U Street Corridor neighborhood guide

Get to know Washington DC area by area—the best local restaurants and bars, arts and entertainment and things to do in the U Street Corridor

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Brixton: A British pub in the U Street Corridor

Brixton: A British pub in the U Street Corridor © Worn Creative, worncreative.com


Known during the Jazz Age as America's 'Black Broadway', the neighborhood around U Street became an African American cultural powerhouse during the 1920s and '30s. Poet Langston Hughes and jazz great Duke Ellington matured here. Along with Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and Redd Fo, they made 'You' Street world-famous.

Like most of the surrounding area, the neighborhood was trashed during the 1968 riots, which began at the corner of 14th and U Streets when the news reached Washington that Martin Luther King had been shot dead. The riots hastened the decline of the old U Street, and the area languished for many years, with empty storefronts and high crime.

Thankfully, it has since come back to life as a shopping and nightlife corridor for a diverse group of consumers, diners, drinkers and partyers. These days, it seems a new business opens along the stretch between 9th Street and 16th Street nearly every week.

Restaurants and bars in U Street Corridor

Gibson

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Critics choice

If you’re in a bar in Washington drinking a cocktail, listening to dub bossa nova and watching hipsters at play, chances are that the bar is owned by Eric Hilton. Hilton, who makes up one-half of DJ duo Thievery Corporation, has been slowly taking over DC’s bar scene in his spare time (Eighteenth Street Lounge, Marvin, Dickson Wine Bar). The Gibson is Hilton’s take on the New York speakeasy. First, you’ll need to find the entrance, an unobtrusive doorbell next to Marvin. Once inside you’ll find some of the best cocktails in the city, with drinks updated on a chalkboard daily, and ingredients from celery-infused Pisco to burnt cinnamon. Reservations recommended.

  1. 2009 14th Street, NW, between U & V Streets
More info

Izakaya Seki

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

A brisk walk from the main drag of restaurants and bars near U and 14th streets, NW, Izakaya Seki is tucked into an unassuming and narrow, two-floor row house. Choose to eat upstairs in the dining room or downstairs at the chef’s bar. Either choice is equally no-frill; coat hooks are just about the only décor. Once seated, you’ll be hard-pressed not to salivate, either over plates arriving at neighboring tables or by what the robata cooks behind the bar are turning over a low flame. When it comes time to choose what to drink, brace yourself for page after page of sake selections. Your server is your best ally here. Another great ally: the list of specials handwritten on a piece of scrap paper, usually accompanied by a quirky doodle or two. The chef’s rotating sashimi selection is explosively rich (note: the wasabi here is fresh), and the seasonal miso soup (recently served with assorted roasted mushrooms) is not to be missed. From the main menu, order the slow-grilled octopus. The salmon roe hand roll—with its barely warm rice and fresh roe—will put you in a state of nirvana. In short: Izakaya Seki deserves a deep bow of respect.

  1. 1117 V Street, NW, between 10th & 11th Streets
  2. Small plates $4.50-$17
More info

Ben’s Chili Bowl

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Looking like a museum piece on the yuppified, buppified stretch of U Street once known as Black Broadway, Ben’s Chili Bowl, opened in 1958, is in no danger of mouldering away, thankfully. In fact, its claim to be a 100% wind-powered business makes it very contemporary. This family-owned institution’s appeal rests on three legs: nostalgia (past customers include Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Bill Cosby and, more recently, Barack Obama), the insatiable late-night hunger of young partiers, and, of course, the great bang for the buck afforded by burgers, fries and chili. In-the-know customers order chili on a dog or half smoke (arguably Washington’s signature specialty) and cheesefries, but you can also get a turkey sub or a veggie burger. These days, in fact, you can even order Ben’s over the internet.

  1. 1213 U Street, NW, Between 12th & 13th Streets
  2. Main courses $4–$9. No credit cards
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More U Street Corridor restaurants and bars




Music and nightlife in U Street Corridor

Gibson

  • Rated as: 5/5
  • Critics choice

If you’re in a bar in Washington drinking a cocktail, listening to dub bossa nova and watching hipsters at play, chances are that the bar is owned by Eric Hilton. Hilton, who makes up one-half of DJ duo Thievery Corporation, has been slowly taking over DC’s bar scene in his spare time (Eighteenth Street Lounge, Marvin, Dickson Wine Bar). The Gibson is Hilton’s take on the New York speakeasy. First, you’ll need to find the entrance, an unobtrusive doorbell next to Marvin. Once inside you’ll find some of the best cocktails in the city, with drinks updated on a chalkboard daily, and ingredients from celery-infused Pisco to burnt cinnamon. Reservations recommended.

  1. 2009 14th Street, NW, between U & V Streets
More info

Brixton

  • Rated as: 4/5
  • Critics choice

Yes, the second floor of this three-level bar looks more like a Downton-era hunting lodge than a real Brixton tavern. And no, the menu offerings of Thai chicken salad and miso-glazed black cod aren’t really authentic either (although, to be fair, rotis and samosas are available too). But don’t let that bother you, because the Brixton’s vibe is charming, with leather stools and wood paneling inside and a spectacular roof terrace. It gets packed to the rafters with college kids late at night so come early for surprisingly good Pimm’s cups, Boddingtons and Newcastle on draft, and Fuller’s London Pride in bottles.

  1. 901 U Street, NW, at 9th Street
More info

Bar Pilar

  • Rated as: 4/5

The younger and less popular sister of Café Saint-Ex, Bar Pilar is affectionately referred to as a dive bar, dressed up. The vibe is intimate, with just 38 seats, and the low-key attractions include bacon bloody marys at brunch (sort of a liquefied BLT, hold the lettuce) and a kitschy photo booth.

  1. 1833 14th Street, NW, between S & T Streets
More info
More clubs and music venues in U Street Corridor

Shopping in U Street Corridor

Junction

  • Critics choice
  1. Junction, between 15th and 16th Streets,, U Street Corridor
More info

Ginger Root Design

  • Critics choice

Founded by two Midwestern redheads with a reputation for being the nicest ladies on the block, you’ll find a great selection of jewelry and accessories by local designers for men and women at Ginger Root (don’t leave without trying on one of the famous lady ties, made from repurposed vintage fabrics and sewn by hand). This place's main focus, though, is its excellent by-appointment-only tailoring service. Bring your beloved but ill-fitting items here for some much needed TLC, and they'll be given a new lease of life under the owners' skilful hands.

  1. 1530 U Street, NW, between 15th & 16th streets, U Street Corridor
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Treasury

If you ask a stylish local on U Street where they got that incredible hat or handbag they’ll undoubtedly say "Treasury". Known by locals as a treasure trove of designer and classic vintage finds, the secondfloor rowhouse boutique is the place to go for recast vintage jewelry, a vintage slip silk dress, or a chic hat that gives an outfit that extra je ne sais quoi.

  1. 1843 14th Street, NW, T Street, U Street Corridor
More info
More stores in U Street Corridor

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