In the 1980s and ’90s, Dupont Circle was the closest thing D.C. had to San Francisco’s freewheeling Castro District. It was a place where you could buy an oil painting, browse lesbian erotica and catch a nude all-male revue inside a 10-minute walk.

Pierre Abushacra, who opened Firehook Bakery on Q Street in 1994, pictured serving up croissants to Dupont’s ambassadors, artists and drag queens. “I was fairly young, kind of starting out in my career, and Dupont Circle was the place to be,” says Abushacra. “It was eclectic, fun and young.”

Nearly 25 years later, only traces of that atmosphere remain. High rent prices sapped Dupont’s bohemian flavor long ago, and newer nightlife districts in Shaw, Southwest and 14th Street have siphoned off its evening foot traffic. Abushacra has trimmed hours at his café, which he says once stayed busy until 10 p.m.

But now a group of business owners has latched onto a plan it hopes will reposition Dupont as a thrumming cultural destination. The neighborhood is about to get its first-ever business improvement district, much like other commercial hot zones like Georgetown, NoMa and downtown. Abushacra — who’s part of the effort — says he thinks it will sink much-needed investment into a part of town that’s seen more downs than ups in recent years.

“Dupont Circle looks tired,” the bakery owner says. “I think with improvement in the streetscape, in addition to some marketing and branding, we can bring customers and businesses back.”

The BID has support from many business owners in Dupont, who predict it will help spruce up the area and entice new shops and restaurants. What remains murky, however, is the future of Dupont’s identity — and whether the neighborhood can recapture its long-lost cool factor.

(WAMU)