won’t actually spit on you. Coffee people who’re “in the know” claim that Peregrine makes the finest espresso shots in the city, but they all taste like hot water filtered through ground-up beans to me, so I can’t comment on that.
WHAT YOU’LL FIND ON THE CURB ON TRASH DAY
Ann Taylor Loft flower print bucket hats, well-thumbed copies of “Networking for Dummies,” unworn giveaway tshirts from “fun runs,” six month hold vacuum cleaners that are nevertheless already worn out from frequent use, empty bottles of annoyingly-named wine (“Cupcake,” “Sassy Elf,” etc.), packaging for expensive, legitimately-purchased computer software that could’ve been illegally and untraceably downloaded for free in less than fifteen minutes, empty tubes of “Just for Men” hair dye for gray hair which have been wrapped in several layers of plastic bags, almost as if someone was trying to hide them.
Former high school valedictorians, people who can immediately tell you off the top of their head how many electoral votes any state has, youngish nuclear families who are pretty cute but not even ten percent as cute as they think they are, lots of people who will never come right out and tell you exactly what it is they do, because they know you’ll assume they’re a spy or something, when in fact all they ever do is Powerpoint presentations. People for whom wearing “comfortable shoes” is a political statement.
BY FRANKLIN SCHNEIDER