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The 14th Street Scene
The word on DC’s most happening street
The 14th Street strip from Rhode Island Avenue to U Street brims with bars, boutiques, galleries and restaurants—many so new, the paint is still drying. While the adjacent parallel streets tend residential, this walkable north-south thoroughfare screams for attention thanks to witty window displays; cacophonous brasseries, coffee shops and concept eateries; and a ceaseless, dreamlike allure the whole length of the way.
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
There are a number of places serving terrific seafood on 14th Street, but the daddy of them all must be this Gulf-style bar and restaurant with a dedicated fish monger. Devotedly serving sustainable American seafood, chef Jeff Black serves oysters a million ways to Sunday. Start with a dozen Black Salts on the half shell – these plump effluvial oysters are grown in Virginia especially for him. Don’t miss the gumbos, po’ boys, grilled fish or duck confit.
The Scene: For all the white tablecloth restaurants dotting 14th Street, Pearl Dive mixes denim shorts and Chanel jackets. Like a great house party, it’s all about the mix. The casual tend to congregate on the sidewalk seating, where the raw bar opens up.
Insider Info: There’s a speakeasy called Black Jack on the second floor with a dedicated cocktail and bar snack menu as well as indoor bocce. Fun city.
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, 1612 14th Street NW at Q Street, 202-319-1612
It’s DC’s one and only contemporary Belgian restaurant with a roaring bar scene and a Josper oven, a Spanish machine that achieves exceptionally high heat to caramelize the exterior of a bone-in rib-eye for two, for example. There are expected dishes like endive salads, mountains of mussels (offered eight ways) and not-so-traditional offerings like a waffle stuffed with mussels and herbs.
The Scene: This place is built for fun and does get noisy. There are to-go eats, like cones of frites, served late-night.
Insider Info: Chef Bart Vandaele was knighted in his native Belgium for services to the crown. Sir V is not, however, without a naughty sense of humor. There are pictures of giant sausages (so we hear) in the men’s room.
B Too, 1324 14th Street NW, at N Street, 202-627-2800
What: The sixth outpost of this local treatery is a café serving fine coffee and gelato in the spirit of an old fashioned parlor. Dolcezza pours Stumptown coffee and scoops Argentinian-style gelato made in Northeast DC from locally sourced ingredients. Flavors lean fruity. Many (like strawberry-tarragon and blueberry-lemon thyme) incorporate herbs to underline the season, but there is always vanilla, chocolate and coffee. There are kid-pleasing cones and for adults, a handful of “coppettas” available at the five-seat sundae bar. Decidedly sophisticated, these one-bowl desserts marry a scoop with topping like Marcona almonds, dried citrus peel and tequila-laced whipped cream.
The Scene: Owners Rob Duncan and Violetta Edelman (who met while sailing up the Amazon) have refurbished the building. It opened in 1878 as a pharmacy, and was until the dynamic duo refurbished it, a fried fish joint. It’s unrecognizable now: a gleaming marble counter, space for a dozen-plus flavors of gelato and a La Marzocco espresso machine, the Ferrari of coffeemakers, and 30 seats.
Insider Info: Don’t have time to linger? Sidle up to the to-go window for coffees and gelati by the cup or cone.
Dolcezza, 1418 14th Street NW, at P Street, Washington, DC 20005
Birch & Barley
Michael Babin’s DC restaurant empire (butchery, brewery, bakery) comes together in this modern American restaurant. Open for dinner and weekend brunch, it attracts a crowd who know to expect classic fare with a twist.
The Scene: A touch rustic, a touch romantic, the low-lit dining room is abuzz with hip Washingtonians who come for hand-cut pasta, grilled local lamb and seasonal veg. In-the-know diners pair their meals with suds courtesy of beer director Greg Engert, voted by Food + Wine as one of the country’s top sommeliers.
Insider Info: Still thirsty? Head upstairs to Churchkey, a brew-head’s paradise with some those same 555 beers, including five cask ales, available paired with bar snacks with personality, like disco fries. It’s a killer place to catch a game or end a long work day.
Birch & Barley, 1337 14th Street NW at Rhode Island Avenue, 202-567-2576
What: Top Chef alum Mike Isabella fuels his passion for Mediterranean fare at this two-in-one joint. By day there’s G, a sandwich shop serving Jersey-style hoagies stuffed with the flavors of the Eastern Med: roast lamb, roast cauliflower, too. By night, G becomes the private dining room at Kapnos, the home to tables of hummus, bricks of feta and carnivorous treats: lamb, chicken, and occasional goat or rabbit are spit-roasted in plain view of the open dining area. (Fun fact: Kapnos means ‘smoke’ in Greek.) Curiously, it’s a terrific place to take a vegetarian, as long as they avert their eyes.
The Scene: With so many plates to sample, this is a super spot for a group, although date-nighters are welcome, too.
Insider Info: There’s boozy kegged lemonade, at least a dozen imaginative house cocktails and a long wine list, made longer by Kapnos’s adoption of the Coravin system that allows wine to be removed from a premium bottle (or really any bottle) without disturbing the quality. So by-the-glass options are practically unlimited.
Kapnos, 2201 14th Street NW at W Street, 202-234-5000
A clean white dining room punched up with bursts of color that drive home the message: this is Vietnamese cooking, but modern. There are salads, grilled meats on sticks, soups, curry, rice dishes and spectacular whole fried fish that arrive as if swimming to the table. There’s heat too: from the mild and herbaceous to the downright fiery, but the cocktails and wine list balance the spiciness. Vegans and vegetarians fare well here and there are dedicated menus outlining choices to please all palates.
The Scene: This place feels chic enough for a date and warm enough for an evening alone at the bar. And if bars are your thing, head downstairs after dinner to the unlabeled Two Birds One Stone in the basement, a speakeasy with candlelit nooks.
Insider Info: Chef Haider Karoum won the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s highest accolade in 2014, the RAMMY for outstanding chef. He presides over Doi Moi, Estadio (Spanish) and Proof (a wine bar).
Doi Moi, 1800 14th Street NW at T Street, 202-733-5131
People may be atwitter over Greg Engert’s latest venture in Southeast, Bluejacket Brewery, but the chic gastro pub that put him on the map still deserves heaps of praise. Stocked with exactly 555 house-selected brews, many quality seasonal and heavily sought after pours, ChurchKey proves invaluable to the thirsty suds seeker. It’s the site of many a pilgrimage, but even if you aren’t operating your own nanobrewery out of your basement, you’ll appreciate the beer house’s pledge to serve high-quality craft beers.
The Scene: Behind the surprisingly spacious bar that sprawls across the front room rest deliciously potable artworks taunting with each stride. Parched masses will zombie walk their way up these stairs, especially on the weekends.
Insider Info: A small lounge area offers refuge in the back, but the ideal sanctuary is downstairs at Birch & Barley, which still has all those 555 beers but with ridiculously tasty pairing options. Versatile chef Kyle Bailey, known for his many doughnut creations, pushes the limits with abundantly creative New American cuisine.
Churchkey, 1337 14th Street NW at Rhode Island Avenue, 202-567-2576
When restaurateur Stephen Starr armed 14th Street with a slice of pre-War Paris in spring 2013, he had an instant classic on his hands. Part brasserie, part café, part bistro, Le Diplomate runs the gamut of French cuisine. Brown butter-infused trout amandine and perfectly cooked steak au poivre—rest assured, it’s peppery—share the menu alongside chilled oysters, bakery-worthy creations, a famed roast chicken and ever-munchable pommes frites.
The Scene: From haute fashions to casual designs for les femmes and a mélange of chinos, suits and jeans for les hommes, expect a laid-back yet chic vibe and high-volume chatter to fill the vast space comfortably.
Insider Info: Patio hounds and window lovers also fill up on great people watching here; if you belly up, you’ll see magic as a dapperly attired barman mixes craft cocktails like the floral Tête-à-tête, with Hendrick’s Gin and—wait for it—saffron.
Le Diplomate, 1601 14th Street NW at Q Street, 202-332-3333
Founded in Capitol Hill by practiced barista and latte art extraordinaire, Ryan Jensen, and his wife Jill Jensen, who boasts some barista chops of her own, Peregrine Espresso is the complete coffee experience. From sourcing single-origin beans to serving piping hot cups and providing “Better Brewing at Home” lessons on the side, Peregrine weaves coffee into the local community and a growing number of locals love it thanks to its three locations. Treating coffee as if it were a lifestyle, the staff makes every sip count, whether you’re a stickler for a foamy macchiato, filter drip coffee or the basic, reliable namesake pour.
The Scene: Just like it were Italy, practiced espresso drinkers hang at the stand-only bar sipping from tiny cups. If you’re patient, table space will present itself, as the site serves as a prime stopover to fuel up before meandering further down 14th Street.
Insider Info: Peregrine peddles beans from respected roaster Counter Culture and then pedals them via bicycle to locals nearby.
Peregrine Espresso, 1718 14th Street NW in between R and S Streets, 202-525-5127
After turning 20 years old in 2013, this vintage venue known for landing up-and-coming alternative artists still hasn’t missed a beat. Black Cat has been ground zero for the recent renaissance on nearby U Street, plus it’s anchored the 14th Street since before its recent boom. There’s room enough for two simultaneous concerts here, one at the Backstage (downstairs) and usually a headliner at the Mainstage.
The Scene: Pre-concert parades up and down 14th Street are the norm before folks take to lining up outside for a show, but there’s enough going on inside the Black Cat (Pinball, two stages, cheap beer) to warrant making a night of it.
Insider Info: Band or no band, hungry vegetarians hit up the onsite Food for Thought Café in search of barbecue seitan sandwiches and a solid veggie burger. Omnivores aren’t excepted as half-smokes and hamburgers also decorate the menu, offering any concertgoer a quiet repast before returning to the bedlam.
Black Cat, 1811 14th Street NW at S Street, 202-667-4490
Sure, there’s a billiards table (that’s free) and solid beers on draft, but the main draw of this pour house are the many fine whiskeys, scotches and bourbons that adorn the bar. Seasonal cocktails made from strong distillations bedeck a chalkboard behind the bar, but if you aren’t too bashful, lean on the bartender to mix something up for you. It’s not rare on weekends for DJs and young whiskey aficionados to take over the space.
The Scene: Outfitted with enough exposed brick to build a road to Brooklyn and back, Black Whiskey is where driven young professionals, experienced rye lovers and the 14th Street set coalesce. The downstairs area, the Social Room, serves double duty as an art gallery and dance floor when music acts are booked.
Insider Info: Don’t forget, all those small batch whiskeys and ryes require a solid foundation, and the grub here fits the bill. Slow-cooked, carved meats like tender lamb, bacon-wrapped pork loin or roasted beef all prosper here.
Black Whiskey, 1410 14th Street NW at P Street
Arts & Culture