Monday, July 2, 2018

An ode to Columbia Heights

I drafted most of this in October 2016, not long after packing up my DC apartment to move in with my parents for a year. I came across it when I was clearing out my drafts - most of which were not published for good reason (I'm looking at you, 1,300-word incoherent hot take written a week after the 2016 election). But this post fits in the sweet spot of "journal entry that I want in an easy-for-me-to-find location that is not too embarrassing to share with the world." 

In August 2016, Austin moved to Boston for law school and I moved in with my parents in the Maryland suburbs - bringing a definitive coda to the four-year post-college era of living in DC. (Even though I was in the DC area (on and off) for the next year, and commuted into the city for work and play, I felt pretty out of touch with actual DC.)

For our first year in DC, we lived in a group house near the Fort Totten metro. It was cute (read: small) and cheap and had great Metro and community garden access. But there wasn't much there, so we would take the 64 bus into Petworth and Columbia Heights to go out (and go grocery shopping - something I hope I never have to rely on public transit for again). For year two, we accomplished our goal of getting closer to the action and lived above a 7-11 at the busiest intersection of Columbia Heights. It was great until we got burglarized in the process of getting ready to move out so our landlord could move back in.

We were in our next apartment - a well-lit basement apartment close to the action, but not quite as smack-dab-in-the-center-of-it - for two years, and it was my favorite of everywhere we lived. (Two years after moving out, it's still the place that pops into my head when I think of "home.") We accomplished our goal of having a backyard terrace -- full of rats, mosquitos, and magic in varying proportions. We also accomplished our goal of not getting burglarized.

It occurred to me in my last few months of living in DC that my life might not ever be that easy or convenient again. I lived on the same block as a Metro stop. I had a grocery store and Target within a few minutes walk. My commute was 20 minutes door to door. Unless I wanted to go hiking or wine-tasting or something outside the city, I never needed a car. Despite living in a smallish city apartment, I had ample outside space between my little backyard terrace and public parks and pools.

So here are some of the things that I loved about living in Columbia Heights. Maybe this will have some usefulness as recommendations to someone who stumbles across it, but mostly this is what made the neighborhood special to me.

Food & Drink

Each Peach - this is in Mt. Pleasant so a bit of a walk from my apartment, plus it was too expensive to shop there regularly. But every now and then I would stop by after work to pick up a loaf of bread or an ingredient for dinner, and felt like I was living that sweet Parisian life.

Mt Pleasant and Columbia Heights farmers markets - You can get artisanal popsicles and steamed buns in Mt. Pleasant, and excellent tacos in Columbia Heights. We also picked up our CSA at the Mt. Pleasant market for one summer. The Columbia Heights market is also open on Wednesday evenings - there are fewer vendors but also much less foot traffic, so we would often stop there to stock up on veggies mid-week.

Giant and Target - like death and taxes, Giant is more a fact of life than a "recommendation." Completely jam-packed on weekends and likely to be out of half the things you want. But you can't beat the fact that it was open 24 hours and a five minute walk from my apartment. I do not need to expound on its virtues here but how amazing was it that I used to live across the street from a Target???

All the restaurants on 11th street - so many choices here! Our favorite for brunch was probably Kangaroo Boxing Club, a University of Michigan-themed bar with amazing barbecue and a great brunch (which the owners have since turned into some other restaurant "concept"). Our favorite for happy hour was El Chucho - their draft margaritas are cheap and their tacos are tasty. Back in the day, they had happy hour on weekends too which was a real plus.

Our favorites for drinking on the patio were Room 11 and Maple, and Maple was also great for a fancy-ish dinner (I think other than the cheese plates, the food at Room 11 is just okay). We have a love-hate relationship with the Coupe (which is to say that I love it and Austin hates it), but it's definitely a good covers-the-bases type place for a group. We didn't frequent them as often, but Red Rocks also has a great patio and delish pizza, and you can't beat the beer selection at Meridian Pint.

Bad Saint - this is the one thing that I get DC pretentious about. I think we've been 5 or 6 times between the two of us. I can't say "we liked it before it was cool" because it was cool as soon as it opened, but we started going very early in its tenure before the lines were quite as insane as they are now. It was just a few blocks away from us, so we could put in our names and hang out at home until our table was ready. Genevieve, the owner who does the seating, is one of the nicest people ever, and always remembers us when we come in.

For coffee - in nice weather, you can't beat the Room 11 patio for French press and people-watching.  See above re the Coupe. We also liked Flying Fish, though it was a gamble on whether you could find seating. (In the time that I sat on this post, Flying Fish is no more - its space got taken over by Each Peach.) Tyvana is less cute but you can't beat the location and there's plenty of seating. We also have a Starbucks, but I think the only time I went was when I needed to swipe a Starbucks card to jimmy the lock and break back into my apartment. #goodtimes

For treats - we loved Sticky Fingers, a gluten-free bakery. Once, I popped in to buy myself a cupcake to get my strength for grocery-shopping - only to run into Austin who popped in a few minutes later. We only went to Le Caprice a couple times but the French pastries are just fantastic.

Places and Activities

Mt Pleasant Library - it's open till nine most weekdays, and I loved walking through Mt. Pleasant to pick up my holds and getting a few extra Fitbit steps in after work. The DC library system is just fantastic.

Rock Creek Park - you can probably access some section of Rock Creek Park from every area in DC, but I felt particularly well-placed in our old neighborhood. We were just about a mile away from great running/biking paths plus trails through the woods, which led to horse pastures and secluded spots by the creek. There were many times I set off for a sweaty run and instead ended up on a meandering hike through the park. I would go wander in the woods sometimes when I needed to clear my head or make a big decision.

Banneker Pool - this is closer to Shaw/Howard, about a 15-minute walk from the Columbia Heights metro stop. The DC pool scene is very extra - to get a lounge chair you have to be in line before it opens at noon, and then you must aggressively guard it. But the people-watching is great and the whole experience just screams "DC Summer Saturday."

All Souls Unitarian Church - I went to services infrequently here, but always loved them. It's a mainstay of the DC progressive religious community - they offer ESL, take on initiatives for fair housing, and have fly a Black Lives Matter banner. The choir is just fantastic and the sermons always gave me a lot to ponder. I wish I had appreciated it more when I was there - the Cambridge Unitarian church is meh by comparison.

Meridian Hill Park - we watched the Fourth of July fireworks in 2014 here. My 26th birthday barbecue picnic was here. I would bring a book and picnic blanket and squeeze in some outside time here. I explored it when it was a winter wonderland during Snowzilla. When I was in running phases, I would do laps around it several times a week. There is also a drummer's circle every Sunday afternoon, better known to me as "white people trying too hard." It was amazing to have this big sprawling green space so close to my apartment.

I could do a much longer post about favorite stuff even just by expanding north to Petworth or south to U Street, let alone to the whole city, so I will leave it there for now. Columbia Heights, I still miss you.

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