Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Remaking of U Street's Intersections

One of the things that has always fascinated me about U Street was the fact that while the street itself is one of the most lively and vibrant in the District, two of its most significant intersections--13th and 14th streets--kind of, well, suck. At 14th street, you have a dry cleaners, a McDonald's, a vacant building and the colossal stretch of asphalt otherwise known as the Reeves Center. Not exactly the most welcoming and "Exciting!" statement about the neighborhood, eh?

13th street is at least a bit better, although a Starbucks, Rite-Aid, overpriced restaurant and vacant building hardly qualifies as unique or particularly lively.

Luckily, even in the midst of this economic "situation" there are some projects that look to be getting off the ground that look to improve the situation and correct a significant (and long-neglected) issue of density in the area, or lack thereof.

First, there is the massive "Utopia" development, located at 14th and U street.

Image courtesy of DC urban development guru DCMUD.

The Utopia project, which recently received HPRB and BZA approvals to move forward with a slightly modified design, will occupy a gigantic tract of land along the 14th and U street intersection. The building is being designed by Eric Colbert and Associates, which is a good thing if you are a fan of the litany of so-so urban dwelling mediocrity that has sprung up throughout our fair city recently. (Perhaps I am a bit harsh; after all the rendering above doesn't look THAT bad...)

More important than the architectural team however, the development will bring a much more appropriate level of density and development to a corner that is currently just this side of being blighted. The developer, Georgetown Strategic Capital, was forced to forgo plans for a rooftop deck (darn those clinking glasses), but will nonetheless still provide 230 rental apartments and up to 20,000 square feet of retail. You will likely be able to kiss the Taco Bell goodbye, but perhaps a new upscale pet salon is coming? I kid, I kid...I'm sure the retail will be great. Don't go looking for el cheapo apartments here though; apparently Donatelli Development's Ellington is being used as a benchmark for the project, and they aren't exactly giving away units there.

And for those who are wondering: assurances have been made that business currently in operation--the yummy Coppi's and the lovely jazz club Utopia, among others--will remain in business during construction, largely due to the fact that the buildings they in habit will remain largely unchanged (hence the HPRB approval).

The other major development project currently underway--and perhaps a bit more unexpected--is JBG Co.'s boutqiue hotel planned for 13th and U Streets, in the space currently held by Rite-Aid. (Those of you who rely on Rite-Aid for late night runs of cat litter, plastic wrap and cheap candy need not fear; the Rite-Aid will remain.)

The proposed LEED-certified four star hotel--which looks borderline art-deco, if the supplied image from JBG can be believed--would have approximately 250 guest rooms, 23,000 square feet of retail, a "signature" restaurant, a rooftop bar and a public art gallery. Whew.

This proposal is exciting for a number of reasons. First, it addresses another chronically underused corner along U Street. Secondly, the proposal for a hotel--a hotel! on U Street! Good heavens!--means a definite uptick in foot traffic for the neighborhood, which bodes well for area businesses. Finally, the idea that a developer would push forward with proposal for a hotel in this part of the city shows how "mid-city" is increasingly becoming a destination not only for the locals, but for the visiting set as well.

This, of course, may also bring its drawbacks. More taxis doing illegal mid-block u-turns? Check. More families from Florida driving below the speed limit with the map light on trying to figure out what street might come next sequentially after R, S and T? Check. More high school kids talking too loudly into their cell phones about how they just had the Best Chili Dog Ever at Ben's? Check. But hey, we live in a tourist theme-park of sorts, so I guess it's not so bad if some of them want to come crash up here for a few nights. Word of warning to the tourists though: if you encounter a purple-colored sex toy in the alley behind your hotel room, don't even think about recycling it. You have no idea where that thing has been.

Finally, across the street, U Street Girl noticed a construction permit in the window of the old Pink November shop. I haven't heard any formal announcements yet, but since neighborhood shoe repair artist extraordinaire George was asked to relocate to other premises last year, it's a safe bet that something is in the works.

We'll continue to do a reasonably acceptable job of keeping you up-to-date on the various happenings related to the u Street projects. What do you think about the proposals? Comments? Concerns? Please share them below.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Crime Update: MPD Make Arrest in Dupont Street Robberies; Asian Businesses Targeted by Robbers

A couple of pieces of crime-related news to pass on to this morning...

First, from our good friends over at Borderstan, comes this encouraging piece of news, in the form of a release from MPD 2nd District Commander Matt Klein:

"Over the past three days, the Second District experienced a series of street robberies in which victims were knocked to the ground and had purses or other property taken from them. I am happy to report that last night, we arrested 2 subjects that we strongly believe were responsible for the vast majority of those violent cases. The arrests were made after bringing in additional resources to the Georgetown and Dupont area in order to provide support to 2D units as well as provide high visibility to prevent further crimes. These subjects were apprehended as a result of excellent work by patrol officers, members assigned to our office of communications, and MPD detectives."

To which we say: bravo! To anyone who has never attended an ANC or public safety meeting in our community, you may not be aware of how hard our local MPD officers work to ensure the safety of our neighborhood's citizens. Now that the above-mentioned suspects have been taken off of the street, it's up to our not-quite-so-helpful D.C. court system to keep them off.

A second piece of not-so-great news comes from this week's Current, and was also mentioned at the February ANC meeting:

About 15 Asian-owned establishments in D.C. have been robbed since last fall, according to the Metropolitan Police Department, which is continuing to nvestigate the incidents.

[...]The robberies have been concentrated largely in the 4th District near Georgia and New Hampshire avenues, but a few took place in the Dupont Circle and Logan Circle areas.

Included in this list is Logan's own "Great Wall" restaurant, home to some of the best crispy chicken this blogger has ever encountered. The robberies have typically occurred late at night or early in the morning, with the individuals entering through unlocked doors in the backs of the business. Anyone with information regarding the robberies are encouraged to contact MPD.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't also point out one final piece of positive news form our area: according to Lt. Hauser's report from the last ANC meeting, crime overall has dropped precipitously from last year, particularly thefts from autos which are down 66% from the same period last year. Lt. Hauser credits this to arrests of several prolific car burglars in the area, as well as increased awareness on the part of the neighborhood citizenry.

We'll see if the trends hold when the weather warms up, but for now...we'll take it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Tom Sietsema Reviews Posto

In this week's Washington Post Magazine, Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema gives a (mostly) positive review to recently opened Logan Italian bistro Posto, which is located in the former Viridian space on 14th Street.

Posto is the latest venture for Tosca owner Paolo Sacco, and by all accounts it's a winner. Among some choice Sietsema quotes from the article:

On the sausage and cheese appetizer: "The chef knows quality, and Posto's servers know the drill, which runs to delicate prosciutto and fierce coppa, buttery burrata and sharp Parmesan, the genuine article."

Regarding Posto's pasta dishes: "If there's one course you shouldn't miss, it's pasta. Venini makes all but the spaghetti himself, and whatever shape of pasta you choose is filled or topped with something lovely and cooked as it should be, al dente."

Posto's baby chicken dish elicited this quote: "The entree is boned and served on a dark bed of soft kale, everything lightened with a drizzle of lemon butter sauce. It's a chicken you won't soon forget."

Summing up the restaurant: "...if it's a delicious pasta or a seductive scene you're seeking, this is "the spot" to be."

Sietsema gives Posto two stars ("Good"), which if you have spent any time studying Sietsema's rating proclivities, is certainly high praise. The 14thandYous are looking forward to trying Posto for the first time in the very near future. For those who have been, what did you think? Its popularity seems to attest to its quality, but then again I can count no shortage of establishments in DC that are popular and yet seem, to us at least, to be "crap." So let us know if you enjoyed your experience there.

Finally, one quote in particular from Sietsema caught our eye: "If there's any doubt Logan Circle can use more restaurants, this newcomer disproves that notion."

Indeed, that's something we've argued for awhile, most recently in a post about the limitations of the arts overlay district and its potential effect on continued development in Logan. Here's hoping that the continued success of places like Posto will lead the city's powers-that-be to rethink their strategy.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Day Happenings

If you don't have plans for celebrating tomorrow's holiday, here are some ideas:

  • Cork is having a champagne tasting at 3 p.m at a cost of $50 per person. Reserve your spot in advance by emailing

  • The Playbill Cafe has a special Valentine's Day dinner menu from $25 to $35 per person. All meals include salad, entree, chocolate cake and a half bottle of champagne.

  • Even jaded anti-Valentine's folks can appreciate the Romeo and Juliet chocolate drinks at ACKC.
If you're looking for a last minute gift, it's easy to find something great without having to leave the neighborhood.
  • ACKC is selling its offering heart-shaped gift boxes for their fabulous chocolates. They also have an assortment of gift items such as chocolate body paint and scented candles.

  • Another neighborhood chocolate retailer is Localat on Florida Avenue. Perusing their Valentine's Day offerings online made me drool.

  • Flowers on Fourteenth can put together a gorgeous bouquet far more interesting and fresh than the bundle of roses you were going to grab at Whole Foods.

  • Our area abounds with great wine stores. Some to try: Best Cellars, Modern Liquors, and Bell Wine & Spirits. All of these stores have informed staff who will help you find something you will like. If, however, you're looking for further guidance, the Washington Post published some recommendations recently. See suggestions for sparkling reds here and port suggestions here.

  • Finally, for gifts and cards, Pulp can not be beat. You will find both touching and hilariously crass cards in their selection. Pulp always has gift standbys such as bath products and scented candles. As well, you'll find some cute holiday-specific items such as a book of love poems by Nikki Giovanni, love rats (just go take a look if you're curious), and Boo-Boo Kisses bandages.


While sitting in our living room late on Tuesday night, Mr. 14th & You and I saw the flashing blue lights of not an MPD vehicle, but parking enforcement. This civil servant came out at 11:45 p.m. to ticket two cars with Virginia license plates for failure to display DC tags. I'll never know, but I'm curious as to whether parking enforcement had been stalking these vehicles and knew that he could nab them around midnight or whether perhaps a neighbor turned in the out-of-state cars. Lastly, how does the city know that these cars belong to city residents who have simply failed to get DC tags? A car with out-of-state plates parked nightly on the street could belong to an overnight shift worker or the significant other of a neighborhood resident. Perhaps the owners had applied for temporary residential parking permits that had since expired?

On a somewhat related note, the DC Department of Public Works has determined that 12,834 vehicles are "boot eligible" due to non-payment of photo enforcement tickets. Parking enforcement is aggressively searching for these scofflaws in an effort to collect the nearly $2 million in speeding and red light fines they have racked up.

Too Cute

I spotted this walking by a house on the 1400 block of S Street NW.

Monday, February 9, 2009

More on The Space

Wow, The Space conflict has drawn a lot of comments. I do think, however, that we need to give some additional information and respond to some comments, so that all of those reading and commenting can better understand the hows and whys of this issue.

Voluntary Agreements
You have all seen businesses with their applications for alcoholic beverage licenses posted in front windows. Of course, the very reason that these applications must be posted publicly is to allow an opportunity for public comment. Any group meeting certain criteria can protest the license either before it is granted or before it is renewed. Also, a neighborhood group can elect to avoid a protest by requesting a voluntary agreement with the establishment. A voluntary agreement can include any terms that all involved parties agree to. If the members of a condominium association properly execute a legal agreement to not cook with garlic, it is enforceable regardless of how odd one may believe the provision to be. In the end, The Space is in violation of a legal document that it chose to sign. In the case of most contracts, a civil suit is the only way to force compliance. However, because of the way DC liquor licensing works, the voluntary agreement with The Space is on file with ABRA, and it has enforcement power as well.

Crackhouses and Other Woes
Yes, if there is a crackhouse down the street, it should shut it down. Yet, for all we know, residents have pursued action against the alleged crackhouse. It is quite possible that the police have been called and/or that complaints have been made to the appropriate DC agencies. It is also quite possible that the same people who have complained about The Space have taken action against the crackhouse. I and most of our commenters simply have no way of knowing. Also, a crackhouse down the road does not make what The Space is doing an more legal or ethical.

Residents, new to the neighborhood and well-established all care very much about crime. The new blog, Borderstan, which exists primarily to bring attention to crime issues, has been incredibly popular. As well, the ANC 2F Crime and Public Safety committee is quite active. If you attend meetings, you will find that as much time is given to crime as any other subject — even alcoholic beverage license requests. Being concerned about one topic does not make one any less able to be concerned about another topic. On this very blog, we often write about crime, but we also devote a lot of space to less serious topics like shopping and dining.

This Neighborhood vs. That Neighborhood
There have been liquor license protests launched by every type of group in every neighborhood in DC, even in areas known for nightlife. For example, the very well-known, quiet, high-end Georgetown restaurant 1789 could not build a deck because its neighbors objected to the potential noise from outdoor diners. On 17th Street in Dupont, you can not enjoy an alcoholic beverage outside after midnight due to voluntary agreements between the local ANC and area bars and restaurants. And though DC law does not require drinks to be off of the bar until 3 a.m., there are very few bars that can stay open that late due to restrictions placed on them by neighborhood groups. Love it or hate it, these restrictions are just a part of life in DC.

That said, these stipulations are not unique to DC. Alcoholic beverage control boards exist not just to extract licensing fees but to protect citizens from some of the negative impacts that bars, clubs, and restaurants can have. I would love to limit the potential for protests without merit to interfere with alcoholic beverage licensing. In this blog, we have written about voluntary agreement proceedings and protests that were excessively burdensome to local businesses (Black Cat, Stoney's, Queen of Sheba). But not all protests are created equal. It is unfair and illogical to equate the protest of a sleepless neighborhood resident to the protest of an ANC overly cautious about a small cafe adding seating.

Because of limited inspection resources, ABRA relies on citizen groups to provide information prior to and after licensing. It makes sense that Shaw, now more populous and active than it has been since the 1968 riots, is now home to more people who would protest an alcoholic-beverage license. Propensity to protest is probably correlated to factors like familiarity with the ANC, knowledge of DC regulations, comfort with writing complaint letters, and the amount of free time one has available to make a protest. There is nothing inherent in one's race that should increase ones likelihood of protesting, and I find it upsetting that one anonymous commenter feels the need to claim that there is.

Profit brings with it responsibility
The primary reason a business opens is for financial gain, therefore it behooves a potential business owner to do all that he can to mitigate loss. It is the business owner's responsibility to either learn all of DC's complicated codes in order to avoid fines and legal action or to hire attorneys to guide the process. If Mitchell Cox did not abide by applicable laws and regulations then he either failed to conduct his due diligence as a business owner or he hoped not to get caught. Either way, it is not the responsibility of his neighbors, the ANC, or the DC government to limit the damages to him from legal actions.

Also, when it comes to the inconveniences created by businesses — mostly noise, garbage, and crowds — the burden should fall on the business, not residents, to moderate those inconveniences. The party who receives the most benefit (profits) should bear the greatest costs. So, while The Space's neighbors could invest in white noise machines and sound proofing or plan to spend every weekend away from home, it does not make sense that for the limited benefit of one business on their block that they may or may not patronize that they bear those substantial costs and inconveniences. As well, in terms of overall economic burden, the net cost to the Space of modifying its building and operations is far less than the net cost to residents of home modification, sleeplessness, and loss in home value.

Most neighborhoods in DC have more homeowners than businesses. And many, if not most, of those homeowners regardless of their neighborhood prefer to be able to rely on some peace and quiet, particularly at night. Generally speaking, excessive noise lowers a property's values, even in dense urban areas. Just as we want to encourage business ownership in Shaw, we should also want to encourage potential homeowners to be comfortable enough to invest in the neighborhood. Even in Manhattan, I imagine there is limited demand for housing directly adjacent to un-soundproofed nightclubs.

If you like The Space . . .

and do not want to see it close, direct your anger at Mitchell Cox. There is nothing about our ANC or about DC laws and regulations that prevent him from operating an elegant club in Shaw. All he had to do was to operate legally and ethically. Personally, I'm not interested in patronizing The Space; it is just not to my tastes. That said, I would be more than happy if several such establishments opened up nearby provided they operated legally. Our immediate area would indeed benefit from more businesses.

Cox has become a bit of a lightening rod not only because of what he has done but because of how people feel he has treated them. He appeared at an ANC meeting swearing incessantly and violating the rules of order. It is hard to be sympathetic toward Cox or want to work with him when he has a record of such unpleasant public behavior.

Western Shaw will not only survive but thrive without The Space.
The Space is not the one critical pioneer business that will revive Shaw. Yes, Shaw has had a tough past and, no, it is not as safe, elegant, or commercialized as Georgetown. But within three blocks of The Space, Veranda, Azi's Cafe, Queen of Sheba, Vegetate, Old Dominion Brew House, and Corduroy are already well established. On the way is the new Giant/O Street Market complex and the Marriott convention center hotel. As for the allegation of one anonymous commenter that the young professionals living on and near 9th Street NW are anti-development, I have found that most people support development around the convention center. Surely anonymous has not been to the ANC meetings where residents are salivating to know when the ground will break for the hotel complex and the O Street Market. The thing is, a hotel with an underground ballroom and proper parking management is not going to keep nearby residents up all night.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Running Out of Space

February's ANC2f meeting promised not to be short on drama, what with the commission meeting to discuss, among other topics, the future of neighborhood members only public club The Space. We'll address the other issues discussed at the meeting in a later post, but for now we wanted to present a brief recap of the "Space issue" if for no other reason than the fact that this very blog was entered as evidence at the proceedings. An epic win for 14thandyou? Perhaps.

The Space, as you may recall, was the subject of much discussion at January's ANC meeting. Specifically, it was the target of much ire from a group of Shaw residents who live adjacent to or close to the club. Since no one from the club was present at the January meeting, the commission held off on making any decisions until Wednesday's meeting, where the club had an opportunity to present its side of the case.

In the eyes of this blogger, they would have probably been better off had they not appeared.

The ANC has no voluntary agreement with The Space, leaving it powerless to file a protest to suspend its liquor license directly. The Space does however have a voluntary agreement with the building next door, and with ABRA. The ANC can thus move to petition ABRA for a "show cause" hearing, which is essentially a hearing before the regulatory agency to determine whether or not the license holder is in violation of its voluntary agreement. If ABRA finds against the license holder, its license can be revoked--essentially shuttering the business.

The residents had several main complaints centered around the club's operations, namely that they run a club under false pretenses, that their operations were disruptive to the peace of the neighborhood, and that they were operating an illegal outdoor deck.

The evidence against the club--consisting of numerous photographs, voluntary agreements and contracts, and the testimony of numerous neighbors--was immense, and a spirited defense by the club would be needed in order to stave off ANC action.

Which is why it was so perplexing when the club's lawyer approached the commission and began reading from a printout of this blog. That's right, 14thandyou was introduced as evidence in support of the Space. Why was this blog brought up Wednesday night? Well, so that their lawyer could read a quote from an anonymous commenter who likened living in Shaw to living in Adams Morgan--in other words, don't complain about the noise from the club ya yuppies.

(Sidenote: Even *I* wouldn't use items from this blog for my own defense, and certainly not comments from anonymous commenters. It was truly theater of the bizarre. )

The rest of the Space's defense was anything but coherent. Their lawyer began by claiming that he had only learned of the meeting that afternoon; commissioner Charles Reed found this odd, seeing as how he had a phone conversation with owner Mitchell Cox over a week ago where the matter was discussed. Strike one.

The Space also maintained that they were a "members only" club in spite of the fact that their website advertises that it is "open to the public". Justin, the club's manager indicated that he believed that a "member" was merely someone who paid an entry fee of $5.

"That is a cover charge," Reed remarked "not a membership fee." One woman in attendance testified that she had entered the club for free and drank at the bar, leading Justin to remark "What, did you want us to charge you?"

Pretty strict membership criteria they have there, apparently.

The rest of the defense was no more believable: the music isn't too loud because Cox said it isn't. The deck may be illegal, but they don't allow drinking on it--in spite of multiple photos showing that they did. The club isn't responsible for the overflowing mountains of trash in back of their building, because for all Cox knows the neighbors have been sneaking over and putting their trash in his bins.

And on and on it went, with the commissioners growing increasingly skeptical of the Space's defense, and Cox growing increasingly agitated. At one point, Cox interrupted another speaker, leading Reed to slam down his gavel and declare Cox out of order. "Ah, fuck it" was Cox's response.

In the end, the ANC did the expected and voted unanimously to request a "show cause" hearing with ABRA, where the Space may very well be in danger of losing their license. Cox's indignant attitude at Wednesday's proceedings certainly did him no favors; if he hopes to avoid a license revocation before ABRA he might want to spend a bit more time polishing his defense.

As for the neighbors, a brief round of applause broke out after the ANC's decision. For them, Wednesday night was the first victory in what has turned into a protracted fight over a club whose owner just doesn't seem to get it.

Our Camera is Fixed

Just a quick not to apologize for the lack of photos on here recently. Our camera has been out of commission recently due to a dead battery and a "battery buying fail" on our part. Well, the battery arrived today so we'll try to start getting photos up again in our upcoming posts. Thanks for wading through the mountains of text in the meantime!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Franklin School and The Space

The Space, which has angered its Shaw neighbors, is once again on the ANC 2F agenda. The club, controversial for its noisy late-night operations in a residential area, has been subject to ABRA investigation but not to any enforcement action. For a little history of the conflict, read Mr. 14th & You's description of last month's ANC meeting here. Though the meeting will start at 7 p.m., this matter is not scheduled to come up for discussion until 7:45. If you are one of the residents affected by this club, make your way over to the Washington Plaza Hotel in Thomas Circle by then.

Another important item up for discussion this month is a proposal for the use of the Franklin School. Since the closure of the emergency homeless shelter this past fall, the building has not been in use. What will be interesting to see is not only what the proposal is, but whether Jack Evans, who expressed strong interest in redeveloping the property during campaign season, shows up. This agenda item is scheduled to be addressed at 8:45.


I was surprised that Old Town Alexandria had a popular speakeasy before the 14th Street corridor. Thanks to Eric Hilton (Thievery Corporation, Marvin, Eighteenth Street Lounge) the Gibson has come to 2009 14th Street to plug the hole. Read the Washington Post's full review here for more information. It sounds like an interesting place; the cocktails are top shelf and imaginative, and the bar is the chilled-out sophisticated scene you would expect from Eric Hilton. Then there's the factor that appeals most to me: there is no standing room in the bar. In true speakeasy style, the Gibson only admits patrons when bar and table seating is available.

After only a few months in business the Gibson received many reviews on Yelp, most of them reactions to the psuedo-speakeasy environment. It seems that people either love it or think it's played-out. You may also want to check out the DCist review (which you probably missed on Christmas Eve) and the cocktail menu.