For residents in the Greater Eckington neighborhood, little has been awaited with more anticipation than the development of EC-12, the vacant 111-year-old firehouse at 1626 N. Capitol St. The fruition of an actual sit-down restaurant is monumental; however, the potential of spillover into neighboring buildings along North Capitol could offer the greatest impact.
So it should be welcome news to all that the deal has been inked, and construction will commence shortly. From the Washington Business Journal:
“(Brian Brown, managing partner of NC Firehouse LLC) purchased the building for $600,000, the value at which the city assessed it, and plans to put another $2.4 million into renovations.
The three-story, 10,000-square-foot space will become home of 2020 Martini at Engine Co. 12, a restaurant concept by Twyla Garrett of Cleveland-based Garrett Entertainment Corp.
She expects to invest at least $1 million into the new venue”
The firehouse does need some major work, but $2.4 million in renovations plus $1 million in tenant additions? What could necessitate such expense and, more importantly, the time requirements inherent with spending such? We read further into the article:
“the D.C. eatery will be conceived around a theme of fire and water. The first floor will serve brick-oven pizzas, baked in an imported Italian oven sculpted with a fire engine facade. That floor will also include a small pasta bar and a sushi bar. Martinis, too, will be served from a 30-foot bar that will appear as if it’s ablaze and have water running through its center.
Plans for the second floor call for a lounge atmosphere with live music performances, where pizzas and sushi will be delivered by a glass-enclosed conveyor belt resembling a ladder…
The third floor will be devoted to the Mocha Fusion Coffee Lounge, an espresso bar. And finally, a rooftop deck will offer tapas.”
Now, do not get me wrong, I am not trying to dissuade anyone from investing millions in our neighborhood. I would suggest, nonetheless, that the great restaurants do not need eye-catching displays–especially pioneers in a transition area. Moreover, the exterior of the firehouse offers character lacking in D.C’s upscale hotel restaurants and downtown establishments. Investing a minuscule fraction of Brown’s proposed funds into a search–or, even more creatively, an incentives package–for a chef/owner (willing to lend more than a name to the eatery) may have been a wiser decision.
Do you know what pizza baked in an imported Italian oven adorned with a fire engine-facade tastes like? A pizza.
And a martini from a 30-ft bar that appears to be on fire with a river running through it? Vodka and vermouth.
People may venture outside of their comfort-zone for the glitz, once. But they will return only if the food is exceptional. Furthermore, the neighborhood is not, yet, made for those wishing to meet for a few drinks before heading to an event or dinner. If non-residents manage to cab over to Martini 2020 for their libation, they may want to take along a bus schedule in order to get to their next stop.
So, while a milestone has been reached, the waiting game really is not over. In 2-3 years, Martini 2020 (the owner of which is probably not in a rush since she has just opened another large investment, Martini 2020 Cafe) will open its doors. It will probably fold after 10 months. The search for a new tenant will begin–a process that will linger since no one will want to pay a premium for the lavish renovations and glitz (while the owners try to hold out for someone who will help recoup these losses). After another 10 months, the owners will give in, a new agreement will be signed, and, 6 months later, a new restaurant will open.
Regardless of its ultimate success, my guess is that outsiders will associate more with our neighborhood the “great pollo a la brasa place with tasty mini sweet potato pies” than “2020 Martini.”