WASHINGTON, D.C. – Quick, what’s Capitol Hill?
Is it a place where politicians argue? A backdrop for TV news? Or a real Washington, D.C., neighborhood, with homes, an old-school diner and even a couple of bookstores?
Truth is, it’s all those things. But if you’re not from the Washington area, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Capitol Hill is a place where the U.S. Congress meets and not a place where real people live.
Of course, most tourists who visit this section of Washington are heading to the domed U.S. Capitol, one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, or to the nearby Library of Congress. But just steps from these attractions, a community awaits with quiet, tree-lined streets, row houses, mom-and-pop shops and the historic Eastern Market and Barracks Row. Here are some details.
U.S. Capitol, Library of Congress, Folger Shakespeare Library
The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, at First Street and East Capitol Street near the Capitol South Metro station, gets 2.2 million visitors a year. Its exhibits showcase the history and breadth of more than 200 years of democracy. Statues honor individuals like Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman elected to Congress. Documents currently on display highlight the early 20th century Progressive Era, when Congress set consumer standards for food and drugs. Artifacts include a table used by Abraham Lincoln, made from iron used to construct the Capitol dome. Emancipation Hall honors enslaved African-Americans who helped build the Capitol. And when Congress is in session, you can watch live feeds of the House and Senate in action. Reservations recommended for free guided tours, http://www.visitthecapitol.gov .
The Library of Congress, a block away at 101 Independence Ave. SE, offers a stunning interior with stained-glass windows, skylights, marble staircases and columns. Displays include 15th century Bibles and books from Thomas Jefferson’s library. Take a peek at the grand main reading room from an overlook. A scavenger hunt brochure lists animals to be found among the building’s many carvings, mosaics and designs. Good luck spotting the hedgehog! Free admission.
The Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E. Capitol St. SE, has an exhibition about the history of Shakespeare’s plays in America, on view through July 24. Opening Aug. 6, “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity” examines the “literary afterlives” of Shakespeare and Jane Austen, looking at how adaptations, parodies and pop culture (like bobblehead dolls) have helped keep their work alive through the centuries. Free admission.
East Capitol Street
Stroll along East Capitol Street past small, charming homes set back from the sidewalk with gardens and alleys. Humble storefronts here have the small-town feel of another era. Don’t miss Jimmy T’s Place, 501 E. Capitol St., a cash-only, old-school, breakfast and lunch diner where vintage signs list sundaes for 30 cents. Meals cost a bit more now, but still won’t break the bank. A BLT sandwich with avocado is $6.55, salsa-cheddar omelets are $6.45. (Another sign says the charge for whining is $5.) The place opened more than 40 years ago and the founder’s daughter, Cynde Foster, still mans the counter. Closed Mondays.
Riverby Books, at 417 E. Capitol St., is a cozy, inviting place specializing in used books and Washington history. Another used bookstore is a few blocks away, Capitol Hill Books, 657 C St. SE.
Eastern Market and Barracks Row
Eastern Market, which dates to 1873, houses indoor stalls selling colorful displays of produce, baked goods, flowers, seafood, meat, pasta and cheese. The brick building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was restored following a devastating fire in 2007. At the Market Lunch counter in back, grab a burger, soft shell crab or fish sandwich. Weekends, the site hosts an outdoor farmers market, along with arts, crafts and food vendors; a Tuesday farmers market runs 3-7 p.m.
Bayou Bakery, 901 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, makes simply perfect beignets. And good luck getting a table at Rose’s Luxury, 717 Eighth St. SE, where diners line up hours in advance.
Eighth Street, also known as Barracks Row, is home to restaurants ranging from chains like Starbucks and Subway to fine dining at Ambar and Cava Mezze. New on the scene is Betsy, a rooftop speakeasy at the popular Belga Cafe. Barracks Row gets its name from two nearby historic sites, the Washington Navy Yard and the Marine Barracks, the original headquarters for the U.S. Marine Corps.
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