It isn’t Matchbox, or Blue & Orange, or any other single establishment.
It’s all of them – and more – together.
Once you meet him, it’s hard not to like Raynold Mendizabal. The chef-owner of the Black and Orange burger joint talks warmly of growing up in Havana, his abiding love for American food like hot dogs and hamburgers, and his desire to bring the kind of casual eatery he loved in Cuba (“not the fancy kind where you go for a birthday,”) to DC. A place of burgers – hand ground in Kansas – and fries and a couple beers and that’s about it. His son sitting next to him at the ANC meeting, it’s like seeing a young Raynold, dreaming of opening his first place.
Mendizabal & his attorney, Ely Hurwitz, where there to meet with some concerned local residents about their planned establishment – what it would be, how late it would serve, who they’re all about. They talked with pride about their indoor garbage room, keeping all the greasetraps and bins off the streets. They detailed the nine types of burgers – one special and only available at U Street – and four or so types of beers they’d have; no table service, and no glass – everything plastic or paper for both noise and environmental reasons. Locally sourced veggies & wine. The pitchers of mojitos? Well, everything has to come from somewhere.
B&O wants to be your late-night / early-morning burger joint. Their proposal has their 79-occupancy establishment open at 11am and closing at 5am. Yes, am…hours after everyone else (except McDonalds) has closed. Do they want alcohol service available all those hours? “We can negotiate that,” said Mendizabal. Asked whether they could also limit their operating hours so they don’t turn into the post-bar, stumble-burger-n-beer joint (we didn’t say it that way, we’ve got manners!) Medizabal again said he was open to negotiating liquor hours – agitating Hurwitz, who twice tried to interrupt Mendizabal. It was clear what was upsetting wasn’t talk of alcohol service, but any effort to limit food service hours. “That’s enough of that; next question please,” Hurwitz said, hand slapping the table.
Residents did learn a few things. B&O also has a proposal for a patio area serving upward of 40 – a number both Hurwitz and the committee chair Charles Meisch said was a top-heavy estimate, but one it seemed everyone was more willing to work out than slow down. Parking, for employees or patrons? Not a mention. Toward the end, Hurwitz invited all concerned residents on a pre-open tour — I’ll be contacting Mr. Hurwitz’ office today to set up a day and time.
Orange & Brown hopes to open “…before January 1,” said a wishful Mendizabal. Probably without beer, but most likely they will be opening soon. The larger ANC will discuss their alcohol agreements.
So, nice guy owner, wants to create a “genuine neighborhood place where we know your name,” open to limiting alcohol sales, moving his trash off the street and using paper to prevent crashing glass recycling. What’s not to like?
Very little in this case. Just like other cases: Matchbox, Level-2, Utopia, on and on. Taken individually, it’s hard to fight too strongly against any one of these new projects exactly because inidividually they’re not that big. A New Black & Orange? The community isn’t going to collapse. A new Matchbox? We”ll, it’s just one restaurant, and my friends like it.
We’re always looking at the tree, which by itself seems largely OK. It’s when you realize you’re in a forest, however, that you quickly become lost.
Our neighbornood is experienting a major problem; one that has deviled other neighborhoods here and there, before generally ruining them and moving on. Developers, particularly of entertainment establishments, find a hot hood a swoop down, cramming in a new bar, restaurant, night club or other establishment in every available crack. Concerned residents are overwhelmed – it’s enough trying to fight one proposal, let alone 10, 15 or more. Developers get paid to sift through the byzantine approval process that allows them to open: residents barely have time to walk the dog, cook dinner, hit the gym, and try and chat up a neighbor about any particular development proposal before collapsing. It comes in a flood – all perfectly ‘legal’ but totally unethical in the way it railroads well-intentioned residents.
Ideas for smarter, slower, sustainable growth are chewed up while the building explosion train rolls merrily on.
And then come the self-righteous critics.
‘Why do you hate Matchbox?’ asks one, willfully ignorant of that’s happening. You try to explain “Nobody hates Matchbox, it’s just that…” ‘NIMBY!” they scream. Civic dialogue dies. Concerns about Level 2’s proposed development at 14 and Wallach? ‘Why don’t you move out of the city if you hate it so much?’ asks another Einstein. ‘Stop picking on Black and Orange, bully!’ tries another, attempting to distract from the real discussion.
The real discussion is this: local residents have concerns that transcend individual proposals. The 14th & U Street area is unique in Washington right now, but a tidal wave of developers – piece by piece – are trying to turn it into something else. “This isn’t Adams Morgan” said two people after Tuesday’s meeting.
No, it isn’t, yet. And on behalf of the residents who actually live there and do not want to move, we don’t want it to become one, either. There is no shortage of establishments in DC. The Metro area will not suffer if one small neighborhood tries to build something of a levee before it’s swallowed by the rising tide.