The rich history of the U Street neighborhood and variety of entertainment make it a prime destination for locals and tourists. Once the site of many civil rights protests, the historically black corridor currently struggles to retain its identity while developing. But the vibrant spirit of its residents continues; here’s what to do while you’re there.
Drink At Velvet Lounge
The grungy digs and graffitied back patio are a refreshing break from U Street corridor’s bougie, gentrified bars. The inside is narrow and can become easily cramped on weekends with no room to dance – dive bars aren’t that fun when the grease just becomes strangers’ sweat! But, if you go on a weekday night, there will be a DJ and plenty of chilled vibes to embrace.
915 U St NW, Washington, DC, +1 202 462-3213
Eat At Ben’s Chili Bowl
The iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl is one of U Street’s oldest businesses. Once a booming neighborhood that plummeted into decay and violence following racial riots, U Street has now recovered and is a popular tourist destination with Ben’s standing through it all. Head there for the food as much as the historical experience; the walls are dotted with autographed pictures of famous people who have dined on the chili.
Ben’s Chili Bowl, 1213 U St NW, Washington, D.C., +1 202 667 0909
Visit The African-American Civil War Memorial
This memorial commemorates the 200,000 African-American soldiers who fought for the Union in the Civil War. Located next to the U Street metro, this monument is now the site of many Black Lives Matter protests – a reminder of how far the nation has come, and how far there is still to go.
African American Civil War Memorial, 1925 Vermont Ave NW, Washington, D.C., +1 202 667 2667
Watch an Indie Show At Black Cat
A hidden vintage arcade, 90’s style checkered tiles, and cash-only bars make Black Cat an alternative venue that hosts alternative music. It was founded in 1993 by a group of local drummers, including DC native Dave Grohl. The club caters to the indie genre, and its main stage has hosted acts ranging from The Strokes to Wavves. You can also catch the occasional punk show there if you time it right, likely in the smaller, more intimate downstairs stage.
1811 14th St NW, Washington, DC, +1 202 667-4490
Look For Vibrant Graffiti
The corridor’s rich culture is best exemplified with the vibrant street art in its alleys. Historical figures from MLK to Ben Ali have tributes made from some spray paint cans and exceptional talent. Some murals are commissioned, but most are still considered illegal tagging – despite being works of art that reflect a people’s history.
Relax in Malcolm X Park
Relax in Malcolm X Park
Officially known as Meridian Hill Park, but referred to as Malcolm X Park by locals, the grounds are both a scenic and historical gem. The park was the site of many civil rights protests in the 1960s, hence its nickname. A 13 basin man-made waterfall flows down a hill, dividing the park; an adjacent steep staircase travels from the park’s upper plateau to its lower level. During the summer months, the park hosts weekly drum circles which are just right for making some new friends while you’re in the area.
Meridian Hill Park, 2400 15th St NW, Washington, DC