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In Adams Morgan, you know you're not at the mall

Sun Staff

You're biting into a California roll, anticipating what you'll eat next from the $26.95 brunch buffet at Perry's, and, suddenly, loud music blares and lip-synching drag queens surround your table, urging your friend to take off his shirt.

It is not an ordinary brunch, but Adams Morgan is not an ordinary neighborhood.

The Washington hot spot is best known for its nightlife (think 20-somethings flooding the streets in a drunken stupor amid a string of bars), but the eclectic neighborhood is also a great place to spend an afternoon walking, shopping and eating. And if you're up for a loud and lively evening, there's no shortage of places to grab a drink.

The area, named for two neighborhood schools during segregation - the mostly white Adams and predominantly black Morgan - is the hub of the city's Latino population.

And in recent years, an influx of young professionals has given rise to large condominium complexes and such chains as Starbucks Coffee amid the convenience stores and unique rowhouses.

It is best to start exploring at the heart of the neighborhood - the intersection of Columbia Road and 18th Street Northwest Along 18th Street, visitors encounter a mix of bars that double as restaurants during the day, unique furniture stores and other shops selling sundry knick-knacks.

Music lovers should stop at Crooked Beat Records (2318 18th St. N.W., 202-483-2328). The former online company set up shop last fall and offers a mix of new and used CDs and hard-to-find indie, jazz, funk and hip-hop selections on vinyl. The staff is knowledgeable and willing to track down what customers are looking for. There's even a section dedicated to local acts.

Idle Time Books (2467 18th St. N.W., 202-232-4774) is a great place to find cheap novels, out-of-print lit or old textbooks. Paperbacks are half-price at the used bookstore, which spans three floors.

For those looking to brighten their homes, Skynear and Company (2122 18th St. N.W., 202-797-7160), Miss Pixie's Furnishings and What Not (1810 Adams Mill Road N.W., 202-232-8171), and the recently opened DaDa Decorative Arts (1814 Adams Mill Road N.W., 202-387-3232) all sell unique furniture and decor. Items available recently included cherry-red chairs, stylish lamps and oddities such as an old tennis trophy and large model ship.

Shake Your Booty (2439 18th St. N.W., 202-518-8205), a shoe boutique whose pink brick facade lures female passers-by, features a collection of strappy sandals, wedges and heels for the summer, as well as funky necklaces, earrings and printed tees. For shoppers looking for something more exotic, stop in at Kobos Afrikan Clothiers Inc. (2444 18th St. N.W., 202-332- 9580), which sells African clothing and jewelry.

The bright, buxom redhead painted on the side of Madam's Organ (2461 18th St. N.W., 202-667-5370) is one of the can't-miss murals in the neighborhood. This bar offers soul food including fried chicken and collard greens; live blues or jazz nightly, and half-priced Rolling Rock for redheads. There are also free pool tables and a rooftop deck.

Where to eat

For those who can find a spot to sit (and that is no easy task), always-crowded Tryst (2459 18th Street N.W., 202-232-5500) doubles as a coffeehouse and bar. Inexpensive sandwiches, pastries and, of course, coffee and alcohol are available. Try the fresh strawberries served with warm Nutella.

For a quick bite to eat, head to one of the several pizza shops selling jumbo slices, a favorite among the bar crowd. Oversized slices of thin, greasy cheese cost about $3.50.

Not in a rush? Try any number of the neighborhood's Ethiopian restaurants, or dig into the fresh authentic Mexican at Mixtec (1792 Columbia Road, 202-332-1011). And if you have plenty of time to spare, join the line that forms next door outside Pasta Mia (1790 Columbia Road, 202-328-9114) about 6 p.m. Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner, this Italian establishment's homemade pastas - some dishes are as cheap as $10, and the portions are enormous - are so delicious that it's not uncommon for residents to wait outside about an hour for a table.

If you're willing to spend a bit more, Perry's (1811 Columbia Road N.W., 202-234-6218), host of the drag brunch, serves sushi and other dishes.

Where to park

If you're not familiar with the intricacies of D.C.'s parking rules, it's a good idea to take the Metro's red line to the Adams Morgan/Woodley Park-Zoo stop. From there, take a cab or walk about a mile to 18th Street. If you park on city streets for more than two hours without a permit, be prepared to receive a ticket. Other parking options include the recently built garage off 18th Street. Meters are also available, but it is almost impossible to snag one.

Getting there

Take Interstate 95 South to Interstate 495 West toward Silver Spring/Bethesda. Take the Route 97 Silver Spring/Wheaton exit (Exit 31). Turn left onto Route 97 south. Bear right onto Route 390 toward 16th Street/Washington. Drive about six miles. Turn right onto Columbia Road. Turn left onto 18th Street.

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