Welcome to H Street
By : Kara Watkins
Photos J. Kevin Foltz
When most of us visit Washington, D.C., we work through an ambitious checklist of national monuments and Smithsonians. But if you’re willing to venture beyond the usual, you’ll find local treasures tucked away in neighborhoods left untouched by the tour-by-numbers crowd. One example-—located in the city’s northeast quadrant behind Union station,—is The Atlas District, formerly known as Swampoodle, stretching roughly 12 blocks along H Street NE.
After the city’s 1968 riots rolled down H Street—sparked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—much of the then-thriving commercial district lay in ruins and the area foundered for decades. Now undergoing a revival, the neighborhood is filling up with hip restaurants, unique pubs and music clubs, cutting-edge galleries and stunning theater venues ready to reward those who go the extra mile (literally) to reach them.
The Grande Dame of H Street
The Atlas Theater, one of the few buildings on H to survive the riots, closed its doors in 1976 and stood neglected until 2001. That’s when motivated residents led the charge to restore the theater to its original Art Deco glory—setting the stage for the community’s comeback. It’s no wonder, then, that the neighborhood was renamed in its honor.
Today, the Atlas’ 60,000-square-foot complex is home to the Atlas Performing Arts Center, and hosts film series, arts festivals and performances produced by more than a dozen local arts organizations, including Capital City Symphony, Opera Lafayette, Theater Alliance and the Joy of Motion Dance Center.
Right now is the perfect time to check out the Atlas. Its popular Jazz at the Atlas series runs through December and features legendary vibraphonist Teddy Charles and alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon. In February, Atlas merges arts and cultures with Intersections, an interactive arts festival developed to create dialogue and connections between more than 600 of Washington’s most talented performers. atlasarts.org
For the Culturally Curious
Art lovers know there’s no better way to get acquainted with a neighborhood than through its galleries. The Atlas District has two well worth an introduction. In 2007, Leigh Conner moved Conner Contemporary Art from Dupont Circle to the ground floor of a former auto shop on Florida Avenue (north of H), in part because she liked the area’s vibe. “It’s a laid-back neighborhood where the culturally curious can experience the real D.C.,” she says, which is not unlike the Greenwich Village she remembers from the 1970s.
Conner takes advantage of the gallery’s 7,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor space to show large-scale, ambitious, experimental pieces by up-and-coming artists. And as a driving force behind the city’s (E)merge Art Fair, she hopes to see D.C. become known as a center for contemporary art. Stop by the gallery to browse the current exhibition (through Dec. 17) of Patricia Piccinini’s sculptures and Victoria F. Gaitán’s photography.
Dedicated to 21st-century design, Industry Gallery occupies the floor above Conner and showcases work by industrial (furniture) designers, such as London-based Tom Price. Owner Craig Appelbaum encourages artists, many of whom have never before shown in the U.S., to use the gallery’s 4,000 square feet as their laboratory and let the space inspire their installations. Through December, Kyoto-based artist/designer Mariyo Yagi transforms the gallery into a magical Japanese forest.
If the Atlas is the grande dame of H Street, the Argonaut Tavern is its patriarch. The nautical-themed pub stands guard at the far eastern edge of the Atlas District. Locals come here for reliably good food (fish tacos, burgers, freshly made pastas), friendly service and to catch up with neighbors.
What does H Street Country Club have to offer besides award-winning margaritas and authentic Mexican fare? Good, clean fun with a twist. Skeeball, anyone? The Club is taking you back to junior high with arcade games on the ground floor and a whimsical mini-golf course upstairs.
Three words best describe Granville Moore: cozy, Belgian and “throwdown.” With executive chef Teddy Folkman serving upscale pub fare—including the moules fromage bleu (mussels with bleu cheese) that defeated Bobby Flay—along with an enchanting selection of Belgian beer, this bustling gastropub has locals scrambling to fill seats at its precious few tables.
A cheery bistro, Liberty Tree is taking root on H Street. Owner Scott Hamilton and executive chef Graig Glufling bring New England to D.C. with a menu stocked with fresh seafood classics, salads, sandwiches and brick-oven pizza. Local favorites: melt-in-your-mouth onion straws, the deliciously traditional lobster roll and the Godfather pizza topped with spicy meatballs.
If you’re in the mood for something a little different, the proudly off-kilter, carnival-themed Red Palace has you covered. Its walls are crammed with sideshow oddities and it hosts a steady rotation of unique acts such as Sticky Buns, a Baltimore-based burlesque troupe whose frolicking, riotous show is guaranteed to thrill.
For the past five years, those hip to the D.C. music scene have made a beeline to H Street’s mortuary-turned-nightclub, the Rock and Roll Hotel, to see local and nationally known musical acts. Just don’t arrive expecting to check in—those are bouncers, not bellhops—though you can rent out the rock-themed rooms on the second floor for private parties.
Where to Stay: The newly renovated Kellogg Conference Hotel on the campus of historic Gallaudet University offers deluxe D.C. accommodations at affordable prices. With the Atlas District and Union Station just a few blocks away, and Capitol Hill and the National Mall within easy reach, the Kellogg Conference Hotel is ready to welcome you to the neighborhood. kelloggconferencehotel.com
Rent a Bike: If the weather’s fine, grab a bike from one of Capital Bikeshare’s 110 stations across D.C. and pedal your way through the city. It’s a fun way to take in the sights and burn some extra calories, too. You’ll pay $5 for a daily membership, plus a small usage fee for each half hour of ride time. capitalbikeshare.com
Take the Metro: To earn your black belt in Metro riding: 1) At the ticket machines, skip the single-fare card and buy a convenient, money-saving one-day or seven-day pass. 2) Travel outside rush hours—weekday mornings until 9:30 a.m. and afternoons 3-7 p.m.—to enjoy less crowded train cars. 3) On the escalators: stand on the right, walk on the left, the locals will thank you. wmata.com
City Tour: For an inexpensive city tour, hop on a bright red Circulator Bus at Union Station and ride down K Street to the heart of Georgetown. Buses depart every 10 minutes from the Union Station parking garage (mezzanine level). dccirculator.com
Book your trip today! Visit www.aa.com, call American/American Eagle reservations at 1-800-433-7300, or call your travel agent for more information.