Best of U Street
Vintage shops, live music, craft cocktails, and more in this burgeoning neighborhood.
1 The BrixtonThe Brixton. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
In recent years, restaurateur brothers Eric and Ian Hilton have become kings of the U Street corridor, opening places at warp speed. The Brixton, their shiny new megapub, became an instant hot spot this summer thanks to its fabulous roof deck. After a rocky start in the kitchen, the Brit-inspired fare—such as fish and chips with a terrific aïoli made tangy with malt vinegar—is now nearly as much of a draw. 901 U St., NW; 202-560-5045.
The area around Ninth and U streets is informally known as Little Ethiopia, and this sunshine-yellow dining room is one of our favorite spots to unfurl a roll of injera, the thin, slightly tangy bread offered in place of silverware. Use it to dig into doro wat, a chicken stew made crimson with the hot pepper known as berbere, or the excellent vegetarian platter, heaped with colorful salads and purées that taste as vivid as they look. 1942 Ninth St., NW; 202-232-7600.
3 Dr. K’s VintageDr. K’s Vintage. Photograph by Yassine El Mansouri.
Collector Somkiat Vamkerd never fails to impress with his Western-rocker finds in this menswear-heavy vintage shop. Along with a wall of combat boots and oxfords, there are overflowing racks of leather, tweed, and wool in dark, autumnal tones. Women’s items occasionally show up, too; we recently spotted some pretty chiffon blouses and cool leather handbags. 1534 U St., NW; 240-888-6284.
4 Fast Gourmet
A gas station is generally not the best place to find yourself in the middle of the night, but this isn’t just any gas station. Inside, a sleek sandwich counter turns out Cubanos, barbecue-chicken sandwiches, and chivitos—the hulking Uruguayan sandwiches loaded with beef tenderloin, bacon, ham, and eggs. All are tailor-made for staving off a hangover. Accordingly, the place is open late, including till 5 am Friday and Saturday nights. 1400 W St., NW; 202-448-9217.
GoodWood. Photograph by Andrew Propp.
Greeted by the smell of lavender upon entering this homey antiques store and boutique, you’ll need only walk a few feet to discover that the aroma comes from burning candles by California’s Blithe and Bonny—whose hand creams, fragrances, and dish soaps also line the shelves. Beautiful reclaimed furniture and accessories—from tall wooden chests to birdcages to brass candlesticks—take center stage, but there’s also a small selection of clothing, such as peplum tops, lace skirts, and jacquard prints from Corey Lynn Calter’s girly clothing line, as well as vintage men’s ties. 1428 U St., NW; 202-986-3640.
Interior designer Yvette Freeman brings a sharp eye for vintage and antique finds to this 18-month-old shop, which she calls a “Parisian-style flea market.” The mix includes traditional and modern furnishings—some of which Freeman dresses up with vibrant paint colors and fabric patterns—and stylish, often playful accessories: Union Jack throw pillows, old maps and globes, the occasional pair of antlers to hang on the wall. 1522 U St., NW; 571-277-5245.
Photograph courtesy of Ginger Root Design.
7 Ginger Root Design
We’ve long been fans of Erin Derge and Kristen McCoy, the duo behind Ginger Root Design. Home to one-of-a-kind items crafted almost exclusively by local designers, the newly expanded boutique sells colorful wallets and clutches made of salvaged leather by the local label Catherinette. Also available are delicate pieces by jewelry maker Jennifer Jeremias and a selection of Ginger Root’s signature neckties, displayed alongside vintage dresses and blazers that can be tailored in the studio upstairs. 1530 U St., NW; 202-567-7668.
Owner Greg Grammen caters to a distinct, outdoorsy-hip style at Federal, the more grown-up cousin to Palace 5ive next door. Neat stacks of house-brand tees, flannel shirts, and vintage Levi’s complement the slick leather boots and colorful Pendleton backpacks. To complete the rugged yet polished look, there are hair pomades, face washes, and shaving products by Baxter of California, a fittingly masculine brand. 2216 14th St., NW; 202-518-3375.
9 Marvin and the GibsonThe Gibson. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
Marvin was Eric and Ian Hilton’s first restaurant in the neighborhood and remains their most ambitious. Southern and Belgian influences rule the kitchen—the place is named for singer Marvin Gaye, who grew up in DC and briefly lived in Belgium—which turns out chicken and waffles and chicken-fried oysters as deftly as it does Gruyère-capped onion soup and moules frites.
Hiding behind an unmarked entrance next door is the retro-elegant Gibson, another Hilton creation, which looks like a place Dorothy Parker would love. You might have to wait for a scarlet booth or barstool (no standing allowed) and the meticulously measured antique cocktails can take upward of 15 minutes to make, but it’s worth it—this is one of the most romantic drink spots in DC. Marvin, 2007 14th St., NW, 202-797-7171; the Gibson, 2009 14th St., NW, 202-232-2156.
10 Off Road Indoor Cycling
The second floor of this new cycling studio is an inspiring place to sweat it out, with floor-to-ceiling windows, exposed brick, new Schwinn bikes, and a virtual ride projected in the front of the room. A first-floor studio offers cross-training classes including boxing, circuit training, and TRX. Classes are $20. 905 U St., NW; 202-681-1319.
The 9:30 Club. Photograph by Dustin Whitlow.
11 9:30 CluB
The 9:30 Club emerged in the 1980s as the center of Washington’s alternative-music scene and has remained there ever since, regularly selling out shows in its standing-room-only, 1,200-capacity concert space. This month features the Vaccines, an up-and-coming Brit indie band (February 1), and two concerts by the alt-bluegrass troupe Punch Brothers (February 7 and 8). 815 V St., NW; 202-265-0930.
12 Tacos el Chilango
A good taco used to be hard to find in these parts. No more, thanks to this six-month-old sliver of a taco shop, a spinoff of an Arlington food truck. Mexico City native—and second-generation taqueria owner—Juan Antonio Santacruz fills his double-ply corn tortillas with such boldly flavored meats as crumbly chorizo and pastor-style pork with pineapple. Vegetarians are well-served with pepper, mushroom, and avocado tacos gooey with Oaxacan cheese. 1119 V St., NW; 202-986-3030.
This article appears in the February 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.