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Friday, August 03, 2007

Neighborhood Focus: Adams Morgan
written by Alfredo Flores
Photo credit: Johnathan Quigley
On Tap magazine August 2007

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Adams Morgan's history is as vibrant and colorful as its building's murals, the diversity among its people and in the many ways one can spend time there. Shopping and lounging in the afternoon, or nighttime clubbing and bar hopping in the evening among the dozens of restaurants and drinking holes on and near the 18th Street strip are what makes this the District's liveliest nightlife. Adams Morgan — also called AdMo, The Morgan, The Morg, AM, and many, many other acronyms — has its diverse roots embedded in its title. It's named after the integration of the all-black, and now defunct, Thomas P. Morgan Elementary School and the all-white John Quincy Adams Elementary School in the 1950s. Oh, how times have changed. Once AM was a fashionable suburb of DC with elegant apartment buildings and row houses built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of these same turn-of-the-last-century buildings are still in use today, as establishments that serve jumbo sliced pizza, host drag queen brunches, house cute boutique shops, and hold Jell-O wrestling matches and retro '80s dance-offs. I also hear that cheap beer and tasty martinis might be involved. So, let's get to it! Here's an Adams Morgan native's guide to his beloved neighborhood. TOP OF THE HILL: EAST SIDEColumbia Road from 18th Street toChamplain StreetPeople walking to AM from the Woodley Park-Zoo Adams Morgan Metro for the first time are usually looking for the first sign of nightlife. Welcome to the Adams Mill Bar and Grill — the first such sign before you reach the 18th Street strip. It's the home to many flip cup and beer pong tournaments upstairs, doggie happy hours on its large outdoor patio and lots of single young people looking to mingle indoors.Also, as you cross the bridge into Adam Morgan, you'll come across Mama Ayesha's, a family owned and operated restaurant on Calvert that features truly home-cooked Middle-Eastern food.Notable Columbia Road spots include Chief Ike's Mambo Room — a neighborhood haunt where DJs spin reggae, dancehall, soul and funk and patrons can gulp down $2 PBRs; and Churreria Madrid — tasty paella, churros and bistec. Pasta Mia has epic long lines, but well worth it for cheap but incredibly tasty Italian dishes, 25 in total, most notably green fettuccine with porcini-mushroom sauce and cheese tortellini with tomato-cream sauce. If you're into bicycles, City Bikes has a great selection of high-end bikes and their mechanics are among the city's best. TOP OF THE HILL: WEST SIDEColumbia Road from Belmont Road to18th StreetIf you were to hang a right at Columbia Road at the top of the strip you'll hit one of the longtime tenants of AdMo — Habana Village — arguably the best salsa joint within city limits. Walk inside and it's a blast from the past to ol' Habana: older guys in guayabera shirts, younger gals in short skirts and flashy tops twirling around the old wooden floor and tropical colored walls. While it might be intimidating for newcomers, fear not — just grab a mouth-watering mojito and arrive early for salsa lessons: Wednesdays through Fridays, starting with beginner's lesson at 7:30 p.m., intermediate at 8:30 p.m. One of the best daytime options after a night of salsa dancing (or however you choose to spend your night in AM), is to take part in Perrys' famous Sunday drag queen brunch. Drag queen divas — many of the same ones you would find at the 17th Street drag queen high heel race during Halloween week — serve you in some of the most outlandish outfits you'll ever see. As they sashay back and forth with food, they put on quite a show by shamelessly flirting with customers of all genders — male, female, and not-quite-sure. To top it off, their music selections are on full volume and over the top — think Donna Summer, Whitney Houston and the Eurythmics. Perrys also is home to one of the nicest rooftop decks in the area and is noted for its sushi selection. On the same side of the street is one of DC's best running shoe stores — Fleet Feet, owned by the proud parents of Mayor Adrian Fenty, Phil and Jan. It's been around since 1983, has a knowledgeable staff and allows you to 'test run' their shoes.For tasty Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken and delicious Lomo Saltado — the national dish of Peru (steak strips with specially seasoned French fries)— be sure to check out Granja de Oro. A few doors down is Grill From Ipanema, home to authentic Brazilian cuisine including Bahia-style stews, carne de sol (flank steak) and delicious caipirinhas to wash it all down. TOP OF THE 18TH STREET STRIP18th Street between Columbia andBelmont roadsA popular tourist destination — you've probably heard of this place from features on Playboy, Stuff and Wild On!, as well as DC locals who love blues, folk, jazz and bluegrass music and soul food — is Madam's Organ. It's hard to miss. A "Sorry, we're open" sign welcomes you, a busty "Madam" mural covers its outside wall and has the motto "Where the Beautiful People go to Get Ugly!" Madam is well-known for its redheads drink for half-off Rolling Rock special, and if you like mounted animals on the wall, mismatched furniture, local eclectic pieces of artwork and just a general crazy vibe that sets the Madam apart from most AdMo places, drop by. A very similar concept, but much more chill, can be found at Brazilian bistro Bossa — known for its massive sky-high candles, local photographer showcase, smooth Latin jazz, downtempo DJ sets, and live salsa bands. A sometimes overlooked, but good date place with its small patio, comfy couches, music set at a low enough volume to not interrupt conversation, and a pretty solid mojito to go along with moderately priced tapas and other Latin fair. Across the street is one of the most original concepts for a bar: aquariums with exotic fishes, and lots of them, hence appropriately titled The Reef. It's sort of an oceanography lesson come to life with its coral reef-like dark walls on the first level and the beautiful blue and green hues and spacious second level where the aquariums are impeccably kept with vibrant colored fish. It's Adams Morgan's largest bar, with a huge rooftop deck with a terrific view of Adams Morgan, and has one of its finest beer on tap selections — 16 total, and always rotating. Be sure to try The Reef's signature Belgium Sunrise — a deliciously tart mix of Allagash White layered on top with Kasteel St. Louis Framboise. Food-wise it's all free-range meats and poultry, organic produce and sustainable fish — all very good and at a fair price, particularly their bison burger hemp seed hummus. In the mood for something else? Try the Angry Inch, a bar full of energy. For great late-night nosh try Julia's Empanadas, a pretty good bang for the buck, and the notoriously famous Adams Morgan jumbo slice pizza; which is claimed to be sold at numerous locations through the strip (even as far south as U Street), but only one can boast it's the original and best — Pizza Mart. For higher-end late night bites there's The Diner and Tryst Coffeehouse and Bar — sister restaurants that share the same owner and are located two doors from each other. Tryst is a jewel of a coffeehouse/bar with some of the funkiest couches and best pastry and coffee selections in the city. The DINER has a similar menu and drink selection, with more chairs than couches, brunch-type food served 24/7 and a pretty good Bloody Mary. Around this area a couple of newer spots — 18th & Red and Grand Central. Both have a good reputation of being top places to go. Hungry for something different? How about Jyoti Indian Cuisine, decorated with carefully chosen items from India, the food is made with authentic spices from India kept warm served on a Kadai with a candle underneath.One of the cooler boutiques in the city also is on this block — Shake Your Booty. Booty has unique and rare footwear from David Aaron, Rampage and Hype. Another can't-miss mural while strolling down AM is the one that replicates Parisian artist Toulouse-Lautrec's portrait of singer Aristide Bruant — an unmistakable Adams Morgan landmark with its yellow backdrop and Bruant's signature black hat and vibrant red scarf. The mural envelopes the aptly named Cafe Toulouse, a quality French bistro that has blues and jazz music Thursday through Saturday. In contrast are the skulls hanging on the wall at DC's premier biker/Goth bar Asylum. For the past 10 years it's held the infamous Miller High Life Countdown on Saturdays, with High Life going for a quarter at 5 p.m. and going up 50 cents every hour. Also check their online calendar for their next apple sauce, pumpkin pie or Jell-O female wrestling contest; and bikini motorcycle washes. Speaking of Jell-O — another bargain is the $1 Jell-O shooters when the big light bulb lights up inside Millie and Al's. Another deal is the "when it rains, it pours" special at Toledo Lounge — i.e., rainy Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays get you $2 draft beers. Something more upscale? Try the quality martinis and dishes at sister restaurants Chloe and Saki — the first serving a delicious Jumbo Lump Crab Cocktail and tasty mussels; the latter serving $1 negri and half-priced salmon teriyaki during happy hour. There's also the Left Bank, a fine French Restaurant. And to get a sports fix, visit Ventnor Sports Cafe.Another pair of sister establishments — Amsterdam Falafel Shop and M'Dawg Haute Dogs — sit right across the street from one another. Amsterdam is the best falafel in town because you make it. They give you a pita pocket, and it's up to you what 20 toppings you want: beets, cabbage, herb sauce, eggplant puree. M'Dawg boasts the $20 Kobe Bryant, the "Bentley" of all dogs, made with exquisite Wagyu beef, a Kobe-style beef known for its tenderness, marbling characteristics and juiciness (and hefty $150/pound price tag). Sister clubs Felix and Spy Lounge both have lines that stretch down 18th Street on weekends, and both feature sleek interiors reminiscent of Miami and New York nightclubs. Spy is a much smaller lounge, and somewhat more exclusive, while Felix has live funk or jazz music on the weekends. Be sure to try the Felix Breeze (Stoli Strasberi with strawberry puree), Mango Caipirinha, Felix Spring Punch (Grey Goose and berry liquor) and the Lotus (Absolut Vanilla and Lychee Puree). With a martini lineup like this, it's no wonder these two lounges host DC's best James Bond-themed parties. BOTTOM OF THE 18THSTREET STRIP18th Street between Belmont Road andFlorida Avenue While the top half of the strip can boast the vast majority of AM's restaurants and bars in a very compact space, there are some hidden treasures in the more spread out bottom portion. Before continuing down the strip, visit Stetson's, a nice neighborhood bar. Bourbon found a niche that previously had been missing in Adams Morgan: a hip bourbon and spirits bar. To no surprise, this bar has 70 kinds of bourbon in stock, including dozens of Kentucky bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys; as well as a dozen wines and a pretty good selection of draft and bottle beers, including Magic Hat and Blue Moon. An anchor of AM at 18th and Kalorama, Soussi has a homey, lived-in feel to it, even though it's been in existence for only five years. It has influences from North Africa, France and Belgium in its vibe, food, hookahs and drinks. Popular dishes include Mahi-Mahi, Lamb Couscous, Steak Pommes Frites, and Jamal's Penne served with white wine butter. Also be sure to check out L'Enfant, a European-style cafe/bar with a large patio. A different type of homey-feel is the authentic décor and cuisine of Casa Oaxaca — a new addition to AM and one of the very few authentic Mexican restaurants in the city. Be sure to try one of their seven moles, the cooked sauces that the Oaxaca Mexican region is best known for. Yet another place with a homey-feel, albeit because of the fact it's been there for a decade and not much has changed since, is the Common Share — home to $2 beers, pitchers for a few bucks more, and the best martini special you'll ever find — $2 on Saturdays before 10 p.m. Also in the area is Bobby Lew's, a new place that has drawn its own following for being a cool neieghborhood bar. If you're looking for an early start to the weekend, few places can match the fun that is the '80s Dance Party in the upstairs "Heaven" portion of Club Heaven and Hell on Thursdays. Get there early for the buckets of Corona and tequila shots combo, and to avoid what is usually a pretty long line to get in. Speaking of retro, albeit slightly earlier than the '80s, is Meeps & Aunt Neensie's Fashionette — one of DC's longest-running vintage shops, with particular focus on styling from the '40s through the 1970s. There also is a fair amount of "local specific" finds from local designers, such as a 'Debbie Does DC' T-shirt. Well there you have it, this has been one man's version of his AM. I'm sure I'll see you in AdMo soon! For more info on Club Heaven & Hell, see this month's bar of the month feature: For more info on Madams Organ, see this month's venue of the month feature: