Neighborhood in Focus: Adams Morgan

Spend an evening in Adams Morgan, a nightlife neighborhood with good ethnic food and lots of bars.

By: Bekah Grant, Ashley Jacobs, Heather Smithco

THE SCENE
Adams Morgan is located in Northwest DC between Dupont Circle and the National Zoo. The neighborhood’s main drag is the bustling and quirky 18th Street, roughly bound by Columbia Road to the north and Florida Avenue and U Street to the south. Eighteenth Street is lined with bars, clubs, and restaurants, each with its own distinctive vibe. The multiculturalism of the area means a diverse array of dining options, from Mexican to Ethiopian, and the prices tend to be reasonable. On weekend nights, the Metro empties at the Woodley Park Zoo-Adams Morgan stop as young people make the pilgrimage across the Calvert Street Bridge to the crowded nightlife neighborhood.

SHOPPING

Crooked Beat
. This lower-level store is good for music aficionados who think they’ve seen it all; the place is packed with hundreds of hard-to-find albums. Crooked Beat sells new and used LPs and CDs, from independent bands to obscure tracks from major labels. The knowledgeable staff can provide good recommendations.

Idle Time Books. Aptly named, Idle Time is a secondhand bookstore with a pleasant atmosphere and helpful staff. It offers fiction and nonfiction on a variety of topics, but as in any used-book store, browsing takes time. There are also funky greeting cards and a modest CD collection.

Shake Your Booty. This boutique has a loyal fashionista fan base. The clothes straddle high-end and affordable and are generally interesting and well made. The store sells well-known brands such as BCBG and Chinese Laundry. While dresses and shoes are the highlights, you can also find good jewelry.

Smash Records
. This punk-rock store relocated from Georgetown to the space above Hoopla. It features an eclectic mix of punk, alternative, and indie music, as well as a small selection of clothes, posters, shoes, jewelry, bags, and more. This is the place to come for studded belts, hot-pink hair dye, and that 1979 Buzzcocks album you’ve been searching for.

The Tibet Shop. To find this second-story shop, look for the eye-catching purses, clothes, and jewelry hanging on the fence outside. Jewelry is one of the highlights of the store; a good selection of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings ranges from cheap to expensive. Some of the pieces exhibit beautiful Himalayan craftsmanship and could make a stand-out addition to any wardrobe. There’s also a bead section for those feeling inspired to make their own jewelry.

DINING

Cashion’s Eat Place
. A cross between a neighborhood restaurant and a fine-dining establishment, Cashion’s is casual yet upscale. The modern-American menu, which changes daily, recently took on some Greek flavors under the new owner, a former sous chef. The wine list is chosen with care, and the sidewalk tables are prime seating in nice weather. Cashion’s is pricey but one of the few options for food of this caliber in the area.

The Diner
. This neighborhood favorite is as good at noon as it is at 3 AM—the restaurant is open 24 hours, seven days a week. Weekend brunch draws crowds, but the high ceilings prevent claustrophobia. Not surprisingly, the menu boasts traditional diner fare such as buttermilk pancakes, French toast, and cheeseburgers. At night, expect a crowd—and often a line—of bar hopppers in search of chicken fingers and French fries.

Meskerem. Situated in the middle of the main drag, Meskerem is a goof spot to sample Ethiopian cuisine. Keeping with tradition, the food is presented on a common plate, signifying loyalty, family, and friendship, and diners eat without utensils, scooping up the food with pancake-like injera bread. The cuisine is characterized by fragrant spices, slowly simmered meat stews, and excellent vegetarian options.

Mixtec. A family-owned, no-frills restaurant, Mixtec is good for inexpensive, reliable Mexican food. The interior leaves something to be desired, but the cooking is authentic and delicious, the portions are large, and the margaritas are strong—what more could you want?

Perry’s. Nearly unidentifiable from the street, this upstairs Asian and sushi restaurant has a sleek, comfortable interior and a beautiful rooftop deck. The main menu ranges from miso-glazed tofu steak to ginger-konbu short ribs, and entrées run between $16 and $23. The nigiri menu is extensive, with more than 25 options, and the maki are a mix of traditional rolls, such as California and spicy tuna, and rolls on the wild side, such as a fish-and-chips roll that contains flounder, red onion, malt vinegar, and a French fry. Perry’s also has an excellent selection of wines and sakes and features $4 cocktails during happy hour (5:30 to 7:30). The Sunday brunch, during which the waiters are dressed in drag, draws a crowd willing to wait an hour. 

Madam's Organ

BARS

Asylum. With its faux-stone walls, Gothic chandeliers, and crimson drapes on the ceiling, Asylum evokes a medieval vampire’s lair. The small, dark bar frequently hosts local bands. It also offers one of the best drink deals around: During the High Life Countdown on Saturdays, drafts of Miller High Life are 50 cents starting at 5 and go up 50 cents every hour until 11. Happy hour—weekdays 5 to 8—features $4 rail drinks and 50-cent wings.

Black Squirrel
. Named for rare variety of squirrels seen around Washington, this bar stocks more than 70 draft and bottled beers, boasting one of the most extensive beer lists in Adams Morgan. Join the neighborhood crowd at the bar or perch at one of the high tables near the exposed-brick wall. The the old movie posters can be good conversation starters.

Bourbon. The owners transformed an old stone house into this bourbon lover’s paradise. The inside is dark yet warm and inviting, and the main draw—the bar—features a large array of bourbons, whiskies, and Scotches. For those knowledgeable about bourbon, the wide selection can be exciting, but don’t shy away from the place if you’re a neophyte; the cleverly crafted cocktails are tasty.

Grand Central
. This bar draws inspiration from the architecture of Washington’s Metro system; the rounded ceiling and parts of the walls are painted to mimic a station’s interior. Grand Central is a sizeable place with multiple rooms divided among three floors. Expect it to be crowded on weekends with a young crowd. A DJ spins dance tracks Thursday through Saturday, and drink specials are offered every night of the week. We like double-drink night on Mondays, when all drinks come in pint glasses for the same price as a normal-size glass.

Madam’s Organ
. This bar was picked by Playboy as one of the best bars in the United States and the best in DC. The neon sign out front reads, “Sorry, We’re Open,” and a larger-than-life, well-endowed redheaded madam who looks down on visitors is painted on the side of the building. This restaurant/bar offers live music seven nights a week and has a soul-food menu with plenty of spice and deep-fried options.

Napoleon. With its rich black-red-and-gold decor, this upscale bar offers traditional Champagne cocktails and seasonal drinks. Visit during happy hour—Sunday through Thursday 5 to 8—and many drinks are half price. Pair your bubbly with escargots ($8) or a savory crepe ($7 to $11). Or stop by on the weekend for the Parisian-inspired brunch of egg dishes and sweet crepes. Complete your meal with a mimosa or Bellini.

Pharmacy Bar
. Normally we advise steering clear of Adams Morgan on weekends unless you enjoy marauding crowds, but we’ll make an exception for Pharmacy Bar. The themed bar (pill bottles and medicine cabinets decorate the space) is small and often crowded with hipsters and bike messengers. To pass the time, you can play Buck Hunter or tabletop Pac-Man, listen to the great jukebox, or grab a stool in the window overlooking 18th Street.

The Reef. A bar with a loose ocean theme, the Reef is a three-level space—two inside floors and a rooftop deck—that features fish tanks full of ocean life. A large bar is in the middle of the second floor, and tables and booths are scattered around the edge of the room. If you’re lucky enough to claim one, the big squishy booths are a great home base when the bar gets crowded. The rooftop is the main draw, but if there are too many people, bouncers will institute a one-out/one-in policy.

Toledo Lounge. This Ohio-themed dive is a local favorite. Opened by “refugees from the political scene,” the owners, a pair of sisters, have created a space where politicians, students, tourists, and artists alike enjoy the unpretentious neighborhood vibe. From the funky interior to the top-notch happy-hour specials to the delicious bar food, Toledo Lounge is worth a visit.

Ventnor Sports Cafe. Sports fans enjoy to this multilevel bar in the center of Adams Morgan. Filled with numerous TVs, it’s a good place to catch the sporting event of your choice while munching on a free bag of popcorn. With daily food and drink specials, Ventnor’s offers good deals on traditional bar food such as 35-cent wings on Mondays and half-price burgers on Tuesdays. Can’t find a game you want to watch? Take a spin playing one of the Nintendo Wiis or multiple board games for free. 

The Diner in Adams Morgan

ENTERTAINMENT

Columbia Station. Jazz and blues fans can get a nightly fix at this music venue. Local musicians, such as the Bruce Robinson Quartet and Sahara, are featured regularly. The bar/restaurant’s subdued lighting and kitschy displays (think brass instruments as decor) create a homey and relaxed atmosphere. An all-American menu offers appetizers, burgers, and pasta.

DC Arts Center
. Providing a venue for local visual and performance artists to showcase their work, DCAC prides itself on being Washington’s alternative gallery for emerging talent. It opened in the late 1980s with the (rent free!) acquisition of the second floors of two adjoining townhouses. The center eventually remodeled the space to form larger rooms for exhibits and created a theater in what used to be the garage. Today, the DC Arts Center offers hundreds of artist showcases and everything from one-act plays to standup comedy.

Peyote Karaoke Cafe
. Peyote Karaoke Cafe is small and easy to miss. Located in the basement room beneath Roxanne, Spaghetti Garden, and the Brass Monkey, Peyote is open for karaoke Thursday through Saturday. It attracts diverse patrons who assemble to sing their hearts out in front of friends and like-minded strangers. Tunes such as “Sweet Caroline” and “Piano Man” are favorites.

Soussi. For those in search of a relaxing evening surrounded by cushions, fragrant smoke, and Arab music, try a hookah bar. Soussi provides hookahs alongside beer and North African-inspired food. Try one of the flavored shishas, and enjoy the communal experience.

Tryst. During the week, coffee and beer drinkers come together at Tryst, a spacious and intimate coffeehouse/bar/lounge, to enjoy jazz performances. The schedule rarely changes, so expect to see the Will Rast Trio on Mondays, the Peter Adelman Quartet on Tuesdays, and the LoveSomeThing Jazz Trio on Wednesdays. Each show begins at 8.

GREAT ITINERARY

Adams Morgan is liveliest at night, so we recommend ending a day in Washington with a visit to this neighborhood. Start with a drink at L’Enfant Cafe during happy hour (Monday through Friday 6 to 7:30, Saturday and Sunday starting at 4:30). Specials include $4 Stella Artois drafts and rail drinks and $5 house wines. On Tuesday nights, there’s a happy-hour bonus: All Belgian beers—Chimay, Delirium Tremens, de Koninck, and more—are half price.

Next, peruse the CD collection at Crooked Beat or order a hookah and a few appetizers at Soussi. Don’t fill up, though, because you’re headed to Pasta Mia for a hearty Italian meal. Except Sunday and Monday, when the restaurant is closed, count on a line at this red-checkered-tablecloth spot. It’s worth it, though, if you like heaping bowls of pasta, such as our favorite, gnocchi in Gorgonzola sauce. Have a carafe of house wine and enjoy some good conversation.

After dinner, head to Bedrock Billiards to work off your meal with a few rounds of pool. If billiards aren’t your bag, there’s also shuffleboard and darts. Pool and shuffleboard are $6 to $20 an hour, depending on when you play and the number of players. The draft-beer selection at this basement bar includes Guinness, Redhook IPA, Smithwicks, Boddington’s Strongbow Cider, and more.

End your night at the Diner for a late-night snack. Or, if you’re up for a sweet treat, make a pit stop at Locolat, a Belgian bakery and confections shop. Sample house-made truffles, filled chocolates, macaroons, cakes, tortes, and more, or try a cup of liquefied white, dark, or milk chocolate. The shop has a few tables, so feel free to dine in or take your treats to go. Locolat is open until 8 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 on Thursdays, 11 on Fridays and Saturdays, and 5 on Sundays (though they’ll stay open later for patio guests in good weather). Closed Mondays. 

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