Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Out and About: Barracks Row

After hitting up Eastern Market last week, I decided to give its buddy to the south a run through before I hoped on the Metro back to Mt Pleasant. The extra time was worth the stretch. The Baltimore Sun called it the "new place to go in DC." CBS called it "ritzy," albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Barracks Row, like Eastern Market has roots in the early formative years of the District. The Marine Barracks, which still stand and are fully functional, anchored the site for many years near the Navy Yard. Thomas Jefferson made the decision to place the first District post of the Marines at this location in 1801. Its proximity to the Navy Yard and the river were key to his decision. Its the oldest active Marine post in the United States. The Marines also claim that the Commandant's House is the oldest continually occupied house in the District having been completed in 1806. I guess they're counting the years Truman was out of the White House (finished in 1800) during its renovation. Still a neat and historic distinction.

The area around the Navy Yard and Barracks Row were the military and commercial hub of the District for years. However, Barracks Row is now becoming known for its shopping, dining, watering holes and other services. The main, and only commercial strip is located on 8th St SE, closer to the Eastern Market Metro stop than Eastern Market itself. Visitors are greeted with a sight which may become more common around town, a Dunkin' Donuts across the street from a Starbucks. The nearby FedEx Kinkos gives the initial impression that the strip is all chain stores and not unique to any other part of the city with commercial activity. However, keep strolling down 8th Street and you'll find a neat array of independent businesses to keep you occupied.

I was impressed with the number of restaurants located on the strip. Just to name a few: Belga (Belgian), Banana Cafe (Cuban), Jordan's 8 (steak, nothing else. not even vegetables. ok, that was a joke. there are fries), Fusion Grill (Chinese), Las Placitas (Salvadorean, and my favorite for the neighborhood), and The Old Siam (Thai). That's not even really the half of it. Impressive list for an in-town neighborhood without the regional cache of an Adams Morgan, Georgetown, or even Bethesda (sorry! they have good food). The Barracks Row MainStreet does a good job of listing and promoting its businesses. Check the site for a more comprehensive list.

The commercial strip is surrounded by the quaint and quiet Capitol Hill streets, not giving away the fact that its pretty close to walking distance from the new Nationals stadium and the rest of "Near Southeast." There are some neat independent businesses, which somehow coem together to form a working retail center for this part of Capitol Hill. There's Capitol Hill Bikes (who I'd stack up against City Bikes any day), Pawticulars (animal puns are fun!), Backstage (just go in, trust me), Chateau Animaux (animal puns are fun only once) and a bunch of others. Again, check up on the Barracks Row MainStreet site for the whole kit-and-caboodle (yeah, one too many).

Finally, there are some nightlife, bar and grill hangout type places to complete the in-town neighborhood feel. The most interesting are Tapatinis, the Ugly Mug, the Phase and Finn macCool's (not a real neighborhood without at least one Irish place I guess). Together, Eastern Market and Barracks Row can almost make an entire day trip. Or a night trip if you want to get away from some of your regular 42 bus haunts, but still want to go to a "local" establishment. As for the Dunkin' Donuts-Starbucks war.... we'll let residents of SE take that one on. Give me Murky any day. To get to Barracks Row take the Blue or Orange Line to Eastern Market; as you exit the station look to your right. 8th Street SE will lead you into the neighborhood. Map it here.