U Street Corridor Walk
You'll need a couple of hours to explore U Street fully, especially if you want to stop in the African-American Civil War Museum. For maps, shopping, and dining information, stop in the Greater U Street Neighborhood and Visitor Center next to Ben's Chili Bowl, and don't stray too far off the main drag, especially at night.
Begin at the 10th Street exit of the U Street/Cardozo Metro station and emerge right at the African-American Civil War Memorial, which honors the black soldiers who fought in the Union Army. For more on that story, walk two blocks west to the African-American Civil War Museum, which tells the tale of Africans in America from the slave trade through the civil rights movement with numerous photos and documents. Don't miss the Duke Ellington Mural on the western side of the building.
Once the hub of black cultural life, with first-run movies and live performances, the Lincoln Theatre now functions as an event venue. The historic 12th Street YMCA has become the Thurgood Marshall Center, a community center that houses a museum on the history of African Americans in the U Street/Shaw neighborhood. Duke Ellington fans can find his former homes at 1805 and 1813 13th Street.
Although the neighborhood was nearly destroyed in the rioting that followed the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., U Street has reclaimed some of its former musical vibe. Bohemian Caverns combines a restaurant with an underground music venue and upstairs club that has hosted jazz greats since 1926. On V Street, the 9:30 Club attracts big-name rock bands and lesser-known indie artists to one of the East Coast's coolest concert halls. South on 14th Street, the Black Cat rocks out with independent and alternative bands from the city and around the world. DC9 hosts an eclectic mix of local and national bands and DJs. Find it on the corner of 9th and U.
A longtime center for African American life in the District, U Street is now home to many of the city's African immigrants, who have brought their culinary traditions to the neighborhood. Standout restaurants in D.C.'s unofficial Little Ethiopia, such as Etete, tempt diners with spongy injera bread and hearty meat and vegetarian dishes. Although trendy multicultural dining is in abundance here, the city's humble roots remain strong. The granddaddy of Washington diners, Ben's Chili Bowl, has been serving chili, chili dogs, chili burgers, and half-smokes (spicy sausages served in a hot-dog bun) since 1958. A sign inside used to let you know that only Bill Cosby eats at Ben's for free, until November 2008, when the Obama family was added to the list.
U Street's shopping scene has garnered attention in recent years as well. Most of the boutiques are clustered on U Street between 14th and 16th streets. Pop in and out of the little shops to find cutting-edge footwear, Asian furnishings, playful housewares, and eclectic or vintage clothing. Fourteenth Street has some rich pickings as well, and you could happily detour all the way south to Logan Circle, past the Source Theater. To the east of the commercial district lies the historically black college Howard University, which now educates a diverse student body. Notable graduates include authors Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison, opera singer Jessye Norman, and the political adviser and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Ralph Bunche.
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