Hip hot spots mix into history-rich Georgetown area

Shops and restaurants in restored Colonial and Victorian buildings are part of M Street's charm.
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.

    New Deal programs later resurrected the area, and in 1950, Congress passed the Old Georgetown Act, which helped preserve the small-town feel and historic architecture.

    By the '60s, many original family-run operations were being replaced by restaurants, bars and specialty stores that catered to the young, single and professional population.

    Georgetown enjoyed major hype in the '80s as a yuppie haven for shopping, dining and barhopping - the latter immortalized in the film St. Elmo's Fire.

    In recent years, things have slowed a bit. Some merchants blame the economy and newer must-see spots such as Miami's South Beach.

    Still, visitors continue to flock here from all over the world.

    The power and social prestige remain. Several homes owned by the Kennedys draw tourists. Current residents include former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Sen. John Kerry.

    Recently, a community newspaper, The Georgetowner, reported that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was spotted lunching in the area.

    Just another fabulous day in Georgetown.

    Where to shop

    The Shops at Georgetown Park (3222 M St., 202-298-5577): Four-level, upscale mall with more than 100 retailers, cafes in a Victorian setting. Noteworthy: As Seen on TV (202-333-3900), where one can buy the "world's safest can opener" or the "amazing rotating hairbrush."

    Wisconsin Avenue and M Street: A stunning variety of antiques stores, bookstores, galleries, shops, record stores, bars and restaurants along Georgetown's most heavily traveled thoroughfares.

    CD Warehouse (3003 M St., 202-625-7101): Specialists in new, used and imported CDs and DVDs. Owner Richard Swaine, a London transplant, also shows local and international artists on a tiny wall gallery.

    Steve Madden (3109 M St., 202-342-6195): Shoes for gals who wanna be in an MTV video - or look like it. Everything from leopard slides with rhinestone buckles to 6-inch-heel pink-suede platforms.

    Deja Blue (3005 M St., 202-337-7100): The red neon sign boasts of thousands of old jeans. You'll also find Converse sneakers, Hawaiian shirts and more.

    Sephora (3065 M St., 202-338-5644): Mecca for anyone who adores cosmetics, and myriad brands. The friendly sales staff (like Ky, Tyson and Zachary) love giving make-overs. Next door is MAC (3067 M St., 202-944-9771), where the fun crew, as Madonna sang in her hit "Vogue," also give "great face."

    Urban Outfitters (3111 M St., 202-342-1012): Funky vintage-inspired clothing and T's, zippy home furnishings and kitschy objets d'art. We spied a red velour statuette of Jesus, a Redd Foxx bobblehead and a Buddha soap on a rope.

    Where to dine and more

    The Ritz Carlton, Georgetown (3100 South St., 202-912-4100): This 86-room hotel (complete with a 130-foot smokestack) boasts residences, shopping and a 14-screen Loews movie theater. Try Fahrenheit restaurant, Degrees Bar and the Lobby Lounge, with its soaring ceilings, fab floral arrangements and wood-burning fireplace.

    Mie-n-Yu (3125 M St., 202-333-6122): A feast for the senses. Divine cuisine and a gleefully global Moroccan bazaar and Turkish/Asian feel. Color-drenched, with gauze, pillows, plush daybeds and lanterns, mirrors, fountains and a giant wrought-iron bird cage. The deejay plays past 2 a.m. on weekends.

    Twist (3011 M St., 202-333-1111): Owner George Wally has run this groovy restaurant and wine bar for four years. Recline on velvet and leather couches or dine on saffron chicken breast with pineapple yams atop a spicy pomegranate-walnut shelf.

    Clyde's of Georgetown: (3236 M St., 202-333-9180): In the heart of Georgetown, with burgers, salads and yummy desserts like homemade blackberry pie a la mode all summer.

    Zed's Ethiopian Cuisine (1201 28th St., 202-333-4710): Award-winning fare with everything from seafood and poultry to lamb and vegetarian delights.


    Blues Alley (1073 Wisconsin Ave., 202-337-4141. Rear entrance south of M Street in the alley): Intimate jazz-supper club famous for some three decades for presenting greats such as Nancy Wilson, Wynton Marsalis and Tony Bennett.

    Georgetown's Saloun (3239 M St., 202-965-4900): Live R&B and jazz, plus a bar that carries bottled beer from two dozen countries.

    Getting there

    Take the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to New York Avenue to Mount Vernon Square. From there, take K Street toward waterfront. The subway does not serve the area, but the blue and yellow Georgetown Metro Connection Shuttle runs about every 10 minutes. 202-625-7433.

    More information

    Washington D.C. Convention and Tourism Corporation. 202-789-7099 or www.washington .org.

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