The surest sign that a neighborhood has surpassed trendy and arrived at "established" is when it thrives even as home prices tumble. That is the case for Penn Quarter, Northwest Washington's hottest spot for theater, dining, sports and entertainment, which has continued to flourish during a tough real estate market.
In 2009, 81 condos, Penn Quarter's almost exclusive form of housing, were sold, according to Matt McHugh, a real estate agent with Long and Foster. They ranged in price from $170,000 to $1.1 million.
"When I worked there in the early '90s, it was dead at 5 o'clock," he said. "But now it attracts people who want to be near the theaters, the museums, the restaurants. A lot of people have bought condos there as second homes or retirement homes. They want to be near all that culture."
People like Ray and Rebecca Adams, who moved to the neighborhood from Arizona two years ago after Ray retired.
"My wife and I realized I wouldn't have much to do because I don't play golf," Adams joked.
Though he hadn't lived in the Washington area since the '60s, he was attracted to Penn Quarter for a number of reasons.
"This is actually the most culturally dense neighborhood, frankly, in the United States," he said. "There's no place in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles with 22 museums, seven theaters, two large cinemas, 50 restaurants, the Verizon Center and the Martin Luther King Library. If I want to see a Rembrandt, I just walk across the street. It's like living in a candy store."
Defining the boundaries of this particular sweet shop is difficult, but Jo-Ann Neuhaus, executive director of the Pennsylvania Quarter Neighborhood Association, considers them to be Pennsylvania Avenue to the south, Massachusetts Avenue to the north, New York Avenue to the west and somewhere near 4th Street to the east. Neuhaus points to the opening of the Shakespeare Theatre in the early 1990s as the beginning of the neighborhood's renaissance.
"We've got a great local community that supports the development of the theater and allows the theater to grow to new levels," said Chris Jennings, the Shakespeare's managing director. Three years ago the company opened a second venue, Sidney Harman Hall, on F Street.
Performances aren't limited to just local talent. Last year the Shakespeare hosted a production of "Phaedra" starring Helen Mirren, its only stop in the United States.
"The District has made an investment," Jennings said. "You're driving an economic base where people are coming to town, they're paying to park, they're going to restaurants. The arts are an economic multiplier."
Make no mistake about it: Parking can be a hassle in Penn Quarter. Most residents who own a car must lease a spot in a garage or lot since snagging a spot on the street is nearly impossible. The best bet is to ditch the gas guzzler entirely. With the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro station under Verizon Center and almost everything you need within walking distance, getting around isn't a problem.
Since the arena opened in 1997, Penn Quarter has become fat with restaurants. A few of the ever-dwindling collection of mom and pop Chinatown restaurants serving authentic Asian cuisines remain, but top-notch restaurants, many with renowned chefs, are the reason Penn Quarter has turned in the city's culinary capital.
Teaism, Caf? Atlantico, Jaleo, Zaytinya, Matchbox, Oyamel, Rasika, Proof. The list could, and does, go on, but the point is clear. There's a restaurant for every pallet in Penn Quarter.
"I've shown a lot of properties in that area to people who say, 'I like to go out to dinner and go to a show,'" said Kathleen Ryan, a real estate agent with Long and Foster. "I say, 'You want Penn Quarter.' Years ago it was just a place. Now it's the place to be."
Top Reasons to live in Penn Quarter
Theaters are abundant in the neighborhood, so residents can take in world-class productions at major venues such as Ford's Theatre and smaller stages such as the Woolly Mammoth Theatre.
Restaurants -- ranging from low-end fast food to some of the finest establishments in the region -- line the streets of Penn Quarter.
The Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro station is on the Red, Yellow and Green lines. Bus lines zigzag through the neighborhood, and there are Zipcars available for rent by the hour. Owning a car truly isn't necessary in Penn Quarter.
The city's state-of-the-art arena opened its doors in December 1997 and changed the face of Penn Quarter. Home to the NBA's Wizards, NHL's Capitals, WNBA's Mystics and Georgetown University's men's basketball team, the arena hosts more than 200 events each year.
At a glance
Average sold price for homes sold in ZIP code 20004: $538,500
Average list price for homes sold in ZIP code 20004: $554,375
Average days on market for homes sold: 40
Average sold price for homes sold in ZIP code 20004: $633,800
Average list price for homes sold in ZIP code 20004: $676,712
Average days on market for homes sold: 128