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It’s easy to see why Dupont Circle is one of DC’s most popular places to live, work, and play. Housing options range from grand, subdivided townhomes to Modernist apartment buildings in Dupont Circle. Turn-of-the-century mansions around the circle serve as hubs for think tanks and nonprofits, and dozens of foreign embassies populate Massachusetts Avenue in an area known as Embassy Row.
There is plenty to see and do any time of day or night here, and scores of unique shops line Connecticut Avenue. Global flavors, from Armenian to Zimbabwean, can be savored in the neighborhood’s many noteworthy restaurants and bars, which never seem to close. The circle itself, with its picturesque central fountain, hosts everyone from joggers to protestors, book readers, dog walkers, yogis, and even chess enthusiasts who play games on its timeless stone chess boards.
This neighborhood is the hub of DC’s LGBT community, and it’s where the annual Capital Pride Parade takes place each June, along with the High Heel Race, which draws hundreds to the streets in their best stilettos every October.
Dupont Circle has a classy feel, yet the majority of its residents are young professionals under the age of 40, and most rent instead of own their homes. Just like the rest of the city, this is an intelligent crowd, and over half of those who live here have earned graduate degrees — which must explain why the newsstand at Kramerbooks is restocked a few times a day.
This neighborhood’s boundaries are Florida Avenue to the north, M Street to the south, 16th Street to the east, and 22nd Street to the west. It’s a walker’s part of town, with sidewalks kept in great condition and medians near the circle that help pedestrians cross the wide streets. Bicyclists will find dedicated lanes on M Street, N Street, Q Street, and on New Hampshire Avenue. For car owners, most public parking garages in Dupont Circle can be found in office buildings between Connecticut Avenue and M Street.
Mass transportation options include a Red Line Metro Rail stop (Dupont Circle) with entrances that span the circle: one is on 19th Street and the other on Q Street. It’s something of a DC tradition for commuters to climb the steps instead of ride the escalators on their way to work. One leg of the DC Circulator travels in a loop from Dupont Circle to Rosslyn. MetroBus routes 37, 42, D1, D2, D4, D6, G2, H1, L1, N2, N4, and N6 all cross through the neighborhood; schedules are available at the Dupont Circle Metro Station.
A global medley of deliciousness is available three meals a day here; there are almost too many good restaurants in Dupont Circle to count. Longtime heavyweights include seafood at Hank’s Oyster Bar, Italian at Iron Gate Restaurant, and tapas at Boqueria. There are French delights at Bistrot du Coin, while tasty tacos are always on order at Mission DuPont; Rakuya’s known for its sushi, while the aptly named Zorba’s serves up Greek favorites, like big salads with feta and homemade baklava.
Some of the neighborhood’s newest favorites include: Anju, which is known for its Korean pork and kimchi dumplings and is located in a homey wood-beamed setting; it’s also a great spot for weekend brunch. Try the fried chicken with white sauce. Sushi Taro earned a Michelin star for its beautiful hand-rolled creations featuring sashimi and sushi — they often look too pretty to eat. The serene, curtain-lined Omakase room makes for a great place to contemplate life’s richness over a cup of sake or two. Swahili Village has introduced fine Kenyan flavors to Dupont Circle — it’s the second outpost of chef/owner Kevin Onaya’s empire, which started in Beltsville. Charred meat dishes are flavored with a delicious blend of coriander, turmeric, paprika, and fenugreek, providing quite a kick. A dollop of cornmeal accompanies every entrée.
Coffee lovers will want to stop at Emissary on P Street, a convivial gathering spot that well espouses the Swedish concept of “fika,” which means to slow down and appreciate life. Part bar, part coffee shop, it serves espresso drinks, matcha teas, and pour-overs made with Counter Culture coffees. It also serves breakfast all day.
Teaism Dupont Circle has been around for nearly three decades for good reason. It features a novel’s worth of black, oolong, white and green teas, served by the cup or pot, as well as fruit and herbal-infused tisanes. Rounding out its menu are sandwiches, Bento boxes, and even something they call “trash or treasure,” which are foods that other restaurants would normally discard, like broccoli stems, creatively transformed into fried tots.
It will be hard to make up your mind over what to order at the patisserie playfully titled Un Je Ne Sais Quois. Cloudlike confections of merengue and whipped cream greet you at the door, along with the more familiar sight of eclairs, chocolate croissants, and layer cakes. It’s simply impossible to leave empty-handed.
There are plenty of bars in Dupont Circle concentrated along Connecticut Avenue. Café Citron is known for its salsa nights, while you can feel like a real local when soccer’s on at the Irish pub Across the Pond. And a handcrafted cocktail on the rooftop at the Embassy Row Hotel sounds like the beginning of a very interesting story.
One of the city’s most popular independent booksellers, Kramerbooks is the anchor of Dupont Circle’s shopping scene. Its red neon windowfront sign has served as a beacon across from the circle since 1976. It offers an array of political-themed and new releases, plus author signings, book groups, and other social events. It also has a café and a full-service bar.
On the other side of the circle, on P Street, the unique Second Story Books is where you’ll find rare and used handbound treasures, along with vintage maps and posters.
Area boutiques include Bloom for custom jewelry, the delightful Joint Custody vintage clothing store, and home goods at Tabletop, along with designers like Betsey Fisher, plus, and big-name clothiers like Brooks Brothers and Loft.
Don’t miss the Little Flea Market on Sundays, at the corner of 19th and Q Streets, for a kaleidoscope of vintage and antique jewelry, furniture, and home accessories all from local vendors.
Grocery stores in Dupont Circle run the gamut, from small gourmet stores like Dupont Grocery to organic produce at Dawson’s Market on S Street. Larger orders will be satisfied at the Safeway on Corcoran Street. And on Sundays year-round, the Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market is one of the largest in the area, with over 50 farm stands offering fruits, vegetables, meats, handmade cheeses, candles, soaps, and other fun finds, right across from the Little Flea Market.
Dupont Circle is named after Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont, from the prominent Du Pont family; his naval efforts during the Mexican-American War led to the capture of San Diego. At the time, the circle was known as Pacific Circle, and in 1882 the US Congress renamed the circle in Du Pont’s honor, commissioning a bronze sculpture as its centerpiece. But when the Du Ponts saw the completed sculpture, they decided it wasn’t grand enough for their favored child, and so they moved it to their estate in Wilmington, Delaware, and installed a different fountain in its place. The replacement fountain, a beautiful artwork of white marble, features classical figures representing the sea, the stars, and the wind, and still stands today.
To learn more about the intriguing side of Dupont Circle (and there’s a lot to tell), take a Darkside Tour of Dupont Circle and Embassy Row, offered by Free Tours on Foot. Tours cover prominent buildings in the area and detail all the affairs and assassinations that the guidebooks don’t disclose.
The first Modern Art Museum in America, The Phillips Collection, is a lovely house museum that opened in 1926. It’s most famous for its Impressionistic paintings, including Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, but its collection spans more than a century of art, and rotating exhibitions cover everything from contemporary installations to a retrospective of African American painter Jacob Lawrence. Although it’s one of the few museums in the city which charges an admission fee, it offers free events and musical performances on Sunday afternoons.
For those wishing to stretch their legs, Rock Creek Park’s nearly 1800 acres of wooded hills, hiking, and biking trails can be found at the neighborhood’s western edge, along 23rd Street. There is a dog run with artificial turf on S Street, and Stead Park, on P Street, has a basketball court, a playground, playing fields, and a small fountain.
The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, which offers an MBA program to working adults, is headquartered in Dupont Circle, and it’s very likely that the commuters you see scurrying to the Metro may be heading over to class or home to log on online. Dupont is definitely a place where intelligence and hard work gets rewarded with the finer things in life, like great food, good company, and loads of nightlife. It simply has it all.
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