If you wander into the Bacchus Wine Cellar on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Washington you might meet Bassam Al-Kahouaji, the owner, who during the recent annual Georgetown French Market was pouring wine.
The Syrian-born Al-Kahouaji opened the business in 2001, and four years ago, he and his wife decided to live above the store rather than in their home in McLean, Va.
In doing so, the couple found a new life in what has become known as the Book Hill section of Georgetown.
“I love this neighborhood,” he said.
Shops, galleries, townhouses, semidetached houses and free-standing houses stand side by side.
Wisconsin Avenue is the main artery running north to south, home to many of the businesses. Some people live above the shops along the avenue while others live in townhouses on the streets running east to west and north to south.
Wisconsin Avenue between roughly Q Street NW and Reservoir Road NW is dotted with coffee houses, galleries, restaurants, antiques shops, hair salons, boutiques and home design stores. Local merchants and other residents gather at Bacchus Wine Cellar and Patisserie Poupon, where owner Ruth Poupon socializes with patrons. “The whole world passes by your front door,” she said.
Residents take advantage of the varied options.
“We like to shop locally,” said Ron Lewis, chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E. “There are so many opportunities to do it, why go somewhere else?” The neighborhood is “convenient to Georgetown University, which gives it the flavor of a university town,” he added.
Park improvement project s: Two parks add green to the otherwise urban neighborhood. Book Hill Park and Volta Park anchor the neighborhood where backyards can be small, if they exist at all.
About 16 years ago, a group of residents met to discuss the then-deteriorating condition of Book Hill Park, a D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation facility at Wisconsin Avenue and Reservoir Road, just south of the Georgetown Branch of the D.C. Public Library. They formed the Friends of Book Hill Park as a tax-exempt corporation to improve the park.
Spearheading the project were Ed Thomson and Julia Diaz-Asper.
In 2004, the Citizens Association of Georgetown honored the effort with the William A. Cochran Community Service Award.
Sometimes one good idea leads to another. Area merchants began to call themselves the Shops at Book Hill, according to Diaz-Asper, a real estate agent with Sotheby’s International. A native of Cuba who came to the United States in 1960, she chairs the board at Book Hill Park and serves on the board of the library.
These days, there is a sign denoting Book Hill, the steep part of Wisconsin Avenue, thanks to the Georgetown Business Improvement District. On Saturdays, the DC Circulator bus provides free transportation up the Wisconsin Avenue hill.
Not far from Book Hill Park is Volta Park, situated between 34th and 33rd streets west to east and Q Street and Volta Place north to south. Similarly, neighbors revitalized the outdoor public space that had fallen into disrepair some 20 years ago, according to John D. Richardson, who has lived in Georgetown for 35 years and owns a contracting company, the John D. Richardson Co.
When the Volta Park needed improvement, “neighbors got together and fixed it up,” Richardson said. He led an effort in the mid-1990s to raise some $350,000 for initial capital improvements as part of a pilot project that was a public-private partnership with the D.C. government. “We don’t run it — we maintain it,” Richardson said. Each year since then, the Friends of Volta Park organizes a fundraising event to raise $30,000 to $40,000, with most donations under $1,000 or $2,000. Approximately 10 years ago, D.C. Parks and Recreation refurbished the pool at the Volta Park Recreation Center.
Block parties: In addition to the annual French Market, there is Volta Park Day and Citizens Association of Georgetown Concerts in the Park, including a recent one in June at Volta Park, where neighbors gathered, including families with young children, Lewis said. The park has tennis courts, an outdoor basketball court, a children’s playground, a swimming pool and a baseball field. According to the Friends of Volta Park website, John F. Kennedy played touch football there with his brothers in the 1950s.
The area has a small-town feel to it, where neighbors look out for one another, residents say. “It’s quite neighborly, like a small town,” Richardson said. There are also block parties. “It’s got that type of feel,” he said
The George Town Club has operated at Wisconsin Avenue near Volta Place since 1966 “for the purpose of bringing together leaders who had an impact on the U.S. and the world through their work in various business, professional, civic, social, academic and political endeavors,” according to its website. The renovated building dates to the late 18th century.
Walkability: Living in the northwest part of Georgetown means convenience. Residents can walk to a Safeway, a CVS and a Whole Foods farther north on Wisconsin Avenue NW.
Once they move to the neighborhood, residents tend to stay. “Everything is so convenient I just walk everywhere, and I can sleep with my windows open,” said Terry Bell, co-owner with Gary Walker of Salon ILO on Wisconsin Avenue. The business opened in 1980, and Bell bought a townhouse nearby in 1989. He and his wife have lived there ever since. At the time, they were living in Logan Circle.
“When the opportunity came, I managed to buy a house on Dent Place, the reason being it was so close to the business,” said Bell, who is originally from south London and has lived in Bermuda and Old Town Alexandria, Va., as well.
Living there: Book Hill stretches roughly from P Street to the south, R Street to the north, 35th Street to the west and 32nd or 31st to the east.
According to Diaz-Asper, 14 properties sold in the neighborhood in the past 12 months, ranging from a five-bedroom, five-bath semidetached Tudor with a side garden for $3.2 million to a three-bedroom, one-bath Federal-style townhouse for $840,000.
There are two properties on the market — a seven-bedroom, six-bath Victorian-style semidetached property built in 1900 listed for $4.2 million and a five-bedroom, four-bath detached Georgian-style house with five bedrooms and four baths listed for $2.375 million.
Schools: Hyde-Addison Elementary, Rose L. Hardy Middle, Woodrow Wilson High.
Transit: Metro buses and D.C. Circulator bus.
Crime: According to the D.C. police Crime Map, in the past 12 months, there have been two robberies, one burglary and one aggravated assault in the area.