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, DC” read 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.