Neighbourhood Guide: Washington DC’s Logan Circle
Among stately Victorian homes and historical landmarks you’ll find one of the liveliest arts and dining scenes in town.
Gracious, leafy traffic circles with park benches and grand statues define a number of Washington, DC, neighbourhoods, but the entirely residential Logan Circle—which lies at the confluence of Rhode Island and Vermont avenues and 13th and P streets—is one of the most enchanting. The blocks around this dignified circle, which is anchored by an ornate equestrian statue depicting Civil War general John A. Logan, have undergone a dramatic renaissance since the early 1990s, with many new residents and business owners lured here by the wealth of grand Victorian town houses and the rapidly evolving theatre and restaurant scenes. Here are some of the best reasons to discover this vibrant DC neighbourhood.
A rich, diverse history
During the American Civil War, the site now known as Logan Circle was an executioner’s square, and the surrounding area was nothing more than a rough-and-tumble shanty town. During the 1870s, shortly after the end of the war, the area became a fashionable residential enclave when developers constructed dozens of stately three- and four-storey brick and stone town houses. The majority of these Gothic Victorian, Second Empire (note the mansard roofs) and Romanesque Revival homes (distinctive for their soaring, square or round towers with steep-gabled or conical roofs) still stand today. Unique details such as grand bay windows and frilly wrought-iron balustrades make this leafy neighbourhood a magnet for fans of architecture and design.
By the turn of the 20th century, Logan Circle had become one of the nation’s centres of African-American intellectual and political culture, home to luminaries such as educator Mary Jane Patterson, boxer Jack Johnson, artist Alma Thomas and jazz legend Duke Ellington. Although the neighbourhood endured a period of extended decline starting around the 1950s, with 14th Street ravaged by race riots in 1968, both long-time and new residents have worked hard to revitalize this racially and ethnically diverse community.
An edgy arts scene
The neighbourhood’s prime commercial thoroughfare is 14th Street. Early in the 20th century, auto dealers and garages lined 14th Street, earning it the nickname “Automobile Row.” Many of these fine old buildings now contain shops, galleries, performance spaces and restaurants. With four distinct performance spaces, the critically acclaimed Studio Theatre occupies a former auto showroom and garage and presents contemporary, often provocative, performances. A few blocks north, you can watch dance, comedy, film and other shows at the magnificently restored Lincoln Theatre—a mainstay of the city’s African-American theatre scene when the likes of Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughn and Louie Armstrong performed here during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.
Design-driven retailers are also springing up along 14th Street and nearby P Street. Check out the mod housewares and decorative arts at Showroom 1412, and stop by Gallery Plan B—one of the leading arts spaces in the neighbourhood—to view works by an impressive group of mostly regional, up-and-coming artists. You can break up your stroll by stopping for a perfectly crafted macchiato or Americano at Peregrine Espresso, a diminutive artisan roaster that brews rich, single-origin coffee drinks.
A DC dining destination
In April 2013, Philadelphia-based celebrity restaurateur Stephen Starr opened his first Washington, DC, restaurant, a classic French brasserie called Le Diplomate, at the corner of 14th and Q streets. This rambling space with a traditional red awning and a spacious sidewalk patio serves superb country duck terrine, steak frites and trout amandine. This is just one of the latest eateries to open on what’s becoming one of the East Coast’s most-talked-about restaurant rows. Starr’s inviting new restaurant is typical of the Logan Circle food scene—smart but unpretentious, worthy of a special-occasion meal but reasonably priced. Another nearby standout, warmly lighted Estadio, serves authentic Spanish tapas and wines. Consider the bocadillo filled with sautéed morcilla (blood sausage) and Cabrales cheese, and enjoy a refreshing glass of crisp Txakoli.
Three blocks south, The Pig is a culinary ode to all things porcine, delighting carnivores with everything from spicy Carolina-style pulled-pork barbecue to platters heaped with wild boar ragu, braised cheek and grits, and crispy pig ears. The white-brick and rough-hewn-wood walls of the down-home dining room are hung with enlarged vintage liquor tax stamps. In a bi-level former auto repair shop across the street, Birch & Barley serves locavore-minded Mid-Atlantic fare in the clean-lined, stylish ground-floor space. Upstairs in the dark and clubby sister bar, ChurchKey, you can nosh on unabashedly gluttonous comfort food, including “disco fries,” slathered in Cheddar and gravy, and beer-braised bratwurst burgers. At either establishment you can sample from the encyclopedic list of some 555 international and domestic beers, from bright and spicy Stillwater Kopstootje saison blonde to a lively Avery Brewing IPA.
From Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC, in Georgetown, it’s about a 10-minute drive to Logan Circle. Free street parking is surprisingly easy to find on the area’s residential streets. (Just read signs carefully for restrictions on some streets for non-residents.) If the weather’s nice, consider making the 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometre) stroll from the Hotel to Logan Circle, passing through the heart of another lovely neighbourhood, Dupont Circle.