Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lots of Talk, Few Surprises at Council Candidate's Forum

Those who attended this evening's DC Council candidate's forum in Dupont were treated to some candid discussions from eight candidates, but little in the way of differentiation between them.

(Apologies for the poltergeist appearing next to Alan Page--blame the lighting, not the old church.)

The candidates in attendance were all vying for the open at-large seat on the City Council left vacant by Kwame Brown when he assumed the Council chairmanship. At-large special elections tend to present very low voter turnout, meaning that darkhorse candidates, or candidates with particularly diligent supporters, have a much better chance of winning than they might otherwise in a general election.

The event, which was moderated by Tom Hay of Borderstan, took a bit of time to get going, as several of the candidates were late in arriving (both Tom Brown and Vincent Orange arrived nearly 45 minutes into the event, excuses in tow). And while the forum did witness a few standout moments, for the most part the candidates spent time hashing over the key issues (education, small businesses) and struggling to differentiate themselves from each other.

Some, notably Republican candidate Patrick Mara and Statehood Green candidate Alan Page, attempted to portray themselves as outsiders to the DC political establishment and capable of addressing issues in ways the other candidates could not. Former two-term councilmember Vincent Orange played up his previous tenure on the Council, and his strong showing for Council Chairman in the recent general elections. Sekou Biddle has the advantage of being the "incumbent" in this race, since he was selected by the DC Democratic Party to temporarily fill the vacant seat, but it's clear that his name does not resonate as strongly as Orange's.

Below are some of the highlights from this evening's forum:

Most Successful in Differentiating Oneself From Other Candidates

Patrick Mara reminded the crowd approximately 257 times that he is a Republican running in a town where Democrats essentially enjoy one-party rule. Stating that he was a socially progressive, fiscally responsible Republican, Mara stated that he wouldn't be beholden to special interests if elected to office. "What would they do, threaten to not endorse me?" he asked rhetorically. "Because they aren't endorsing me now."

Alan Page took a similar tact in playing up the fact that as a member of the Statehood Greens, he too wouldn't have to play the Party game.

Line of the Night

This one came from Vincent Orange, who took a jab at Kwame Brown while summarizing his qualifications for the seat: "50,000 people in the last election thought I should have been the Council Chairman. Turns out they were right." (Ouch.)

Runner-up goes to Patrick Mara: "The District looks at businesses as piggy banks."

Most in Need of a Speechwriter

By all rights, Dorothy Douglas seems like a lovely woman, but her answers were difficult to follow and lacking coherency. I had a difficult time determining her platform, other than that she wants to serve DC residents.

Most Contentious Issue

Everyone seemed to agree that Crime Is A Problem, Small Businesses Need to Be Helped, and the Deficit Must Be Addressed Fairly. One of the few items to draw sharp distinctions among the candidates was the issue of school vouchers, particularly when they are applied to private or parochial school that violate the city's anti-discrimination laws. Bryan Weaver, Joshua Lopez and Page are opposed to them, while Biddle, Douglas and Mara support them. (Brown and Orange had not yet arrived when this issue was raised.)

Alan Page also wins for having the most honest answer to a question, when addressing the issue of school vouchers. After listing several reasons why he opposes them, he paused and said "I just hate this program." Can't get much clearer than that.

Overall Impressions

While the differences between the candidates may not be great, this is a field with several competent canditates who could fill the role very well--which is a nice problem to have. Of all of them, my personal feelings were that Weaver, Biddle, Mara and Orange were the strongest candidates. Weaver's focus on corruption and accountability rings true in light of the current Council and mayoral scandals, while Orange's reminders of his past experience lend credibility and security to his campaign--even if those factors work against him as well. Biddle came off as a knowledgeable and polished candidate who has the support of the DC Democratic Party--another helps him/hurts him attribute--while Mara made a convincing case for being a legitimate outsider who would be free to pursue his own agenda (it's no coincidence that he conjured up David Catania's name during his remarks).

Tom Hay mentioned that all Ward 2 polling stations would be open for the election (as opposed to the idea of opening a mere handful, as had been bandied about earlier), so please make sure you vote in the April 26 election.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ridiculously Awesome Temporary Public Art Exhibit of the Week

This nice piece of work went up today in Dupont Circle. I'm not certain who is behind it, but I love how it looks with the fountain in the background. I wish we had more of this kind of thing throughout the city.

Monday, March 28, 2011

U Street Retail News: RCKNDY Closes, Match Clothing Arrives

The U Street retail scene saw a couple of significant changes this week--well, "significant" for those who keep track of this sort of thing.

As noted by Prince of Petworth, home furnishings boutique RCKNDY, located at 1515 U Street NW, has closed its doors. A victim of slow sales, rising rents, changing tastes...who knows? But RCKNDY and owner David Dennis will certainly be leaving a rather significant retail hole along the north side of the 1500 block.

Over on the south side, however, clothing boutiques seem to be spouting up like $600 designer belts. PoP also notes that Match Clothing, a new clothing boutique, will be opening soon to the space at 1526 U Street NW.

I'm quite happy to see the local retail scene continuing to do so well, or at least continue to provide paying tenants to fill U Street retail spaces, but I do have to wonder: is the market really that large for upmarket, designer clothing boutiques? Mrs. 14thandyou occasionally pops into one of the shops along 14th Street or U Street, but rarely comes out with anything because the prices for the Clothes are Too Damn High. But maybe that's just us?

Back From Spring Break: DC At-Large Council Candidate Forum Tomorrow Night

The 14thandyous are back and feeling refreshed from a spring break trip to London (where, on Friday, it was sunny and 72 degrees--I've never gotten sunburned in London before). There's a lot of news to catch up on over the past couple of weeks, but one timely bit of information to pass along is for the DC Council At-Large Candidate's Forum taking place tomorrow evening.

For those who aren't aware, or who may be only vaguely aware of the process, the citizens of DC will be electing an at-large councilmember to fill Chairman Kwame Brown's seat, which was vacated when Brown was elected to head the Council. The DC Democratic party, through a completely backroom transparent process selected Sekou Biddle to temporarily fill the seat in January, making him the incumbent. However, there are a number of other candidates seeking the seat as well.

It's worth noting that these at-large special elections can have some significant results for the city, as the winning candidate frequently prevails with only a few thousand votes. For example, current at-large councilmember David Catania, one of the Council's fiercest questionners and a leader in the drive to legalize same-sex marriage in the District, was elected via a special election that saw only 7% voter turnout.

Tomorrow evening, from 6:00 - 8:30 PM at Church of the Holy City at 16th and Corcoran streets NW, you will have the opportunity to observe more than a half-dozen candidates engage in a forum discussion of the issues leading up to the April 26 election.

Confirmed candidates who will be appearing include:

Sekou Biddle
Dorothy Douglas
Joshua Lopez
Patrick Mara
Vincent Orange
Alan Page
Bryan Weaver

Interestingly, Mara and Weaver were among those candidates whose petitions were challenged by Biddle on the basis of valid signatures--both of which were denied. It's not a reach to say that they, along with Orange (who was not targeted by Biddle's campaign) will be the strongest challengers to the "incumbent" Biddle. (The Current recently described Weaver as "the most knowledgeable challenger" in the race.)

Annie's Steakhouse will be providing complimentary appetizers at tomorrow evening's event, and there will be a cash bar as well. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Data Dump of Restaurant News

Ok, so I recently started a new job and things have been a bit crazy, so it's been a bit more difficult to keep up with the flood of restaurant news recently. At any rate, forsaking much commentary or analysis, here's a brief round-up of where things are in the 'hood:

Standard, the new burger joint in the former Garden District space at 14th and S recentl had a soft opening, according to U Street Girl and Borderstan. I'd been watching the picnic tables going up slowly-but-surely, so I knew that this opening had to be imminent, but apparently last night the heat lamps were running and people were chowing down.

A bit south on 14th Street, work continues on Jeff Black's new establishments, the Pearl Dive Oyster Bar and BlackJack Lounge, continues to be built-out in the space at 1612 14th Street. No official opening date is set, but we're told "late spring/early summer" is likely.

According to DCist and U Street Girl, Dunkin Donuts will be joining Subway as a ground-floor anchor tenant in the soon-to-be-finished building at 14th and U. Prince of Northwest DC Petworth deemed the arrival of DDs at 14th and U to be a "beautful site;" I believe I'll settle for "a leased storefront."

And speaking of the building at 14th and U, long-promised "boutique steakhouse" and lounge Lost Society, brought to you by Aman Ayoubi of Local 16, will reportedly be opening in the spring. Of course, Lost Society was also supposed to open last summer, and in January, so you'll forgive us for not getting too excited until we're sitting on their roofdeck enjoying a plate of grass-fed cow.

And finally (phew), Touchdown, the new sports bar in the former MoMo's space on U Street, opened yesterday. U Street Girl has a brief review and pics. No official word on the opening of Touchdown's companion restaurant, the fish-chips themed Codmother, but we'll keep you posted.

What Could Have Been: "Diner," "Tryst" Team Opening in Columbia Heights

Remember back when there was talk of The Diner own Constantine Stavropoulos opening an outpost of his fledgling culinary empire in the U Street corridor? Sure you do. Approximately three years ago, while plans for the building at the corner of 14th and T were still up in the air (the City Paper even did a story on the building), talks were in the works to bring Stavropoulos and a 24-hour diner to the space.

Or, rather, I should say talks were in the works to prevent Stavropoulos from opening a 24-hour diner in the space, as local ANC officials and neighborhoods residents opposed to the concept helped to torpedo the plans. Furniture retailer Room and Board eventually stepped in to claim the space and did a bang-up job on the renovation (and the inexplicably decided to close the store at 7 PM every evening, just as people were getting home from work).

Meanwhile, Stavropoulos never abandoned his plans to open another "Diner" concept in central DC. And now, it seems he's finally landed a space on the burgeoning 11th Street corridor in Columbia Heights. The concept, currently named The Fishbowl, will consist of a combination of a coffee house, restaurant and bar/lounge, and will open in a building at 11th and Monroe that is currently under renovation.

When all is said and done, the over 7,000 sf space will welcome nearly 200 guests and--here's the kicker--be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (Of course, such plans are still at the mercy of local neighborhood groups such as the ANC, but by all rights Stavropoulos appears confident that the 24 hour concept will go forward.) At this point, some of you are probably breathing a sigh of relief that such a concept didn't open up at 14th and T, whereas others (a majority, I suspect) are likely lamenting a missed opportunity.

At any rate, the announcement by Stavropolous seems to solidfy 11th Street as one of the city's new premier restaurant/lounge corridors, and offers a sufficient rebuttal for those who think Columbia Heights is simply an extended suburban strip mall.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Restaurant update: Tacos coming soon; Touchdown and Codmother on the way

Catching up on some recent restaurant news in the 'hood, in abbreviated form:

U Street Girl (via Metrocurean) has the latest on El Centro D.F., the tacqueria opening soon next door to the Black Cat. El Centro, which is being opened by Richard Sandoval and Kaz Okochi, the team behind Masa 14, is aiming for a May 5 (get it?) opening. They plan to offer take-out tacos, a seated restaurant area, and the requisite bar/lounge space in the basement.

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict mind-numbingly huge crowds for this when it opens. (And considering that plans for the space were only announced last July, getting this open within 10 months would seem to be some sort of record.)

On the other side of the Black Cat, Thaddeus Kurtz continues to be hard at work opening the casual burger and hot dog shop Standard in spite of a rough start to the proceedings. No official opening word, but the outdoor picnic tables appear to be about done, and interior work is wrapping up as well.

Across the street, caffeine purveyors Peregrine Espresso continue to work away towards a "Spring 2011" opening. (They also appear concerned over the lack of businesses along the 1700 block of 14th street.)

As we head north we arrive at the corner of 14th and U streets, where it was recently learned that Subway will be opening on the ground floor of the recently renovated building on the northeast corner of the intersection. This will be Subway's 1,345th third location within a few block radius of the 14th and U intersection. I thought only Starbucks could pull crap like that.

Headed a little further down U STreet, the street's two newest eateries--the Touchdown sports bar and the fish 'n chips shack Codmother--will be opening soon in the former Cafe Nema's space. Both Touchdown and Codmother are, according to WBJ's Missy Frederick, owned by the same team behind Bistro La Bonne, Tabaq and Soussi.

Finally, no, I don't have any word as to when the new steakhouse/lounge at 14th and U will be opening. Local 16's Ayman Ayoubi had promised a January 2011 opening, but unless you're a member of the construction crew no one's really hanging out there yet.

Garden District Closes for Good

We had our suspicions that 14th Street-based nursery and plant retailer Garden District was living on borrowed time ever since they filed for bankruptcy back in November 2009.

Sadly, it seems that time is up. Yesterday, Garden District owner Joe Carmack posted the following message on the District's website:

"I regret to inform you Garden District, the business entity, has been closed. I worked very hard to maintain it, but at a certain point it did not make sense to continue. Thank you for supporting GD for 10 great yrs. It was a pleasure serving you."

As you may recall, Garden District used to exist in the space that will soon be occupied by the hamburger joint Standard. In 2008, it opened a second location at the corner of 14th and Church streets (in the space currently occupied by Estadio) to sell houseplants and related merchandise. That location shuttered within a few months, and Carmack relocated the remaining Garden District location across the street to a space that formerly housed a car dealership.

Those looking for a replacement neighborhood nursery may want to check out Old City Green, located at 9th and N streets NW. Over on 14th Street, Flowers on Fourteenth does a good job serving up an assortment of houseplants and flowers in their new home in the former Cafe Salsa space.

As for Garden District, we'll be sad to see such a cheerful little spot go.