What neighborhood started out as the original port of the nation’s capital, became its own municipality, then turned into Ground Zero for the preppy set, hosted a portion of the punk and grunge movements and became one of the most expensive neighborhoods with prestige unmatched by most of the rest of DC? GEORGETOWN!
When I first sat down to do the notes for this Georgetown video, I found myself thinking it was going to be boring. Then as I listed everything that’s in Georgetown, I sort of wanted to slap myself for not acknowledging how much awesome stuff there is here.
Georgetown is in the Northwest Quadrant of DC, about as far south as you can go without falling into the Potomac River. Roughly bordered by Rock Creek on the east, Glover Archibold Park on the west, Reservoir Road on the north and the Potomac on the south. The Key Bridge takes you across the Potomac into Rosslyn which is in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The history of Georgetown is absolutely fascinating. The founding of Georgetown pre-dates the founding of DC as our capital city. Because this was one of the only areas of DC where people were settled, if you expected that there would also be slaves living in Georgetown, you are correct. More on this in a bit.
Georgetown was a separate municipality until 1871 at which time Congress deemed it part of the whole city. Within the next couple decades, Georgetown’s local ordinances were repealed and their streets renamed to fit in with the rest of the city.
Some may say that this whole “we’re not part of you” attitude still persists today.
Did You Know: There’s a long standing myth in DC that Georgetown residents fought the metro coming to the neighborhood for fear of crime. The real reason there isn’t a metro is that the infrastructure changes to bring the train safely underground was a non-starter. This would have required underpinning many homes, compromising their structural integrity.
Here’s a photo of Wisconsin and M Streets, facing east, in the early 1900’s.
In the 1970’s, Georgetown was the OG of hipster land, known for its thrift stores and record shops.
The Exorcist was partially filmed here, with the steps being the obvious scene you will remember.
In the 1980’s, Georgetown became the place to see and be seen. In Maryland, the drinking age changed from 18 to 21 in 1982. But you could still drink in DC at 18 until 1986. Guess which Mayor supported raising the drinking age? Marion Barry. For most of the 80’s, the city would be flooded on weekends with kids looking for a good time. Georgetown streets were straight up gridlock. If you want to know what Georgetown was like in the 80’s, watch St Elmo’s Fire. It was filmed here, and it captures this time perfectly.
Did You Know: The Preppy Handbook named Clyde’s in Georgetown as THE Definitive Preppy Bar for DC. Clyde’s opened in 1963 in what used to be a motorcycle hangout. Clyde’s had the first full size bar since Prohibition.
In the mid 1980’s there was also a growing punk movement and some of the major players lived or worked in Georgetown, Glover Park and other parts of Northwest. I did a punk video with the girls too, definitely check that out! In the 80’s, the city was experiencing a high crime wave and Georgetown was somewhat of a respite from the rest of the city.
In the 1990’s when the grunge era hit, the preppies were gone. Alternative music was everywhere. As the 1990’s wore on, people started going to other places like Adam’s Morgan and the nightlife started to shift. In came the national chain stores and high-end hotels that began a new definition of Georgetown into the turn of the 21st century.
In the past five to seven years, lots of stores have closed or relocated to other parts of the city. The rents here are just too high for many retailers and the customer base is likely as much tourist as local.
In 2021, archeologists discovered the remains of 28 African Americans, believed to be slaves, from the early 1800’s.
One of the biggest residents of Georgetown is Georgetown University. Founded by Jesuits, it has come to light in the past several years that the University has ties to slavery. First, the big donors to the University were living in Maryland Plantations. It’s money that was made from the work of slaves that made these families wealthy enough to donate to the school.
The second and more outrageous tie to slavery was in 1838. Two early Presidents of the University, in a quest to keep the school solvent, sold 272 slaves to Plantation Owners in Louisiana. The reason this was discovered was because the school was going to name a couple buildings after the people who organized this sale.
Georgetown real estate is pretty wild. There are single family detached homes here, but there aren’t thousands of them. They exist though and they cost a pretty penny, $2M up past $20M.
There are also a handful of 1 bedroom rowhomes here! There aren’t many but they do exist and they have anywhere from 500 – 800 square feet. History tells us that these smaller homes were once servant’s quarters or potentially the homes of slaves at one time. Side note: in most of DC property records it will be rare to find a home with a year built in the 1800’s. This is due to a fire that happened at land records where much was lost. So many homes that say they were built in 1900 is purely a guess. Georgetown is indeed the oldest neighborhood in DC, and many of these homes were in existence in the 1800’s – we just can’t prove it.
Most Georgetown home prices start in the mid $1M’s. If you want something close to 2000 sf, you are going to pay close to $2M. Yes, real estate really costs in excess of $1000/sf here. Prices climb steadily to the $5M point. Then there are properties priced beyond that, into the tens of millions or more. These are very unique homes typically with a ton of history of past famous residents.
There are condos here, and lest you think they are inexpensive, guess again. The condo buildings are along the Potomac River and they offer stunning views. They also offer stunning prices and high monthly fees. You will be paying over $1M to live along the water and have a view. You can get into some buildings for less than $1M but you’ll be facing north, away from the Potomac, so, no river view for you!
Georgetown’s M Street used to be THE place for all the eats. There are still restaurants there, but many now are off the beaten path and tucked away on streets that aren’t Wisconsin or M.
Filomena is the best best best Italian Food hands down. It’s the old-school kind of Italian. Reservations are usually booked weeks out. This is the real deal for Italian. Leave the gun, take the Cannoli. I mean this, do not leave without getting the Cannoli.
Il Canale is another Italian favorite, located just off M Street at 31st.
Café Milano is on Prospect Street, just off Wisconsin. This is a big Presidential favorite with many of the people who lead this country choosing Café Milano for dinner.
Fabio Trabocci’s Fiola Mare is the best place for ambiance, people watching and all kinds of delicious. It’s spendy and also very dark so you will probably be dining near someone famous but you won’t be able to see them so you’ll never know.
Over by Georgetown University there is 1789, a long-standing and highly rated favorite in the Clyde’s chain. I always assumed 1789 was named for the year the George Washington became our first President but nope. It was named for the year Georgetown University was founded.
Taking it down a notch, next door to 1789 is the Tombs, a basement level pub with bar food for the Georgetown students and their families. It’s worth a visit to be part of the student culture as much as for the food.
We can’t not mention Clyde’s on M Street. They consistently crank out the best food, one of my all time favorites since I moved to the DC Area, I will always say yes to Clyde’s. Another local all-American place is Martin’s Tavern at the corner of Wisconsin and N Street.
Angolo Ristorante one of the Italian Restaurants on M Street, and it feels very much like you’re in a trattoria in Italy. The owners are awesome and so nice, and it’s great to grab lunch there when we are at our office.
Sweet Green started in Georgetown in the original Little Tavern which was a chain of burger places in the 1930’s and 40’s. You can’t miss the tavern building at the corner of Bank Alley and M Streets.
One of the “newer” places in Georgetown opened in 2011, and that’s Stachowskis Butcher. They are on P Street, and offer a large selection of smoked and cured meats and also prepared foods as well that you can pick up for dinner.
If you want a café or pastry, Georgetown has that covered. Boulangerie Christophe has some delectable pastries, and they also have pre-made sandwiches that are excellent. Laduree is a French Café that is absolutely gorgeous inside with the way the pastries are displayed.
Also, don’t forget a stop to Call Your Mother, which has bagels so good there’s always a line. You’ll recognize it as the gorgeous pink building on 35th Street.
What about cupcakes? Where are the best cupcakes in Georgetown?
Don’t say Georgetown Cupcake. That’s basic and there are better options. If you haven’t been to Baked and Wired, you’re missing out. Don’t always go to the place with the longest line. The locals all laugh at the tourists lined up for Georgetown Cupcake because Baked and Wired is absolutely where it’s at.
Thomas Sweet on Wisconsin Avenue and P is the go-to for ice cream and forget what we said about avoiding long lines because Thomas Sweet will always have a long line when the weather is warm.
For grocery stores you have to get a little outside of Georgetown to what they call “Upper Georgetown,” or as I call it, “Glover Park.” There you will find Safeway, Trader Joes and Whole Foods.
There is also a Farmer’s Market at Rose Park on Wednesdays in the summer months from 3-7 p.m.
There is lots of shopping here. There have been many generations of the shopping scene in Georgetown. Natives lament the days of the local mom and pop shops that made up the retail options in Georgetown. Britches, Sunny’s Surplus, Up Against the Wall and Commander Salamander to name a few. But now you have a mostly robust retail area, though the rents have hurt many businesses who moved over to 14th Street.
The Georgetown Waterfront Park provides a scenic setting for strolling, jogging, or picnicking. There’s a splash pad open in the summer and an ice skating rink open in winter. You can also access the Capital Crescent Trail from the waterfront for walking, running, or biking that stretches for miles along the river and goes up to Bethesda.
The Georgetown Boat House is on the water and you can rent canoes or kayaks and head out on the Potomac.
There are some notable landmarks to visit. The Exorcist Stairs usually have someone snapping a photo when you go by. Dumbarton Oaks Museum and Gardens, Tudor Place Historic House and Garden are both worth a visit. Then there’s Old Stone House, which is the oldest unchanged building in DC.
In April, there is the Georgetown French Market. More than 35 local boutiques, antique stores, restaurants, salons and galleries display their discounted wares for up to 75% off. In December there is Georgetown GLOW, which is a festival of outdoor light installations.
From June to October, there is Dancing on the Waterfront which is a free weekly outdoor dance with the Potomac as your backdrop! This unique event takes place in Georgetown Waterfront Park, where participants of all ages and skill levels gather to embrace the joy of dancing in the open air.
Every Sunday there is the Georgetown flea market in the parking lot of Hardy Elementary School.
Pinstripes in Georgetown has fantastic food, which I wouldn’t have expected and it’s a great place to bowl or play bocce ball.
Volta Park and Pool is one of my favorite parks in DC. There is a playground with equipment for all ages, basketball court, tennis courts and of course the pool. It does get crowded, however.
The best vet in DC is here, Georgetown Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Morgan and his wife Kris own it and I’ve been going there with my pups for over 15 years.
There’s also a cat café, Crumbs and Whiskers, where you can have a snack and play with cats.
This isn’t quite “fun” but I’m sticking an honorable mention here for the dueling auto repair shops on Wisconsin Avenue. We’ve always been partial to the Shell Station. They haven’t done us wrong and their prices are fair. The old service manager was so good of course he got moved, and now they have a female manager! The funniest thing is her husband is the service manager across the street at the Exxon. I once said, “whose shop should I take my car to?” and she said, “OH DEFINITELY US!” Just know that you have two great options for car repair in Georgetown, which is pretty impressive.
Family & Kids
Georgetown Library is one of my happy places. It smells good, the librarians are awesome and it’s easy to park right out front.
There’s a cooperative play location at Volta Community Center if you’re able to get a spot there for your little one.
Did you know? The public elementary school that serves Georgetown is Hyde-Addison. Before we dive into Hyde-Addison, let’s do a comparison. I live in the neighborhood north of Georgetown called Glover Park. Our Elementary School is Stoddert. Stoddert has 83% in boundary students and 20% of the school is classified as an English Language Learner.
Hyde-Addison is 30% in boundary and 9% are classified as English Language Learners.
This may seem like a super curious statistic that only 30% of the Georgetown Elementary School is in-boundary but there are a couple reasons for this. First, Georgetown generally doesn’t lend itself well to family living. The house prices are high, green space is limited aside from Volta Park and generally the people who live in Georgetown seem to trend older. But there are families in Georgetown. I know some of them. And I also know that they send their kids to private schools.
Hyde-Addison feeds to Hardy Middle School, and then Georgetown is zoned for the new high school coming to the Palisades. It’s tentatively called MacArthur, but they are going to rename it at some point. It’s opening Fall 2023 for the 9th grade and some 10th graders.
There are a few private schools in Georgetown too – Georgetown Visitation, Holy Trinity and just off Reservoir Road is WIS, Washington International School. There’s also a charter for those interested in the arts, Duke Ellington.
That is Georgetown, the oldest neighborhood in DC with so much history, charm and great places to chow down. The retail area is currently not as robust as it has been in decades past, but this neighborhood endures and will once again thrive, I’m sure of it.