Atlas Unshrugged: H Street, NE

H Street is a wide boulevard in Northeast, large enough to hold the city’s past and expansive enough to herald the future. It’s still a work in progress, with sidewalks of cracking concrete, and almost as many permits on still un-rehabbed spaces as open and functioning stores, restaurants, and bars. It is a magnet for possibility, and it’s happening now.

Long-time D.C. resident and realtor Joel Martin recalled H Street was the third largest commercial district in D.C. from the ’20s through the ’40s, but much was destroyed in the riots of 1968. The Hechinger Mall was built in the late ’70s and was said to be the harbinger of urban development, but it took three decades for that to happen.

On a recent evening crowds poured out of restaurants and night spots, including Granville Moore’s Gastropub, Sticky Rice, the Coney Island-inspired Palace of Wonders, and the H Street Country Club. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and was respectful of one another. It reminded me a little of living in the East Village in the ’70s and walking Avenue A, then an edgy experience, but now in the heart of boutique-Manhattan. Residents of the Hill are thrilled by H Street’s resurgence, especially in this downturn economy.

Granville Moore’s is unique and when I stopped by on a Saturday night there was a two-hour wait for their mussels and Belgian beer. Dr. Granville Moore was a neighborhood doctor who provided free service for the sick in the house that it is now the restaurant. The interior is modeled on the traditional English pub. It is furnished simply, and the food is modern European.

I had stopped at Taylor’s during the day for an excellent salad and sandwich. The owners of Taylor’s, Casey Patten and David Mazza, both share an Italian/Philadelphia heritage and said that their aim was to make a great hoagie in D.C. They have succeeded well with bread imported from Philly. They gave me a tour of one of their high tech apartments above Taylor’s, as well as their office space just featured in Dwell magazine.

In recent years, the H Street corridor has developed its own theatre district, with the opening of the H Street Playhouse and the Atlas Performing Arts Center. In fact, the area is called the Atlas District. The H Street playhouse was the neighborhood pioneer in 2002, transforming what was originally a 1920s auto showroom into a 100-seat black box theatre. With up-and-coming troupes like the Theatre Alliance using the venue, the Playhouse gained a quick reputation as D.C.’s off-off-Broadway. If the H Street Playhouse still has a scrappy, upstart feel, the Atlas complex in the same block delivers something akin to a neighborhood Kennedy Center. This larger and glossier facility features four theatres, dance and rehearsal studios, a lounge, and production facilities. Theatre, dance, and musical groups use the Atlas, and you might find anything from the Washington Savoyards to the well-regarded In Series to jazz and cabaret on the monthly bill.

Moving to the area last year, Conner Contemporary opened a fantastic gallery space on Florida Avenue and recently sold a major work to the National Gallery. Annie Gawlak of G Fine Art is moving her gallery nearby. She says, “The 5 years at 1515 14th Street were invigorating for the gallery. But the forces of the real estate marketplace dictate that once the arts make a location attractive, restaurants, clubs, and other retail establishments move in. As a result the rents are raised. The area in Trinidad and the H Street Corridor is healthy for us. It is welcoming, has a diverse population that is desirable, and feels right. Leigh Conner and so many other individuals have made the area a known location for the arts. There are buildings that look like they would be perfect for artist housing and studios, it is exciting and already comfortable. I plan to open in probably two months.”

Right now in the middle of H Street new trolley tracks are being constructed. A trolley will bring a bit of old DC back into the new downtown and hopefully bring even more consumers into the area.

Siobhan Catanzaro, editorial director of The Georgetowner/Downtowner, lives near H Street. She relates, “My favorite place right now is Little Miss Whiskey’s. It’s really inconspicuous. It doesn’t even have a sign outside to tell you where it is, just a little purple light and on the weekends there is usually a wait to get in, but once you do get inside there is great music usually with a DJ on the second floor and good drinks.

“They also have an outside patio area so that is always a plus. Only drawback is that they take cash only, but I guess that stops me from spending too much money. I also like the H St. Country Club. It’s fun to go with a group of guys and girls because they have delicious mojitos and indoor miniature golf.” Siobhan is one of the many young professionals who find H Street their favorite destination.

The buzz on tater tots is that Sticky Rice’s are the best! It’s all about the special sauce served on the side and that a bucket of tots is a great appetizer for the whole table. People are going to Sticky Rice just for the tots! Now, can a cupcake place be far behind?—


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