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Dupont Circle: Where Art and Eccentricity MeetBy Sascha Segan
Washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 17, 1997
Dupont Circle radiates art, culture and eccentric vitality.
Openly gay couples celebrate in a raucous summer Gay Pride Parade and a Halloween Drag Race. On sunny spring days, a brass band plays outside the Dupont Circle Metro station and an occasional free-lance horn player sets up on Q Street.
Teenagers with pierced lips and threadbare jackets juggle colorful sticks and huddle in doorways. Twenty- and thirty-somethings fill the sidewalk cafes on 17th Street.
"Behold our glory," laughed David Sherman, a proofreader from Takoma Park who comes to play chess in Dupont Circle "every nice day."
The Circle's original old-money residents might be shocked to see it today. Fabulous mansions were built in this Northwest Washington neighborhood in the 1880s and 1890s. But by the 1940s, the wealthy had moved further north and west and their mansions had devolved into boarding houses for returning war veterans.
Dupont became a bohemian zone, a place for sketch artists and beat poets.
Washington's hippies played their guitars on the Circle's grass in the '60s; attracted by the liberal atmosphere, gay people moved to the neighborhood in droves. By the 1980s, young professionals were added to the mix.
The result today is a social goulash of yuppies, gay and straight; a few young families and long-term residents.
The best way to get to Dupont Circle is Metrorail's Red Line, which stops on the Connecticut Avenue commercial strip.
Connecticut Avenue NW from O to Kalorama streets is one of Dupont's three main drags. The others are 17th Street NW from P to S streets and P Street NW from 20th to 23rd streets.
If you insist on driving to Dupont Circle, prepare to be confused. Traffic patterns are whimsical, one-way streets and diagonal intersections abound, and parking can be hard to find.
Dupont's Woolly Mammoth Theatre (1401 Church St. NW, (202) 393-3939) is Washington's place to find "off-Broadway" independent plays. The Church Street Theater (1742 Church St. NW, (202) 265-3767) also shows small plays, many catering to a gay audience.
Theater J at the Jewish Community Center (16th & Q streets NW, (202) 775-1765) stages Jewish-themed shows.
Dupont's numerous museums dot side streets and can be hard to find. The neighborhood's must-see is the Phillips Collection (1600 21st St. NW, (202) 387-2151). It's one of the city's two premier private art museums. The other is the Corcoran on the mall.
The Phillips showcases heavy hitters, ranging from paintings from French Impressionists to photos from Walker Evans.
The Textile Museum (2320 S St. NW, (202) 667-0441) is one of the few museums in the nation devoted entirely to fabric design. It's next door to the Woodrow Wilson House (2340 S St. NW, (202) 387-4062), which is kept in period style.
Wilson retired to the house in 1921, and after his death his wife kept the furnishings pristine until turning it over to the National Trust for Historic Preservation upon her death in 1961.
It's difficult to walk two blocks in Dupont Circle without stumbling over a small private art gallery. Just walk up Connecticut Avenue, then go west on R and California streets, to find several.
While walking, check out Dupont Circle's architecture. You'll find some of the most beautiful homes in the city.
Northeast of the Circle, modest middle-class homes display beautiful turrets and stained glass. West of Connecticut Avenue and north of R Street, gorgeous mansions abound. Many are owned by foreign governments; try playing name-that-flag on S Street between Connecticut and 24th.
Some of Dupont Circle's dozens of galleries include:
Books, Soundtracks and Knickknacks
Book-lovers can't visit the neighborhood without dropping by Kramerbooks (1517 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 387-1400), a bookstore, cafe and general hangout. It's open all night on the weekends.
Super Crown (One Dupont Circle, (202) 319-1374) delivers many of the same titles at lower prices, but without the atmosphere.
Used book stores have both low prices and atmosphere. Niel's (1615 17th Street NW, (202) 483-4737) is bright, airy and a pleasure to browse, but Second Story Books (2000 P St. NW, (202) 659-8884) has a bigger selection.
Several specialty bookstores deserve note: Lambda Rising (1625 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 462-6969) sells an excellent variety of gay-themed books in a gay-friendly atmosphere. Mystery Books (1715 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 483-1600) lives up to its name.
Vertigo Books (1337 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 429-9272) has an African American theme. Lammas (1426 21st St. NW, (202) 775-8218) sells books by and for women, while the homesick can find the St. Louis Post Dispatch or even the Johannesburg Star at The Newsroom (1753 Connecticut Ave., (202) 332-1489).
Soundtracks to enhance your reading experience can be found at Melody Record Shop (1623 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 232-4002) or Kemp Mill Music (1518 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 332-8247).
Phantasmagoria (1619 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 462-8886) sells used records and has an impressive collection of vinyl.
Visit the small, quirky stores lining Connecticut Avenue to find unusual knickknacks.
Outlook (1706 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 745-1469) sits across from Llambda Rising and shares its perspective. Ginza (1721 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 331-7991) sells all things Japanese, from lacquer boxes to comic books.
And if a disguise becomes necessary, Backstage (2101 P St. NW, (202) 775-1488) can provide.
Coffee and Food
Take your book to Teaism, the Pop Stop (1513 17th St. NW, 328-0880) or Jolt 'N Bolt (1918 18th St. NW, (202) 232-0077).
Teaism serves excellent teas and basic Asian-themed food in a contemplative atmosphere.
The Pop Stop serves coffee, tea and baked goods in a multicolored old rowhouse full of mismatched but comfy chairs.
Jolt 'N Bolt has a patio and excellent coffee and cakes.
Another quintessential Dupont Circle experience is getting a loaf of bread from Firehook Bakery (1909 Q St. NW, (202) 588-9296) and some cheese from Marvelous Market (1514 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 986-2222). Enjoy them while watching the human parade in the Circle. Firehook makes crusty, tasty specialty breads, such as apple-walnut, that are a meal in themselves.
For more substantial meals, the Connecticut Avenue and 17th Street corridors are wall-to-wall restaurants: Thai, Greek, Mexican, Italian, steakhouses, you name it.
Restaurant Nora is one of Washington's landmark restaurants and a must-go if you have the budget for it. Chef Nora Pouillon's brand of organic American cuisine has received rave reviews.
City Lights of China serves celestial-quality food from the Celestial Kingdom.
Ruth's Chris Steak House (1801 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 797-0033) delivers massive slabs of beef in a stylish atmosphere.
Trumpets, which shares space with a gay dance club, has great food and an imaginative menu.
Leave room for ice cream at Larry's (1633 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 234-2690), where original flavors have imaginative names like Cleopatra and Ecstasy.
If you're looking to go dancing, Lulu's (2121 M St. NW, (202) 861-5858) parties until 2:40 a.m. with '60s to '80s music. The Cellar (2100 M St. NW, (202) 457-8180) is another popular dance club, with a younger crowd and music.
Gay visitors can stop first at the Circle (1629 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 462-5575), a three-story bar and club. JR's Bar & Grill (1519 17th St. NW, (202) 328-0090) is cozier. The forbidding-looking Badlands (1415 22nd St. NW, (202) 296-0505) has a hot dance scene.
Gay travelers are encouraged to ask at Lambda Rising for more information about night life.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company