Always a magnet for the pinstripes-and-pearls set, the District is now attracting a fashion-forward faction rather than just the usual Capitol Hill conservatives. Instead of working for the government, they're opening shops and galleries on the once-shunned stretch of 14th Street that connects U Street to the Logan Circle area. In just two years, 14th has evolved from a dreary no-man's-land into a destination for independent spirits.
By Lauren Paige Kennedy
THE BACKSTORY The 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. ignited a three-day firestorm of destruction on and off U Street, an area once hailed as "Black Broadway" (it was a favorite haunt of Duke Ellington and other jazz greats in the 1910's). U Street's 14th Street offshoot is finally bouncing back, fueled by entrepreneurial pioneers undeterred by the occasional empty lot. The only protests they're staging are aimed at keeping the enclave free of cookie-cutter chain stores.
LOCAL FAUNA Newly transplanted young families of every ethnicity, a gay community, and young business owners have taken over old storefronts. "Most of the owners live within blocks of their shops—one more reason we're so committed to seeing this place thrive," says Eric Kole, co-owner of Vastu (1829 14th St.; 202/234-8344), a shop specializing in custom furniture made of aluminum, cork, and microsuede.
THE EPICENTER Café Saint-Ex, where young artists with goatees, retro-chic swingers, and stylish gay men all belly up to the bar for late-night cocktails.
HAMBURGER MARY'S No. 1337; 202/232-7010; brunch for two $30. The juiciest, messiest burgers and the greasiest chile-cheese fries in the District. Sunday brunch is a neighborhood tradition.
SPARKY'S ESPRESSO CAFÉ No. 1720; 202/332-9334; lunch for two $15. The café looks like a postcard of a fifties diner (red pleather booths, checkerboard floors). On weekend nights, fledgling rock bands amp up and aspiring poets share their verse; canvases by local artists are always on display.
THAI TANIC No. 1326A; 202/588-1795; dinner for two $30. The wall-sized mural of cavorting dolphins and goldfish is so kitschy it's cool; the rest of the joint is Caribbean turquoise and ship-hull steel. Aromas of Bangkok waft in from the kitchen: coconut-milk curries, minty spring rolls, and spicy-sweet pad thai.
GO MAMA GO! No. 1809; 202/299-0850. Noi Chudnoff began selling her collection of Japanese ceramics at Eastern Market, an outdoor bazaar on Capitol Hill. Two years ago, she set up shop on 14th, filling her shelves with eclectic Asian objets d'art, furoshiki (crepe) wall hangings, and Indonesian furniture.
MULÉH No. 1831; 202/667-3440. "Modern Zen" is how owner Christopher Reiter describes his Asian-infused recycled-teak dining tables, solid mahogany benches, and trellis-like screens.
TIMOTHY PAUL CARPETS & TEXTILES No. 1404; 202/319-1100. Featuring custom textiles, unusual lighting fixtures, and hard-to-find carpets such as TriBeCa-based Carini Lang's pieces and $20,000 antique Turkish Oushak rugs. The owners will happily assist the design-challenged with decorating tips.
PULP No. 1803; 202/462-7857. The serene space is stocked with one-of-a-kind, handcrafted greeting cardsthat speak to every race, size, shape, and inclination. There's even a "card bar," with dictionaries, writing tools, and swivel seats, inviting patrons to spend an afternoon inscribing messages or just hanging out.
CAFÉ SAINT-EX No. 1847; 202/265-7839; dinner for two $64. Owner Mike Benson's casual American bistro serves simple steaks, risotto, and seared tuna with wasabi sauce, but its yellow walls and dark-wood bar are pure Parisian Latin Quarter. Named for the author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Benson's favorite writer), the restaurant also has a smoky downstairs den with DJ's spinning Kool & the Gang, Edith Piaf, and Moby seven nights a week.
FUSEBOX No. 1412; 202/299-9220. Since opening in 2001, Fusebox has made itself D.C.'s top gallery for emerging artists. This fall, the space mounts "Sculpture Gardens," by photographer Vesna Pavlovic (September 13-October 26).
STUDIO THEATRE 1333 P St. (at 14th St.); 202/332-3300. Works by Neil LaBute, Tom Stoppard, and other contemporary playwrights are produced in this popular theater, which is currently undergoing an $11 million expansion. Two new stages, a lobby, and a marquee entrance on 14th Street will be added to the existing building, even as the regular season commences. Catch this month's staging of Topdog/Underdog, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Suzan-Lori Parks (September 3-October 19).
ON THE SCENE
They may live just blocks from the White House, yet 14th Street residents are anything but right-wing in style. Most common look on the block: downtown denim paired with a vintage item, and a dash of tongue-in-cheek raciness.