The Top 8 Things to Do in Washington, D.C.'s Shaw Neighborhood

Where to hang out in one of Washington's most vibrant areas

Washington, D.C.'s Shaw neighborhood is one of the city's most historic adjacent to U Street, this area was once known as the "Black Broadway," where greats like Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughan performed amidst a thriving community of Black-owned businesses. According to local radio station WAMU, the neighborhood is named for Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who led the first official Black units during the Civil War. That history is commemorated with the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, which is located in the neighborhood.

Shaw suffered during Washington's 1968 riots, as businesses moved out of the area and residents left. But in the past few decades, gentrification has transformed the neighborhood with new buildings, renovated homes, restaurants, and apartments. Located in a prime spot near downtown and metro stations and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, there's much to explore in Shaw — making this a popular area to visit for both locals and tourists.

01 of 08

Visit the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum

Wreath Laying Ceremony In Honor Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In Washington
Alex Wong / Getty Images

One of the most recognizable sites in the U Street and Shaw area is the African American Civil War Memorial, which commemorates the more than 200,000 African-American soldiers and sailors who served in the U.S. Army and Navy during the Civil War. Visit the memorial and go inside the African American Civil War Museum, which tells the often untold story of the brave service of the United States Colored Troops.

The museum opened in 1999, moving to the historic Grimke Building in 2011, where it is now located across the street from the memorial at 1925 Vermont Ave, NW. Admission to the museum is free. The exhibits include documents like photographs and artifacts from these Civil War soldiers. There's also an exhibit called "From Slavery to the White House: the USCT Ancestors of First Lady Michelle Obama."

02 of 08

See the Famed Howard Theatre

Howard Theatre, Shaw neighborhood

Kris Connor/Contributor/Getty Images

Make time to see Shaw's historic Howard Theatre, which opened in 1910 as the first legitimate theater in the country open to African Americans, according to the Washington Post, and the largest theater for African Americans in the world, according to the theater's website. Drawing musical icons like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Cab Calloway, and Nat King Cole, the Howard Theatre helped establish Washington, D.C. as one of Black America's major cultural centers. 

The Howard Theatre survived the 1968 D.C. riots, but it struggled afterwards until its revival and re-opening in 2012. Today, the theater is brilliantly restored and draws contemporary artists like Tamar Braxton, Ruben Studdard, Les Nubians, and local musicians.

03 of 08

Catch a Show at the 9:30 Club

9:30 Club performance

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One of D.C.'s most beloved concert venues is the 9:30 Club in Shaw, with musicians playing almost every night of the week. The club is known for its great sound and sightlines: be sure to book ahead of time for popular acts as shows often sell out.

The 9:30 Club originally opened in 1980, and moved into an old gospel radio station in 1996. That's its current building, where the Smashing Pumpkins christened the venue by playing two sold-out show. If you're just in the mood for a drink, check out the Satellite Room right around the back of the 9:30 Club, where you'll find boozy milkshakes and diner fare.

04 of 08

Hang Out in a Very Hip Alley

Tiger Fork DC

Tiger Fork

Duck down a side street across from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Shaw and you'll find Blagden Alley, an urban hideaway home to very cool coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and murals and street art. Snap a photo at the colorful LOVE mural by artist Lisa Marie Thalhammer. Then seek out the gorgeous La Colombe Coffee or get a cocktail or a bite at the open air "urban backyard" bar Calico. For a fancy dinner, try to snag a table at Hong Kong-inspired Tiger Fork and The Dabney, which serves up Mid-Atlantic ingredients cooked on a wood-burning hearth.

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05 of 08

Watch a Movie at Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema

Landmark's Atlantic Plumbing Cinema

Landmark's Atlantic Plumbing Cinema

There's no need to go to the suburbs for a movie: Shaw boasts a boutique movie theatre in Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema. The theatre opened in the mixed-use development Atlantic Plumbing in 2015, and it's a stylish place to see both artsy Oscar movies and crowd-pleasers (think "The Lego Movie 2" or "Green Book")The theatre plays hosts to special events too. Moviegoers can book tickets and reserve seats online, and there's a full bar and food — you can bring your drinks into any of the Landmark Atlantic Plumbing Cinema's six theaters.

06 of 08

Pose with the Duke Ellington Statue

Duke Ellington statue, Le Droit Park, Shaw neighborhood, Washington, D.C.

Ted Eytan/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Head to 708 T Street NW to pay respect to Washington's legendary musician and composer Duke Ellington. The city installed a statue in 2012 by sculptor and D.C. native Zachary Oxman, located at Ellington Plaza right in front of The Howard Theatre. The shiny silver sculpture shows jazz great Ellington playing a stylized piano. Ellington grew up in the Shaw area, spending his childhood and the beginning of his career here — not to mention his many performances at The Howard Theatre.

07 of 08

Plan a Fun Night Out Bar-Hopping

Old Fashioned at Morris American Bar

Morris American Bar 

The Shaw neighborhood is home to some of the most popular bars in Washington, D.C. On a beautiful summer day, Dacha Beer Garden is absolutely packed with drinkers (and their pets) enjoying German brews. Another good bet is Maxwell Park, an approachable wine bar with unique pours and a knowledgeable staff. For cocktails, check out Morris American Bar with serious cocktails and seriously pretty decor. More Shaw bars to check out include the rooftop spot Takoda and dive bar All Souls.

08 of 08

Dine at an Acclaimed Restaurant

The Dabney

The Dabney

In recent years, Shaw's become a neighborhood dining destination, with restaurants opening up at a rapid clip. Michelin-starred restaurant The Dabney is one of the top tables in town, serving acclaimed dishes made from ingredients exclusively sourced from the region. Other standouts include Italian-American fare at All Purpose, fancy cakes at Buttercream Bakeshop, creative and delicious diner fare at Unconventional Diner, and mole at Espita Mezcaleria. This neighborhood is also known for its many Ethiopian restaurants, including Chercher Ethiopian Restaurant & Mart and Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant.

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