City Paper is not for tourists
The identity of D.C. neighborhoods Burleith, Glover Park, Cathedral Heights, and McLean Gardens will always be marked by their rich friend to the south. But unlike that African-American slum turned high-society magnet—or, as some know it, “Georgetown”—neighborhoods north of Reservoir Road have no such teen-movie makeover in their history. Burleith’s neighborhood Web site outlines the difference between Georgetown and neighborhoods NoGo:
<9.000000><9.000000>[S]ome Burleithians might tell outsiders that they live in ‘North Georgetown,’ a practice which would surely have appalled Burleith’s first settlers. In Burleith’s early days, Georgetown was regarded as run-down and lower-class, and Burleith was the glamorous suburb (an early advertisement for Burleith homes omits Georgetown from its map altogether). Today, of course, Georgetown has recovered splendidly, and it is Burleith homes, comparatively modern and well-made, that sell at a relative bargain price.
Built on a tradition of being too good for Georgetown, the neighborhoods to the north slyly excuse themselves from their neighbor’s gentrified guilt. But who needs gentrification when you’ve always had a door open to the white and the well-off? The hoods’ long-standing fancy factor is confirmed by the District features that surround it. The area finds the Ivy envy of Georgetown University to the south; the Veep’s Google Earth-scrambled Naval Observatory and the outskirts of Embassy Row to the east; Glover-Archbold Park’s exotic urban “forest” to the west; and monument to Mr. Fancy himself, God, to the north at the National Cathedral. Within these estimable boundaries lies Episcopalia, a suburb-within-a-city where the picnics are plentiful, the liquor licenses are limited, and the flea markets all sell slightly worn strollers. Also, there is a Whole Foods.
But even this urban ’burb has its subtle class rifts. Though the all-residential Burleith is but a slight rent knock from Georgetown, the members-only Hillandale community still locks its outer gate’s doors to keep out area riffraff. As one ventures north, though, the area’s high-society factor becomes diluted by the nouveau middle-class. In Glover Park, old rich meets new; breast-feeding families mix with grad students suckling from the teat of academia. Further north, Cathedral Heights fits apartments, condos, and single-family homes—as well as the area’s hallmark row-houses—beneath the shadow of the high altar. And cozying up next to the peak of Glover-Archbold Park, McLean Gardens’ campus of condominiums is the semi-budget-conscious answer to Hillandale’s hoity-toity homes and duck-planted ponds.
To the Episcopalia homebody, nightlife north of Georgetown might seem limited to private cocktail parties and semester’s-end college keggers. Glover Park’s modest commercial strip adds some much-needed grit to the area, enough to draw in the occasional outsider. After all, what’s an upscale neighborhood without a couple local strip joints to fulfill the occasional urge to “slum it”? Two gentleman’s clubs, Good Guys and J.P.s, went chest-to-chest across Wisconsin until fire gutted J.P.s in January; on the same latitude, bottom-rung venue Grog and Tankard pulls in the weary significant others of startup local bands. But worry not, baby-bumpers and trust-funders: Glover Park’s commerce isn’t all fake boobs and crooked beats. On that same block, Bourbon and Town Hall serve the preppy and the preppier, respectively, with stiff nightcaps and standard morning-after brunches. Recently, the area’s seen a slight loosening of the party reins. Bourbon has been so successful that Glover Park residents have amended their liquor license moratorium to allow a new drinking hole from its owner: subterranean eat/drink/play spot Breadsoda. But despite their twin Bourbons, Glover Park’s continued grip on liquor licenses ensures that Wisconsin isn’t about to go the way of 18th Street.
Nuzzled between private schools American and Georgetown, Episcopalia isn’t all fun and gastronomy: These hoods know how to hit the books. Sure, the undergraduates squatting in the neighborhood may leave out the trash or sell overpriced luxury drugs from the row house next door, but the area is still a great spot to nurture a baby bump into a budding bro. Burleith’s Washington International School provides private ed to pre-K through 12th-grade diplobrats; proles can head to Glover Park’s highly ranked Benjamin Stoddert Elementary and Woodrow Wilson High School, then—what, no nanny?—waste after-school time at the Guy Mason Recreational Center. In case your offspring rebel into alterna-kids, shepherd them over to Burleith’s public Duke Ellington School of the Arts, where they can indulge fantasies of jazz-club fame while still maintaining a 95 percent chance of heading to college (chances of actually making a living as an artist are significantly lower).
Bustling without compromising their boringness, these neighborhoods might best be described as “nice.” They’re fine places to settle down and raise families, if that’s what you’re into, but their D.C.-specific draw is limited. Perhaps it’s by design that public transport from Episcopalia to the rest of the District can be a difficult journey: It’s a great place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit.
• Freedom Gothic: Take that, Europe! Washington’s National Cathedral took a mere 83 years to construct; compare that to Notre Dame’s sluggish 182. (Sure, St. Paul’s only took 33 years, but that was London’s, like, fourth try.) The NatCat’s particular styling has a lot more to offer than some nice buttresses: No American tribute to God could be complete without a lunar rock, a lofty sculpture of Darth Vader’s head, and the interred corpse of prototypical United States overachiever Helen Keller. The Cathedral also joins in the American tradition of blowing stuff up: It’s among the area’s go-to spots for watching the Independence Day firestorm.
• Throw ’Em a Bone: Ridicule their undersize boutique sweaters at your own risk: In Glover Park and Burlieth’s many unofficial dog parks, canines frolic free from leashes and devoid of protective fences. You might think that willful ignorance of park norms would bother the by-the-rules set. But this hood’s residents aren’t merely people; they are “dog people.” Here, where dogs are schooled at Puppy Kindergarten and pets typically round out the remainder in 2.5 children homes, labs trump law. Ah, the sweet smell of free feces!
• The Name Game: Dog feuds and flaming strip clubs aside, Glover Park’s most pressing issue may be the correct pronunciation of its name. Most modern neighborhood residents call their hood “GLOW-ver.” But in 2005, Washington Post “Answer Man” John Kelly tracked down neighborhood namesake Charles C. Glover’s granddaughter, then 84-year-old Nancy Symington, who insists it’s “GLUH-ver.” Pronounce it like a glove-maker and you’ll show your age; rhyme it with “Rover” and you’ll reveal your imperfect breeding. Better to call the whole thing off.