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Adams-Morgan: Swaying to a Multicultural BeatBy Akiba Solomon
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, June 16, 1997
Imagine finding a cross section of the world within a four-block radius. Then live this daydream in Adams-Morgan, the D.C. tourist hub that rocks to a world beat.
"This is a good area. It's very diverse in culture and the people are international," said Anthony Graham, co-owner of the Graham Collection, a figurine shop.
"When I moved here in 1980, people told me this was the [Greenwich] Village of Washington, D.C.," said Ken Ceccucci, manager of the antique shop Retrospective.
Adams-Morgan wasn't always such a multicultural magnet. If you rewind to the early 1950s, it was a predominantly white neighborhood of ritzy townhouses called Lanier Heights.
But the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling irrevocably altered the neighborhood's history. In 1955, two segregated elementary schoolswhite-attended Adams and black-attended Morganwere peacefully integrated, making Washington the first major city to successfully integrate schools. As a symbol of hope, Lanier Heights was renamed Adams-Morgan.
An influx of Latino, Caribbean and African immigrants moved to the area in the 1960s. The boom gave birth to the neighborhood's decidedly diverse flavor. The 1980s ushered in "yuppie" and suburban-driven gentrification, which raised area property values and prices.
Since 1991, when civil unrest rocked the community, Adams-Morgan has been a neighborhood struggling for positive recognition of its sometimes hidden delights. For example, the 20-year-old Adams-Morgan Day Festival each September highlights the neighborhood's diversity with food, crafts and performances.
Despite the neighborhood's very hands-on panhandlers, Adams-Morgan is a must-see for the savvy tourist looking for a little urban adventure.
Adams-Morgan's major commercial strip, beginning at 18th Street and Columbia Road, features lots of restaurants and shops tucked into converted three-story rowhouses. But don't expect to explore at the crack of dawn. Most of the restaurants and boutiques don't open until 11 a.m. or noon. Many don't open at all on Mondays or Tuesdays.
If you want an authentic Adams-Morgan experience during the week, meet the dinner and club crowd in the early evening. If you want to make a day of Adams-Morgan gorging and browsing, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are prime time.
In keeping with its diverse population, an Adams-Morgan restaurant slogan could be "think globally, eat locally." Along 18th Street NW between Columbia and California roads, you can sample a variety of cuisine at a range of prices.
Some of the more popular eateries on this strip include no less than three sit-down Ethiopian restaurantsFasika's, Meskerem and Red Sea. For curried goat and tasty coca bread, try Montego Bay Cafe. If French is your fancy, experience La Fourchette with its famous mural draped across the exterior, or go right next door to Cafe Lautrec.
Walk further up 18th Street to the family-owned El Faro, one of the area's oldest Mexican restaurants. It serves heaping plates and strong margaritas. Get Tex Mex with a contemporary twist at Roxanne.
The 18th Street strip also houses the Adams-Morgan branch of Star of Siam, which features Thai delights and a bevy of curries. Try Saigonnais for Vietnamese flavors. Get an overstuffed menu of Italian cuisine at I Matti. Or enter India Gate for traditional Indian fare.
Belmont Kitchen, on 18th Street near California Road, features contemporary American food. Across the street, popular Tom Tom serves creative pizzas at fancy prices. Nearby Cities' cuisine theme changes with time. And for an award-winning, everchanging menu, walk a block over to Columbia Road near 18th Street to Perry's.
Many of Adams-Morgan's restaurant/bars become small clubs after dinner. On 18th Street between Columbia and California roads you'll find a cross section of styles and sounds.
On the 18th Street strip, the Bukom Café features local reggae bands and a cramped but lively dance floor. The Lion's Den is also home to live conscious and dancehall reggae. Cafe Lautrec features local jazz trios. Go down to basement-based Kala Kala for African hits. Felix hosts live music and a regular cigar and martini night.
On Columbia Road between 18th and 19th streets, experience the long restaurant/bar legacy of Mr. Henry's Adams-Morgan, which regularly features live jazz. On the same block, check out Sagres [Portuguese] Restaurant and Nightclub for Spanish music. And for a slightly more upscale crowd, try the mostly Latin sounds of Habanavillage, also on Columbia Road between 18th and 19th streets.
Hit Chief Ike's Mambo Room on 17th Street and Columbia Road for cheap drinks, pool tables, an eclectic crowdand very little Latin music. Or return to the 18th Street strip between Columbia and California roads for Heaven and Hell, which is split into two levels of sound, including techno and 1980s hits.
For R&B and hip hop, cab or walk several blocks outside Adams-Morgan to neighboring "New U." On U Street between 13th and 14th streets you'll find the popular and fashion-conscious Republic Gardens Restaurant and dance club. Neighboring State of the Union offers live hip hop and reggae and dj'd techno, acid jazz and classic R&B The Songhai Restaurant on 12th and U streets stages live reggae. Kaffa House on 11th and U streets features live hip hop.
If eclectic clothing, jewelry, crafts and antiques make your wallet cry for mercy, your tour won't be complete without some strategic browsing, mostly along 18th Street, between Columbia and California roads. You can dig up inexpensive 1960s and '70s clothes at the Rerun outlet. Keep reaching back with Uniform vintage clothing and furnishings.
Dash to 12th and U streets to uncover 1920s and '30s classics at Mood Indigo. On 17th Street and Columbia Road, snap back to the '90s with Up Against the Wall Outlet's urban chic. Back on the 18th Street strip, feed your high-fashion needs at Betty Ready to Wear.
Also on 18th Street between Columbia and California roads, explore West African-imported children's and adult garb at Kobo's Afrikan Clothiers. Find hand-crafted Indian and Pakistani clothing and accessories across the street at Paula's Imports.For sterling silver rings and things, check out Peruvian Silver House. Shop Oyo's Mini Bazaar for a global selection of colorful beads and trinkets. Or step over to Guatemala House on 17th Street and Columbia Road for Guatemalan sweaters, jewelry and crafts.
You can get lost in 1800 Belmont Arts a three-story cultural shopping complex on 18th Street and Belmont Road. On the first floor you'll find contemporary, African-inspired Kismet Wearable Art Inc. On the second floor, get with the Graham Collection of Black figurines, plates and sculptures. Then stop by the Design Showroom Ltd. for homemade bath oils by Eleuthera Inc., hand-batiked art and clothing by Liani Foster and fine knits by Sagora Fashions. On the third floor, leaf through Pages From the Past for authentic 19th- and 20th-century memorabilia.
Remember the days of diners and drive-ins at Retrospective Inc., on 18th Street, near the corner of Belmont Road. It specializes in 1950s dishes, toasters, posters, furniture, ties and clocks. Find contemporary furniture-as-art right next door at Skynear and Co.
Feed your mind at Yawa Books, a few steps beyond California Road on 18th Street, and at Idle Time Books, on the 18th Street strip. At Yawa, find limited-distribution comic books and magazines along with an exhaustive stock of African-American books and gifts. Idle Time Books delivers a wide variety of secondhand books in stellar condition.
Enter the spirit world through Yemaya y Chango Botanica. This unique shop, located on the 18th Street strip between Columbia and California roads, specializes in tools of La Santeria, the Cuban slavery-induced fusion between Yoruban dieties and Catholic saints.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company