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Exploring Shaw’s Alleys & Offshoots
Discover historic (and somewhat hidden) blocks where restaurants and businesses now thrive.
In the 19th century, hundreds of intersecting alleys existed behind DC’s blocks of rowhouses. The brick-paved zones were home to stables, workshops and working-class dwellings. Today, many of these alleys are gone, but a few remain – and they’ve become some of the hottest areas for bars, restaurants and mural art (or shopping) in the city. In Shaw, Blagden Alley and Naylor Court are considered so notable, the National Park Service designated them as a historic district. Nearby, the City Market at O has reinvented itself as a new complex bustling with commerce and activity.
DC’s hippest remaining alley was once home to working-class immigrants and African Americans. Today, rehabbed carriage-house homes mingle with cool-kid restaurants like The Dabney (Mid-Atlantic cuisine cooked over a wood fire) and coffee outpost La Colombe. Derek Brown, one of the best-known mixologists in town, also reopened his cultishly popular cocktail bar The Columbia Room here. It’s got an outdoor “punch deck” and a menu of inventive cocktails (some featuring antique spirits). The outdoor DC Alley Museum – essentially a series of colorful murals painted on garage doors and the sides of buildings – includes an oversized tribute to musicians Sun Ra and Erykah Badu, plus mosaic images of former alley dwellers. Just around the corner at 9th and N Streets NW, you can enjoy inventive Southern Mexican cuisine at Espita Mezcaleria, in addition to its extensive offerings of mezcal.
Bladgen Alley’s tinier, U-shaped neighbor also shows off red brick paving and old-timey, quirky buildings, many of them former horse stables (there’s even a sign for E.J. Adams & Co. Stables on one facade). Today, the area is home to architects’ studios and homes as well as Sundevich, a gourmet sammie shop located in a converted garage. Other businesses that back to the court include minimalist housewares den Darryl Carter and New American eatery Thally.
The City Market at O
An 1881 Gothic-Revival market (well, the church-like brick exterior of it) anchors another historic zone in Shaw that’s been transformed by recent redevelopment. Besides an upmarket Giant grocery store (it's most gigantic), the area includes a Cambria Suites hotel and eateries like the French-American bistro Convivial and Dolci Gelati Cafe for frozen treats and coffee – especially nice on the sidewalk seats.
Shaw has many other restaurants, bars and attractions. For more on the neighborhood, check out things to see and do in Shaw.