DC at Night

DC at Night

Monday, September 15, 2014

Walking DC's Literary Past

The now-gone Gaety Burlesque
Did you know that the nondescript J. Crew store on F Street was once the original site of the 9:30 Club, the scene for some of DC's most legendary rock shows? Or that the location was a setting for a scene in noted crime noir writer George Pelecanos' novel Shoedog?

Or were you aware the ultra-chic, uber-expensive, upscale City Center complex now coming to life is on a spot that was once at the heart of DC's seedy red-light district, an area then populated by bars where naked women and men danced day and night? Or that famed Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was a frequent visitor to one of the burlesque houses in the neighborhood?

Well, the answer to all of these questions would be yes if you had taken one of the DC By the Book Tours, designed by the DC Public Library.

The goal of the project, which is a collaborative effort among local librarians, experts in DC fiction, and city historical organizations, is to create a crowd-sourced map of literature set in DC that illuminates the city's geographical and social history.

Today, we accompanied librarians Tony Ross and Kim Zablud on their 2-mile tour entitled Downtown's Nightlife. As we walked the area that is now home to exclusive restaurants, elegant hotels, and expensive condos, Ross and Zablud explained the changes that had occurred in the area that was once the center of DC's sordid nightlife scene.

The best part of the tour is that it was interactive. At selected stops, tour participants read a brief excerpt from a short story or novel using that site as a setting. For example, here is what Pelecanos wrote about the old 9:30 Club:

Constantine could see some club action on F Street, the lettered block that ran to 9th. A group of kids stood halfway down the block, most of them smoking, leaning against the gated front of a shoe store. They wore flannel shirts, all of them; it looked to Constantine as if the boots they wore on their feet were the same style he'd worn in the Marines. One of them yelled something at him, and the rest of them laughed.

Downtown's Nightlife is one of 4 tours now offered. The others are:

  • Foggy Bottom
  • Georgetown and                     
  • U Street                
This week all 4 tours are being operated as part of the annual week-long Walkingtown DC sponsored by Cultural Tourism DC.

Of course, having expert guides is the best way to take any tour. But you can undertake the tour on your own. The library has designed and is offering an app (DC By the Book Tours) that is available in the Apple App Store and Google Play.

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