OK, The Georgetown Restaurant Scene is Not That Grim, Or Is It?

Photo by wlcutler.

Yesterday, when writing about Mie n Yu closing, GM was perhaps a bit harsh about the Georgetown restaurant scene. He wrote: “Only two noteworthy restaurants opened in Georgetown in ten years and now they’re both gone.”

Some commenters pointed out that a few more well regarded restaurants have opened over that time. Here are a few of them:

  • Bourbon Steak
  • Farmers Fishers & Bakers (nee Agraria)
  • Unum
  • Bandalero
  • Kafe Leopold
  • Cafe Bonaparte

That’s a pretty good collection. Hopefully we’ll add a few more soon, including Malmaison. So, considering we live under the double weights of high rents and the liquor license moratorium–plus the increased competition from U St., 14th St. and downtown–we’re doing alright.

Or are we?

As pointed out by Washingtonian, the Georgetown restaurant scene has been hit with a series of closures recently. They include:

  • Pappa Razzi
  • Pizzeria Uno
  • Citronelle (we’ll see if they reopen)
  • La Madeline (ditto)
  • The Guards
  • Garrett’s
  • Fino Italian Restaurant

So, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Last year a bunch of new liquor licenses were released into the moratorium zone. Unfortunately, most of them ended up just sitting in the pockets of speculators. Now new restaurants need to buy the licenses off the secondary market where they cost as much as $80,000. So any new restaurant will have to come with deep pockets.

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7 Comments

Filed under Restaurants

7 responses to “OK, The Georgetown Restaurant Scene is Not That Grim, Or Is It?

  1. Erik W

    I think there is one other major factor beside the high rents and moratorium:
    Narrow, crowded sidewalks (crowded mostly with patrons of the myriad chain stores) mean it’s uncomfortable to walk around Gtown, especially if you’re with someone and trying to walk side-by-side. It leaves little opportunity for sidewalk cafes, which are now popping up everywhere else in the city (notice Kafe Leopold and Farmers & Fishers have large outdoor seating areas). The other successful restaurants are mostly high-end, destination type places, where people will go one way or another, but restaurants that rely on neighborhood foot traffic suffer from the inhospitable pedestrian environment.

    Similar problems plagued Adams Morgan, where you also used to see pretty high turnover of primarily-dining establishments (we’ll see what happens now that the widening project is completed), and sections of U Street. Meanwhile, the dining scene on wider-sidewalked 14th Street is thriving, same for Barracks Row, where sidewalk cafes are the norm.

  2. charlie

    Uno’s closed as well, as well as saloon, the crepe/indian/wings place, the late lamented BLU, and also Georgetown cafe. Some have re-opened, other have not.

    Papa Razza and Intermix are both being targeted for new restaurants.

    Other than the Bourbon/L2 crowd, the place just isn’t drawing people anymore. More and more of a tourist crowd.

  3. Olive

    I’m glad you noted that Unum is one of the new restaurants that has opened. We had dinner there last night and thought it was fantastic. It’s a great addition to the neighborhood.

  4. I find it odd that there aren’t any more Georgetown University ‘student’ oriented bars and I’m not sure who to blame. Guards & Garrets were Georgetown/GW hangouts, as was Uno’s (at least back in the day). That Georgetown wing place also recently closed, and even once popular Georgetown dive/dancing spot Rhino is turning into Gant. Bars continue to leave Georgetown and replaced by high end retail…..

  5. Babz

    @psharrisym

    Really? Because I know exactly whom to blame. It starts with an A and ends with an NC.

  6. Walter

    I notice that the Latham Hotel is appearing before the Old Georgetown Board for repaving of its driveway, fixing some steps, and waterproofing. Lately, workers have been filling dumpsters with demolition material. This seems to be coming from below ground areas of the hotel. The furniture and fixtures in the entrance / lobby look as they did when the hotel abruptly closed. If the Latham can fix whatever misfortune befell it, perhaps Madeleine and Citronelle will be back. (The restaurant/cafe furnishings are still there.)

  7. Jacques

    PSHarris — I think you’re mistaken on Gant and Rhino Bar (Gant is moving into 3239 M Street, near the Athleta store).

    As to the rest, Garretts and the Guards were (to an extent) student bars, as well as catering to a lot of 20-somethings. But for GU students over the years, they were a bit too far out to be the main draw, competing with:
    – The Tombs, first and foremost
    As well as what my good friend used to refer to collectively as “Thampies”
    – Chadwicks
    – Champions/Champs (in its various iterations including Blue Gin)
    – Third Edition

    Rhino Bar (& Pumphouse) has been a number of similar establishments over the decades, including Winstons in its immediate previous iteration.

    Others that have filtered through to certain subsets of students include Mr. Smiths, Modern Lounge (and its previous Marine-friendly iteration, Sports Fans), and Smith Point, though the last caters to rich preppies of many ages. Also, sometimes the waterfront patios attract students to Tony & Joes or Nick’s Riverside Grill. And many students choose to go farther afield, whether to Adams Morgan, U Street, or across the river.

    So the scene is somewhat fluid, but the main constraint other than the moratoriums and general ABC enforcement is the restrictions in Georgetown on happy hour specials. I’m not sure if there are zone-wide restrictions, or they are negotiated with each bar in voluntary agreements, but you don’t generally see the kind of happy hour deals in Georgetown that you have in many other parts of the city.

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