For years, the intersection of 14th and U streets NW seemed to symbolize all that could go wrong in a neighborhood.
It was the birthplace of the devastating riots of 1968, which left burned-out buildings and blight in their wake. In more recent years, it was visited by drugs and violence. Then came Metro construction, which discouraged new businesses from opening and forced some of the old ones to close.
Last summer, Jason Kim and his three brothers stood on the sidewalk at 14th and U and looked at a long-vacant liquor store. Instead of a reminder of the riots, they saw a future restaurant, one they predicted would draw customers over the broken streets and past the other boarded buildings.
Hogs on the Hill, one in a chain of eight barbecue restaurants, opened in November, and the prediction proved correct.
"This is our very best location," Kim said recently of the turn-of-the-century building, renovated at a cost of $200,000. "Within a month, sales here topped all of our restaurants."
Business has been so brisk, in fact, that Kim extended the restaurant's hours until 1 a.m.
Two doors away, an Ethiopian restaurant named Langano opened for business in late December. It too stays open late -- until 4 a.m. on weekends.
Night life -- the legal kind that offers good food, drink and a place to socialize -- has begun to return to 14th and U streets, once the heart of the city's most affluent black neighborhood, where top-name nightclubs, first-run movie houses and well-known restaurants created a "Black Broadway."
Jackie Hill and her 5-year-old daughter, Maleka, were among the diners at Hogs on the Hill one recent evening. They live outside the neighborhood but were drawn to the restaurant as they passed by.
"In a neighborhood like this, bright lights are the answer," she said. "I would not have come in here if it had been a dark place."
That same night, neighborhood residents Michael Farr and Gary Yehl waited in line for their takeout dinners. Farr predicted that more businesses would open soon.
"People hear this address and they are afraid to come here, but that will change with the Metro opening," he said. "The area is changing. It will be more like Adams-Morgan."
That comparison doesn't have much appeal for Robert Wilson and Michelle Fondas. "We are starting to see changes in these blocks," Fondas said as they dined at Langano. "This is very nice, but I hope it doesn't mean the neighborhood will become another Adams-Morgan."
It was, in fact, the proximity to Adams-Morgan -- a crowded, ethnically diverse neighborhood about a mile away -- that led Langano owners Dori Girma and Kiflu Shimiles to take a 15-year lease on their narrow building.
"We wanted to open in Adams-Morgan, but the prices were too high and there is no parking," Shimiles said. "We see this as a growing area with none of the problems of Adams-Morgan. And we are near enough that people won't mind coming over here."
Still, the revival is in its early stages, and some businesses that have given the historic intersection a try have not survived. The Duck Wong Express, across the street from Langano, closed several months ago, Shimiles said. And next door to Langano, Ben Nobakht closed his dress shop after his entire stock was stolen three times in one year.
And not every businessperson feels secure enough about the area to stay open into the night.
Nan Kim, the manager of a Subway fast-food shop, said she has no intention of keeping late hours at her store, which opened two years ago on 14th just north of U Street.
"We have had lots of problems here," said Kim, who is not related to Hogs on the Hill's owners. "It is too dangerous to be open after 9 p.m."
William Anderson, who works at the newly opened U-Best cleaners across from Hogs on the Hill, said he knows from personal experience why people have been afraid of 14th and U streets for so long. He said that at one time, he was part of the problem.
"I used to be a dealer," he said. "Used to be until I met a good woman. She gave me reason to be a better person."
Anderson, now 46 and living in Northeast, said he remembers his childhood neighborhood changing after the riots. "People just didn't care what you did," he said. "The dealers moved in and the people moved out."
Now, he said, he's pleased to see that change is coming. "There is definitely a better element here now," he said.