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Adams-Morgan lies, roughly, in the area bounded by the meandering of Rock Creek Park to the west, the Dupont Circle neighborhood to the south, the Kalorama neighborhood to the west, 16th Street NW and Meridian Park to the east, and is generally considered to have as its nexus the intersection of Columbia Road and 18th Street, NW.
It's a fairly odd mixture. At night, especially on the weekends, 18th Street comes alive as do few other places in town. Georgetown can certainly attract crowds considerably larger than 18th street can hold, but Georgetown is for the old-town monied crew and for tourists. Adams-Morgan is one of the main places that Washingtonians come to party.
And party they do! They can party like you might not believe. There are at least 30 bars lined up along this little stretch of road, a scant four blocks, and the only other place I've ever been that feels much like this was the infamous Sixth Street in Austin Texas. Unlike Austin's Sixth Street (the Live Music Capital of the World), Adams-Morgan is given over primarily to assorted discos and mixers. There certainly is a great variety, though. There are of course assorted high-roller fashionable bars where the cover charge exceeds ten dollars and no cigar is priced at less than eight dollars, and depending on your choice of drinks, a working man could blow a month's pay in less than eight hours, with ease. There are local bars, such as Dan's, a fairly hard-to-find place that has a history stretching back almost as far as that of its proprietor, one of the nicest men alive. They have a pool table there, and the drinks are served in miniatures bottles, quite a touch in a town famous for its watered rail-liquors.
There's the famous Club Heaven & Hell, which depending on the night can attract a varied crowd. Up the street is a place called the Asylum, which has a jukebox full of 1980s thrash and punk, an excellent collection of recordings by bands you'd almost forgotten.
A note, as of late 2001 I do not attend either club. They may be to yuor taste, and in fact they are quite to my taste. However, I personally have received such poor treatment there, as far as I am concerned they no longer have licenses and I will not drink anyplace I don't think has a license. You may feel comfortable with the subcultures expressing themselves, but I'd rather not hang out with bloodsuckers. My last trip to Club Heaven resulted in some some extremely bad poetry, and Here's Why. I won't even try to describe what happened to me to decide to not return to Club Asylum, but let's just say when I walked out of the place I couldn't stop yelling "call the Pentagon, Bloodsuckers got a base on 18th Street NW". Sure, I was drunk. But I was also trying to get a goddamned ice-pick out of my skull.
Most of the bars on 18th Street, are foreign-owned, but don't let the thought of foreign-ownership dissuade you from coming to 18th Street - that's half of the charm of the place. Washington is a very International City, and the cosmopolitanism, such as it is, is in no place more evident than in Adams-Morgan.
Very highly recommended is Meskerem, or the Red Sea, or Faisuka's, where they serve Ethiopian Food. If you like lamb, kid and other unusual meats served in spicy and savoury sauces with mysteriously delicious vegetables, please drop in with a few friends and get both of the sampler dishes - their prices are extremely reasonable. There are also Latin restaurants aplenty, many of which have excellent food along with an authentic Latin American cantina atmosphere, complete with authentic Latin Americans.
Adams-Morgan holds a yearly festival, recently and unfortunately increasingly marred of late by violent confrontations between rival immigrant gangs from the suburbs who come to demonstrate their Latino solidarity by getting incredibly drunk and firing pistols at each other and innocent bystanders. This is most unfortunate - at one time, the Adams-Morgan Festival was a wonderful place to visit, where one could buy mesquite-grilled kabobs of unidentified organ meats from unlicensed street vendors. There's nothing like eating a nice hot kidney on a stick, I guess, as long as it's hot from a little charcoal grill and all lathered with some sauce so spicy as to forever cure you of the common cold. But those days are gone forever. Where once during the mid-80s the Festival closed off all of 18th street between Florida Avenue and Columbia Road, and all of Columbia Road from 17th Street to 19th, with a sound stage and performing musicians from all the world at each and every corner, recently to prevent inordinate amounts of damage to storefronts and innocent bystanders, the Festival has been removed to the Mall and all alcohol has been banned, as have been automatic weapons. Adams-Morgan's pervasive ethnicity has been removed more towards Mt.-Pleasant and to the east of 16th Street, but somehow Mt.-Pleasant is just not the same since they cleaned Rat Park of all of the secretive and pervasive vendors of top-quality forged work-permits, green cards, and other bogus documentation. However, recurrent reports from local news outlets indicates that the vendors of forged identification have simply moved onto neighboring streets.
Adams Morgan is at present an area of concentration for police activity. It's about as safe as anyplace in the District can be.
There are a great many small shops in the area which sell everything from knick-knacks to imported art.
Keep in mind that many of the homeless in the area flock to 18th street to park cars at night. It's traditional to give them whatever change you can spare for helping you find and back into a parking space. Keep in mind, thought, that outside of the street itself, which rapidly fills up on the weekends, there is little or no parking outside of the one lot located to the east of 18th street between Kalorama and Columbia. Also beware when attempting to park your cars off of the streets, the police aggressively ticket-and-tow. Also, the street scene is less settled than it has been in the summer season. But do please go to the bars. They really need your money. But keep in mind as you walk around afterwards trying to remember where you parked your car, that if you think you see someone sneaking up behind you with a baseball bat, you really are seeing that. As winter closes in, so does desperation.
The new Parking Garage complex which is mid-block between Kalorama and Columbia Road, between 18th Street and Champlain, is now completed and open for business. We expect it will do a great deal to relieve parking congestion, and should also provide greater security to those who drive in to visit and party. Whether this actually occurs remains to be seen.
Let's take a closer look!
Be advised, the course described might best be split over two days, or be attempted as a one-day outing only by the very well-conditioned or people who are otherwise quite used to walking a lot over hills. A note on the Topography:
Washington DC is built on several major hills, which are generally the result of erosion over time by assorted creeks. The topography of the region is essentially an intersection of "Piedmontane" and "Riverine" geographies. In few places is this intersection more visible than in the Adams-Morgan and neighboring Mt.-Pleasant areas. As a rule, the Piedmontane areas of town are referred to as "uptown" while the Riverines are considered "downtown".
Note Florida Avenue, labelled at the bottom right of this image. It pretty-much follows the line of the bottom of the large hill. If one follows 16th Street northwards, one climbs a long tall hill, which flattens out at the intersection with Euclid Street. Columbia Road basically follows the line of a high ridge, which divides the watersheds which trend towards the Anacostia or the Potomac, from those which trend towards Rock Creek. Interestingly, the highest points in this part of town are the tops of the defiles of the urban valley park in which Rock Creek lies.
One street to the east of 18th Street is Champlain Street, NW, which was, at one time, evidently a streambed falling rapidly from the top of the hill, probably to confluence with several other smaller streams, which would have flowed roughly towards the point in the Dupont Circle Area where "M" Street, NW crosses Rock Creek. The entire downtown area is notoriously swampy and "L" and "M" Streets are notorious for flooding during summer cloudbursts. Be that as it may, when one turns from southbound 16th Street onto Kalorama westbound, one travels down a long sloping avenue, and it is here that one will most easily find parking on weekends. Head to the bottom of the hill here on Kalorama, and you'll have to take a little 100-foot jog to the left (downhill) on Champlain to get to the other leg of Kalorama, which as you turn right begins to ascend steeply. Another 100 feet, and you're in Adams-Morgan, at 18th Street. If you followed Kalorama across 18th, you'd climb a fairly steep hill past some very nice residential townhouses, and eventually wind up at the 7-11 where all of the cops and taxi-drivers hang out.
Instead, take a right on 18th Street. Perhaps you'd like to have some lunch at one of the many fine foreign-ethnic restaurants as you climb the easy hill? Perhaps you should over-order and get some takeout food. Again, I recommend The Red Sea - Ethiopian food comes on injera, a sort of leavened-tortilla or sourdough pancake. It's perfect for wrapping up spicy and nutritious lamb-dishes in savory spiced-vegetable pastes, which make the ultimate "African burrito" a perfect travel food. If the Red Sea's not open, with any luck you'll find another ethnic-food place, where the nice foreigners can demonstrate their excellent cuisine by providing you with something tasty, inexpensive, and worthy of immediate adoption into our American repertiore of wonderful things to take on urban hikes. Meskerem is good, too.
I must decry the complete lack of a decent Korean restaurant on 18th Street; some bulgogi and rice wrapped in a tortilla with a side of kimchi with hotpeppers, or perhaps a nice fish-head or two (ideally deep-fat-fried, delivered with buttered rice) would also be perfect hiking food.
Or you can do McDonalds, which is right up the hill.
At the top of the hill is the intersection of Columbia Road and 18th Street. If it's daytime, continue north past Columbia, and very soon you'll find yourself at a branching intersection.
You might bear left, onto Calvert Street, which would take you to the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge, which I believe is Washington's second-highest bridge. The highest is its neighbor, the William Henry Taft Memorial Bridge which carries Connecticut Avenue across Rock Creek Park. Both are famed for suicides. The stately Lion sculptures, which once languished in an uncompleted renovation for several years, have been restored to their places on the bridge.
At the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Calvert Street, you might look northward, and walk north and have quite a choice of top-quality restaurants in which to dine. This is, however, Woodley Park and outside the purview of this page.
At this point we'd like to note that the MetroRail system is experimentally running late hours over the weekends, staying open to 1:30AM, shortly before the bars close. Also, there is a little shuttle bus which runs between the Woodley Park Metro and Adams-Morgan. It's very noisy, but it beats walking on a rainy night!
If it's daytime, instead of crossing to Woodley Park and seeking a nice meal, at the branching intersection, bear to the right. You'll be on Adams-Mill road. Soon you'll come to a park on the left, which is, believe it or not, the National Zoological Park. Head on in, and see if you can find the old roads which used to lead from this point down into the Zoo Park. If you do, your path will cross over the tunnel beneath this hill which carries traffic on the Rock Creek Parkway. Please note on the satellite maps above that you can see the old roads, one of which was essentially 20th Street extended.
You might also just continue down Adams-Mill and admire the interesting houses on the left, some of which are perched rather precariously atop the palisade of the Rock Creek valley. You'll find yourself descending a rather steep hill, which dead-ends at an extension of Harvest Street. If you go to the left, you'll be able to descend to the back entrance of the Zoo and enter by the Harvard Street bridge.
Once you're done with the Zoo, if you're not dog-tired, come back and finish the evening in Adams-Morgan, with your car already parked.
As you come back from the Zoo, instead of taking a right on Adams-Mill and climbing back the way you came, try continuing straight up Harvard, and note that it splits off slightly to the right. Take a right and climb the steep hill. When you get to the top, take a look at The Summit, a very nice place to live by all accounts. If you like Adams-Morgan at all, it's certainly centrally-located, close to the Zoo, dining, shopping, and lots of entertainment. If you take a right, you'll wind up back on Adams-Mill, and if you take a left on 17th Street, you'll head back towards Columbia Road.
If your day of wandering has left you famished, you've only got about a hundred restaurants from which to choose, ranging from the inevitable McDonalds to mysterious and exotic foods from dozens of the cultures of your Homeworld: Earth.
That is all, from Earth Operations Central's District Office.