Thursday, September 5, 2013

The U Street Corridor

Never Been to U Street? You are Missing Out

By Tracey Gold Bennett

Say you're too busy to make the trek to U street but wondering what all the fuss is about? The U street corridor is a thriving, trendy, eclectic, bohemian neighborhood that perhaps can best be described by lyrics in the theme music for the television show Cheers: "Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name... and they're always glad you came."

If there were a mayor of U Street it would be Virginia Ali, co-founder of Ben's Chili Bowl, which would be the Mayor's office and her sons and daughters-in-law make up the cabinet and press office for the Mayor.

Want to know what's happening in the area, Ben's Chili Bowl is a good place to grab a smoke, chili half-smoked sausage that is... and keep your ears open. Need a beer with your smoke? Go next door, to Ben's Next Door where you can listen to a live band, order filet mignon or shrimp with your grits, and sip drinks at a bar so beautiful it would make a great setting for a 1920's era film.

Perhaps if there were a Mayor Pro-tem, that would be Andy Shallal of Busboy's and Poets, who word has it actually has plans to run for Mayor of Washington, D.C.

Enter Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C. and one can't help but think they've been transported to the East Village in New York City, once inside. This combo- restaurant, bookstore boasts a separate room for film screenings with a stage where authors, poets, artists and creative types have appeared to talk to the masses about their work.

A super idea for date night on U Street is going to see a play at the beautiful The Lincoln Theater. The Lincoln, which opened in 1922, is on the Historic Register and is one of the places African American's could see first run movies such as Gone With The Wind during segregation. The theater also had a grand ballroom where jazz greats like Cab Calloway, Sarah Vaughn, Louis Armstrong performed among others.

U street, once called "Black Broadway" is now as diverse as it is exciting. But during the era of segregation U street was predominately African American, characterized by booming businesses, shops, restaurants and clubs. It wasn't unusual to see Duke Ellington, Zora Neal Hurston, Langston Hughes or Pearl Bailey patronizing local businesses or even walking down the street.

After the riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, blight, and crime followed. A renaissance happened after the completion of construction on the Green Line metro and real estate development followed in the area. High-end, luxury condominium developments are now the norm in neighborhoods which feature rows of historic Victorian homes.

Perhaps you're taking a date to U street and you want to impress. Start with flowers -- Lee's Flowers and Cards (across the street from Ben's Chili Bowl) could give any tony flower shop in the city a run for its money.  Like Ben's Chili Bowl, Lee's Flowers is a family owned business that also survived the riots.
If Ben's Chili Bowl and Mrs. Ali are the heart of U Street then Warren Brown and Cakelove bakery must be the aorta. 

Delicious cakes from scratch so good that even the holy grail of food, The Food Network once gave lawyer-turned master baker Warren Brown (founder of Cakelove) a show (Sugar Rush).  Here's a hint: try the cupcakes, they're divine. If this cake could be defined with a word -- it would be sexy-cake.  A perfect way to end a date. 

U Street, its all the things you want wrapped up in one corridor in Northwest Washington, D.C.

More information about U street is available online: