Crystal City

With 5k Fridays, art installations and aggressive PR, Crystal City is shedding its reputation as the contractor concrete jungle, rooted by a bizarre warren of underground shops. Look beyond the hype (and stereotypes) to the 23rd Street stretch, and find a refreshing blend of tourists and tower dwellers, families and feds, drag queens and dog walkers.


Crystal City Sports Pub. (photo by Megan McDonough)

Crystal City Sports Pub
529 S. 23rd St.

Sure, there are pool tables, 100-plus TVs and video games aplenty, but this is no adult Chuck E. Cheese. With 12,000 square feet and three stories, the pub is many things to many people, including parents seeking birthday-party spots. But the squeals of joy and groans of sorrow are mostly from sports fans who get their fix at every paraphernalia-covered corner.



A strawberry mega-margarita at Cantina Mexicana. (photo by Megan McDonough)

Cantina Mexicana
515 S. 23rd St.

"We love this strip - it's eccentric, friendly and accessible," Phil Clark said from the patio, as his dog Summer slurped from a takeout container and a friend finished a margarita in an equally voluminous glass. Fresh Tex-Mex fare, nachos at the table before your mega-margarita pic is on Instagram and an all-day happy hour on Thursdays explain its regular spot on the rotation for the office crowd.



A chicken kabob platter at the 24-hour Kabob Palace. (photo by Megan McDonough)

Kabob Palace
2315 S. Eads St.

For decades, the 24-hour Kabob Palace has given those staring suspiciously at the tacquitos at the 7-Eleven next door a more nutritious after-hours option. So packed is the Palace - at 1 p.m. and 1 a.m. - that you have time to take in the massive mural, which is as busy with color and history as its surroundings.



Mural outside Smokey Shope III. (photo by Megan McDonough)

Smokey's Shope
554 S. 23rd St.

Need to decorate a dorm room, stock up on lapus lazuli jewelry and cigars, and procure a hookah the size of a toddler? This is your one-stop shope.



The colorful storefront of Freddie's Beach Bar & Restaurant. (photo by Megan McDonough)

Freddie's Beach Bar & Restaurant
555 S. 23rd St.
Since the first rainbow flag unfurled, Freddie's has been "hetero-friendly," as owner Freddie Lutz says: a gay bar in the 'burbs that packs in gaggles of giggly girls, couples who sip their way through the four-mimosa brunch, and gay men and women from across the D.C. area who crave the relatively low-key vibe in this high-camp purple beach shack.



Gossip on 23rd owner Katherine Glorioso Dress offers advice to a client. (photo by Megan McDonough)

Gossip on 23rd
566 S. 23rd St.

It's not that Gossip on 23rd is attitude-free, it's just that the attitude in this "OMG! So cute"-inducing boutique is happy without being precious. Not quite sure you can pull off the crop top? Owner Katherine Glorioso Dress "won't lie to you," she says. "I want you to look good and be comfortable, so I'm not going to push something just to make the sale."


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