Georgetown

Shops and restaurants in restored Colonial and Victorian buildings are part of M Street's charm. (August 21, 2003)

Part 1 of a three-part series.

GEORGETOWN - Who says a community steeped in 250 years of American history can't maintain that certain hip factor?

Sure, Georgetown has lovely historic homes, legendary institutions and enough political lore to fill the nearby Potomac River. But lining these famously upscale, stroll-worthy streets are not only SUVs and town cars with diplomatic tags but also hundreds of shops, restaurants, art galleries and nightspots.

They are patrician and funky, all-American and international, classy and cool, youthful and mature - basically like the neighborhood itself, which is bordered by the Potomac, Rock Creek Park and Georgetown University.

"The beauty of this place is that it's not homogenous," says renowned tour guide and author Anthony S. Pitch, who runs D.C. Sightseeing in Potomac. "It is a chic little place, with tremendous selection."

Perhaps no better evidence exists than the juncture of Wisconsin and M streets, the area's bustling, exciting epicenter. The colorful intersection stands as a beacon to high commerce, high style and high rollers: the crisply white Benetton building, clubby Nathan's restaurant, Banana Republic and the gleaming gold dome of Riggs Bank.

It's also a great vantage point to view the dazzling, dizzying array that is Georgetown.

There's always a lively crowd at classic saloons like Clyde's and J. Paul's on M Street.

Nearby, the Shops at Georgetown Park boast dozens of boutiques, eateries and world-class retailers, including Polo/Ralph Lauren and a freshly arrived H&M store.

Recently, there have been other new, trendy additions in the vicinity.

In April, a chic Ritz-Carlton boutique hotel opened at the renovated site of the Georgetown Incinerator, built around the turn of the century.

Just a block or so away, a bright orange-gold exterior boldly trumpets Mie-n-Yu, a global fusion restaurant launched in February, inside the former Georgetown Station.

Hipsters and food critics are buzzing about its exotic decor, deejay and offerings such as Singapore fried rice or lobster gazpacho.


  • Georgetown wasn't always quite so avant-garde. This hamlet named for King George II has quite a long, distinguished history.

    Created in 1751, Georgetown began as a prosperous Maryland river port, a commercial gateway to the unexplored West.

    In 1871, it was incorporated into the District of Columbia, making it the capital's oldest neighborhood. Businesses began growing in variety and number, and the small-town ambiance began to change.

    In the late 19th century, Georgetown became an urban melting pot, where various social classes and races lived together.

    Immigrants opened saloons and stores; a large enslaved and free population contributed to the town's commercial development.

    But when waterway traffic slowed and the economy plummeted, the region's prosperity and genteel grace faded into an industrial slum.