H Street NE is teetering gloriously on the knife’s-edge of gentrification. The riots that took place after Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in April 1968 largely destroyed an important retail district in this traditionally black neighborhood and it had never really recovered. Until now.
With new restaurants and bars drawing a nightly crowd, retail spaces for rent are springing up in order to follow the credit cards. At the moment there is still a day-to-night changeover that can be seen in the itinerant population and the boarded-up row houses that sit cheek-by-jowl with the new tenants: the rock clubs, pubs and restaurants that the east-of-Capitol-Hill (and predominantly white) crowd flocks to. A new streetcar line will link the area to Union Station and will bring new condo and residential development by the time it starts running in 2012, In other words, H Street will not look the same a few years or even a few months from now. But at the moment, it still has that buzzy balance that is brewed up when a fast food joint is adjacent to a dollar store that is next door to a hip, new restaurant.
Although the streets are less busy during the day, the Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H St; www.atlastarts.org) has matinees and evening performances. Lunch at Taylor Gourmet (1116 H St; www.taylorgourmet.com) from two Philadelphia natives also fills the gap. The chicken cutlet sandwiches are fine enough, but they do not hold a candle to the delicious roast pork that fills their hoagies (all named for streets in Philly): the Pattinson Avenue with broccoli rabe and provolone is a house favourite.
Do not let the fairly narrow front of Biergarten Haus (1355 H St; www.biergartenhaus.com) fool you - there are acres of space in the back - two large courtyards filled with faux rustic benches and serving very authentic steins of German beer. They do brunch as well as all types of wursts and schnitzle, but if you do not care about American football or baseball, sit in the second courtyard under the shade trees and away from the large flat screen TVs. A few doors down, Dangerously Delicious Pies (1339 H St; www.dangerouspies.com) does exactly what is says on the tin - even if you do not think you will be able to eat that whole slice of mixed berry or sweet potato pie, be assured, you will have no choice.
But there is still definitely a day time H Street and a nighttime one. What looks like a non-descript row house with fake siding by day, at night becomes Granville Moore's (1238 H St; granvillemoores.com), a Belgian lair from DC entrepreneur and restaurateur Joe Englert (he bought eight properties on H Street in total). The succulent lamb sliders have become a local addiction and almost overshadow the excellent moules and frites that the place is known for. Inside tip: they do not take reservations, so bypass the crowds and head directly to the upstairs bar for better ambience and eat dinner there.
Liberty Tree (1016 H St; www.libertytreedc.com), two blocks down, opened earlier this year and the chef's pizza specialties include pizza casino topped with whole clams . His lobster roll is fresh and light and closes the distance between Cape Cod and Washington. The Atlas Room (1015 H St; www.theatlasroom.com) recently opened across the street and serves small plates and tapas, helping to expand the nightlife bubble farther away from the busy 1200 and 1300 blocks.
Little Miss Whiskeys Golden Dollar (1104 H St; www.littlemisswhiskeys.com) is a trippy experience, even if you walk in stone sober. The purple lighting and Gothic wrought-iron art work feels like someone slightly out of their mind tried to recreate a New Orleans bordello. It does not feel wrong, just deeply weird. The theme continues out into the garden where Kywon Datham is working the grill. Sip a serious scotch and watch him dab beef ribs and pork chops with his homemade sauce, serving them up along with rice, beans and collard greens to those with the late-night munchies. Follow him on Twitter (@MasterDro) for the weekly menus.
The coming-soon Smith Commons (1245 H St.; www.smithcommonsdc.com) is the big news on the strip. A tri-level gut reno of a carpet warehouse complete with a back patio covered by a pergola, the restaurant is larger than anything in the district thus far. Oak barrel chandeliers and sliding barn doors proclaim the Americana aesthetic (even with two Belgian chefs) and when all three floors open in December, H Street will be busier than ever.