Flickr has a great feature where its users can indicate where a picture was taken, and then others can search for pictures based on location. It’s a great way to find pictures of places that interest you. Posting about Ford’s funeral earlier reminded me of D.C. and the year I spent in Cleveland Park. One of my college roommates had a two bedroom place with a vacancy, so I spent a happy year living next to the fire house on Porter Street and Connecticut Avenue. Since his name was Stephen, and I am Randolph, we always laughed that it should have been Clepheland Park. Permit me to show you three of my favorite spots down there…
Right next door to the fire station was the Yenching Palace, where I learned to like Chinese food. Founded in 1955 by the Lungs, it was in 1962 the site of surreptitious meetings between U.S. and Soviet representatives seeking to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis. Later, Kissinger hosted a Chinese delegation there while seeking to normalize Sino-American relations. My roommate and our friend Robin would get food here – sesame chicken, mmm – and head up to the roof of her apartment building on Quebec Street, to eat and watch the late summer sunsets. You could look up the wooded hill towards the National Cathedral, and fool yourself that you weren’t in a city at all. (Oh no! My last google just unearthed the sad fact that the Lungs just decided it was time to close the restaurant. The site’s next occupant will be D.C.’s first Walgreen’s. Presumably, Walgreen’s will be the site where U.S. envoys purchase personal care products to ease tensions with Canada.)
Photograph by Muckraker.
I may have only been to the Yenching Palace a half dozen times, but I went to the 4P’s a lot more than that. While I have never been one for Irish bars per se, or theme bars at all, I quickly learned that Cleveland Park seemed to offer a few smoky dives, a few franchise establishments with no soul, and also one small gem, an emerald as it were – Ireland’s Four Provinces. Their web site suggests, as does this photo, that they’ve renamed themselves Ireland’s Four Fields. Okay, if you say so, but to me it’s the 4P’s. My roommate and I went often enough that we obtained a distinction there I’ve never achieved elsewhere – the waitresses (complete with Irish accents, of course) knew us well enough to bring us our drinks when we walked in – Harp, mmm. The 4P’s took the ‘Restaurant and’ portion of its name seriously, and maintained a welcoming, family atmosphere that was quiet enough to think and chat without resorting to the hollering necessary in so many bars. An ideal plan of attack for an evening would be to go straight from the Metro to the Uptown (see below), buy tickets for the evening’s late show, and then assemble at the 4P’s for dinner before proceeding to the theater. On warm evenings, sitting outside, you’d have the petty pleasure of watching the box office line snake past you, and the even pettier pleasure of waltzing into a sold out movie, past the grumbling horde. I loved the 4p’s every time I went there, save one – on St. Patrick’s day it was buried by Irish-for-a-day idiots, and was unrecognizable. We all were pleased for them to have so much money come in, and the next day it was right back to low-key business as usual.
Photograph by Hoffmann.
Of course restaurants and bars are just warm up for the centerpiece of Cleveland Park memories – the Uptown Theater. Opened in 1933, the Uptown was the sort of theater that explains to you why movies made such an impact years ago. Instead of being a 4, 8, 12, 16 or more screens shoehorned into some drab building in a shopping center, the Uptown was a movie house. It has one screen, and while I lived down there I saw nearly everything they showed. I loved the balcony, of course, and was surprised to learn that right after I left the balcony was refurbished with stadium seats. I quite liked the threadbare 1970’s upholstery we sat on. Armed with Junior Mints – mmm – from the 7-11 next to Yenching, you could enjoy films here in a way cineplexes will never achieve. This building was full of appealing architectural details, and was so old fashioned the restrooms more closely resembled my grandparents’ powder room than the locker room facilities you’ll find at any Regal. It felt like a home for movies, and despite my roommate’s gigantic TV, we came here often to escape the Washington heat or the anxieties that weigh on you in your unsettled twenties.
Between the Yenching Palace, the 4p’s, and the Uptown, my friends and I spent many happy hours enjoying each other’s company, enjoying the time and the place, enjoying being young and unattached, and essentially carefree. Like any time and place remembered from afar, I realize I am glossing over things, but the memory plays its tricks for reasons. The strongest memory that remains is how much pleasure I had being able to take my favorite date to these places, and how happy I was that she took to them with the same enthusiasm I felt. We’d still be going back regularly, if there weren’t 112 miles and the need to book a sitter standing in the way of it.