EC-12: A Little Excessive?

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”

Partners Turn Old Firehouse Into 2020 Martini at Engine Co. 12

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.”


16 thoughts on “EC-12: A Little Excessive?

  1. Where would you expect them to have parking? The lost just isn’t built for it.

    The new Constitution Square transform from a vacant lot into 2 office buildings, a hotel, apartments and a new Harris Teeter in under 3 years. Clearly a renovation of a firehouse, no matter how elaborate, won’t take as much time.

    I’m not sure how you’d compare it to a Dave & Busters. I understand, like myself, you’ve been waiting for this for some time and had high expectations for it. You clearly don’t like what’s planned and see the glass as half empty.

    I see a place offering breakfast, lunch and dinner and our first sit down restaurant. How many times can I eat Yeung Fong take-out and Windows. Not only will I welcome 2020Martini but I’m excited to what else what it will bring.

  2. I am more excited to what else it will bring, as well.

    With a tenant who has just opened a similar restaurant in her hometown of Cleveland, I am not sure that she will be rushing the developers to finish the renovations of the firehouse.

    The next-to-last paragraph of my post is with what I am most concerned.

    Of course, as a resident (and home owner), I hope that I am completely wrong about everything.

  3. Seems like the developer is doing the lion’s share of the work. He’s put a lot of money into this so far and I imagine is anxious to see a return on his investment.

    I went to the current 2020Martini’s website to get an idea of what theirs looks like. I didn’t find any interior photos but didn’t look to long as their adobe flash site made my eyes hurt.

  4. I’m a bit concerned that because it’s going to be a huge and flashy establishment that’s trying to do a lot, property owners along North Capitol will use that as an excuse to jack up sales and lease prices. So it will even be harder for small business owners or newbies who want to invest in North Capitol but don’t have the large financial backing that the firehouse seems to have.

  5. So, they say $30 a plate, and $60 if I don’t want to go alone. This means dinner will cost at least $80 for dinner with drinks.

    Who the hell would want to pay this and sit next to a pizza oven shaped like a fire engine? And a conveyor belt??

    Sounds pretty stupid to me.

    Didn’t they just open a Chuck-E-Cheese joint like this just 2 months ago in Cleveland? Maybe they should focus on quality instead of quantity.

  6. They said under $30 a plate. So yes if you and your date have the most expensive entrees on the menu you’ll pay $60 before drinks.

    If this is not your kind of venue then try the Brooklyn Deli & Sister’s Muscles in the ATF retail building when it opens in a few months. Or are those not what you want either?

    Either move to dupont where you have 100 restaurant options within a few blocks or relax and let the area gentrify and have it come to you.

    • What a shame. If the website is any indication of the quality of the final product than it is sure to fail.

      See for yourself:

      I don’t understand what they are trying to go for here. Pizza and Sushi? Pasta bar? are you serious. No one wants to eat at a cafeteria.

      They need to do one thing right and focus on that. I don’t see how such a big space will maintain a neighborhood-based clientele with such a mediocre approach. Surely people from other places aren’t going to drive to this place.

      I hope I am completely wrong, but I give this place 6 months max.

  7. Sorry, but the area just sucks beans! Can’t we get a simple burger/beer joint (that does it right) first? This place will fail because it won’t attract the crowds to support the debt that this place will generate.

  8. I’m a bit concerned that because it’s going to be a huge and flashy establishment that’s trying to do a lot, property owners along North Capitol will use that as an excuse to jack up sales and lease prices. So it will even be harder for small business owners or newbies who want to invest in North Capitol but don’t have the large financial backing that the firehouse seems to have.

    —My response to that, DC Avocado, is that we are already there. The high real estate costs on North Capitol already stifle the opportunity for little bars or retail places to flourish. There is a cute neighborhood in Baltimore just outside the Inner Harbor (I forget the name) where there are a ton of independent little shops and bars. Looking at that made me think about how to get North Capitol to be like that, and it’s the real estate costs. They are already too high in the entire city. Even Dupont has lost most of its independent stores. The chains are the only ones that can get over those real estate costs with their formulaic efficiencies. This real estate decline, I hope, will help our little neighborhood, but it’s frustrating.

  9. how many people have been very serious about opening up a restaurant on north capitol?

    i know of one couple who got very far in their planning but they just couldn’t crunch numbers to afford rent. this was at least three years ago. there thought was a tavern type place. i’ve not heard of anything else.

    i’m sorry to read so many voice so down of this project. since i dont have any cash or desire to run a place, i’m glad someone is doing it.

    if any of you can do a better job please try! a most sincere PLEASE.
    i’ll come often if you have beer.


  10. Why so much negativity?

    Development takes time. We’re, obviously, in the nascent stages of developing the retail and commercial (let alone residential) markets in the Bloomingdale-Eckington neighborhoods. Or, should I say, replacing the litany of liquor stores and unkempt storefronts that have accommodated loiterers and fostered the de-beautification of our streets and sidewalks. I am tired of trash-lined walkways.

    One of my favorite blocks to walk lately is R St NW between North Capitol and 1st NW. Those red tulips are beautiful. Kudos R St NW neighbors!

    But I digress. The 2020 Martini design concept sounds a bit garish to me, but I am hopeful that progress and investment will lead to a more walkable neighborhood, cleaner streets, in turn more investment and a step in the right direction.

    Time will tell.

  11. Just wait until the neighborhood riff raff start loitering in front of this place… How many project trash and section 8 types will be eating here? I just don’t think there are that many available customers in the neighborhood that will be able to eat here regularly. This project will fail and then it will become another fried chicken and soul food restaurant.

  12. this is completely idiotic. the reviews of this establishment in cleveland are horrific, uniformly and completely negative. the H street approach is the right one, create a string of well-executed but straightforward concepts but get them right and don’t drop millions on some bizarro speculation.

  13. I understand that under the agreement with the city, Brian Brown can sell this property after five years, at market rate, whatever that is, without compensating the city for the low sales price that he received. Usually these tyep of “deals’ have a longer restriction period, My take is that he is speculating, hoping that the market will change enough in five years that he will be able to double his “investment” and get out, without ever opening anything in the location. We are now almost halfway through that five year period……..and not close to anything at the site. Plus with the SAVEMORE gone, the 1700 block of North Cap is almost totally dead now. There are more than 30 vacant retail spaces between NY and R st on North Cap, we have lost eight businesses in the past six months in this corridor. I know all the business owners in the corrider, and most of the property owners and every one is having an extremely difficult time getting tenants, everyone is hurting. And the new people complain and complain, but unless we support the businesses that we have, we will soon have none at all.

  14. I agree that this project is overly ambitious. I wouldn’t mind having a pizza restaurant in the neighborhood, but you could certainly achieve that for far less than $3 million. And what’s up with the name? Just call it Engine Co. 12. That’s more unique sounding and has some basis in the history of the neighborhood.

    But honestly, I wouldn’t mind a Delassandros, Jim’s or Max’s Steaks in the neighborhood. Man, those are some good cheesesteaks. Philly!!!!

  15. I think you’re on the money JTE. The city owns the buliding…it was an old firehouse. Why couldn’t they just sell it at a huge discount (unless $600k is considered a HUGE discount) or sell it to some people who would turn it into a coop or something? For all the work that building requires, only Pizzareia Uno’s or Bertucci’s could afford to run a pizza business out of it. The cost of business is just too high in the city. That’s why the Big Bear Cafe sells $4 brownies.

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