A Trendy Turn in Obama’s Town
Soon after President Obama places his hand on the Lincoln Bible on Monday, he will join lawmakers for a luncheon of steamed lobster, hickory-grilled bison and New England chowder in the Capitol’s ornate Statuary Hall.
Meanwhile, in the trendy corridors of this city, the Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill will be serving its signature Prez Obama Burger (with applewood bacon and Roquefort cheese) and its Michelle Melt turkey burger (free range, of course, on a whole wheat bun), the staff at the Boundary Road restaurant on H Street Northeast will be pouring craft beers from Baltimore and Brooklyn, and at the U Street Music Hall, the rock music will be playing long after the swearing-in is over.
None of these places existed before 2008.
That was the year when Barack Obama won his first presidential election and started putting together an administration that would soon replace that of President George W. Bush. And for many of Mr. Obama’s young supporters, this second inauguration — and its revelries — are symbols of the transformation of the nation’s capital into a younger and livelier city.
Long viewed as a stodgy, early-to-bed town, Washington over the past four years has become a mecca for young professionals who have been drawn to its blooming economy and its revitalized urban core. Once-neglected stretches of the city now bustle with bars, restaurants and coffee shops.
The February edition of Food & Wine magazine heralds the city’s “new food scene” for its “innovative restaurants,” with offerings that range from baked orzo for brunch and dan dan noodles at midnight. In September, Forbes magazine included H Street Northeast, with its bars, music halls and restaurants, in its list of the nation’s 20 “best hipster neighborhoods.” (H Street ranked sixth, behind the Pearl District in Portland, Ore.)
The city’s population boom and heightened hipness quotient cannot be directly attributed to Mr. Obama’s appeal among younger voters. (Sorry, Mr. President.) Washington has had a relatively strong economy, compared with other cities. And waves of gentrification and investment have changed the face of the city.
But a census analysis conducted by Susan Weber-Stoger, a demographer at Queens College, suggests that the lure of federal jobs during the Obama years has played a part.
Between 2009 and 2011, the number of college-educated people aged 22 to 34 who live here, but were not enrolled in school, surged by nearly a third to 93,354. The number of people in that age group who work for the federal government jumped even higher, by 61 percent.
It does not hurt that some of Mr. Obama’s interests dovetail with those of a younger generation that prefers urban to suburban life, even though the president and his wife are less visible in the city now than they were during their first months in the White House.
Mr. Obama, who says he listens to Nicki Minaj on his iPod, goes out far more regularly than his predecessor and ventures to more diverse corners of the city, said Mark Knoller, a White House reporter for CBS News and an unofficial archivist of the presidential schedule.
“His own sensibilities have intersected with the city’s changing sensibilities in a way that resonates with people,” said Dee Dee Myers, a former press secretary to President Bill Clinton who moved here in 1992.
Every president brings his own feel to the White House and, by extension, to the capital. Sometimes that sensibility is ephemeral and fleeting, historians say. At other times, a president plants the seeds of change.
Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian, pointed to the young New Dealers who poured in to Washington during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration in the 1930s.
Many of them moved into Georgetown and began renovating its 18th- and 19th-century town houses in what was then a neglected corner of the city. Their efforts helped lead to the emergence of Georgetown as the home to the city’s power elite.
In recent years, President Clinton brought his love of jazz and late-night pizza policy sessions to the White House, while under President Bush, the South Lawn became home to country music and Texas-style barbecue.
At first, the Obamas looked set to emerge as the most out-and-about presidential couple in recent memory, but they have retreated in recent years. Even so, Mr. Obama has gone out far more often for meals and evening outings in Washington than Mr. Bush did, according to Mr. Knoller’s records, including to Georgetown’s Café Milano on Thursday to celebrate Mrs. Obama’s 49th birthday.
“I like a good party,” the president said at a news conference last week.
Anita McBride, who served as Laura Bush’s chief of staff, said the Bushes played host at the White House to many more lawmakers than the Obamas have. But she says the former president and first lady are early-to-bed people.
“Going out together, they do a lot more than the Bushes did,” Ms. McBride said of the Obamas.
Mr. Obama’s young staff members also savor city life, living in apartments and group houses on Logan Circle, U Street and near Dupont Circle, and drinking at bars like Stoney’s Lounge and Chief Ike’s Mambo Room, said Eric Lesser, who worked for David Axelrod, who was the president’s senior adviser before moving on to Harvard Law School.
Young people are not the only ones drawn to the city’s increasingly vibrant neighbors. When settling on a new home, Justice Sonia Sotomayor decided on a place near U Street in Northwest Washington.
To outsiders, the change is palpable. Marcus Samuelsson, the New York chef and restaurateur who has been visiting Washington for years, marvels at the expanded range of ethnic food offerings, midlevel bistros and fine-dining establishments.
Chefs such as Todd Gray of Equinox and José Andrés of Jaleo have also helped to put the city’s culinary scene on the map.
“Washington is a really cool city to go to now,” Mr. Samuelsson said. “You don’t have to move to New York or San Francisco. You can stay in the D.C. area and really do well within the tribe of cooking.”
Not everyone is celebrating. The influx of affluent newcomers has corresponded with a decline in the number black residents, many of whom complain of higher rents, taxes and housing costs. In 2011, Washington’s black population slipped below 50 percent for the first time in 51 years, leaving some African-Americans uneasy about their place in the city.
“You kind of get the sense that people are waiting for the rest of us to leave,” said Natalie Hopkinson, the author of “Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City.”
“It is very ironic that at the time we get a chocolate president that it’s not the chocolate city,” she said.
Demographers say that Washington has long been a city where people come and go. It is unclear whether the new generation of 20- and 30-somethings will reverse that trend.
Lauren Yates, a 25-year-old from Chicago who specializes in Web analytics, said she and her husband hoped to stay, at least for a while.
Her husband, who moved here first, initially settled in Georgetown. But after looking around, they moved to H Street in July.
In October, Mr. Obama stopped by H Street’s Smith Commons. It was his second visit to the popular corridor.
Ms. Yates said she still was not convinced that the city is truly hip. She is from Chicago, after all. (In fairness, even some longtime Washingtonians are dubious.) But she is thrilled to live in an up-and-coming neighborhood that the president sometimes visits.
“We’re just excited to live close enough to a place that he thinks is hip for dinner,” she said.
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