City Desk

Reporter Finds Gritty H Street, A “More Real” Eastern Market

When Financial Times correspondent Anna Fifield moved to Washington in 2009, she worried that the city wouldn't be as exotic as her former homes, which include Beirut, Tehran, and Seoul. And she was right!

"I am not going to pretend that Washington is a dynamic cosmopolitan city, but I can say this much: life is easy and enjoyable here," Fifield writes in an ex-pat's guide to the District.

Fifield rented a house around Eastern Market, where she fell in with a neighborhood listserv crew she calls the "mommy mafia."  "I love the Eastern Market area, named for the 140-year-old food market at its epicentre, because it is diverse and feels more real," she writes.

But occasionally she needs a break from the mommy mafioso, so she heads to where mothers dare not tread: H Street.

But it is also not difficult to find some respite from the granola-making-mommy scene. I am a fully paid-up member, but it’s easy to feel like I’m stepping out of it in the edgy H Street corridor, a nearby strip that could politely be called “up and coming”.

It is still decisively at the gritty end of the gentrification spectrum, but it has funky bars and innovative restaurants, from quirky New American to cheerful Taiwanese ramen.

But all the Taiwanese ramen in the world can't save D.C. from a case of the doldrums. "Few would describe the city as bustling or cosmopolitan," Fifield concludes.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • Ben

    This is a parody piece, right?

  • Novatronic

    "Exotic"? More like unstable.

  • anon

    my favorite:

    Even a decade ago, Eastern Market was considered a no-go area, a hotbed of drug dens and shoot-outs

    maybe 2 decades, and even then you'd get plenty of debate. This description actually sounds more like the description of mid 80s Hill gentrifiers. They were the ones who girded the windows and dealt with serials burglars and persistent street crime.

  • Daniel Buck

    Not a decade ago, not two decades ago, not three decades ago -- OK I'm running out of decades, though I'm well into the fourth, landing in the leafy zone between Lincoln Park & Eastern Market in 1975. Capitol Hill and the Eastern Market were plenty nice back then. Our next door neighbor, born in the 1890s down the street, had even more stories to tell of what a charming neighborhood it was back in his day. Bicyclists streaming out of the Navy Yard at day's end, coal for the fireplace delivered to your sidewalk, a grocery on many corners, bread 10 cents a loaf, several neighborhood movie theaters. Take that, Financial Times.

  • tim

    I don't get the outrage. Ok, maybe you can quibble with EM being a war zone 10 years ago. But on the whole it is an accurate picture of the city. We are not a pulsating global city like NY, Lon,Paris,etc. We don’t have the bustling civic squares, the grand shopping districts, the immigrant districts, the densely packed apartment buildings, etc.

    The attraction to DC is that it has many of the amenities of a larger city, but it still basically feels like a quiet leafy city (rush hour excluded).

  • wylie coyote

    Tim, what global city with 600,000 people in it is more "pulsating" than us? New York has well over ten times our population. Put things in perspective.

  • tim

    Exactly, Wylie Coyote. You, the writer and I are all in agreement. DC is a relativly small city (surrounded by a larger suburban population) by global standards.

    Nothing wrong with it not being on the level of NYC, London, Paris, Hong Kong.

    I think that was the author's basic point. DC isn't as lively or exciting as the mega cities. People the world over aren't going to romaticize it the way people do Paris or New York. But, it is a solid, charming city with a good quality of life.