14th & U: A Revitalized Corridor

Shopping, Eating, and Living on DC's newest gay strip


Published on April 7, 2005, 12:00am | Comments


It's no secret that 14th Street in Northwest is one of the city's fastest growing and most dynamic neighborhoods. Over the past few years, new businesses have sprouted from Thomas Circle in the south to U Street in the north. Housing values have risen, and new condominiums are poised throughout the neighborhood.

Any way you look at it, 14th Street is the place to be. Whether you're searching for a neighborhood to call home or a place that offers more personal shopping and dining experiences than in the big chains, you'll want to take a stroll around the 14th & U Street corridor.

Chances are you'll find something for every part of your life.


Improve Your Body

It's hard to say "gym" and not think "Results." After all, Results the Gym (1612 U Street NW; 202-518-0001; www.resultsthegym.com) has become a mainstay in the gay community -- and the community at large -- since it opened its doors eight years ago.

"We really planned it to be the epicenter of the community," says owner Doug Jefferies. "[And] the neighborhood took to it very quickly."

Results is a full-service gym, offering a wide range of state-of-the-art equipment and programs to help its members develop their bodies to their full potential.

"We distinguish ourselves as an all above-ground, bright, spotlessly clean, and service-oriented facility," Jefferies says. "We have a friendly, welcoming staff. We have something for everyone."

What also distinguishes Results is its role as a hub for the community, as the gym is known as much for its social interaction as for its intense workout opportunities.

"People just use it as an urban community center," says Jefferies. But even though he had specifically planned for the gym to be a social center, he was surprised by how quickly the Results community came together.

"I didn't realize the community would be so attached to its gym," he says.

The benefit for him, he says, is getting "to serve my community. I get the satisfaction of that, and I'm grateful."

When you're thinking of improving your body, don't forget about your eyes. If they are the window to the soul, you'll want them to be as healthy as possible. And the Xspectical Eye Care Center (1516 U Street NW; 202-299-9109) is a great place to keep your peepers in top shape.

Optician Ken Preston opened Xspectical three years ago, fulfilling the life-long Washingtonian's dream of owning a business in the historic neighborhood. With 30 years experience as an optician, Preston says having his own store is a welcome experience.

"I like to have a more personal touch," he says. "I like dealing with customers and helping them maintain good eye health."

Xspectical offers eye exams, eyeglasses, contact lenses and repairs, as well as consultations on Lasik procedures. You can also find a selection of frames to fit your own style -- keep an eye out for the upcoming trunk show where you'll find the latest from prominent vendors.


Better Your Mind

Washington is known as a well-read town, which makes the debut of Candida's World of Books (1541 14th Street NW; 202-667-4811) a welcome addition to the city. But it's been especially welcome to the 14th Street neighborhood.

Candida Mannozzi opened the store just over a year ago. The bookstore specializes in travel and international books, literature in both original language and English translation, as well as maps and cookbooks. Mannozzi thought an international city like Washington would be perfect for such an approach, and she's been pleasantly surprised by how quickly the store has established itself in the community.

"I was surprised by how welcome I've been made to feel in the neighborhood," she says, pointing out that she listens to the recommendations of her customers to make the store a stronger resource for them.

"Even though I have a certain knowledge [of books and literature], I can't know everything there is to know," she says. "My customers have been an amazing resource."

Mannozzi is excited by the growth in the neighborhood and the balance between residential and retail spaces that keeps the area vibrant every day of the week.

"I think the retail owners and restaurants have picked this area because they want to be a part of the neighborhood," she says. "You don't pick it just as a cash cow. You come in here if you want to do something in and for the community."


Set Your Style

While there are stores to suit many shopping needs along 14th Street, one of the brightest additions to the scene has been Pop (1803A 14th Street NW; 202-332-3312; www.shoppop.com), purveyor of "young, hip clothing and accessories for men and women," according to owner Sheila Sharma.

"It's a boutique atmosphere, but not boutique prices," she says.

If you stop by Pop you'll find styles and designers such as Penguin and Ben Sherman. But what you won't find are lots and lots of the same item.

"We carry things in small quantities so everyone's not wearing the same thing," Sharma says. "I don't re-order and you won't find the same labels all over town. It's a good way to get a distinctive look at an affordable price."

A former lawyer who lives in the neighborhood, Sharma decided to fill a need selling great styles "that aren't ridiculously priced." She didn't have any prior retail experience before launching the store three years ago, a fact that didn't slow her down.

"Practicing law makes you creative about what else it is you want to do," she laughs.

Sharma also found a support system among the business owners on the street.

"It's a very communal feel," she says. "Everyone's invested, and I think you really feel that. People really care about the neighborhood."

One venerable way to create stylish looks is to head to a vintage clothing store, and Meeps (1520 U Street NW; 202-265-6546; www.meepsonu.com) is there to lend a vintage hand, along with a few contributions from local designers.

Co-owners Leann Trowbridge and Danni Sharkey took over Meeps three and a half years ago, when the previous owner decided to sell. After 13 years of operation, the store has built up a history of its own.

"It's been here longer than a majority of the shops on the street," says Trowbridge. "I think it has a unique character. It's a little rough around the edges, which we like. It makes it special -- it's like you're going into someone's closet."

And, for many, a trip to Meeps is about more than just style. It's about being social. It's about sitting upstairs and watching your friend try on different outfits. It's about having fun.

"People really like coming to a shop where the owners are the ones helping them," Trowbridge says. "I do feel like we've built a bit of community among the business owners, on this block in particular. There's a cooperative feeling there."

If you want to make sure your personal style shines through, you should stop by Sun on U (1301 U Street NW; 202-464-7100; www.sunonu1.com).

"We are a tanning salon that offers great service and makes people look fabulous when they walk out," says Charles Cox, who owns the salon along with Gregory Denney and Lawrence Elliott.

Traditional UV beds are available at Sun on U, but unlike tanning beds of the past that demanded significant time commitments, the maximum session in these beds is 12 minutes. You can also try Mystic Tanning -- a spray-on system with bronzers that leave you looking tan for up to a week.

Before you hit the tanning, you'll want to try the SpaJet, a self-contained spa combination of light, aroma, water and steam therapies. "You feel so good after you walk out of there," says Cox.

Cox says that the trio of owners benefited from a bit of providence when they found their location. After looking around the metropolitan area, Denney happened by the Ellington building and saw a sign that the newly constructed space was available. When he called he found that another business had backed out of the space only 20 minutes earlier. They all knew immediately that this was the location for them.

"You have a number of really nice businesses here," Cox says. "There's a whole new energy. As a business owner, we're really happy to see it."


Establish Your Home

Gina Schaefer and her husband Mark Friedman had lived in Logan Circle for several years when they noticed a particular type of store lacking in the neighborhood.

"We thought the neighborhood needed a hardware store," she says. So one day Schaefer quit her tech sector day job ("I was going to get laid off anyway"), came home and announced, "I'm opening a hardware store." Eight months later, on March 1, 2003, Logan Hardware (1416 P Street NW; 202-265-8900) opened its doors to an appreciative public.

Schaefer says customers can get "just about anything they need" -- Logan Hardware's core products are supplied by the Ace Hardware co-operative. And if you don't see it on the floor, she'll happily order it. (High-end bath fixtures are especially popular.) Recently, Logan Hardware began carrying elfa® Storage items, previously only available at larger retail venues.

Schaefer owes part of the store's success to the abundance of construction work in the neighborhood, as well as to her competitive prices.

"People come into the store all the time and say, 'You're probably more expensive than Home Depot. You're probably more expensive than Target.' I tell them to go and compare. We're not more expensive."

Schaefer says that first-time customers are often surprised by Logan Hardware's deceptive size. It looks small from the outside, but inside the store's three floors harbor 5,000 square feet of retail space. And, as Schaeffer says with a smile, "You can put a lot of products in 5,000 square feet."

After the home is built and the furnishings installed all that's needed for that perfect touch is art.

And that's when you make a call to Mike Weber.

The New York transplant who used to work in the television graphics field before pursuing his love of painting large-scale modern art has developed quite the local following. And with Mike Weber Art For Modern Living (202-271-6342; www.mike-weber.com) the co-owner of Simply Home Cuisine has started to officially represent other artists as well.

"That way I can provide even more inventory to my current client list and future customers," he says.

That client list has its share of celebrities, but it also includes homeowners currently moving into the condo-burgeoning 14th & U Street corridor.

"The market that's moving into the neighborhood, they're a little bit more unique," says Weber. "They like the trendier lofts, and I think the artwork that I sell and the artists that I represent, is catchy, it's fun, it's a little bit more unique than what you'll find in a lot of the galleries D.C." Variety for younger people, is how Weber puts it.

"People are finally recognizing that there's a lot of great work coming out of emerging young artists," he continues. "And I want to be the gallery in D.C. that not only attracts known national names, but local names."

Weber, who sees clients by appointment, is currently looking for a gallery space within the 14th Street confines. "I love working close to home," he says. "I like working with my neighbors. They inspire me."


Eat Your Fill

Glenn Mlaker's experience parallels that of Logan Hardware's Gina Schaefer. "I was an urban planner and architect for the State Department," he says, "and I decided I wanted to open my own business." He settled on Hamburger Mary's (1337 14th St. NW; 202-232-7010), a budding franchise out of California.

"It was a different concept," says Mlaker. "I thought it was fun." He took a space on 14th Street and opened Mary's in March of 2001. Four years later things are going stronger than ever for the restaurant and its accompanying bar, Titan.

"We're not a 5-Star sit-down restaurant," says Mlaker. "We are what we are and we do a good job at what we do." That said, the burgers at Hamburger Mary's have a fun kick to them. Consider The Buffy Burger, named for TV's famed vampire slayer. Spiked with garlic, the 8-ounce patty is topped with 2 kinds of cheese, lettuce, tomato and a deep-red wine sauce. The crowning touch? A knife driven right through the middle of its bun.

The most popular burger is The Queen Mary, but the big eaters make a direct run for the Proud Mary, more than a pound of beef topped with Mary's special sauce, lettuce, tomato, pickles, two kinds of cheese, bacon and grilled onions. It's enough to make you want seconds, just so you can take home the leftovers for later.

Mlaker notes that all the burgers can be replaced with chicken breast filets, ground turkey or even vegetarian patties.

He is grateful to the neighborhood for its loyal support. "Most of our clientele live in the neighborhood and walk here," he says. "We have people who come three or four times a week and sit down to have dinner and a few drinks with friends."

Come spring, Mary's plans to hold a weekly "Yappie Hour" in conjunction with Pets-DC, a local AIDS service organization. Explains Mlaker: "All the Logan Circle dog owners can come down and bring their dogs and congregate in front of the restaurant on the patio and have a few drinks and socialize."

Socializing is one of the major components of the nearby 1409 Playbill Café (1409 14th St. NW; 202-265-3055), and you can often find people there long past the dinner hour, singing Karaoke on Thursday nights or gathered around a table in the back, engaged in a lively discussion about some local play while nibbling on freshly made humus. Look even more closely and you might spot some of Washington's theater elite -- The Shakespeare Theatre's Michael Kahn is a regular -- planning their upcoming productions.

The walls are jammed with photographs of local actors and publicity stills from shows, both current and old. And owner Elsayed Mansour prefers it no other way.

"I love the theater," says the 51-year-old, who co-owns Playbill with his partner Jeffrey DeMontier.

The Culinary Institute of America-trained Mansour, an Egyptian by birth, takes ordinary dishes and makes them extraordinary by applying a Middle Eastern flair. Popular favorites include Grandma's Meatloaf, a savory blend of meat and spices served with a mountain of garlicky mashed potatoes, as well as the ever-popular Shrimp Linguini. As for his wildly-popular secret-recipe humus, Mansour says, "I can't make enough of it -- I run out like crazy."

Also popular: Sunday brunch's Portabello Mushroom Benedict, in which the steak-like mushroom, perfectly grilled, replaces the traditional muffin. Ham is available upon request, but most people order it for its healthy vegetarian properties.

Playbill Cafe, which has been operating for seven years, offers smaller theater companies an intimate, 50-seat space in which to perform. (One company, The Open Circle Theater, garnered a Helen Hayes nomination this year.) It's Mansour's way of supporting the thespian community he so clearly adores. This spring, he plans to launch an open mike night where anyone can get up -- and do just about anything.

For Simply Home Cuisine (1412 U Street NW; 202-232-THAI) Sak Pollert decided to combine elements of two of his other businesses -- the elegant home-accoutrements store Simply Home in Adams Morgan, and Rice, his phenomenally successful Thai restaurant -- to create a carry-out like none other.

"I thought it would be a good idea to feature food and a home furnishings store -- something different than just carry out," says the native of Thailand, who has lived in America for 15 years. "It's a cute little place, nothing fancy, something simple, yet it's different from other fast food or food chain stores or even local restaurants. It's more of my style."

"When you walk in," says co-owner Mike Weber, "you notice that it has a different feel. It's a little more inviting than a lot of the other restaurants. Also, just to be able to get something in the neighborhood that's simple, fast, fresh and also very healthy makes us unique for this neighborhood."

The fare leans toward classic Thai -- everything from shrimp lemongrass soup to chicken satay with peanut sauce and pad thai shrimp or chicken -- with a few intriguing sidetracks, such as spaghetti and mushrooms in a spicy tomato sauce or a grilled beef burger with Thai seasonings.

But it's more than just food, says Weber. "We sell a lot of home accessories that are related to food items -- handmade ceramic bowls, or chopsticks. Some of the items are made by a Bangkok women's shelter in Thailand. So when our customers are buying something, they're actually providing opportunity to battered women in Bangkok. There are good causes behind what we're doing."

Pollert says the neighborhood, with its constant renovation, is an important key to his success.

"The neighbors are very supportive," he says, adding, "I'm only a small part of the whole [14th & U Street] development. I just go out to do what I want to do -- but lucky me, 14th and U did such a wonderful job [reinventing the neighborhood], I'm benefiting.

"Besides," he says with a laugh, "I like it here more than Georgetown."