Originally published August, 2013
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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