Black and Orange and Blue All Over

Another New Restaurant/Night Club, Same Old Issues

14th Street & U is apparently just about the only place restaurants want to open anymore. What was once Washington’s auto dealer showplace is increasingly home to restaurants aiming for somewhere between hip, trendy and boozed-up. The latest example is Black & Orange Burger.

Now before the lurkers from DC BID or other pro-development organizations try to again mischaracterize comments here, this is emphatically not a slam on Black & Orange and their line of $6.00 burgers with names like “Now and Zen,” “Curried Away,” and “Pardon My French.” Like every other establishment, the proprietors are trying to carve out an image, a brand, and a market. Good for them. Does it mean anything that I prefer my burgers without names other than their ingredients, or places with less self-awareness like the Saloon on U, or my fish tacos served with less flash and cost but major flavor, like at Pica Taco on Florida? Nope; nothing more than my tastes, so either dispose of that red herring or don’t bother writing.

People have every right to spend their money how they like on the food and entertainment they desire. But establishments do not have unlimited rights to open anywhere they choose without regard to infrastructure or community, or operate a nightclub masquerading as a restaurant. That’s why we have development boards, ANC committees, the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration, historic review boards, and any of the other regulatory offices meant to keep some semblance of orderly development.

This Tuesday, December 20 at 7pm, a committee of ANC-1B will meet to discuss Black & Orange’s alcohol-service request. Although the meeting is limited in scope, the continued welter of new establishments serving alcohol in a very compressed space at late hours is starting to weigh on the minds of local residents. This, on the heels of the approval of extra-late night alcohol service at Matchbox, two doors down, joining other establishments such as St. Ex, Lost Society and many others too numerous to list, have raised concern. Are these restaurants, or nightclubs? Are some of them trying to open their doors posing as one, only to turn into another? And how many bars is too many in one block?

Security Measures Reexamined After Man Killed Outside Heritage India Restaurant “And Club” In Dupont Circle, DCread the headline at WUSA9.com. “The violence is prompting owners, the city and police to re-examine what goes on when eating establishments turn into nightclubs on weekends. Restaurants can rake in thousands more in revenue if if they become clubs at night, but many people say you need the proper security,” reads one graph.

This was hardly an isolated incident. Extra late nights + lots of liquor + more and more of the same in a tightly compressed area tends to equal trouble. Will anyone’s experience of the U/14th Street area be significantly lessened by one less place to get a beer, a mojito, or a vodka ass-smasher at 3am? No serious person can argue there aren’t plenty of places already open happy to pour you a cold one. However, is the neighborhood adversely affected by ingredients that may – or are – lead to more crime, more congestion, and, frankly, more rats?

Cross-my-heart, pinky-swear, hand to God: talk to local restaurant workers. They know what local residents see every day with their eyes: the area is a rat jamboree, and every new food-eatery-funtimery is making it worse. Rats aren’t just in the alleys, people; they are without question in the kitchens and storerooms of all your U Street watering holes. That’s not something you’ll see on snazzy websites (yet) or hear from boosters who won’t be happy until every inch is occupied by a bar, kitchen, or late-night destination (usually some of the both,) but it is as true as the Sun rising in the East and setting in the West.

There are other issues as well. For example, walk the alley behind Black & Orange (still in construction.) There’s not a single inch available for one more dumpster, let alone grease-catchers or recycling. The corner turn, with the Slice-O-Pizza on one corner and houses on the other, don’t even have room for a truck to turn. Result: the already over-burdoned alleys around U, Wallach and T will get only more so.

Additionally, if you want to start a massive, groaning gripe-fest, just say “parking” to anyone who lives in the area. Lives – not commutes, not visits, not enjoys the zesty ambiance: lives. There is none, and in spite of tone-deaf assurances from developers that “these are really Metro-type places,” the plain fact is that many are driving here, turning the streets on any night other than Monday into little better than a demolition derby. To all who say I exaggerate: come spend just one hour with me and some neighbors some Friday or Saturday. Bring a camera, and let’s just watch what happens.

Here’s the deal: Black and Orange is applying for a Restaurant Class C license. Not a tavern – like St. Ex – but a restaurant. Could it be less “St. Ex” (personally I love that place) and more “Estadio,” just down the street, home to great food, packed tables and sane hours, closing at midnight, 1am on weekends? Or “Pearl,” which just got a great write-up in the Post Sunday, which somehow closes sat 11pm every night yet is still able to manage a great bar and impressive menu? There are many other examples, just as there are many possibilities for any one business.

The point should be clear: development isn’t all or nothing; empty store fronts or the French Quarter, no in-between. People have the right to eat what they want, and communities have the right to have some say in determining what they want to be. Both rights co-exist, not one or none, and it is the difficult job of being a good citizen to try and find a balance.

Tuesday’s meeting, 7pm, is at 1816 12th Street NW. Hopefully all views will be welcome.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Black and Orange and Blue All Over

  1. dcvoterboy

    Why lump in Black & Orange with your issues about bars, when they’re opening and applying for an ABC license as a restaurant?

    If your issue is with the number of ABC licenses that are along the 14th & U corridor, then just say that. But is a burger joint the best example here? I have a hard time believing that Black & Orange is ever going to transform into a club. Likewise, it would be great to enjoy a cold beer with a cheesesteak and J.J.’s.

    Your third paragraph is a bit of a misnomer as the ONLY reason that there’s any public comment opportunity for this business establishment is because they’ve applied for an ABC license.

    As long as zoning permits it, most businesses can open by right without any public comment. Now I’m not saying that this is a good or a bad situation, but the net effect has been that if you apply for an ABC license, you end up paying for the sins of ALL of other businesses nearby, whether or not they have an ABC license.

    We need improved zoning laws and more oversight given to DCRA to consider the impact of the things like you list above (lack of space for trash/recycling; impact of business on infrastructure, etc…) In other words, Black & Orange could open tomorrow as 24 hour burger shop and there’s not much anyone could do about it. Either neighbors OR the District Government.

    BTW, your picture above is a great example of everyday violations, it is illegal for ANYONE to store trash in public space, and you have at least a half-dozen violations of residential trash being stored in public space. Public Space laws don’t apply only to businesses, they apply to residents as well. There should be no trash or recycling containers stored in public space except on collection days.

    Also, it’s a bit unfair to toss Café Saint-Ex into this mix. While they now have a CT (Tavern class) alcohol license, they were very clear with the neighborhood that changed their license solely for administrative and paperwork reasons and they haven’t made any changes in their operations. Additional requirements added to CR licenses in the last few years (3 years of invoices on site at all times, kitchen that is open at least 2 hours before closing; food sales must be 45% of all sales) have driven the conversion of CR licenses to CT licenses across all of DC; so this issue was not unique to Café Saint-Ex.

    • Doug

      Thanks for the note, VoterBoy…lots to cover, but you’re wrong on one thing. It is fair to lump St. Ex in here, because they were used specifically in negotiating a back-room agreement on Matchbox’s extra – late night serving hours, even though they’re a tavern and Matchbox is a restaurant. The developers specifically used St. Ex as ‘their model.’ You can bet Black and Orange will do so as well.
      As for residential trash – why not come by and walk the Wallach Place alley. (Not the one in the photo.) You wanna talk violations? Let’s take a look at the entire retail strip and see how many violations we can come up with.
      –dbj

      • dcvoterboy

        “Backroom agreement”? So are you saying that Café Saint-Ex worked hand in hand with Matchbox to get Matchbox extended hours? Is there proof to this accusation? If Matchbox used Café Saint-Ex as an EXAMPLE of extended hours, then that’s all on Matchbox, not Café Saint-Ex.

        I’ve walked too many alleys across the District, you can find public space violations in nearly every one of them, residential, commercial, government, industrial. It doesn’t matter. This one of those things that only gets enforced when it becomes a nuisance or people start complaining. Definitely NOT unique to ABC establishments.

  2. J

    I feel it might be somewhat of a jump to compare Black and organe with a) a night club or b) the heritage restaurant incident. But I do understand you perspective as a nearby resident. I would hope a balance of goals between residents and the business owner could work out in a fair compromise, allowing both to live adjacent.
    Though, I think as a resident, one must realize that the neighborhood is changing. Development is, and will continue to happen, and the half abandoned, sleepy run down street fronts, that were left over by the 1960s riots, will be revitalized into a thriving commerical corridor, creating new businesses, jobs, walkable neighborhood amenities and entertainment establishments. I dont believe keeping the staus quo is the right option for DC. Dont get me wrong, I understand residents concerns, as I live in a similar situation on U Street, but I am glad new restauarants are opening up in this area, and encourage more lively venues as well. If I wanted the quiet life, I’d live in Maryland, but I enjoy the city like, and the pros and cons of urban issues that come with it. We just have to balance out everyone’s interests. So I hope everyone can work together.

    • Doug

      J, I agree with much of what you say, and appreciate the comments! The neighborhood is changing, as all neighborhoods always do…and overall for the better. I’m not looking for the ‘quiet’ life; there’s much to love about the place I’ve lived in for a long time, and I think all the residents would agree on that.
      But that doesn’t mean I, or our neighbors, just have to passively accept every new development, every new proposal put before us.
      The Ellington? Love it. Total smart development. There’s a lot of development neighbors never complain about, because it’s good and it contributes.
      So as you say, if we can all be respectful of the differing perspectives without encouraging those we disagree with to leave, we’ll all make the city better.

      • dcvoterboy

        Never heard complaints about The Ellington? I beg to differ. The roof top deck on the Ellington has become a common source of noise complaints during the summer, especially when its rented out for private parties.

        Alas, here’s a perfect example as the Ellington doesn’t hold an ABC license, its a residential property — thus there’s no hearings, no protests, nothing. Complaints and noise continue.

        • Doug

          Voterboy; that was a discussion about development – and don’t try and pretend otherwise. It’s clear you’re trying to pick a fight. I choose to behave better. And I defy you to ever find anything negative I’ve said about the Ellington. Get a better hobby.

          • dcvoterboy

            I never said you said anything negative about the Ellington. It’s a great smart project that replaced a vacant surface parking lot.

            I’m thinking you’re reading my post wrong: I’m not trying to pick a fight, I’m just pointing out that noise, trash, and other complaints aren’t unique to only ABC establishments and the disparity of opportunity for public comment in the business and licensing processes for businesses and commercial properties that have an ABC license and those that don’t.

            Sometimes the biggest sources of complaints have nothing to do with ABC licenses. When DC FEMS was in the Grimke building, they were the source of more neighborhood complaints than any business on 9th or Vermont. When it was Lahore Kabob/Jumbo Slice on U Street, they were a source of trash, music, and complaints (no ABC license).

            At the end of the day, the issue is not if a business has an ABC license, its the bigger question is if that business (or residence or commercial property or government building) is a good neighbor: is the business well managed? is the property well maintained? are they respectful of their neighbors and the neighborhood they’re in?

      • J

        Doug, that’s good to hear. I will admit from the blog posts I didnt get the perception that you were in favor of much if any new development. I understand though when writing a blog like this, and trying to get your perspective across, it can be difficult to portray that (I am guilty of that myself) I appreciate you clearing that up. Hopefully I didnt insinuate that resident’s have no say. I definietly agree, resident’s voices and concerns need to be heard, and addressed. I beleive there are many solutions to these types of problems and issues, and its just about finding a good one that works the best for everyone. Sometimes though I find the problems are not well defined. For instance, its not so much that alcohol is being served, as some of the negative effects that could (potentially) result. So maybe the solution isn’t “stop serving at 11pm” but perhaps there exists a different solution to the table that works as well… what that is? not sure yet, just my designer’s mind pondering…
        s

  3. Quincy

    Have you ever been to the Black & Orange in Dupont? There’s nothing about this place that even resembles a night club, or even a place like St. Ex or Estadio. There’s not any sort of bar in there and nobody is going in there to get drunk. I think they just happen to be a burger place that sells a few interesting micro-brews.

    • Doug

      Then why are they asking for such late night hours? And why did they ask for a temporary license to sell alcohol even before ABRA or the ANC can discuss it?

      • dcvoterboy

        Almost every ABC applicant requests a Temporary License during their application process. It’s a pretty standard request, nothing to shocking about it.

      • Quincy

        dcvoterboy already answered the temp license question, so I’ll leave it that.

        As far as the late hours, they probably want to stay open late for the same reason Ben’s stays open late: people leaving bars at 3am get hungry. If you check out the one in Dupont, you’ll see that it’s more like Five Guys than a bar/tavern.

        I’m with you 100% on preventing incidents like what happened at Heritage India, but I think your ire toward places like Matchbox and Black & Orange is misguided. Just because a place gets an alcohol license doesn’t mean it’s masquerading as a nightclub. The problem is not the alcohol license, but rather that places rent out their space to event promoters, which is what Heritage India does.

        • Doug

          Thanks, Quincy, for the thoughts. I do think you’re on to something regarding renting out spaces. Things tend to get out of control more quickly.
          Still, you reference Ben’s and Five Guys. Neither of those places serve alcohol, and yet – somehow – they manage to make money.
          To the point: does every place that wants a liquor license automatically get one? No, that’s what the community input is for. You’re a polite person, so I tend to think you understand that.
          I disagree with your blanket solution, saying the problem is not alcohol. Come spend a weekend here and tell me that the neighborhood isn’t getting out of control. Not at midnight, but at 2, 3, 4am and upwards.
          Thanks for the thoughts’

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