Photo by M.V. Jantzen.
The other night, a panel hosted by the Georgetown Business Association addressed the question of the moribund state of Georgetown’s nightlife. GM wasn’t there, but the City Paper’s Lydia DePillis had it covered.
The forum’s speakers lamented the fact that no new and hip restaurants have moved into Georgetown in a while. Acording to DePillis, their explanations fall into three categories:
Theory number one: Georgetowners themselves wouldn’t be terribly excited about new offerings. Linda Greenan, vice president of communications for Georgetown University, noticed that the newly vibrant corridors of 14th Street and Penn Quarter are filled with people from the neighborhood, while Georgetown’s restaurants are more often filled with tourists…
Theory number two: Georgetown makes it too hard to open a business, with all its layers of review and resistance…
Theory number three: It’s the landlords’ fault!
[but most of all] Georgetown just seems too far away, too crusty, and too expensive for the younger set that’s flocking everywhere else.
GM thinks these are all pretty spot on. You could also throw in to the mix the liquor license moratorium. By some estimates, it costs $70,000 to buy a Georgetown liquor license on the open market. That’s a pretty steep disincentive. But GM doubts that’s really the crucial element. When ABRA released seven new licenses, none ended up in the hands of any “hip and new” restaurant. (Hell, half of them ended up with restaurants that weren’t even new).
When did it go wrong? The last restaurant to open in Georgetown with any sort of buzz was Hook, and that was almost four years ago. Before that, Mei N Yu is about the only other buzzy restaurant that opened in the last ten years. (You could possibly throw in L2 and George, but they both have restrictive guest lists and neither has much name recognition beyond those actually on said lists).
The thing is, GM doesn’t think Georgetown changed or declined, or whatever. It’s the city that changed. Ten years ago, 14th St. and H St. NE had none of their current luster. And the “New U” (as the Post called it back then) was only starting to emerged from its slumber. They all basically entered this past decade as a blank canvass ready to be filled up with the playgrounds of the city’s new young urbanites.
Georgetown, on the other hand, was already full of bars and restaurants and they were (and are) pretty popular within certain groups. That consistency (and those crowds) are exactly what those flocking to U St. wanted to avoid.
What Georgetown’s got isn’t hip. It isn’t new. But it works. And it’s probably unreasonable to expect restaurants to give up a good thing to chase new patrons who don’t particularly want to be around the current patrons.
And that’s why it’s kind of funny to see among the speakers Paul Cohn, president of Capital Restaurant Concepts, which owns J. Pauls, Third Edition, Neyla, Old Glory, among others. Those establishments are just the sort of typical Georgetown restaurants that people who go to U St. or 14th are trying to avoid. But they’re all very popular and successful with the people who come to Georgetown for what it is right now. And GM doubts Cohn really has any desire to change that.