Before There Was Harlem, There Was U Street

Ben’s Chili Bowl anchors the famed center of African-American life in Washington, DC on a stretch of U Street NW from 7th St to 18th St NW. It survived the riots, the construction of Metro down the street, and continues to serve late into the night. Curiously, the owners, who are devout Muslims, don’t eat their own product.

The Lincoln Theater was once and again is a center of DC nightlife on U Street. Back in the day, the best Motown musicians performed here.

Sadly, gentrification is coming to U Street, and while the crime is going down, the fun is going down along with it. An infamous incident occurred while I lived in DC; the developer’s computer generated mock-up shown to the public contained only white people walking U Street out in front of the proposed building.

Residential turned to commercial as the street became full of shoppers. I bought my leather coat at one of these stores nine years ago this spring.

Read about the street in this prior approved Wikipedia article. The phrase people still use is, “Before there was Harlem, there was U Street.” Artists and poets flocked to the street decades before the Harlem Renaissance.

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