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Exploring Washington, D.C., neighborhoods: 14th Street NW

Step into the one-of-a-kind boutique, and you might momentarily wonder whether you've wandered into an art gallery instead of a clothing store. The racks are spare and almost monochromatic. Few items stray from a narrow palette of grays and blacks, and when they do, they're muted. Of course.

Owner Lori Parkerson curates the shop like an art dealer, down to the music she plays. "Chances are, if you like what you hear when you walk in the door, you're going to like my clothes," she says. (School of Seven Bells was playing one recent afternoon. Are you cool enough?)

Specializing in small, obscure brands such as Wrath Arcane for men and Feral Childe for women, Parkerson says her chic wares -- averaging $120 per item and produced in limited quantities -- are not for those who follow the herd. "You're not going to be running into someone in a bar who's wearing the same thing," she says.

8. Point Chaud Cafe & Crepes

1736 14th St. NW. 202-588-8877.

It doesn't serve alcohol, but Point Chaud (whose name means "hot spot") gets pretty busy on weekends. This hole-in-the-wall creperie and coffee shop offers a long list of both sweet and savory crepes -- including tuna -- to satisfy the Saturday and Sunday brunch crowd. But its late weekend hours (it's open Fridays and Saturdays until midnight) also make it an ideal place to grab a cheap post-bar meal. Hint: The Black Cat is a just stone's throw away.

Rolled up tight like a burrito or folded into a high-end Hot Pocket, the shop's crepes make excellent finger food -- a classy and cultured alternative to a jumbo slice.

9. Home Rule

1807 14th St. NW. 202-797-5544.

You won't find a dining-room table at Home Rule, but you will find the stuff to set it with (along with a staff that knows its merchandise inside and out). Describing his 750-square-foot housewares shop as a "mini department store" -- think kitchen, laundry, bath, bar and office supply store all in one -- co-owner Rod Glover says Home Rule opened in 1999 as an alternative to impersonal chains including Bed, Bath and Beyond and Target. Since then, Glover's eye for beautiful, durable and affordable design -- he's also an artist, and it shows in the shop's impeccable displays -- has helped establish Home Rule's reputation as a place that puts the fun (candy-colored mini-grills, anyone?) back in functional.

10. Black Cat

1811 14th St. NW. 202-667-4490.

Celebrating 17 years in show biz this fall -- including nine at its current location -- the Black Cat rock club has the well-worn feel of a neighborhood hangout. Meaning that the hand-painted tables in the downstairs bar will probably be a little sticky and that no one will be able to remember who first put up that string of Christmas lights that's hanging from the wall. (The anniversary party is Sept. 4; mark your calendars.)

With two upstairs performance spaces (one intimate and one, at 7,000 square feet, not so intimate) and an embrace of acts both old and new, this Cat is full of surprises. In coming weeks, look for appearances by Russian rockers Mumiy Troll, alt-country cutie-pies Those Darlins and the AARP-ready super group the Batusis (featuring a 59-year-old Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls and the Dead Boys' Cheetah Chrome, 55).

11. Bar Pilar

1833 14th St. NW. 202-265-1751.

Named for Ernest Hemingway's fishing boat, this little sister to Cafe Saint-Ex up the block isn't a seafood restaurant. But then again, it isn't just a bar either, despite the name.

Specializing in small plates, it offers, for $9, two pieces of the juiciest buttermilk-fried chicken (with pickles) you've ever tasted. Popeye's may be cheaper -- and only five minutes away -- but you won't find beet salad, brisket sliders and red velvet cupcakes there. Not to mention a great selection of wine, beer and cocktails.

Stop in before or after a visit to the Source. It's just next door.

12. Source

1835 14th St. NW. 202-204-7800.

Home to several resident companies that divvy up the theater season like a time share, the Source is where you'll find the Washington Improv Theater (WIT), a local improvisational comedy troupe along the lines of Chicago's Second City. Check out WIT this Saturday, as it offers "Improvapalooza," a noon-to-midnight marathon of 80 -- count 'em, 80 -- 10-minute skits. (Ten bucks gets you in the door.)

Beginning Aug. 13 and running through Sept. 11, WIT will really strut its stuff with "The Neutrino Video Project." Here's how it works: Armed with props and suggestions provided by the audience -- and accompanied by camera crews -- three four-person teams of actors will take to the streets, shops and restaurants of the neighborhood each evening, creating short, improvised movies in which the actors interact with people. Mere minutes later, the movies will be brought back and played in front of the audience. Wait a minute. Doesn't this sound a little like the 48 Hour Film Project, in which teams race to create a movie over a single weekend? According to WIT managing director Topher Bellavia, it's exactly like that. "Except," he says, "it's more like 40 minutes."

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