Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Checking out Z-Burger coming to the Tivoli: design, the old downstairs, ghosts?

Last week I had a chance to go over to the Z-Burger coming to 14th and Park in the Tivoli building, where I talked to the owners and took some photos (there's a slideshow at the end of the post). The place looks and sounds like it's going to be pretty impressive. I also got a chance to see the Tivoli's downstairs, which looks like it hadn't been used in decades, and heard a ghost story about the space. More on that later.

Peter Tabibian, one of the owners, told me he hopes to open in mid-February. He said they could have opened earlier, but there's another location opening in Southwest and he wanted to focus on one location at a time. It seems that's a good idea, as the plans for the place look more like a nicer burger place than fast food -- think something like Good Eats rather than Five Guys.

There's definitely a lot of work going into the space. It looked more open than the old space when it was Nori and Mayorga, which is good, as it was kind of awkward before. Also, the interior details are being preserved -- there's a lot of fancy molding, chandeliers and murals around the space (see artists at work to the right.)

When I was there, a couple of artists were working on painting the molding and were discussing color schemes (reds and golds, mostly). There were some nice tiles going in and a red tile "carpet" from the door back to the dining area -- Peter said it was going to be an old movie theater theme.

As part of that, the marquee signs outside will be lit up and the old ticket booth will be a milkshake stand, where folks can order from both outside and inside. In a funny quirk, there's a webcam going in over the outside part of the milkshake booth so people can log on and see the line and the Civic Plaza.

There's also an outside seating area with about 40 seats -- there was disagreement with the city because there's already a concrete bench outside, though Peter said he thought DPW would resolve the issue soon. We'll see. There looked to be almost as much seating outside as inside.

Main dining area
As for the food, it's burgers and hot dogs grilled in front of customers, plus a separate steak and cheese grill, fresh-cut fries, and 75 flavors of milkshakes. He said they use only fresh ingredients. You can see the whole menu here.

Peter was pretty proud of the massive grills installed behind the counters, which will also have some touchscreen PCs for ordering, kind of like Sheetz if you've been there. There's also going to be two Coke machines where you can make yourself 130-something flavors -- I think like this machine.

Yelp folks like the other Z-Burger locations in the area and talk about the onion rings and milkshakes too.

According to the plans, there are some small tables in the middle, plus bigger seating areas in the back which will have big, curving benches. Peter talked about putting in new windows as well for more light, which is good, as there really weren't any before. The upstairs part of the space, which was Nori's sushi bar, has been closed off and was rented to someone else by the owners of the Tivoli. Peter hoped to use the staircase that went up for music or performers, but that was still in the idea phase.

There's also a downstairs. As mentioned, it hasn't really changed much in what looked like decades. Peter said part would be used for storage and offices, and maybe the rest could be an internet cafe, but that would be a ways off. The downstairs was pretty cool, it was like a step back in time. There was a big room with a fireplace and mirror (see  below -- it reminded me of that room in The Matrix where he takes the pill), white and blue mosaic tiles, an old phone booth, tiled bathrooms, and a bunch of small, creepy corridors. Peter didn't know what the downstairs had been used for in the past, but considering how nice it was, it almost looked like some kind of house or fancy dressing rooms.

But that's not all. Peter mentioned that he'd heard some ghost stories, and Oscar, one of the artists working on the molding, elaborated. He said he was there working at about 7 am on a Saturday morning before anyone else had come in. Soon he saw two ladies and a man in front of him, dressed in what looked like nice Victorian clothes (corsets, big dresses) coming down the staircase.

They said "hello" in a kind of drawn out, quiet way -- "hellooooo" -- and he said hello back, and then they seemed to leave. Shortly after that the boss came in and Oscar told him some people were looking for him. The boss was confused and didn't know who they might have been. Oscar and the boss then looked for the three people, not finding anyone, and then they went out to the sidewalk, which was deserted. In hindsight, Oscar said he thought they might have been actors from the theater. When I asked if he was scared or surprised, he said not really, they were nice and didn't bother him. Peter said he'd heard many similar stories about the place for awhile. Pretty interesting stuff, if you believe in that kind of thing.

So who knows about the ghosts, but the rest of it sounds good to me. I like burgers and related food, and it's not your average burger place. Peter also talked about how the company does a lot of charity and he hoped to do more in Columbia Heights, which I can always get behind.

Here's all the photos.


  1. This is an incredible and beautiful rennovation of a great space. But it seems a bit over the top for a cheaper priced burger place - no? I mean they are selling burgers and hotdogs at the same price point as five guys. I guess the lease is fairly cheap? Can't wait to see how it all turns out.

  2. I was a little iffy about a burger joint in apace with such beautiful bones. But now that I know this place is haunted, I'm all for it. Ghosts love burgers...

  3. Didn't the roof cave in from a massive snowstorm back when the Tivoli was a Knickerbocker theater? This was back in the turn of the the 20th century...Perhaps these apparitions were victims from that event??? Sayin'....

  4. IsmeSon,

    No, the Knickerbocker was at 18th and Columbia. As far as I know, the Tivoli has always been the Tivoli (well, until it wasn't).

  5. Honestly a little disappointed a cheap burger joint is going in but glad they are doing a nice job with the renovation. Unfortunately I anticipate loads of trash (wrappers, cups, etc...) flying around especially if there is that much outdoor seating.

    Let's hope the owner already has plans to mitigate it and takes responsibility for the immediate area! Gulp, maybe even recycling...though that may be a stretch!

  6. 1. Tivoli opened in 1924 - not exactly the Victorian era. Anachrontistic ghosts
    2. The connection between the Tivoli and the Knickerbocker at 18th & Columbia is that the owner/developer of both was Harry Crandall. After the catastrophe of the Knickerbocker roof collapse (in a monstrous snow storm) Crandall removed the architect from the Knickerbocker who was working on the Tivoli and hired Thomas White Lamb instead. Lamb designed a building whose roof would not collapse, by making three sections, and created the first multi-use theatre building, with the shops fronting on 14th Street and offices and dance studio above.
    3. I believe the basement had ladies and gentlemen's "lounges".

  7. Z Burger has great burgers..they are several steps above 5 Guys. All the liberal left wing wackos in the area should like the fact Bill Clinton and Obama love these burgers

  8. Hello, My name is Mark Faux. I own and operate Creative Surfaces LLC in Hyattsville, MD. We're the cabinet and countertop makers for the project as well as all the Z Burger locations. I just wanted to elaborate on the ghost sightings. As it turns out i was the first worker on the Tivoli project to realize and state that something strange was going on there. Every time i worked in the building i would leave with a massive headache which lasted until well into the next day. When working i would get the "cold chill" down my spine!! I would always feel someone was looking at me when there alone. I would hear clapping from the basement but when id go down no one would be there. I'm still working on the project so i guess a pocket full of advil next time may help ugh.... The place is coming together and should be a great new hotspot in the area. The burgers are great as well.. Se you there...

  9. I work in the theatre upstairs from the zburger in the Tivoli building. We were there all through the renovations and we used to have our storage down in the cool basement area which still have all the original period details. There have been rumors for years our theatre wad haunted, and myself and others have had experiences. We did an evp session one night and got a couple of voices, (one said "stop that") and weird bangs. We think it may be the ghost of harry Crandall,who apparently committed suicide in a hotel nearby after the Knickerbocker incident. The Tivoli was his pride and joy though, so thats our reasoning that he is the one hanging around. Regardless,we noticed the Reno's def storred up activity so are not surprised the workers had experienced. We love it though; and anytime anything weird happens, we just say "oh that's just harry" and go about our business.


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