Between 1995 and 2010, Columbia Heights residents grew accustomed to cranes dotting the skyline and jackhammers  humming throughout the day. The rapid development of the area — hit hard in the 1968 riots after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination — has since slowed. In its wake are conveniences (such as Target) and businesses that speak to the Latino heritage of some residents.

On any given night at this community gathering place you'll find something interesting to do. Founded in 2008, BloomBars offers such varied events as independent film screenings, drum lessons, poetry readings, folkloric or belly-dance sessions, open-mike nights and yoga. Every class is donation-based. "The idea is to build bridges between people who live in the neighborhood through the arts," says founder John Chambers.

Owners Eric Gronning and Lori Robertson have personal touches throughout their Italian-influenced restaurant. The liquors, such as limoncello and grappa, are made in-house, and Gronning designed just about everything under the roof. "We're trying to be the small neighborhood place that appeals to as many people as we can," Gronning says. "We're all about good ingredients and a friendly environment."

Museum of Unnatural History
3233 14th St. NW

Why on earth would anybody pay $5 for an empty plastic storage container labeled "Future Mold"? Because proceeds at this mock-museum-meets-gift-shop benefit 826DC, a creative-writing center for teenagers that's housed in the back. Part of a larger network of wacky concepts (there's a pirate supply store in San Francisco and a superhero shop in Brooklyn), the Museum of Unnatural History uses whimsy to get kids amped about learning - from engaging books to make-believe stuffed animals such as the weagle and the owlephant.

The Group of Latin American Artists opened nearly 40 years ago in a retrofitted Adams Morgan townhouse. "Artists had to enter
through the bathroom," says co-founder and executive director Rebecca Medrano, recalling those early days. "It was a real beacon for people who wanted freedom of expression who came from oppressive dictatorships." In 2005, GALA moved to the tri-level space that once housed the opulent Tivoli Theatre. GALA has four theater productions a year, an annual film festival and a popular flamenco festival.

Yes, that luscious red velvet cupcake you're eating is vegan. So are the oatmeal cream pie and cinnamon bun. Owned by Doron Petersan, Sticky Fingers cafe also offers items such as five types of veggie burgers and a great tofu scramble at brunch. This year, Petersan plans to open a second location on H Street NE.

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