18th Street in Adams Morgan

18th Street in Adams Morgan

Mention Adams Morgan to a DC resident, and their reaction will likely depend on how long they’ve lived in the city. Longtime Washingtonians remember it as one of the District’s first neighborhoods to be gentrified and might still view it as a dynamic, if somewhat seedy, area. On the other hand, newer DC residents see an area characterized by a crowded nightlife scene that occurs every weekend on 18th Street, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare.

But to those who actually live in Adams Morgan, both pictures are wildly incomplete. For them, the neighborhood, nestled in the middle of a cluster of vibrant communities, offers a wide spectrum of independently-owned stores and services and is still home to one of the city’s most diverse populations.

Nightlife Central, Back In The Day

Adams Morgan is bounded by Florida Avenue to the south; 19th Street and Columbia Road to the west; Adams Mill Road and Harvard Street to the north; and 16th Street to the east. Depending on who you ask, Kalorama Park just to the north of Columbia Road is also considered part of the neighborhood.

The neighborhood has been through several incarnations, but is best known for its role as the center of DC’s nightlife back in the late 1980s and ‘90s. As neighborhoods like the U Street and H Street Corridors have developed into popular locales, though, the neighborhood now has company as a nightlife destination.

Adams Morgan also has a mix of ethnic groups who, at least for several years, gave the community a diversity unmatched by any other District neighborhood. Though its makeup has changed, that diversity is still apparent. Columbia Road east of 18th Street has a strong Hispanic flavor, and several organizations are located in the area that offer housing, health care, and other services to low-income residents. There is also a contingent of urban “pioneers” who bought homes in the area several decades ago, back when it was affordable, and serve as anchors to the community.

Row houses in the neighborhood

Row houses in the neighborhood

But like a lot of the city’s neighborhoods in these post-real estate boom years, the area is also home to a typical mix of young professionals, many of whom work for nongovernmental organizations or the federal government. 

Another Kind of Diversity

It can be easy to characterize the area’s housing stock as being much like its neighbors, Dupont Circle and Columbia Heights—that is, lined with row houses and mid-sized apartment buildings. And those options certainly exist; the western section of the neighborhood has a particularly attractive selection of row homes, and gracious apartment buildings are studded throughout the area.

But as Brandon Green of Keller Williams pointed out, the neighborhood has a remarkable selection of small condo buildings as well. “There’s probably a larger concentration of contemporary loft condos here than anywhere else in the city,” he said. Many of these boutique buildings, like 1700 Kalorama, are located east of 18th Street, a section of the neighborhood formerly home to a number of warehouses and industrial buildings. However, there are lofts on 18th Street as well, including the project at 2424 18th Street NW that UrbanTurf has featured from time to time. 

1700 Kalorama

1700 Kalorama

Not very much new construction is happening in the area, but two buildings at 1801 and 1811 Wyoming Avenue NW (the corner of 18th Street and Wyoming Avenue) are being converted into a 43-unit condominium project called WY18.

Green said that one-bedroom condos in Adams Morgan sell for between $400,000 and $450,000 on average, while two-bedrooms fetch between $575,000 and $675,000. Compared to the area’s row houses, which cost $900,000 on average for a three or four-bedroom place, the condos are a steal.

As for rentals, one-bedroom apartments currently rent for $1,600 to $3,000 a month, and two-bedrooms can go for anywhere from $1,700 to $4,000.

Little Ones, Parks, Friendly Eateries and a Makeover

The streets of Adams Morgan are densely urban and most homes have little yard space to speak of, which means the area isn’t teeming with families. Still, any Saturday morning at Tryst, the neighborhood’s popular coffee shop, will reveal that it’s got a healthy contingent of youngsters whose parents like to get out now and then.

“It’s great for the little guys,” said Jackie Simmons, 32, who has lived in the neighborhood for six years and has a young son. Simmons told UrbanTurf that she and her son regularly head to the parks in the area, and added that several of the neighborhood’s restaurants are particularly kid-friendly.

Tryst Coffeehouse

Tryst Coffeehouse

Probably the biggest benefit residents cite about their neighborhood is its convenience. “I can walk to Columbia Road and everything’s there,” said Peter Simon, 58, who bought a home in the area in 1984. “You don’t have to get in your car for anything. And if you don’t want to go to Starbucks or McDonalds, there are tons of other places.”

Indeed, while it’s no longer the hippest neighborhood in town, 18th Street and Columbia Road are still lined with a variety of restaurants, bars, and services, most of which are small and independently-owned. While there’s more than enough to choose from on any given night, several places are particularly popular, including the Diner, the sushi joint Perry’s that has a rooftop bar, Cashion’s Eat Place, and Pasta Mia, a down-home Italian place that has a line forming outside well before it opens its doors most days.

At times, the area can seem a bit rundown, with some storefronts that are dilapidated and others that are vacant. But the streetscape is changing; 18th Street is in the midst of a two-year improvement project, which should add sidewalk space, harmonize features like streetlights and bike parking areas, and generally give the street a bit of a makeover.

The Nuisance of the Weekend Crowd

The downside of Adams Morgan’s many commercial options is that the restaurants and bars also have fans elsewhere in the city (as well as Virginia and Maryland) who pour in on the weekends and crowd the sidewalks to capacity. This makes 18th Street essentially a no-go zone for residents on Friday and Saturday nights.

“The street gets dirty, and then everyone goes home and we have to deal with the pizza,” said Simmons, referring to the inevitable late-night pizza slices that wind up in the gutters. Still, residents say it’s not such a big deal once you get used to it.

Adams Morgan’s larger row houses

Adams Morgan’s larger row houses

The bigger deal is the fact that the neighborhood has had problems with crime, some of which are exacerbated by the late night activity. Brawls on 18th Street occur from time to time, and the violence sometimes spills over onto the surrounding streets. Gang violence has also been an issue. Two years ago, Peter Simon was the victim of a savage beating that he believes was part of a gang initiation.

Still, most residents have not been targeted for crime and say they’re simply careful, as they would be in any other urban area.

Right In The Middle

The convenience that residents praise about Adams Morgan isn’t just linked to all the shops and eateries at their fingertips. It’s also, they say, due to the area’s great location.

“The best thing about it is its accessibility to everything,” said Ori Gorfine, 25. That includes Dupont Circle to the south, and Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights to the north, as well as Rock Creek Park on the west.

Adams Morgan doesn’t have a Metro station; despite its name, the Woodley Park-Adams Morgan station on the Red Line is a 15-minute walk from the neighborhood. But the Columbia Heights station (on the Green Line) is a 15-minute walk in the other direction, and the neighborhood is well-served by buses, particularly those running on Columbia Road and 16th Street.

If It’s Friday, Don’t Move That Car

Adams Morgan is very close to Rock Creek Parkway, which connects drivers with I-66, Route 50, and I-395. Similarly, 16th Street and Connecticut Avenue offer straight shots into Maryland.

However, street parking in Adams Morgan can be quite a hassle. Even on weekdays, finding a spot on one’s own block can feel like a major victory, and weekends are a nightmare, especially for those who live close to 18th Street. The best solution is often to make sure the car is parked in a good spot by Friday afternoon, and not move it until Monday.

The Bottom Line

Despite the baggage attached to its name, Adams Morgan has a plethora of going-out spots, a diverse population that makes it hard to get too deep into one’s own bubble, and a central location in the city. But crime and parking are issues from time to time, so it’s a neighborhood probably best left to those who want a genuinely urban experience. 

More About Adams Morgan

Amanda Abrams is a Washington, DC-based journalist who has written feature stories for The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Washington City Paper.