District of Cool: A guide to Washington's hot spots

Like Barack Obama's campaign catchword, change is the theme in Washington. The once-sleepy city is a happening hot spot, with exciting new attractions, chic eateries and vibrant nightlife in formerly dicey neighborhoods. Think you can't have a hip time in D.C.? Yes, you can! USA TODAY's Kitty Bean Yancey leads a tour of some insider haunts (including a few already graced by the Obamas).

The U Street corridor

Dubbed the "Black Broadway" in the segregation era and damaged in '60s race riots, the street northeast of Dupont Circle is lined with clubs, restaurants and boutiques that attract a diverse crowd. The historic Lincoln Theatre (202-328-6000; thelincolntheatre.org) has been beautifully restored and will be the site of "The People's Inaugural Gospel Concert" Sunday. Lines got even longer at the half-century-old Ben's Chili Bowl (202-667-0909; benschilibowl.com) after the president-elect stopped by the no-frills eatery last Saturday with D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty for the signature chili-crowned $4.95 "half-smoke" sausage on a bun. It's also a favorite of comedian Bill Cosby.

A creation by Oprah's chef

Chef/owner Art Smith, who once cooked for the talk-show queen and Obama supporter, has opened Art and Soul (202-393-7777; artandsouldc.com), in the new Liaison Capitol Hill boutique hotel (866-246-2203; affinia.com) on New Jersey Avenue, just steps from Union Station and the Capitol. The restaurant's décor is Milan-modern, including U-shaped cream faux-crocodile banquettes inset in walls, perfect for hush-hush power schmoozing. Giant renderings of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and others adorn the walls. The menu with $18-$32 entrees offers hearty drinks (a $12 "pink elephant" martini with 4 ounces of gin), old-school Southern hospitality and cuisine (pork chops with red-eye gravy, shrimp and grits) and creative melds such as old-fashioned corn hoecakes tarted up with smoked salmon and pickled okra. The sole disappointment on a recent night: pecan-crusted chicken, said to be a Winfrey fave, that was dry and almost tasteless.

Updated 14th Street

This former sketchy zone has turned into a neighborhood for the young and trendy, who can be seen day and night toting gym bags, recyclable Whole Foods sacks and $1,000 handbags. New draws include Marvin (202-797-7171; marvindc.com), at the intersection of U and 14th streets, named for late soul legend Marvin Gaye. It specializes in scrumptious down-home dishes, such as the popular $16 chicken, waffles and collard greens and $8 shrimp and grits, plus Belgian staples (mussels and crispy fries with mayonnaise dipping sauce). What does Gaye, whose psychedelic portrait in platform boots dominates the Euro-bistro dining room, have to do with Belgium? He lived there briefly and loved the food, a black-clad waiter explained. The second-floor lounge and outdoor terrace bar upstairs are weekend hot spots.

Traveling trendsters hole up at the new Donovan HouseHotel (800-383-6900; thompsonhotels.com), named for "Wild Bill" Donovan, head of the pre-CIA spy organization OSS. Highlights include spiral-shaped showers and the Desmond Tutu Suite. (The South African cleric has stayed here.) Not far are the ultramodern Lotus Lounge (202-289-4222; lotusloungedc.com), where VIP wannabes lay down $100 bills for bottle service, and the Café Saint-Ex (202-265-7839; saint-ex.com), a hangout from brunch till the wee hours.

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