It has been 50 years since the riots that destroyed several DC commercial corridors. And it has taken about 50 years for life and vibrancy to return to those corridors. However at the time, several of those places were already in a downward spiral. The heyday had passed. When the community is strong and disaster strikes, you rebuild. When it is weak, you leave.
Jessie McCain had a barbershop at 643 P St NW. During the riots it was completely destroyed. So what is there now? A parking lot. Next to it is a vacant lot, where Clark Construction has a couple of mobile office trailers that have been there for years. So in 50 years the only improvement has been clearing off the rubble.
Just after the riots officials sent out surveys to business owners to figure out the level of damage. The image above is from the survey Mr. McCain returned in September 1968. He was a 50 year old African American, and back in the 60s, 50 was old. Fifty year olds are a whole lot healthier and active these days, but back then they were well over the hill, probably not going to see 65. The destruction the riot brought Mr. McCain was the final straw. He wrote: “I am too old to be worryed [sic] any more. I just don’t want any more business.”
There were plenty more victims in Shaw for whom the riots were the final straw, and I’ll introduce you to them in the month of April.
Dammit. I really had hoped this would be better. Maybe they’ll change things up or find their audience or something, because I was mildly disappointed with the new Spark restaurant that took the place of the old Engine 12 Firehouse restaurant.
I had high, maybe too high, hopes for the new restaurant in the old space, when I saw bone marrow on the menu. The last time I had bone marrow was at Eat the Rich (RIP) paired with some jam. It was soooo good. I had those same expectations when coming to Spark.
Okay, let me start off with what I liked. It was bone marrow. There was nice crusty bread. There was a little of a pickle side to cut the fat of the marrow. There was a nice funky tool which to use to scoop out the marrow. There was salt at the table so I could season bland tasting marrow. Yeah, that’s my one complaint, it was bland tasting. Maybe it was because the marrow was ‘smoked’ and not braised or whatever the heck Eat the Rich did. It lacked a richness, and just tasted like fat. I’m fine with paying $16 for a plate of bones and bread, if it is yummy bones and bread.
My main reason for getting a sitter and making Spark 12 our date night outing were the bones. Ignoring the bone marrow, everything else was meh, ‘alright’. The people at the next table were loud and even after they left, we still had to speak with a raised voice to hear each other. The service seemed a little slow, but since they’d only been open about a week, that was forgivable. The Old Fashioned I ordered was fair tastewise but packed one hell of a boozy punch. The Help ordered a chocolate atomic fireball non-alcoholic drink. It was like a chocolate manhattan with the cinnamon spice candy along the rim and at the bottom of the drink. I thought the chocolate tasted watery and the strong cinnamon was a little overwhelming. If I hadn’t had a big lunch I might have been hungry for more, and if I were, we would have left to check out Big Bear or ANXO.
The experience left us a little sad. We really want the space to succeed. The previous restaurant had mediocre food. This, although they just opened and there is a ton of room for improvement, is also mediocre. This would be a great restaurant if they could just get the food right and in this neighborhood we expect more out of a sit down restaurant. A friend pointed out that if they wanted Caribbean, (Spark has some island dishes) they would go to Jam Doung down the block. This neighborhood also hosts Red Hen, Bacio, and DCity Smokehouse, places known for their great tasting food.
Maybe the problem is that I just got a super mediocre meal. The Help, my date, seemed content with his beef patties, but he’s easy to please. I haven’t written Spark off, I’ll try them again and hope for better. But next time we’re bringing the kid and skipping the sitter.
So for lunch I ventured out and was hankering for a Halfsmoke dog but they were closed on Tuesday for lunch, so I walked back in the direction of Truxton Circle to fix myself lunch when I was drawn into Fishscale at 637 Florida Ave NW.
See that salad. That sure is one pretty salad. I did not order that salad. I ordered a fish burger with the sunflower slaw. It was good. Was it $15 worth of good (incl tax)? Unsure, but it was good. I liked it. I may come back to check out the salad to see if it tastes as good as it looks.
Let beer be for those who are perishing,wine for those who are in anguish!Let them drink and forget their povertyand remember their misery no more.--- Proverbs 31:6-7
So I was allowed to escape my darling baby son to run some errands and noticed a new liquor store where an old liquor store sat at S and 7th St NW. It is a different liquor store in that the corner doesn’t reek of fake pot and there isn’t a crowd of purposeless Black men hanging out in front. The inside probably is different too. I wouldn’t know as the old store “Log Cabin Liquors” was impossible to see into. The new store. Looks very nice from the outside.
Unfortunately in the history of the neighborhood, liquor stores were bad news. For those who didn’t know, for about 2/3rds of the 20th Century chunks of Shaw was a slum or downtrodden neighborhood. In the map above liquor stores were in the brown and they dotted the neighborhood. You will find a lot of liquor stores in downtrodden neighborhoods, with unsavory characters hanging about. When I moved into my neck of Shaw, it was natural to fight the renewal license of liquor stores because they were problems. They didn’t reflect where some neighbors hoped to progress. Those places sold wino liquors (Mad Dog, 40 ozs, etc) and sometimes other things adding to the drug trade. They catered to the poor who were trying to drown their sorrows in cheap booze.
Alcoholism isn’t helpful, and doesn’t raise anyone up. I would go all Carrie Nation, if I didn’t enjoy the stuff, as I’ve experienced the destruction of alcoholism in my family. When residents and church representatives challenged the ABRA license, the destructive nature of alcoholism was brought forth because we saw the evidence of it littered in our treeboxes and passed out in our parks.
Yes, the new ‘good’ shiny liquor stores are a reflection of gentrification, but they aren’t making money off of panhandlers and seniors cashing in their social security checks to self-medicate themselves into a stupor. The bars and liquor stores are not like some college town places helping patrons to get drunk fast and cheap. Drinks are stupid expensive, and at some places carefully crafted so you don’t gulp them down, but rather savor the notes and whatever. As a resident I like these bars and liquor stores that cater to a more responsible (and yes moneyed) crowd. Parks are more fun when there aren’t smashed liquor bottle glass sticking out every few feet.
Somewhere in this town is a drink that uses spruce, like in the tree, where can I find that?
So going though my email digests I read, a press release titled “Washington, DC Proposes Four Sites for Amazon HQ2”. Instead of deleting it after skimming the first 2 suggestions pushed forward by Mayor Bowser of the Anacostia waterfront and NoMa, I spotted “Shaw- Howard University” and actually screamed.
This was not a scream of delight. More of dread, followed by a suspicious feeling that the Mayor’s office is sucking up to some Shaw community or group because, seriously, where the hell would you put it? Would Amazon have to buy a chunk of the financially distressed Howard University and put it around there?
It would be nice if Amazon decided to put its second headquarters here and the Mayor’s alexawhydc.com campaign is cute. However, we’ve got one major industry in town that employs a range of people (meaning you don’t always need a college degree or post secondary anything) and a lot of them, Uncle Sam. Yes, the federal government is slowly reducing its workforce in the city (if I want to rise up I’d have to go to our suburban office) and the city should seek other major employers. Preferably employers who need people other than college and grad school graduates like myself. Anyway, I have a feeling that we should not set ourselves up for heartbreak. And on the off chance Amazon does choose DC, stay out of Shaw, traffic is a pain in the butt around here already.