New and Old Rediscovered at Adams Morgan Day

Patrick G. Ryan

It was “Rediscover Adams Morgan Day” Sept. 9 at the annual Adams Morgan Day Festival, a flavorsome yearly celebration of what is arguably Washington’s most diverse neighborhood.

With the end of the construction torture of the successful streetscape project, things looked spiffier. From noon until early evening, the considerably wider-seeming and tidier streetscape of 18th Street was packed with vendors, visitors and venues, celebrating the neighborhood’s ethnic food, music, commercial, business and art flavors Chicken, heavily flavored with Latin American ingredients, Asian and African cuisines, cold drinks and spicy rice and tacos, and vegan and vegetarian offerings drew long lines all day, while stages at Columbia Road and 18th Street as well as Florida Avenue and 18th Street offered the music of the world, from the Travao Samba Band to the Mariachi Aquila ensemble, it was samba and salsa. There was jazz and blues, there along with the Sligo Creek Stompers.

The music reflected the offerings on the street—from Columbia Station to the rich and eclectic performers that hit Madam’s Organ, and further out, made it to Ike’s Mambo Room on Columbia Road, which on this day, was packed. The neighborhood’s restaurants boomed, some of them very tuned into what turned out to be a victorious Redskins game. There were sports bars, Irish bars, Ethiopian and Hispanic and African restaurants, French restaurants and Asian and sushi bars all along the curbstone.

If you hit Belmont Street, you could walk smack into a rich and diverse art fair reflective of the city’s creative scene, from photography, to hats, to loud painting, to crafts of all sorts. Near a karaoke bar, which has been become karaoke corner over the last few festivals, a young white kid sang a surprisingly soulful version of “I Will Survive,” as if -- instead of being under the blue skies of this surprisingly fall-like balmy day -- he were standing emoting under a glowing disco ball. Folks cheered, danced and swayed to the music, although not to the few ladies who made the intemperate choice of trying to hit the high notes of Whitney Houston's “I Will Always Love You.”

The festival drew folks from all over the city and was reflective of the city’s changing demographics and its most recent baby booms. Baby strollers, full of overwhelming cuteness in their passengers, dominated the streets as much as teens from the surrounding neighborhoods. Here and there were politicians—Ward One Councilman Jim Graham resplendent in sunglasses and bow tie held forth—while local banks, real estate companies and business plied their wares. If you lived here, you ran into your checkout clerk at Safeway, your bank teller, your bartender, your local retired legal sage, your dogwalker or your advisory neighborhood commissioner.

It was one of those Sundays perfect for a festival—no rain, blue skies, clouds that looked more like paintings than the real thing, mothers wiping dessert off baby faces, dogs plaintively fighting weariness with the excitement of hundreds of food smells, making them dizzy. Old guys and new kids danced to whatever music was available.

It was the kind of scene that was attractively urban and benignly happy—no menace, no politics, no incidents, just blue skies, nothing but blue skies, rippling with nothing but Sunday and salsa. If you lived here, it was like old times and new times at once. The air was full of new babies, new stuff and stores, the consideration of the idea that happy times could be here again in spite of what you might be hearing during an election year.

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Sun, 21 Sep 2014 04:06:50 -0400

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