Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The wine bar debate continues

The wine bar issue has kept simmering, and boiling in some cases. There's still debate over at the Columbia Heights Yahoo group, and a lot at the Prince of Petworth too.

But a commenter here made an interesting point - the people opposed may not be opposed to the wine bar, but to the people who would go to it - yuppies, fancy types, whatever you want to call them. It's almost like this is turning into a newcomers versus long time residents issue - people who are new are largely in favor, and people who are opposed seem to be those who have lived in the area for awhile. And this is the first real outright new versus old debate I can remember.

And maybe I'm biased, but I don't see anything wrong with empty storefronts getting filled, and I don't think there's an alcohol concentration either as some folks have expressed concerns about. There's even been some pro-active stuff by bar owners, as John Andrade, who owns what will be Meridian Pint at 11th and Park, posted a message and said he wants to create a local running group that will meet at his bar.

Your thoughts? Assuredly this blog has a bit of a self-selection, but I'm curious to hear what other people think.

Photo by Kayak the Rockies, used under Creative Commons license


  1. I've been thinking about this a lot all day, and I think part of the reason this particular venue is so polarizing is because of the talk of $14 glasses of wine. It kind of epitomizes the gentrification process, and the mixed feelings surrounding it. It's the sort of place that is going to appeal (or not appeal) to people along a very obvious line: economic status, which in this neighborhood is correlated VERY strongly with (1) race and (2) length of residence.

    I imagine that long-time residents have observed the last 10 years of development with a great deal of ambivalence. On the one hand, they must be excited to see the empty lots filling up, the streets and alleys improving and graffiti being cleaned up. Those who own their homes must be thrilled (and renters horrified) to see the property values rising so much.

    On the other hand, it must be incredibly discouraging to see so much of the development directed towards outsiders or new residents, instead of meeting the needs of the older residents.

    All of the housing developments in the area have been directed at outsiders, and most of the new businesses to serve these new residents: night spots, expensive restaurants, quick commuter eats. To my knowledge, there hasn't been a single family-friendly restaurant opened recently, other than artery-clogging Ruby Tuesday.

    The dramatic rise of property values (and, thus, property taxes) in the area is only going to further this trend. A $14 glass of wine is probably the only way to keep a business afloat on that corner. But I think it's completely understandable that some see it as a symbol of the problems with CH development.

  2. I definitely agree. I have only lived in the neighborhood a year and have seen dramatic changes - I can only imagine what long time residents have seen. I really was sad to see the deli go out of business - sure it wasn't the best deli ever, but the owners were nice and it could have been on its way to being a low-cost, family-friendly establishment (but maybe still a little artery-clogging).

    While I have unfortunately added to the gentrification, I moved here because of how diverse it was. What will Columbia Heights Day be in a few years? A wine bar doesn't appeal to the masses and there should be something that most people can go to (especially families). High-priced wine automatically eliminates an income group that is already living in the neighborhood. It is such a great location and could be a perfect neighborhood hangout.

    It will be interesting to see what happens!

  3. I strongly support the concept proposed for the site, and I think all the self-loathing guilt flying around is just ridiculous. Empty storefronts are rife on 11th Street, and it has a very, very long way to go before it becomes some sort of yuppie paradise. Also, there seems to be a bit of stereotyping when it comes down to long-time residents and newcomers as patrons of such an establishment. I don't know anything about wine and will probably not go to a wine bar, even though I'd be lumped in with the "gentrifiers" - while there are probably several longtime residents who enjoy wine and might sip a glass there. So, let's not jump to conclusions. If DC is going to continue to grow in population and develop a vibrant street life in formerly moribund neighborhoods, the NIMBYism has to stop, or the growth will go elsewhere.

  4. Uh, these "long-time" residents had 40 years to fix up "their" neighborhood -- and failed, miserably. Sure, bring the shopping centers and large grocery stores and metro, but PLEASE no white people -- because anything "white" IS yuppie. That takes away from the neighborhood's heritage of crack, prostitutes and youth violence.

    Those people (yes I said it) fail to remember that this neighborhood was built by Jews from the 1890-1930s. Did the Jews that lived here call these transients "gentrifiers?" No, I don't think so. The reason why many blacks moved to this area, and were welcome is that the Jews were tolerant and understood racism.

  5. First of all, the 14 dollar figure is very misleading, that is the HIGHEST price point for a glass of wine, most glasses will probably be in the normal drink range, 5-8 dollars or so. This is a tiny space that was unappealing and unattractive, which will now be attractive and well-utilized. I am not crying any tears for the deli -- it stank. The food was horrible, poor quality, took forever, and unhealthy, they had no marketing and terrible signage. Had it been a viable business, I would have lamented its absence, but no one, rich or poor, wants low quality goods.

    Also, ummm, brad / jill, are you guys blind???? The VAST majority of the new development in the are serves a low to moderate income population. First and foremost, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, Lane Bryant, Payless, Marshall's -- look around and see who patronizes most of the stores in DCUSA, they are all big discount stores. The Giants, Ruby Tuesday's, Pollo Campero, Pollo Sabroso, none of these are serving a "yuppie" demographic. Plus there is a huge new low-income senior living building, soon to be a new senior social service building, several brand new, gorgeous charter schools in the area, a brand new, gorgeous youth / community center ... one 1000 sq. ft. wine bar is barely a dent on the largely landscape of development, which has been FAR more diverse than you suggest. It ain't exactly Georgetown or Dupont or Cleveland Park we are talking about here -- rather we are getting a wide range of services, both pricey, cheap, and moderate, that appeal to a wide range of people. You didn't see the evil rich yuppies protesting when yet ANOTHER chicken place opened on 14th (Pollo Sabroso), taking valuable commercial space from what COULD have been something that we "needed" more of in the community. So why are folks lamenting good people who are cleaning up a tiny, decrepit space on a half-vacant block that is currently filled with graffiti, empty storefronts, and trash? It truly boggles the mind.

  6. @anonymous-- I'm a long time resident of the neighborhood. I am in favor of the bar; but you know you should really rethink your statement. Who, exactly, do you think is responsible for the changes that have happened in the neighborhood. Most of the long time residents who are still around have been the ones involved in bringing change to the neighborhood. The old versus new debate should die; it's a moot debate. Respect for other people is always apropos, and no one should assume anything about anyone else.

    Also, your understanding of history is faulty. While there was a large Jewish population in both Columbia Heights and Petworth, the neighborhood of Columbia Heights was one of the city's first suburbs for white government workers, gentile at first, and then a lot of Jewish people were able to move in the neighborhood. DC was notorious for its segregation-- of which both Blacks and Jews were targets.

    TECHNICALLY, however, the brickwork that makes the remarkable signature of CH's turn of the century rowhousese was done in large part by Black brickmasons, who were part of one of the few trade unions that employed us fairly. So TECHNICALLY, Black people built this beautiful and diverse neighborhood, in which we weren't legally allowed to live because of the restrictive covenants on most of the houses.

  7. Interesting points, everybody. I like seeing this kind of back and forth.

  8. cities change, neighborhoods change. people hate change. the same thing is going on in the suburbs as schools deteriorate and people move back into the city because of price of gas and traffic. the long time residents are upset that new residents are bringing down the value of their homes and schools.

  9. @Mr T - I assume that your sentiments are regarding the broader conversation about this issue, on other sites, and not the comments left by Jill and myself, as there is nothing "self-loathing" about being a little introspective. Further, if you don't want to be lumped in with the gentrifiers, maybe you should be a little more nuanced than accusing all challengers of being NIMBYists. We exist in a complex world where political and economic decisions often benefit some while hurting others... there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a bit critical and trying to engage in dialog or debate.

    @Anon - I mentioned $14 glasses not to mislead, but to point out a possible reason that certain people are resistant to the project. It's a symbolic cue, nothing more. You might also note that I didn't actually take a position on the wine bar, and still don't... I was merely exploring the complicated feelings that certain residents might be experiencing.

    Your point about the box stores is pretty spot on, though, so I want to refine my point a little bit. The box stores certainly DO service the economic needs of lower income groups, but they don't include them in the community the same way small businesses, particularly on more residential blocks, might do. So I think it's completely understandable that some see the rise of a different sort of establishment as problematic... and if I had a family on the block of the wine bar, I'd certainly feel a bit excluded from my community if I had to walk over to Pollo Campero to take my kids out for dinner.

    I'm also kind of intrigued by the way a person's block of residence impacts the way they see this issue. Those close to Tivoli may see it as a welcome addition to the community, which gives them another good reason to wander out into the more residential (and beautiful) part of the neighborhood. Those west of 14th might wonder what all the fuss is about, since there are community centers everywhere they look. And those in the entirely residential blocks floating halfway between the CH and Petworth metro stops, such as myself, simply feel the development creeping towards them from both directions -- some of us with glee, and others with dread.

  10. Yes, I'm definitely generalizing a bit here, as I see similar patterns with various neighborhood NIMBY-type issues: Cleveland Park "too many restaurants", Tenleytown preferring low-rise mattress stores to density around the metro, same in Takoma Park, etc. On the one hand, it is an environmentally responsible thing to develop the city where the infrastructure already exists to the max, bringing DC back up to 800,000 residents and more. On the other hand, it is easy for NIMBY-minded residents to throw all sorts of roadblocks up for various reasons. See the 7 rowhouses at Nebraska Ave in Tenleytown where there should have been a ten-story apartment building as an example. And then the growth happens on former farmland in the exurbs, auto-dependent, destroying green space, because there's less opposition out there. We urban residents need to suck it up and take the occasional hit for the greater good. And part of that is a revitalized, bustling 11th Street corridor, hopefully with small, independent businesses as an antidote to chain-dominated 14th Street. Yes, there will be more noise and it might not serve the very poorest/elderly/teetotaling residents, but in the grand scheme of things, the alternative is another strip mall in Ashburn or Dale City.

  11. I also agree that proximity to development has a huge impact on your perception. That said, I really, really enjoy the convenience of walking to Target, Giant, and Red Rocks.

    I also like walking in Target and Giant and seeing so many people from the neighborhood working there.

    I have a job that requires me to interact with people from all over the city about neighborhood development. What really cracks me up is how many people say that they don't want Columbia Heights to "happen" in their neighborhood. But when I ask them what amenities they would like to see, a "big" grocery store is #1 on the list, and they talk about how nice the CH Target is and how often they shop there.

  12. Mr T,

    Fantastic point. Like many people who are anti-box-store in a general sense, it's tempting for me to just harp on any development that seems to come from the outside, especially if there are box stores involved. However, as you point out -- as much as I and others might wish that Target would completely vanish from the earth -- a Target in the urban core, within reach of mass transit, is MUCH better than another strip mall on former farmland.

    On a related note, one of the things that really appeals to me about the wine bar, despite some of the issues I've raised, is that it is such a small space that it will necessarily be a local bar, because people aren't going to trek here from Virginia and hope there's a table. So it is community-friendly, at least in that sense...

  13. I imagine that the people who still think Wonderland is a local bar are the same people against the Wine Bar. Wonderland is washed up and another bar on that block that isn't full of coke heads from VA would be great.

  14. Anonymous @10:50

    Sadly all too true about Wonderland. It used to have a nice neighborhood-y vibe to it, but once kids from the burbs figured out that they won't get shot if they travel to Columbia Heights and that parking is (compared to, say, Adams Morgan), they started coming in droves. On weekends, the place is now insufferable -- really any night from Thursday onward.

    I fear that this will likely be the fate of just about any bar in the area -- Meridian Pint will surely end up (or start) that way, that is, provided that the people behind it actually get their shit together. (They just recently started to gut the interior with a Bobcat, and were shut down by the District -- presumably their permits were not in order -- within days. This incompetence is odd, seeing as the fancy architecture firm that's builidng it is going to have an office there.)

  15. dont be naive. the jewish families my folks encountered when we moved here in the late 1950's ran like hell at the site of "schvartzes."


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