For an exercise in cognitive dissonance, there’s no better place to go than Mothership. Grab a seat on the patio at the new restaurant at 3301 Georgia Ave. NW, order a few small plates and a drink, and take in your surroundings. Gaze over your Moshi punch toward the Eddie Leonard carryout, the neighborhood’s best bet for a wee-hour mumbo-sauce fix. Glance up from your oxtail and bone marrow patties toward the stoic bars guarding the windows of the Grays Market bodega. Look left from your slow-cooked wild boar bucatini and you’ll see the usual loiterers outside of the grimy, bullet-proofed Petworth Liquors; look right and you might catch a glimpse of a young consultant, still in his work suit, dashing out of Lion’s Liquors—home, before its recent renovation, to the strangest cast of characters this side of the X2 bus—with a bomber of one of the store’s many craft beers in hand.
Welcome to Georgia Avenue, the street that’s eternally on the cusp. Which is exactly where many of us would like it to stay.
A bit of history: Georgia Avenue wasn’t always Georgia Avenue—or rather, it wasn’t always where it is today. The ur-Georgia ran through the Southeast and Southwest quadrants, until the Peach State’s Sen. Augustus Octavius Bacon, horrified at the condition of the street, requested a name change in 1906. A few years later, he got his wish: Georgia became Potomac Avenue, and Brightwood Avenue—stretching from the northern boundary of the L’Enfant City through the old plantations of Petworth and the Civil War battlegrounds of Fort Stevens up to the Maryland border—became Georgia.
Like its companions U and H and 14th, Georgia emerged from the 1968 riots deeply scarred. These days, it’s not exactly getting a facelift, just the odd botox injection here and there that leaves it more mottled than ever. There may be luxury apartments and a French restaurant by the Petworth Metro, but there’s also the check-cashing joint and the beauty parlors and the Fisherman of Men Church and scores of little markets and carryouts.
The scattered splotches of bourgeois are really nothing new: Georgia has always been a socioeconomic gradient, its nearly five miles tracing a crooked line from the dancing guy with his blaring boombox at the corner of Florida through the stately Howard University campus up to the upper-middle-class enclave of Shepherd Park. City planners may divide the avenue into Lower Georgia and Upper Georgia; in reality, there are a thousand different Georgias, one in each auto body shop, in each storefront oozing the aroma of its deep fryer, in each mom-and-pop shop that holds on and each that doesn’t.
The history and the future of the District are written on its longest commercial corridor, and they’re not necessarily in opposition. May they long live side by side. May the swanky new restaurants and condos always look out of place alongside the funky age-old institutions. May the old-timers and the newcomers mingle awkwardly but peaceably. And the more you change, Georgia, may you always stay the same.