Is Adams Morgan Becoming Posh?

by Shilpi Paul

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The 18th Street retail strip in Adams Morgan, long regarded as a loosely organized mix of ethnic shops and drunken nightlife spots, may slowly but surely be morphing into a new type of destination.

Over the next few years, a few significant development projects will be emerging in the area: Perseus Realty will be breaking ground on a 40-unit condo project at the site of the Exxon Station at 1827 Adams Mill Road, the Sydell Group is bringing a 220-room hotel to the First Church of Christ Scientist building near Columbia Road and 18th Street, and right down the street, Peterson Companies has already started work on an 80-unit condo development at the site of the former Ontario Theater. The hotel will likely be run by the Marriott and will have a restaurant; the Perseus and Peterson projects are also expected to have high-end retail components.

Lisa Drazin, a commercial landlord in the area, has high hopes that these developments and others will create a new atmosphere for the retail corridors in the neighborhood.

“A major transition is happening,” proclaimed Drazin, who owns the currently vacant space at 1850 Columbia Road NW once occupied by Comet Liquor and Deli, her father’s shop. After Comet closed down, Drazin rented the space to Foot Locker. Now, however, the storefront is empty and she is hoping to find a high-end eatery as a tenant. “I think that once all of these projects are complete, Adams Morgan is going to be nicer and more charming than Georgetown.”

Bold words, but there are already a few examples of the area’s changing face. The stretch of Columbia Road between Biltmore Street and Mintwood Place is home to high-end eateries like Cashion’s Eat Place and the relatively-new Mintwood Place, which both buck the trend of the alcohol-fueled spots that the neighborhood has long been known for.

Some also point to Jack Rose and The Carriage House on 18th Street as examples of newer options that are leading to a posher Adams Morgan. The Carriage House is from the owners of Tom Tom, the nightclub and bar that used to be at the same location. When the owners were deciding on a new concept, they decided to go with a more sit-down restaurant feel on the first floor.

“There does seem to be a shift away from the idea of a hodge-podge of lower-renting users to higher quality retail,” said Jeffrey Schonberger of Altus Real Estate, who owns the building currently being leased to the gym Mint, the cafe Locolat, and a handful of other shops at the intersection of 18th Street and Florida Avenue.

But what about the bars on Adams Morgan’s main strip that fill with drunken revelers on weekend nights? For many, the neighborhood’s reputation is inextricably tied to the inebriated pushers-and-shovers who fill the sidewalks during certain hours. Will the old guard fit in with the changing times?

“They are going to get pushed out,” Drazin believes.

Schonberger cites the liquor license moratorium as one reason why Adams Morgan may take longer to transition, however. As a Greater Greater Washington article from earlier this year pointed out, “a moratorium means that the kinds of businesses that might mitigate [the noise, trash and crime]—like higher end restaurants—aren’t able to move into vacant spaces unless they wish to purchase an existing liquor license, something that can cost up to $75,000.”

“The moratorium is horrible,” thinks Schonberger. “It’s a barrier for better options to come in.” In effect since 2000, the moratorium is coming up for review next March.

While new, trendy restaurants and shops are becoming more prevalent in Adams Morgan, Schonberger doesn’t see it morphing into a 14th Street or H Street scene.

“14th Street is a major thoroughfare through the city. 18th Street is a thoroughfare, but it doesn’t have nearly the traffic and the activity, so it has a little bit more of an intimate feel to it.”

Still, when discussing the transition of a downtown neighborhood, it is difficult not to make comparisons to the two examples that have regularly been part of the conversation in recent years.

Readers, what do you think? Will the Adams Morgan business district look like a different place in five years or are the drunken revelers here to stay?

See other articles related to: editors choice, dclofts, adams morgan, 18th street, 14th street

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/is_adams_morgan_becoming_posh/7407

24 Comments

  1. GFR said at 8:46 am on Friday August 2, 2013:

    I think the article is correct in that a change is slowly happening. While they don’t want to mimic their neighbors to the east, I would bet the landlords are a little envious of what is happening in other parts of the city and are making efforts to change the face of the strip a little bit. I do see it taking awhile, though.

  1. GFR said at 8:58 am on Friday August 2, 2013:

    Also, the enhanced streetscape has already made a big difference. The reconfigured parking along 18th and the roomier sidewalks make it a more comfortable place to be both day and night.

  1. Janson said at 10:09 am on Friday August 2, 2013:

    There is surprisingly little high density residential immediately adjacent to the 18th st. strip, which I think makes slow on early weeknights. Places that do well seem to be able to generate huge amounts of revenue in a short time - long bars, lots of bartenders. Sit down restaurants have a hard time doing that. 14th street seems much more active on a Tuesday night. Is it the residential density?

  1. Adam Morgan said at 10:13 am on Friday August 2, 2013:

    So is the goal for every neighborhood in the city to contain nothing but “upscale” restaurants (which are different from “high-end retail” if you ask me)?  How boring.  Great cities have a multitude of venues in unique neighborhoods, not homogenized restaurant offerings that vary little from ‘hood to ‘hood.

  1. Michael said at 10:20 am on Friday August 2, 2013:

    As more affluent residents move in, landlords will rase rents on retail space. 

    As landlords raise rents, struggling tenants will be forced to move.

    As struggling tenants vacate, retail space will become available for different tenants.  Who will charge more for their products to cover the rent.

    That being said, a neighborhood with 3 metro stops on 2 lines within a 10-15 minute walk is going to be in demand, especially as inventory dwindles and there’s no where else left to build.

  1. Jesse Pinkman said at 10:35 am on Friday August 2, 2013:

    a neighborhood with 3 metro stops on 2 lines within a 10-15 minute walk is going to be in demand

    That’s not a new development; it’s been true since the 80s.  Why is this happening now?

  1. Divya said at 11:05 am on Friday August 2, 2013:

    This article does a great job summarizing the shift away from adams-Morgan’s traditionally “nightlife” focused retail, and the promise held by increased residential inventory in the neighborhood. 

    One thing I’d like to add is that while non-residents of the neighborhood often associate the A-M with the drunken shenanigans that take place on the weekends (mostly caused by people from outside the neighborhood, and usually people from outside DC), residents know that by day, it’s an intimate, diverse neighborhood full of young families, the elderly, long-time DC residents, and transplants.  Proximity to the zoo, Dupont, and the metro lines makes Adams Morgan into a convenient yet quiet neighborhood, and homeowners rarely experience the “18th Street” weekend madness, as it stays relatively confined to a few blocks on a few hours of the week.

    Excited to see more and more retail/eateries that residents of the neighborhood can enjoy, while also attracting more of the “right” type of attention from the rest of the DMV!

  1. Jan said at 11:25 am on Friday August 2, 2013:

    Two nights on the weekend of enjoyment should be okay.  Otherwise the City is becoming quite boring.  New York is exciting because of the excitement.  What’s up with DC.

  1. EnserNG said at 11:48 am on Friday August 2, 2013:

    As “Adam Morgan” notes, each neighborhood has to be aware of over-homogenization, otherwise, the flow of locals and non, will cease and things will stagnate.

    Each area needs a sort of plan for what they envision to be a niche, rather than, the current, all up-scale retail, shopping, and residences.  That will quickly lead to “OneCity” - a boring one - surely not what DC should be targeting!

    Nikk

  1. kob said at 11:55 am on Friday August 2, 2013:

    The Adams Morgan moratorium is an interesting problem. Is it slowing down the transition to a lower-key, high-end restaurant/entertainment space? It’s something the ANC will have to revisit, study and reconsider.

    I’m not really convinced that the moratorium has made much difference. The principal driver of change, IMHO, is the ongoing shift of Adams Morgan from a quasi-bohemian/hipster outpost to busy version of Kalorama. The population has tilted more toward Mintwood-type places than drunken dives. One example is Southern Comfort, which replace the more drink-focused predecessor. 

    What worries me about the moratorium is that it may price out new and interesting restaurants that can help this transition. The moratorium may do more to protect the incumbents that still cater to the rowdy crowds. From my perspective, the moratorium is a negative against the positive shifts.

    In the bigger picture, I don’t see Adams Morgan so much as a separate neighborhood anymore. I see what’s going on in Adams Morgan more as part of contiguous entertainment/retail area extending from U and 14th up 18th, down Columbia and into Columbia Heights. It almost forms a loop.

  1. Jason said at 11:58 am on Friday August 2, 2013:

    Jan, DC is not NYC.  You ask what’s up?  A difference of about 8 million more people in NYC.

  1. Lisa said at 12:25 pm on Friday August 2, 2013:

    Columbia Road, NW, is becoming a vibrant street. It’s storefronts will cater to an educated, diverse residential and work-at-home population. It will draw visitors staying at the 1,500 nearby hotol rooms. Tourtists and day trippers will head to Columbia Road attracted by the charm of the reburbished art deco facades, good food, artisinal wine, craft beer and welcoming warmth of DC’s truly authentic entertainment neighborhood- Adams Morgan.

  1. Rob B said at 12:40 pm on Friday August 2, 2013:

    Call the bird whatever you want. But this one street does not define that area, that’s the commercial side. But the residential part of the area where that street happens to sit in is Kalorama which has never had to be gentrified unlike Georgetown or the majority of DC. This same area, esp Mintwood area commands the highest sqft prices in all parts of DC, VA, MD. It’s only competition is Dupont and Georgetown. These are the only three neighborhoods that compete with the best parts of Manhattan or the Beacon Hill/Back Bays of Boston. To answer your question, is it posh….it always has been, you should of opened your eyes and looked outside of street.

  1. Tom A. said at 1:59 pm on Friday August 2, 2013:

    Someone thinks AdMo is currently less charming that Georgetown?  Georgetown feels almost like any upscale suburban shopping mall.  Not charming at all.

  1. A Tom said at 2:14 pm on Friday August 2, 2013:

    Georgetown feels almost like any upscale suburban shopping mall.

    Which is exactly what they’re going for in Adams-Morgan.

  1. kob said at 2:55 pm on Friday August 2, 2013:

    @A Tom @Tom A

    Adams Morgan: Upscale shopping mall?

    There’s not one Georgetown-like retail store, or national chain store in Adams Morgan. Not one.

    The retail presence (outside of CVS, Safeway and Radio Shack and the usual collection of neighborhood stores)is minimal, and mostly neighborhood focused.

    There are no chain restaurants, except for a few fast food.

  1. BLJ said at 3:09 pm on Friday August 2, 2013:

    As a resident of the neighborhood, I’d hate to see it turn into a bunch of high end small plate restaurants or chain retail stores - there’s more than enough of that in close proximity! It would be nice to see the vacant storefronts become occupied by diverse businesses that bring services/goods to the neighborhood.

    I do think the moratorium is a hindrance for new development.  At a recent ANC meeting the it was obvious the board is overwhelmingly in favor of the moratorium.  Perhaps the restrictions can be relaxed to spur development that enriches the neighborhood, yet prohibit the addition of more dive bars.

  1. jno said at 8:50 am on Saturday August 3, 2013:

    What about the portion of Columbia Rd. between 18th and 16th? Those few blocks are probably some of the most authentic urban multi-culti and relatively safe areas of the city. I hope it doesn’t change too much. I love the feel of that area.

  1. EmptyNester said at 7:53 am on Monday August 5, 2013:

    “Someone thinks AdMo is currently less charming that Georgetown?  Georgetown feels almost like any upscale suburban shopping mall.  Not charming at all.

    You haven’t spent much time in suburban malls lately, have you? GTown still has its charming architecture and pedestrian oriented feel.  Not parking in some giant lot and then going indoors. Theres more to what makes suburbs suburban than chain stores.

    And I dont think Gtown is all chains, either.

  1. Hungry said at 8:56 am on Monday August 5, 2013:

    As long as they don’t take my Jumbo Slice I’ll be happy.

  1. enigmajean said at 10:19 am on Monday August 5, 2013:

    A Medstar urgent-care clinic is going in at the long-vacant former Blockbuster site on Columbia near Biltmore - so practical and grounding for a neighborhood in which people actually live, raise children, own property, and age in place. I’m delighted with this and the other changes too…just hope I’m around long enough to see the ongoing transformation (have lived in the ‘hood since 1987).

  1. tntdc said at 10:29 am on Monday August 5, 2013:

    Georgetown has a moratorium.

    They need to be on tavern/nightclub licenses and not on restaurant licences. AM used to be nice and trendy. Then the cafes realized all their money came from booze and food was a nuisance. Once they made that switch they realized their most money came from heavy drinkers. They’re just business people trying to maximize profits, as they should.

  1. NW.DC.AM said at 9:12 am on Tuesday August 6, 2013:

    I’ve been to Carriage House four times. It’s great.  Although, I could tell A-M was headed to a new era when I realized there seemed to be more suburbanites eating there than city folk.

  1. Bruce Majors, Libertarian for Mayor said at 7:52 am on Monday March 3, 2014:

    The Marijuana Policy Project just bought the commercially zoned first floor of 2370 Champlain Street NW and will soon have its first fundraiser for some pro-decriminalzation Congresspeeps as its first open house.

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