Growing Up: H Street’s Rapid Restaurant Maturation

by Rebecca Cooper

Inside Smith Commons

Much has been written in recent months about the maturation of the dining scene on Adams Morgan’s 18th street. To that, the new swath of restaurateurs on H Street NE might say: “Took you long enough.”

Over the past year, the restaurant and bar scene along H Street has evolved at breakneck speed, as high-quality, cuisine-centric restaurants opened along a strip that catered mostly to bar-goers and weekend partiers in its early days of redevelopment. When bar magnate Joe Englert began redeveloping properties and opening up his string of H Street bars less than 10 years ago, he probably didn’t envision that by 2012 the area would be a bona fide restaurant destination.

In the last 18 months or so, new restaurants along the strip, such as the Atlas Room and Smith Commons, have leapt onto the city’s dining scene. People are waiting several hours for a table at Belgian joint Granville Moore’s or Toki Underground, an authentic ramen bar that received 2.5 stars from the Washington Post’s scrupulous Tom Sietsema. H Street now even has a restaurant noteworthy enough for a presidential visit. (Obama took some supporters to the newly opened Boundary Road in February.)

400 H Street NE before and after it became TruOrleans.

“We were trying to play on the trend of restaurants that were more of hybrids, bar/restaurants, with gourmet quality food, high-end craft beers, but presented in a much more comfortable, approachable environment,” Miles Gray, managing partner at Smith Commons, told UrbanTurf. That’s not to say the recent restaurant additions don’t recognize the type of neighborhood they moved into. Smith Commons has both a lounge and patio that attract the demographic that flooded the blocks when the area was getting hip. Still, an increasingly diverse mix of folks can be seen roaming the streets on weekend nights.

“The new influx of restaurants and bars is giving a reason for people who don’t live in the area to come over and check out what’s going on,” says Gray.

Frank Harkins, who opened SOVA Espresso & Wine in 2007, says the diversity of the crowd coming into his business on a daily basis has increased steadily for the past couple of years. “Before [people said] ‘oh, H Street, it’s so hipster,’” Harkins remarks. “Now you’ve got places catering to more mature adults.” Such is the reason why he decided to open a wine bar as the nighttime foil for his coffeeshop.

“I saw a playhouse to the right, a performing arts center to the left, and I realized, not everyone there is going to want to see sword swallowers at the Palace of Wonders,” Harkins says. “There’s a demographic similarity between latte drinkers and wine drinkers. It just smacked me in the face.”

Before and After — Smith Commons.

Because all the new places that have opened have tried to do something substantially different than what’s already going on in the neighborhood, local businesses that have been in the area for years have not suffered, says Shaaren Pine, who co-owns the Argonaut with her husband, Scott Magnuson.

“You would think that more places would take away from our business, but it just gets more people to the street,” she says. “And nobody’s really doing something that’s already been done.”

The Argonaut, one of the avenue’s trailblazers, has undergone its own maturation, but that’s actually been more a product of circumstance than anything else. The restaurant suffered a devastating fire in 2011, requiring a substantial renovation. When rebuilding, Pine and Magnuson took the opportunity to add a number of new tap lines for a top-notch craft beer program. “There were some people that were not as happy that we were not as divey,” she says. “I think we’re still pretty divey.”

As things have changed around it, the Argonaut has shifted into being more of a restaurant than a bar. “We grew up and had a baby,” Pine says. “We looked around and realized that everyone in the neighborhood was pregnant and having babies, so we wanted to have a place where their kids were as welcome as they are.”

The changes to H Street’s restaurant and bar landscape will continue into the coming year. The folks behind Taylor Gourmet have a cheesesteak place in the works and work is ongoing at The Casbah, a southeast Asian-themed restaurant that will sit at 1128 H Street NE. For a more detailed picture of how the scene has evolved over the past several years, check out the chronological list below:

The Old Guard

  • Argonaut (2005): One of the originals, divey bar now turned stroller happy hour hot spot.
  • H Street Martini Lounge (2005): Live music and 63 kinds of martinis, including one that comes with a lollipop.
  • Palace of Wonders (2008)/Red and Black (2006): Sideshow-themed burlesque bar and tiny, hip live music venue that in 2011 merged into one venue/restaurant.
  • Rock & Roll Hotel (2006): Intimate live music venue that hosts indie acts, upstairs can be anything from a drunk spelling bee to private parties to late-night dance destination.
  • SOVA (2007): Coffeeshop and wine bar that’s become a busy weeknight neighborhood hang and a must for Atlas Theater ticket holders.
  • The Pug (2008): Boxing-themed, no nonsense bar with simple rules: No idiots; no shooters; no bombs.

In Between

  • Sticky Rice (2008): Sushi bar that puts its own twist on the concept by featuring signatures like the massive red dragon roll, sticky balls, and tater tots.
  • Granville Moore’s (2009): Turns an old, tiny doctor’s office into a gastropub with killer mussels and a beer list right out of Belgium.
  • Little Miss Whiskey’s Golden Dollar (2009): Wild west-tinged bar that has regular DJ nights and weekly Kostume Karaoke, but also has a serious beer list.


  • The Atlas Room (2010): Semi-formal dining room and a kitchen manned by two veteran chefs cooking high-quality world cuisine.
  • TruOrleans (2011): New Orleans style restaurant with cajun menu, deadly Hurricanes, and a bottomless mimosa brunch that rivals the best in the city.
  • Big Board (2011): The latest to catch on to the gourmet burger craze, the restaurant also features entree salads and a craft beer program whose prices are dominated by a ticker-esque “big board”.
  • Smith Commons (2011): Chic, sprawling restaurant and bar with locally-sourced menu and an ever-growing craft beer program.
  • Toki Underground (2011): Taiwanese ramen and dumplings outpost that has become a go-to spot for the city’s culinary connoisseurs.
  • Boundary Road (2012): Recent addition that made headlines with a foie gras-laced PB&J sandwich, and an Obama visit within weeks of opening.

Photo Credits
* Before and After Smith Commons — HStreet.org and Smith Commons
* 400 block of H Street NE — HStreet.org and TruOrleans

See other articles related to: h street corridor, h street

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/growing_up_h_streets_rapid_restaurant_maturation/5378


  1. East_H said at 11:37 am on Friday April 6, 2012:

    Thanks for this. It’s so true—moving into the neighborhood just a few years ago, I hoped things would progress but I had no idea it would be so quickly. Lots of great options on H now, to the point we rarely decide to leave the neighborhood.

  1. Stacys said at 12:53 pm on Friday April 6, 2012:

    Don’t forget Ethiopic - one of my favorite restaurants on H St and my favorite Ethiopian place.

  1. Brian said at 1:36 pm on Friday April 6, 2012:

    +1 for Stacys: Tom Siestma raves about Ethiopic, and they were the first to take a risk with a high-end place on the west end of H.

  1. H Street regular said at 2:45 pm on Friday April 6, 2012:

    Lots of gaps here if you’re looking to create a chronological history - in addition to Ethiopic, there’s also the Queen Vic, Pho Bar & Gril, Shwafel, Star & Shamrock, Dangerously Delicious Pies, Sidamo, Biergarten Haus, H Street Country Club, Fruit Bat, Inspire BBQ, Church & State, Taylor, Souk, Khan’s, Liberty Tree, HR-57, Zuppa Fresca…Plus, the Martini Lounge is long-gone, as are two separate versions of Toyland and the “blues place” which preceded it.  Just off of H, there are a number of others to add:  Toscana, Jimmy Valentine’s, Chinoto’s,  and the late Capitol City Diner, Naby’s and Langston Grille.  A list of the many soon-to-be-open places like the upcoming French place @ 6th, and numerous others, would have helped show which direction the street is heading as well…

  1. HSt4Life said at 3:26 pm on Friday April 6, 2012:

    +1 for H street regular!

    You would think an article dedicated to listing all the H Street restaurants would at least list them all!

    Aaaand, since when is Little Miss Whiskeys a “wild west tinged bar”? I think ‘New Orleans gothic’ describes it better. Anyone expecting to find cowboy hats and big belt buckles would be turn and run in a hurry.

  1. Campy said at 4:21 pm on Friday April 6, 2012:

    Let’s pipeline it too:

    Le Grenier (5th)
    Hakari Sushi (6th)
    Po Boys Kitchen (7th)
    Chupacabra (9th)
    Ben’s Chili Bowl II (10th)
    Kith & Kin & Pizza (11th)
    Casbah (12th)
    Souk II Hookah Wine Bar (13th)
    Impala (13th)
    Taylor Charles Steak & Ice (13th)
    Sol Mexican Grill (12th)
    Chicken Tortilla (13th)
    Angelico/HomeSlice/Other Pizzeria? (14th)

    I’m sure I missed some.

  1. wylie coyote said at 8:40 am on Monday April 9, 2012:

    I think the Souk II Hookah Bar is at the corner of 12th and H, near Souk I (not 13th).

    HR-57 is also opening a second space on the 1000 block (next to the now closed Willpower Gym) which I believe will have a food component (?).

    Ground floor retail coming to new developments on both sides of the 600 block (current structures will be razed), no idea if there will be any restaurant action there.

  1. Caroline said at 3:37 pm on Monday April 9, 2012:

    Also The Spirit Room coming to the 1300 block.

  1. H St Employee said at 12:38 pm on Tuesday April 10, 2012:

    Definitely agree with all of you, there are a ton of gaps in this article (high five to you guys for adding all the missing establishments!). Fails to really get the character of the neighborhood (I mean…would we call Rock and Roll intimate? And what about its new roof deck?) Side note - The Argo fire happened in 2010, not 2011…

  1. Sarah B said at 11:12 am on Thursday April 12, 2012:

    Dont forget Zuppa Fresca opened up a couple months ago right behin H on K. They are hidden away and they have amazing food for dinner (and I met the Chef….hot haha)! Watershed is also another restaurant in the area. I guess that is getting a little off of H street though.

Join the discussion

UrbanTurf now requires registration in order to post comments. Register here, or login below if you are already registered.

Click here if you forgot your password.

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »


Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »

Upcoming Seminars ▾