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a side of the city most people won't see in movies or on the news. You will now receive updates fro

Time:2018-11-03 11:29Shoes websites Click:

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The fashionable 14th Street strip in Washington, DC is known for its trendy restaurants.

The fashionable 14th Street strip in Washington, DC is known for its trendy restaurants. Photo: Courtesy of washington.org

It feels like the whole world is here – in a compact, terraced park on an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon in autumn. Plenty of 20-somethings are savouring the end of the weekend, but there are jugglers, hula-hoopers and salsa dancers, too. A few women sell chunky African jewellery. One group does the frevo, a bouncy Brazilian dance featuring little multi-coloured umbrellas. Burning incense has made the air smell sweet and musky.

Most people gather round a throng of drummers, beating their bongos, djembes and claves for hours in a hypnotic and sometimes cacophonous celebration of the waning sun.

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The white spear of the Washington Monument in the distance serves as a reminder that this isn't Byron Bay or Haight-Ashbury. We're in Meridian Hill Park (unofficially called Malcolm X Park) in Columbia Heights, one of Washington, DC's most multicultural – and rapidly gentrifying – neighbourhoods. The US President refers to it as "the swamp", though the only "swampy" thing here is DC's persistent humidity. I arrive sweaty and dishevelled, but it seems to suit the festive atmosphere.

Ben's Chili Bowl on 14th and U Street, Washington DC.

Ben's Chili Bowl on 14th and U Street, Washington DC. Photo: Courtesy of washington.org

My husband chats briefly to Hector, a dapper Cuban gentleman with polished shoes, fedora and cane, who tells him, in broken English: "I've been coming here for 40 years to find people to play in my band".

The Sunday drum formed as a celebration of African culture after the civil rights movement. It's emblematic of DC's vibrant cultural scene, a side of the city most people won't see in movies or on the news.

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Some may view Washington, DC as a more grotesque version of Canberra – a capital born of compromise, with nothing much to recommend it but museums, memorials and a whole lot of increasingly unsavoury political drama. The US capital, however, has more to offer than history lessons and proximity to power. There's a thriving foodie scene, eclectic neighbourhoods and the striking, complex diversity of any great American city.

Hit the neighbourhood of Shaw for Ethiopian, Petworth for cocktail bars or the fashionable 14th Street strip for trendy restaurants (DC is the fourth US city to have its own Michelin Guide). Head to Columbia Heights or Mount Pleasant for pupusas, decadent corn tortillas filled with pork, beans and cheese, a specialty of the Salvadoran Americans who make up DC's largest immigrant population.

The area around U Street, a few blocks south of Meridian Hill Park, is a good place to start. Once known as Black Broadway, U Street was lined with swanky African-American-owned theatres and clubs that were the training ground for jazz greats such as Duke Ellington. You can still see jazz around here, at Twins Jazz or at a Sunday jam session at The Brixton, though most of U Street's venues now cater to young professionals. On Saturday nights, the streets teem with rowdy revellers, but much of the noise seems to come from above. DC loves a rooftop, and we can hear chatter and music blaring from the crowded balconies of Takoda, an industrial-chic beer garden, and Nellie's, a gay sports bar.

We opt for hipster hangout American Ice Company, which serves the local brew, DC Brau, in Mason jars. The go-to dish, our waitress tells us, is "swatchos", a messy but tasty plate of nachos topped with melted cheese, pulled pork and jalapenos.

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Nearby, we see crowds lining up for a gig at the 9.30 Club. The intimate concert venue supported the early days of DC's influential punk scene that emerged in the '80s, epitomised by DC bands such as Bad Brains, Fugazi and Dain Bramage, led by a young, pre-Nirvana Dave Grohl.

When we're hankering for brunch the next morning, we head off the beaten track to Florida Avenue Grill, which has been serving soul food staples such as catfish and grits, collard greens and candied yams since 1944. More adventurous eaters can try pig's feet, "simply prepared", or chitterlings (pig intestines).

We sit down on red vinyl seats at the bar, watching line cooks work the grill. Customers stream in – young, hungover types, families on their way to church, old-timers doing the crossword – a bemusing, comforting mix you'll come to expect from this diverse and lively part of DC.

Nightlife at Pearl Dive on 14th Street.

Nightlife at Pearl Dive on 14th Street. Photo: Courtesy of washington.org TRIP NOTES

Kate Stanton travelled at her own expense.

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