Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Record Huntin' in the District of Columbia!

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the weekend visiting family in the DC area, but while I was there I got to spend an afternoon alone with a few of the city's record stores, and I thought readers of this blog might be interested in where I went and what I picked up, so here's a little rundown of my afternoon hunting for vinyl in our (or my, for any international readers) nation's capital. In the present tense.

I step off the escalator of the Dupont Circle Metro station at around noon on Sunday and make my way four or five blocks up 18th St. to Red Onion Records and Books, located in the basement of a rad-looking brick Victorian on the corner of 18th and T St. As soon as I descend the steps from the sidewalk into the tiny store (I've seen bigger record stores in flea markets), I know I'm in a special place. See, I'm a complete used bin junkie, and Red Onion is basically a big used bin of astoundingly high quality. I say a quick hello to the fellow behind the counter and, with Tortoise's excellent new LP spinning on the store turntable (more on how excellent it is in a later post), I set to work thumbing through the store's "rock" section, coming up with two albums I've been meaning to pick up since high school, the Byrds classic Younger Than Yesterday and Under Thunder and Fluorescent Light by Storm & Stress.

Not wanting to blow my whole wad in one store, I take a pass on the store's tempting jazz section and make my way to the counter, where what should await me but a bin of 45s! I can't say no, and a quick flip-through reveals pure gold, a first pressing of the Joe Christmas/Kincaid split 7" on Kindercore (a label which has apparently returned from the dead recently) from way back in 1996! On clear wax! Numbered edition of 50! And for two bucks, no less! When I pay up, my bill comes to less than twenty dollars! I make a mental note never to visit DC without making a stop at this store, then head further north on 18th in search of more vinyl.

As I head a few more blocks up the street to Crooked Beat Records, the only other store turned up by a cursory Google search for "Washington DC record stores" done before my trip, I notice a sidewalk sign for Smash Records and decide to investigate. (There's nothing quite like being surprised by the existence of a good record store.) While Red Onion was more of a record nerd's record store, Smash has a decidedly punk-as-lifestyle vibe, with studded belts and band patches hanging from the walls behind the counter and a couple of racks of vintage clothing. The vinyl selection is still quite sizable and varied, though, but this unexpected stop has me a bit pressed for time, so after eying a couple of Beefheart LPs, I decide to focus on the 7-inches. I chuckle at a hand-written sticker on the first Minor Threat single (one of several copies in stock) that reads "members of Egghunt & Teen Idles" and leave the store with two singles, one by Chisel, Ted Leo's pre-Pharmacists band, and another by Cath Carroll on Teen Beat. (For those who don't know about Cath, she fronted the awesome, nearly-forgotten Factory Records band Miaow in the late 80s. Check them out!)

Checking my watch as I leave Smash, I notice I'm running short on time. Luckily, my final stop, Crooked Beat Records, is a mere twelve paces further up the street. Crooked Beat is another basement store, maybe three times the size of Red Onion, and has quite a lot to offer, but by now I'm getting kinda burnt out, so after rummaging somewhat aimlessly for about half an hour I settle on a copy of Jeffrey Lewis' latest, 'Em Are I (my only non-used purchase of the day), which I've been wanting to check out ever since his live performance on WFMU a few weeks ago (which you can download for free here).

So as early afternoon gracefully gives way to late afternoon, I leave the store, the fruits of a good day's record hunting tucked safely under my arm, and head over to Julia's Empanadas to look over my bounty while enjoying a savory baked treat, the perfect way to end my DC vinyl adventure. Seriously. That was one damn good empanada.


  1. I L-O-L-ed at the Egghunt/Teen Idles part.

  2. That quote about Smash records/Minor Threat is both the funnies and most pretentious thing I have read in a long time. I'm with Ryan...LOL.