WORD ON THE STREET: SHAW

Originally posted April, 2013

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LOCATION

This is really the “thing” about Shaw: it’s adjacent to U Street and Chinatown and Logan and Bloomingdale, so you can go to any of those neighborhoods in mere minutes, GIT YOUR DRANK ON or whatever, and then retreat back to the bucolic residential streets of Shaw. As someone who used to live in Adams Morgan, there is something to be said for living in the thick of the action, but the price you pay for that is 19-year olds projectile vomiting on your doorstep at 330AM. Shaw’s like a little mini-suburb, in the city but not of the city. It’s boring, but you’ll rarely if ever find yourself lying in bed at 2am fighting an urge to fling open your window and scream “SHUT THE F**k UP RIGHT NOW!!!!” Which you can’t put a price on. It’s a great neighborhood if you work downtown but don’t want to commute; I used to work at 13th and G, and my commute was literally seven minutes. On a bike. So there’s that.

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IS IT EXPENSIVE?

No. I mean, yes. Sort of. It’s still weird to look at a rowhouse priced at 670K and be like, “wow, cheap!!!” But let’s face it, that’s pretty cheap. (Says the guy who found 18 bucks in the pocket of an old pair of jeans last week and reacted like I’d just won the Powerball.) You can still get a decent-sized home here for well under a million. Renting is a little more irksome, as it’s not cheap here anymore, so you’ll pay essentially Adams Morgan rents to live in Shaw. Also, a lot of houses that used to be apartments were sold and converted to single-family homes, so the apartments that are left are in higher demand.

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AMENITIES

One of the most common raps on Shaw is that it’s a food desert. This is unfair; I once ate dinner for eight consecutive nights at the locally-owned small restaurant-slash-grocery on the corner, 7-11. For a mere $6.29 you can get a three-week old 9-ounce cup of fruit salad covered in thin coating of slime; or for a fraction of the cost, you can get four times the calories, in the form of 99-cent slices of pizza (nowhere is it more apparent that pizza is Italian for “hot bread with cheese and peppered ketchup on top”) But yeah, other than that, Shaw is a Sahara of food. There used to be a Giant at 8th and P, but it was closed last year to make way for a new megadevelopment-slash-Super Giant, which I’ll no doubt enjoy glancing at when I visit from my new apartment in whatever godforsaken hinterland I’m forced to move to after this megadevelopment prices me out of Shaw. Now you have to go to Dupont or Chinatown or the Logan Circle Whole Foods to grocery-shop, or else eat at 7-11 or one of the approximately 750 chinese corner joints, where you can get styrofoam takeout containers of fried food that will slowly give you erectile dysfunction.

There’s a really nice new public library at Rhode Island and 7th, so that’s something. Also there’s a dog park at 11th and R frequented by a lot of sad-eyed men who saw that John Cusack movie “Dog Park” and are desperate to meet their true love, so if you’re a woman, make sure you spritz yourself with some foul-smelling repellent before visiting, or you’ll immediately be engulfed by obscure music trivia and vague, open-ended suggestions to “maybe get a coffee sometime, or a drink, of like alcohol, or water if that’s not your thing or whatever …”

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STUFF TO DO

Foodwise, there’s Rouge 24, the ever-popular Seasonal Pantry, and the new-ish restaurant Table, all of which are great places to take a date,especially in that first phase where you’re pretending to be a real civilized person who doesn’t just eat breakfast cereal for four out of every five meals. (Check out our upcoming companion piece, “eat here,” for more details.) There’s also Sundevitch, which has a Cuban sandwich that I would probably request for my last meal if I was on death row. There isn’t a lot of nightlife in Shaw, though this is slowly changing. A&D is a a really cool dark bar opened by the guys behind Sundvitch; they have tallboys. Go there. There’s also the Passenger, which is arguably in Chinatown, but I insist is on the southern border of Shaw. It’s a great space with excellent staff, but is often full of downtown yuppie types angrily punching their Blackberries while waiting for their ChristianMingle.com blind dates like, “This dang date better result in marriage, because I could totally be doing CrossFit right now!!!!!!”

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THE NEIGHBORS

Lots of recent college grads who think paying 900/month for one of three tiny bedrooms is “just how it is when you’re an adult,” lots of DINKs (Double Income No Kids) who never emerge from their houses except to move their Audi SUV from one side of the street to the other, hipsters (psych, there are no real hipsters in DC!!!), people who have dogs instead of kids, super cool old couples who’ve lived here for decades who are always super nice to you, probably because their house has septupled in value in the last decade, which I think would make anyone pretty happy.

WHAT KIND OF STUFF YOU’LL FIND ON THE CURB ON TRASH DAY

Sharper Image ionized air filtering towers, Swiffers (who buys those?!?!), barely-used late-night infomercial exercise equipment, hulking armoires that were bought two years ago as restoration projects but they never got around to them.

BY FRANKLIN SCHNEIDER

WORD ON THE STREET: U STREET

Originally published August, 2013

LOCATION

U street is right at, like, the “beltline” of Northwest, roughly equidistant from most of the other “hot” neighborhoods in the quadrant; if you’re meeting a bunch of friends, it’s the one neighorhood that everyone can agree on. Smashed between Adams Morgan and Dupont, it generally (like most of DC) gets less annoying as it moves east, towards and past 14th St. and on towards Shaw/Bloomingdale, where U Street as a neighborhood basically peters out around 7th.

IS IT EXPENSIVE?

Fudge yes. Living on or even near U Street is like Manhattan-expensive; a one bedroom that you walk into and say, “Ugh, is this it?” will cost you around two grand. (“Seriously, this is it? There’s not another room back there? Wow.”) Even living in a group house with sticky floors and red Solo cups piled in the sink and a toilet that you have to sit carefully upright on or it will tip over is going to run you almost a thousand. Buying is going to require you to breach or at least approach that mythical “seven figures” psychological barrier. Are you prepared to do that? Didn’t think so. You get spooked by non-happy hour drink prices. (I do too.)

AMENITIES

If by amenities, you mean things to do other than eating and/or drinking, brace yourself for disappointment. I think there’s a pay-as-you-go cellphone store around U and 14th? And between 15th and 17th, there are a few vintage shops, a Bang salon and Vida gym, and a couple little-known, excellent Asian groceries (check out Hana, hands down the best Asian grocery in DC; it’s basically like the massive Silver Spring H-Mart crammed into a small studio apartment; and they get fresh produces from the West Coast every week!), but other than that it’s just a nonstop wall of bars and restaurants. Which isn’t a bad thing; drinking and eating are, like, the second and third best pleasures in life. (First is either sex or Xbox 360, depending on the quality of the latest “Call of Duty” map pack.) But yeah, if you’re not into those things, U Street might leave you a little unsatisfied.

STUFF TO DO

As stated above, there’s really just eating and drinking, and since my esteemed colleague has covered the former LINKKKK, I’ll stick to the latter.

As nightlife destinations, Adams Morgan is trashier, H Street is trendier, 14th Street is shinier and newer, Georgetown is douche-ier, but U Street is still the best. If each neighborhood was a female celebrity, AdMo would be Miley Cyrus, H Street would be Zooey Deschanel, 14th Street is Jennifer Lawrence, Georgetown is Lindsay Lohan, and U Street is … Angelina Jolie? (I spent like 25 minutes staring off into space thinking about this. It came down to either Angelina or Winona Ryder.) Anyway, it’s still the best, because it’s continually being renewed and refreshed. Every time I go there, it seems like there’s a new bar to go to, which is great because new bars have the most interesting mix of people. Once a bar hits, like, the six month mark, there’s a self-selected clientele that goes there and this invisible wall of resistance goes up to new people. This is why some people go to massive club-type places; you never have to worry about that passive-aggressive sting of exclusion in a place like that. (But that’s also why huge clubs suck; they’re a completely uncurated, generic experience.)

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On the other hand, there are also some neighborhood stand-bys that you know are always good. Going from east to west, there’s DC9, at 9th and U, which is a great multi-level bar/venue; downstairs you can slouch at the bar and watch television, on the second floor you can either dance or watch a band, and on the roof deck you can mill around aimlessly, shooting glances at that person who’s out of your league while cruelly ignoring every reasonable prospect, because apparently you secretly want to die alone.

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Across U Street is the Velvet Lounge, a black-painted dive (a legitimate dive, not a pretend one; I’m sure you could get hepatitis from the bathrooms) (and I mean that as a compliment) with a small outdoor area and a venue upstairs. Every single person I know with loose and/or nonexistent morals (takes one to know one) says that it’s the best place to go to meet Mr. or Mrs. Right (Now). If you get my drift.

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Next is American Ice Company, technically on V Street, yes, but still. It’s a huge place with a very large patio area and a ton of seating. It might be the best bar in DC right now. I would say more but I’m afraid that I’ll jinx it by putting it out there like that, so I’m just going to move on. (Seriously though, probably the best bar in DC, and the second best bar is a distant second.)

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At 14th and U is Marvin, another massive place that also serves great contemporary soul food; you know it’s good because there’s a really long line there all the time. It’s great for dancing or hanging out, though the polo shirt factor can be unbearably high sometimes. On the dance floor there I once saw a massive guy get into a fight with three smaller guys, who dogpiled him like hyenas attacking a lion on the Discovery Channel – and the big guy won! That’s my Marvin story.

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And finally, at the westernmost tip of U Street that I’ll visit, is Chi-Cha Lounge. I’m not going to artificially whip myself into disingenuous ecstasies about this place, but it’s pretty good. It’s like what you imagined when you were thirteen and thought of a “bar/lounge” – sofas, cushions, dimness. It’s very comfortable for groups, and I guarantee that every single time you go there you’ll see a foreigner so incredibly attractive that you’ll feel like banging your head against the wall until it explodes like an overripe cantaloupe. I’d suggest having another drink instead.

THE NEIGHBORS:

Midlevel career bureaucrats who refuse to move to the suburbs (good on you, but quit calling the cops every time I vomit outside your building at 1am), rich people who “keep it real” (wear flip flops), recent graduates of very good schools who’re paying 1200/month each to “slum it” in a really nice group house and play beer pong for a couple years before they get married and move to Bloomingdale or H Street, people who’ve been living there since the Eighties and still haven’t decided if they’re appalled or thrilled by the way the neighborhood’s changed, lawyers.

WHAT KIND OF STUFF YOU’LL FIND ON THE CURB ON TRASH DAY

Keurig single-serving coffee machines worn out from frequent use, fungus-smelling pairs of those space age running shoes with toes, lots of empty bottles of expensive disgusting trendy liqour (Hypnotiq, Qream), generic but expensively framed posters of random European cities/landmarks (“The Canals of Venice,” “Brussels”), Cuisnart ice-cream makers, not the cheapest tier, but the second-cheapest tier of IKEA furniture.

BY FRANKLIN SCHNEIDER

WORD ON THE STREET: PENN QUARTER

Originally published September, 2013

Ah, Penn Quarter! On one hand, it’s more than just Chinatown; on the other hand, it’s also undeniably a made-up ethnically-neutral name for, let’s face it, Chinatown, one that city planners think is free of vaguely unsavory associations with ten dollar Tag Heuer watches and erectile dysfunction folk remedies that may or may not be made of ground-up tiger parts. It happens to be one of the densest neighborhoods in the city, but also one of the most culturally desolate, unless you think a visit to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum followed by a twelve-dollar beer at a hotel bar is a Stimulating Night In the City ™. It has crazy potential: it also has a Fuddrucker’s. Sigh. Among the Ann Taylor Lofts and CalTorts, though, are some gems. Put in your earplugs and come, let’s explore Chinatow- er, Penn Quarter!

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Chinatown Coffee

The best coffee shop in Penn Quarter and probably the whole city. Unlike most coffee shops, which cultivate an annoying folksy “overstuffed chairs and wall hangings from the Anthropologie discount rack” aesthetic, Chinatown is all exposed brick and industrial finishes. Get yourself a six dollar coffee, sit back, and commence eavesdropping on horrible people’s conversations. (Real exchange I heard there last week: “So now that you’re unemployed, what do you want to do next?” “Hmm … something involving crystals, and people of color.” You can’t make this stuff up, folks!!) The best spot for people watching is up front, on the long wooden pew; during peak hours, when it’s packed full of jittery, overcaffeinated young professionals, it’ll often be vibrating like your old washing machine, the one your mom would sit on for her “back problems.” (“Mommy, why are your eyes rolling back like that?”)

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The Passenger

The bar scene in Penn Quarter is pretty thin; rent is high, and there aren’t a whole lot of local real neighborhood residents. The big apartment buildings in the neighborhood are basically huge dorms for post-college grads, with a 100% annual turnover rate, so there’s not really a “scene.” Still, the Passenger is a legit place to have a beer and fool some attractive members of the opposite sex into thinking that you’re not a complete trainwreck caused by poor parenting and mass media. They have Schlitz tallboys, a rotating menu of craft cocktails, and a bunch of booths. It’s all you need in a bar. Even if it wasn’t the only decent place in Penn Quarter to have a drink, it would still stack up just fine against any theoretical competitors.

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Hogo

Every time I hear someone argue that Washington DC is a legit world-class city, I always think, “if that’s true, why can’t I get a decent meal after ten o’clock at night?” You can’t be a world-class city if your restaurants stop serving before my 60-year-old parents go to sleep. Hogo is the first place to address this embarrassingly provincial shortcoming, serving a full menu right up until closing time. With an ever-changing menu overseen by various big-shot local chefs, this is the place to go if you don’t feel like shoveling back a fifteen-dollar omelet uptown. I recommend the pineapple burger. Just be warned; late night dining may blunt your hangover, but after midnight calories are, like, three times as bad as daytime calories. You will feel fat the next morning, and that’s because you will be fat.

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Goethe-Institut

This German/Austrian/Swiss cultural center, tucked across the street from the American cultural center known as “Hooters,” hosts various film screenings, art openings, and lectures. I saw my first Michael Haneke movie there, several years ago, an experience which left me puzzled, and also unable to watch a summer blockbuster ever after without feeling like someone was grabbing the back of my neck and rubbing my face in a huge pile of manure. Also, do you like attractive Europeans? Of course you do. You’ll meet many of them here. Sure, some Germans look like the stereotype of the pasty sweaty guy in sandals and black socks, but then some of them also look like Diane Kruger.

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Verizon Center

Here’s the thing; once you settle into a career path, get married, and have kids, all the drama and competition just drains right out of your life. It’s not about the struggle anymore, it’s about coasting. That can be tough to accept. Fortunately, society has given us an outlet for our tribal allegiances and competitive passions – sports! Scream passionately as the Washington Wizards “conquer” the visiting team, clutch your armrests as the Capitals play a “do or die” game! Hey, something has to matter – why not something that doesn’t matter at all?

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E Street Cinema

Remember when you were in high school and your pal smoked a joint in your car in the mall parking lot and was like, “dude, you know what would be awesome? A movie theater that had, like, super comfortable seats with lots of leg room, and served every single kind of candy from around the world, and coffee drinks too, and, like, beer, and nachos, and hot dogs, and fancy pretzels, and crab cakes, and organic tea, and European wafers?! And they’d show, like, pretentious art films, but also documentaries, as well as regular-type regular movies, and they’d have midnight showings of cult classics?!” Someone actually built that theater. See, life isn’t all bad!

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Chinatown Express

My esteemed colleague touched on this place already, but this sort-of-obscure gem is my personal favorite. You can watch them making fresh noodles in the window, and for six dollars, you can get an order of fried noodles, or noodle soup. The noodles are perfectly cooked – firm, not too soft – and if you feel a cold coming on, the vegetable noodle soup is guaranteed to cure you. The dumplings are even better, on par with anything New York (the self-proclaimed dumpling capital) has to offer. Make sure you try the broth-filled soup dumplings, as well as the disgusting-looking vats of green sauce on the tables, which looks like ancient curdled salsa but is actually some kind of secret garlic-and-ginger concoction that’s truly the Condiment of the Gods. The interior is a bit shabby, and the service perfunctory, but you’ll have some of the best dumplings you’ll ever eat.

BY FRANKLIN SCHNEIDER

WORD ON THE STREET: CAPITOL HILL

Originally published October, 2013

LOCATION

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.)

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Eastern Market

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!!

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Trusty’s Full-Serve

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.

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Tune Inn
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.

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Peregrine Espresso

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.

THE NEIGHBORS

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