In the heart of the artistically brimming U Street Corridor of northwest D.C., Busboys and Poets on 14th and V is an oasis where the collision and subsequent conversation between art, poetry, and politics occurs in one of our capitol’s chief cultural centers. Self described as “a community where racial and cultural connections are conspicuously uplifted,” the aura of this one-of-a-kind restaurant/bar/bookstore is one where political and social movement can be discussed over vegan food and organic beer, where independently published books are perused and set aside, and coffee is consumed on comfy couches as customers punch lazily into Macs. Named for the American poet Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy in the Wardman Park Hotel in the 1920s before achieving acclaim as a novelist and poet in the Harlem Renaissance, this metropolitan cultural hub is the most unusual hybrid of café, bar, nightclub and general community gathering area you can hope to experience in D.C. (though you’ll be hard pressed to find another).
Created in 2005 by Iraqi-American artist and restaurateur Anas Shallal, the Busboys and Poets location on 14th and V (there are three others in the D.C./VA area) is divided into five distinct sections: the independent bookstore, the poets café, the busboys lounge, the Langston Room performance space, and the gallery, a showcase area for local artists, which is set in a dining room. What better place to showcase local art than in a dining room?
Busboys is known for their delectable deserts, difficult-to-find organic beers, and a wide array of spirits, wine, and mixed drinks (try their famous DC Tap Water!). And that’s not to mention their vegetarian and vegan fare, which embodies the globe, including falafel with hummus and red peppers, avocado and Tempeh Paninis, and even good ole fashioned American vegan pizza and burgers. When you’re done with your meal and coffee, you can wander over to the bookstore and forget (if only briefly) that you’re in a lamentable age where bookstores are rapidly becoming obsolete in the face of e-readers and online retailers enabling readers to have their entire library at their fingertips. Take your time exploring these shelves.
Busboys and Poets’ strong presence in the community is cemented with their ongoing events nearly every night of the week. Best-selling authors pop in to speak about their work, and on Tuesday nights there’s an open mic poetry slams, not to mention their frequent film screenings. Though part of their mission statement is the quixotically tongue-in-cheek aim to “inspire social change and begin to transform our community and our world,” Busboys and Poets create a distinctive atmosphere of high culture and creative aspiration that’s difficult to emulate elsewhere.