Search comes up empty for Manhattan on the Potomac

By John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 19, 2010; B03

"Manhattan on the Potomac: It's Not So Far Away"

-- headline in Rosslyn magazine, published by Rosslyn Renaissance and the Rosslyn Business Improvement District

I emerged from the subway with that mixture of anticipation and dread I always feel upon visiting a big, bustling city. Anticipation because of the myriad wonderments the metropolis offers, dread because I'm always worried that some big-city sharpie will prey on this rube from the provinces. I pondered putting my wallet in my underwear but decided against it (it makes financial transactions awkward). I noted the time of the last train from the station (11:57 p.m.) and strode out onto North Moore Street, girding myself for sensory overload.

The towers of Washington's only skyline rose around me. The lights of the WJLA zipper rounded the corner in Times Square fashion. But where were the hustlers? The bootleg DVD vendors? The Naked Cowboy? There was not even a Naked GS-13. But perhaps the night was young.

Whenever I'm in Manhattan I try to take in a show, and I behaved no differently in Rosslyn. The theater district is on North Kent Street, and it was to there that I hied, to Synetic Theater's production of "Kafka's Metamorphosis."

The ticket was $40, a bargain when I think of how much I paid for "Miss Saigon." Since curtain wasn't for half an hour, I decided to have a quick drink. I don't know about you, but if I'm going to (SPOILER ALERT) watch a man turn into a bug, I deserve to have necked at least one beer. I considered asking where the nearest watering hole was but decided to let serendipity be my guide.

Serendipity let me down. I walked the rectangle that is Wilson Boulevard, North Lynn, 19th and North Kent streets without encountering anything other than Chipotle, Starbucks, Chopt . . . My heart rose briefly when I saw a sign for 7 Cleaners. I thought it might be one of those concept bars, a gritty unfinished space with an industrial vibe and drinks served in old Windex bottles. But, no, it was a dry cleaners. And it was closed.

The Synetic show was interesting. I guess if it had been on Broadway, it would have been called "Cockroach!" and featured singing, dancing and a lobby full of souvenir Gregor Samsa dolls.

It was now 9:30, probably too early for the most fashionable boƮtes to have much of a crowd, but I was hungry and thirsty. I settled into a sidewalk table at Piola, a pizzeria (with a location in New York, I noted). Outside the Asian restaurant next door, a waiter was noisily chaining chairs together, lest they disappear overnight.

Ah, Rosslyn pizza! There's nothing quite like it: perfect at the edges of the crust, watery and undercooked in the center.

My bill paid, I went in search of nightlife. But where? I walked west on Wilson and saw the Rhodeside Grill, but, consulting the map in the back of my copy of Rosslyn magazine, I realized it was not in Rosslyn. I was staying strictly inside the orange border on my map.

I hailed a cab, hopped in and explained to the driver that Rosslyn magazine had called his fair city (his "fare" city, if you will) "Manhattan on the Potomac."

He made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a laugh, then said, "Manhattan? No."

I had heard good things about a bar called Continental, so I asked to be taken there. Before going in, I decided to stroll in Rosslyn's version of Central Park, an oasis of green called Gateway Park that's built over Interstate 66. But a sign read: "Open from sunrise until 1/2 hour after sunset. No trespassing at other times."

There were plenty of tables to choose from at Continental. I sat at the bar. "We have a big happy-hour crowd," explained the bartender, Megan Hamlin.

A man in dreadlocks saw the Rosslyn magazine I was clutching. "They slipped that under my door," he said between sips at a lager. " 'Manhattan on the Potomac' -- that's a horrible analogy."

He explained that he lives in an apartment a few blocks away. He'd never been to Manhattan, he said, but he had a sense of it. He liked Rosslyn but said, "Let's have appreciation and pride for who we are. The Potomac isn't the Hudson River, so why force it?"

My own beer drained, I wanted to gaze down at Rosslyn from one of its skyscrapers, only to find them locked tight. JBG is building enormous twin towers, one with a public observation level, but they won't be finished for three years. I didn't have time to wait around -- the last train was leaving -- but I'll be back to the Big, um, Blueberry!

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