For a long time, there were only a handful of reasons to visit Brookland: To take in a performance at Dance Place; to study at Catholic or Trinity universities; or to worship at the many religious centers in “Little Rome,” such as the Franciscan Monastery or the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Restaurants and retail you’d go across town for? Not really.
In recent years, though, development has brought reason to reexamine the neighborhood. The Monroe Street Market, above, and its hundreds of apartments opened last year, with a growing number of restaurants and the popular Arts Walk, a pedestrianized avenue of artist studios and shops used for public gatherings, including a weekly farmers market. (Despite the word “BROOKLAND” prominently painted on the buildings, it’s technically in neighboring Edgewood.) Farther from the Brookland Metro station, the popular main drag of 12th Street NE welcomed four new restaurants and bars in 2014, meaning residents don’t have to travel to find family-friendly brunches and live music.
If you haven’t made the trip to Brookland in a while, or if you’ve never found a reason to explore it, there’s no time like the present. Whether you’re looking to pick up a handmade birthday present, shop for a retro skirt or just grab a beer in a good-looking bar, this is the place to go right now.
Dance Place opened 34 years ago in Adams Morgan as a community studio and theater. Since moving to Brookland in 1986, it has grown to host after-school programs, job-training workshops and life-skill classes for residents of the neighborhood. And of course, performances and dance lessons. “Our bodies are made to move,” says Carolyn Kamrath, the organization’s communications director. That’s why Dance Place offers $15 drop-in classes for adults and children in salsa, hip-hop, tap, step and creative movement. “Our students consider Dance Place a home,” Kamrath says. “They’re not going to the gym by themselves, they’re having face-to-face interactions and having fun while enjoying the fruits of getting sweaty.” Since the 2014 completion of a $4 million renovation, Dance Place is even more in-step with its mission.
3225 Eighth St. NE. 202-269-1600. www.danceplace.org.
In the time it takes you to chug a Peroni, chef Ettore Rusciano can cook a Neapolitan-style pizza to a perfectly charred crisp in Menomale’s 900-degree wood-burning oven. The Italian pizzaiolo, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Mariya, churns out some of the city’s best pies, piled with such certified Neapolitan D.O.P. ingredients as ribbons of prosciutto, hunks of cow’s milk mozzarella and tangy San Marzano tomatoes. Moisture from the fresh toppings tends to pool at the center of the pie, but by the time you reach the blistery crust, the textures balance out. In true Neapolitan fashion, Menomale’s pizzas are not cut into slices, but arrive at your table with a pair of shears.
2711 12th St. NE. 202-248-3946. www.menomale.us.
At this new health-focused restaurant, you’ll find a “lifestyle wall” full of beauty products, such as organic deodorant; pricey shelter mags; house-made tonics; and cups of bone broth, which is shaping up to be 2015’s most divisive culinary trend. But hold your eye rolls: Hälsa is genuine in its attempts to offer a good-for-you alternative to fast-casual dining. Founded by Baltimore native Emily Gaines, the small, sunny restaurant serves build-your-own “market plates” composed of ancient grains, humanely raised proteins and fresh vegetables such as rainbow radishes and kale hearts, which chef Cody Penton says are a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts.
655 Michigan Ave. NE. 202-832-1119. www.eathalsa.com.
You’re more likely to run into Macklemore and Ryan Lewis than Dolce and Gabbana at most area thrift stores. But Bartered Threads is not your average thrift store. Although 100 percent of the merchandise at this teeny shop is donation-based, sisters and owners Tameka Tillman and Tonia Gore are choosy about what graces the racks. “We’ve had customers argue with us that we’re a consignment shop, because they have preconceived notions about what a thrift store looks like,” Tillman says. That’s not to say every single item is designer: You’ll still find Ann Taylor sweaters and Forever 21 dresses of seasons past. The sisters also stock a robust selection of plus-size and children’s clothing, and they give back to the community through a partnership with the St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families in Hyattsville.
3924 12th St. NE. 202-810-4188. www.barteredthreads.com .
Brookland Cafe opened in May 2009, making it a relative veteran of the neighborhood restaurant and bar scene. The formula is a simple one: Caribbean soul food, a long menu of vegan specials and an atmosphere that makes you want to hang out for hours in the shoebox-size room, chatting with your friends or the person who just grabbed the next barstool. (Could be a police officer, a neighborhood mom or a grad student from Trinity — you never know.) The happy hour, which runs from 3 to 6 p.m. on weeknights, is one of the best deals in Brookland: For $7, you get a pair of grilled Caribbean wings and a slow-burn sauce; two chunks of fried whiting; and a choice of two generously sized side dishes, including a garlic-and-pepper-laced mac and cheese and traditional rice and peas. Oh, and it comes with a happy hour drink. You’ll be full, but you can get more discounted drinks, such as bottles of Guinness Extra Stout ($4) or house cocktails ($5), until 7 p.m.
3740 12th St. NE. 202-635-6307. www.thebrooklandcafe.com .
It doesn’t matter if you hit Brookland’s Finest for brunch, happy hour or dinner — you’re going to see families with kids at this comfortable neighborhood restaurant and bar. It’s not something you’d expect from Tony Tomelden of the Pug and John Solomon of Solly’s, two bartenders known for owning dives, but it’s part of the charm. Brookland’s Finest opened in June, and it’s already become a fixture with couples who stop in for local pints after work or parents who park strollers on the fenced patio before settling in the brick-walled dining room. Chef Shannan Troncoso, formerly an executive chef at Matchbox, has crafted a menu that runs from fried Maryland catfish to bone-in Southwestern pork chops. While we wish there were more snacks to share, watch out for the daily specials, including the adobo fried chicken every Sunday.
3126 12th St. NE. 202-636-0050. www.brooklandsfinest.com .
Arts Walk at Monroe Street Market
Monroe Street Market is a shiny new development composed of condos, restaurants and 27 street-level artist studios, known as the Arts Walk. In the warmer months, the plaza hosts a Saturday farmers market and community concerts. Inspiration, on the other hand, is available year round. “Instead of spending $50,000 on art school tuition I have the opportunity to see what seasoned artists are using,” says writer/photographer Victoria Milko of Wild Hand Workspace. “The Corcoran isn’t cheap.”
All of the Arts Walk studios are worth browsing on a lazy Saturday, but these are three of our favorite destinations:
Analog: A vintage wonderland full of mod ’60s cocktail dresses, vintage plaid skirts and men’s blazers, and such accessories as charm bracelets and display-ready suitcases. There’s also a great selection of notecards and prints by local stationers Craftgasm. Open Wednesday-Friday 3 to 7 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. www.shopanalog.com.
Stitch and Rivet: The walls at Stitch and Rivet are lined with leather purses, wallets, tote bags, belts and passport holders, many of which have acquired a gorgeous patina thanks to the recycled materials. (Owner Katie Stack will probably be at the work bench when you drop in.) While leather is the draw, don’t overlook the waxed canvas bags, iPad cases and jewelry and scarves by local crafters. Open Wednesday-Thursday 2 to 7 p.m., Friday 2 to 8 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. www.shopstitchandrivet.com.
Wild Hand Workspace: Home to stylish blogger Morgan Hungerford West and photographer Victoria Milko, Wild Hand is a multi-use space: It might host a pop-up shop of jewelry makers, an exhibit of posters from Comet Ping Pong’s concerts or a DIY class that teaches bloggers and crafters to how better stage product photos; be sure to check the Web site before visiting, as Wild Hand often serves as a place for members for D.C.’s art and design community to host classes or conduct photo shoots. One day it will always be open: The third Thursday of the month, when the Art Walk’s denizens are open late for its Open Studios event. www.wildhandworkspace.com.
716 Monroe St. NE. www.monroestreetmarket.com/arts .
Run out of yarn for your polar vortex sweater? Scrap DC has you covered. A fixture of the neighborhood since 2013, the secondhand craft shop is brimming with more sequins, fabric, pompoms and googly eyes than you can shake a pipe cleaner at. (Be prepared to dig. Materials are often stored in plastic bins stacked on top of each other.) The volunteer-run shop also hosts DIY workshops featuring knitting and leather jewelry and houses a mini-boutique stocked with locally made accessories and home goods. Since opening the Brookland location (it was previously housed at the 52 O Street Studios for artists), Scrap DC has diverted five tons of waste from area landfills.
3101 12th St. NE. 202-827-4547. www.scrapdc.org.
Brookland Pint retains a number of the features that made its sister bar, Meridian Pint, such a fixture in Columbia Heights. There are 24 American craft beers on tap — no mass-market lagers — and a respectable number of aged bottles from the likes of Founders, Stone and Goose Island. The menu caters to fans of omnivores and vegetarians alike, with huge pub burgers, a variety of sharing plates and a spicy Puerto Rican mofongo at brunch. The bartenders are smart beer geeks, quick to offer tastes and advice and eager to talk your ear off about their favorites. But this Pint also has a vibe of its own: The house beer, for example, is No Sleep ’Til Brookland, a dry-hopped IPA made exclusively by Franklins, a Hyattsville brewpub. Tables and many barstools have adjacent electrical outlets and USB ports for phone and tablet charging. Most seats in the barroom are at long communal tables, which makes it easier for strangers to chat. And there’s a huge patio along the Monroe Street Arts Walk, perfect for the first pleasant days of spring.
716 Monroe St. NE. 202-758-2757. www.brooklandpint.com.
Smith Public Trust
One of the most attractive new barrooms to debut in 2014 also is one of the most interesting. Smith Public Trust is an airy, beautiful space with a bar made from recycled shipping containers and large cutout heads of St. Maurice of Thebes and Sun Ra on the exposed brick walls. An upright piano sits on a low stage in the front window, near couples relaxing on salvaged leather couches. There’s bleacher seating and a projection screen for sporting events and a narrow back room with a small cocktail bar. But Smith Public Trust is about more than looks: The taps are stocked with Belgian-style craft beers; there’s a solid-if-short cocktail list; and the kitchen turns out delicious tacos, grilled chicken sandwiches and pork belly banh mi. True to its mission, Smith Public Trust hosts parties with community groups and nonprofit groups, but college students, young families and hipsters are all made to feel welcome. Longtime residents won’t believe that Smith Public Trust, a sister bar to H Street’s Smith Commons, is the former home to the grungy college dives Kitty O’Shea’s and the Library.
3514 12th St. NE. 202-733-5834. publictrustdc.tumblr.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that the Wild Hand Workspace can be rented for private events. This version has been updated.