Saturday, January 2, 2010

Harry Jaffe: It's old home week at D.C.'s gathering spots

For a dinner to celebrate the gathering of my far-flung family members, I chose Arucola, a local eatery on Connecticut Avenue just south of Chevy Chase Circle.

It was that hazy, semivacation week between Christmas and New Year's Day. The place was jammed, from wood-fired pizza stove to bar to windowed front room. It seemed the entire neighborhood had turned out. I saw union boss Andy Stern, who has Barack Obama on speed dial. My daughters pointed out kids they had known since Lafayette Elementary. Our waiter had graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High with one of my girls.

As a city, Washington, D.C., has the rap as a transient place populated by rootless politicians and bureaucrats. That's not the city I know. Like Boston or New York or Baltimore, we know local places that define us.

The revelry from last week's celebrations will give way to more gatherings with friends and family. Obey the rules: Don't drink and drive! But no one says you can't drink and walk -- or just eat and walk. Here are a few of my favorite neighborhood joints from one end of Washington to the other:

Down Connecticut Avenue from Arucola there's the trusty Chevy Chase Lounge, connected to Parthenon, the Greek restaurant that's been there forever. At the corner of Connecticut and Nebraska, check out Comet, a fine pizza restaurant with a long bar and high-class food.

The strip of stores and bars in Cleveland Park has an abundance of fine options. Locals hit these two: Nanny O'Brien's, smaller and more gritty than Ireland's Four Provinces on the west side of Connecticut; and down the steps to Atomic Billiards, where the beers are cold and cheap.

Penn Quarter is jammed with watering holes and eateries, but many are franchises. Locals tend to hang out at Oyamel, on Seventh Street. Great bar and terrific tapas.

Lord knows it's hard to stumble on Columbia Road and not wind up in a bar or restaurant. Locals still go to Millie & Al's, known for cheap drafts and greasy pizza, which seem to go together perfectly in this ancient meeting place.

The "New U" is no longer so new, but the run from Columbia Road to 14th has plenty of places to sit and chat and imbibe. When locals want to hit a dive bar, they wander in to Stetson's. Expect no frills.

On Capital Hill's Pennsylvania Avenue strip, Tune Inn still tops Hawk & Dove in my book. Can't get more D.C. than Tunnicliff's, across from Eastern Market. It attracts the local crowd, too.

Brookland? Try Colonel Brook's Tavern across from Catholic University.

Moving east, Antonio Roberson has opened Langston Bar and Grill at 1831 Benning Road. You have to navigate past some rough corners, but the shrimp and grits are worth it.

And up in the Anacostia hills, Players Lounge at 2737 Martin Luther King Avenue SE, is where locals like Marion Barry head for old home week.

When you come home, don't drink and drive -- just walk to a local joint.

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