Is Our Dining Scene That Bad?

America Eats Tavern by José Andrés will join Ben & Jerry's, Johnny Rockets and RiRa Irish Pub on the 3100 block of M Street NW in the summer. Georgetowner photo.

“No Longer The Only Game In Town: Georgetown Dining Scene Struggles As City Spreads Out” was the headline of a March 2 Bisnow article on Georgetown restaurants. It got a few people talking and squawking about D.C.’s oldest neighborhood.

“This sort of article is why we have one strike against us before we get up to bat in trying to lease a restaurant space in Georgetown,” wrote commercial real estate owner Bob Elliott to several business leaders. (Morton’s Steakhouse is set to depart after decades in Elliott’s Georgetown Court, which houses the popular Cafe Milano and Peacock Cafe, along with condos and retail.)

Let’s review. Georgetown is well aware that it is “not the only game in town” — and hasn’t been for many years. Since the turn of this century, the city has boomed, meaning more people and more neighborhoods with new dining options. Georgetown has not matched the restaurant expansion in places like Shaw and 14th Street.

So, how bad is it?

“While it is true that there are fewer restaurants on M Street than there were 10 years ago (much of the loss due to the closing of Georgetown Park Mall) there are more restaurants, coffee places and eateries in other parts of Georgetown,” wrote Joe Sternlieb, CEO of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, in an email.

Sternlieb and others cite Grace Street as an example of new growth. There, one now finds Sundavitch, South Block Juice Co. and Grace Street Coffee, along with Dog Tag Bakery and Chaia tacos. By late summer, expect Neopol Savory Smokery as well as Reverie, a fine dining offering by chef Johnny Spero. The little side street south of M had one restaurant 15 years ago.

The 2016 expiration of the Georgetown liquor license moratorium, in effect for decades, removed one big obstacle to growth, but retail rents on M Street are the second highest in D.C. at $300 per square foot, according to Dochter & Alexander Real Estate.

A hopeful sign is the upcoming America Eats Tavern by celebrity chef José Andrés, who said last year he was looking in Georgetown for a spot. He landed in the former Old Glory space on M Street, thanks to a deal worked out by Andrés, Capital Restaurant Concepts and landlord Richard Levy.

The closing of Unum, Maxim, Pier 2934 and the Daily Grill surprised many, but these spots will likely remain eateries. One report claims a Mideast restaurateur is coming to the 2900 block of M Street.

“In 2018, the GBID knows of at least four restaurant announcements for spaces that are currently, or were formerly, retail spaces,” Sternlieb wrote. “There is real growth in the pipeline for the Georgetown restaurant scene.”

Indeed, a longtime clothing store at Wisconsin Avenue and O Street is set to become a restaurant. In our opinion, the spring and summer dining season cannot come soon enough.

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