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Joe’s is What’s Crackin’

Strains of upbeat jazz can be heard as we step through the doors of Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, I feel transported to a different time. The multi-level restaurant space in the old Union Trust Bank Building is outfitted with a striking, solid, classic interior featuring wood, marble, and leather.  The maître d’ in his green bowtie greets us. The restaurant is smart casual but I wish I were wearing a 1930s flapper dress.

joes_main_bar

As we are escorted to our table dozens of waiters decked out in black jackets and bowties stand ready to cater to our every need. The staff is topnotch and for good reason, they interviewed 2000 candidates to get to the 180 staff they have now, just for dinner service.  Party service starts the end of the month and lunch will be available come March.

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District Taco to Open at 13th and F NW

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon at the Arlington location of District Taco. One of the first things I noticed, after the fun and welcoming environment, was the menu. Not only were the options enticing, but they were also extremely reasonable.

I was shocked when owners Osiris and Marc said they did not plan on raising prices for their upcoming DC location (1309 F St. NW, Opening mid-April). Where else in this area can you find a meal—breakfast, lunch or dinner—for under $10?

Osiris, originally from Yuta, Mexico, used to make homemade meals for his neighbor, Marc. The food was delicious, and over a few cervezas, they came up with the idea of District Taco. Their idea was to serve quality food at realistic prices. And it works.

Tacos are only $2.25 each. Burritos and Quesadillas are $7 each. All include unlimited toppings: pico de gallo, shredded cheese, fresh jalepenos, black beans, pinto beans, garlic-lime rice, sour cream, tomato, lettuce, cilantro, raw onion (white or red), grilled veggies, etc.

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Making Woodies Pop

A reader and fellow Madrigal Lofts resident (Scott R) tipped me off last Thursday that the Woodies building in Penn Quarter was undergoing a paint job to it’s old iron trim. This is the building that was formerly anchored by West Elm and is now home to Forever 21.

I was out of town over the weekend but stopped by tonight after work on my way to District of Pi. As luck would have it Paul Millstein and Douglas Jemal, of Douglas Development, were outside the building and asked me for feedback on the in-progress work while I was snapping the photos below. Millstein explained that the previous solid green and gold scheme wasn’t doing the ornate details justice. He suggested the old craftsmanship had a story to tell and the right color scheme could display it more prominently. At present they are experimenting with color combinations and haven’t settled on a scheme.

I told them it was a little too busy with all those colors together. I think I would focus on Green, Gold and Red with a few of the smaller details in either black or white. Blue is my favorite color – but it isn’t working in this context for me. I told Millstein I would post my photo to the blog and that it might be a good forum for feedback. What are your thoughts on colors?

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First Impressions of Riot Act

On Wednesday night I attended a preview event for the new Riot Act Comedy Club at 8th & E Streets NW. The club is a venture from Geoff Dawson, owner of Rocket Bar & Iron Horse, and John Xereas who made his bones during nearly two decades at the DC Improv.

Tony Woods on stage at Riot Act on August 8th 2011

For me personally, this venue has been perhaps the single Penn Quarter addition I’ve had the most anticipation for. I’ve enjoyed standup shows at the DC Improv dozens of times, Caroline’s on Broadway in NYC, Comedy Connection at Faneuil Hall in Boston, as well as shows at clubs in a half dozen other cities. I’ve seen Dave Chappelle at four different DC venues and sat 6 rows from the stage when Chris Rock performed at DAR Constitution Hall. My one comedy regret was not splurging on tickets to see Seinfeld at the Kennedy Center a few years back.

Ultimately the comedians themselves make or break the experience for the audience. But the Riot Act venue has some clear pros and cons. From a positive perspective the venue is enormous. The ground floor level has a bar and ample standing area for hundreds of people to mill around as the previous performance comes to a close in the downstairs theater. If you’ve ever had to stand in queue in a narrow hallway at the DC Improv waiting for the 8pm show to end so your 10pm show could enter you’ll appreciate this considerable upgrade. The theater room is also much larger than the space at the DC Improv with higher ceilings and no poles obstructing views of the stage. When Riot Act hits full stride this extra space could be an asset to land premier comics.

That said the vast space is completely void of any personality. My group repeatedly joked that the ambiance of the venue would best be described as “Conference Center”. Every wall was off white with absolutely no wall decor. The dark grey wall-to-wall carpeting reminded me of the carpeting from the TV lounge in the dorm hall I lived in during the mid 90′s. The chairs and tables were clearly from the office cafeteria collection. Later in the evening comedian Tony Woods echo’d our sentiments by incorporating the phrase “I hope you enjoyed this seminar” into his material. While the decor of a comedy club doesn’t need to be as visually stylized as a bar like Iron Horse Taproom I think the total degree of sterility at Riot Act leads to an energy deflating effect.

Many big arrivals such as Hill Country hit the scene as a polished finished product. The Hill Country space will likely stay in that form until the venue closes one day in the (hopefully) distant future. Riot Act seems to be arriving as an unfinished product with much room to improve and evolve. While that’s not what we’re accustomed to in the end the talent the comedy club attracts and showcases and the level of customer service that are most important. The fall schedule seems to send them on the right direction on that front.

Updated [8/11/2011 1:25PM] – For another local perspective check out the review from PQInsider.

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What NYC Restaurant should come to DC?

The social media arm of Douglas Development used Twitter today to ask what NYC restaurant would you like to see come to DC?

I would venture to guess the question is posed with their Penn Quarter retail vacancies at the forefront of possible destinations.

Leave your suggestions in the our comments section and/or tweet to @douglasdevdc

[UPDATED 7/27 5:10PM] Douglas replied with the following:

Any thoughts on their followup question?

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Reading the Riot Act (Schedule)

The website for the soon to open Riot Act Comedy Club at 801 E Street NW has graduated from a slick landing page to a full experience this week. With the new content we can now browse the schedule of comics for the Fall. The list includes Tony Woods, Charles Fleischer, Todd Rexx, Big Al Goodwin, Rob Cantrell, Paul Mooney, Jim Florentine & Don Jamieson, Nick DiPaolo, Judy Gold, Otto & George, Will Durst, Allah Made Me Funny (video), and others… The Tony Woods show is on August 3rd and is the inaugural weekend for this new venue.

More background on the new Riot Act Comedy Club is recapped in the July 2nd PQLiving posting.

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Congress Cuts Woolly’s Funding

The following message went out on Friday to subscribers to Woolly Mammoth Theater’s email news list. Woolly Mammoth Theater is located at 641 D Street NW is Penn Quarter.

Dear Friends,

We need your help. Yesterday, Congress cut $38 billion out of the U.S. government’s current-year budget. Among the many programs they slashed was the National Capital Arts Program.

A quarter of a century ago, Congress established this small Interior Department program to support DC’s major performing arts companies and museums. It was developed in recognition of the vital role these institutions play in creating a vibrant national capital city that millions of Americans visit each year. Unlike every other state in the union, DC does not have a state arts council that provides operating support for its cultural institutions.

This program provided $318,000 in funding to Woolly Mammoth last season – a significant amount, representing 8% of our $4 million annual operating budget.

Congress cut the National Capital Arts Program by 70% this week, meaning Woolly will lose almost $200,000 in funding this year. While this represents a fraction of the U.S. budget, it opens a sizable gap in our budget that would be tough to close any year; but to receive this news with just four months left in the fiscal year (ending July 31st) presents an extraordinary challenge.

The response plan we have developed includes:

1) Expense Reductions ($50,000) – Department heads are scouring their budgets for every penny of savings to be captured in the remaining quarter of the year. We have already cut travel and registration for conferences and staff training; we’re putting off repairs and capital purchases; and we’re delaying new hires. Finally, we are exploring the idea of a weeklong staff furlough.

2) Earned Revenue Enhancements ($75,000) – The popularity of Mike Daisey’s current show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, has prompted serious exploration of a reprise in July – we’ll know more on this soon. Meanwhile, we are freeing up as much time in our building as possible to accommodate rentals for weddings, receptions, and other events.

3) Contributed Revenue Enhancements ($75,000) – We must increase individual giving from $450,000 to $525,000 this year. Any amount you can give will make a real difference and ensure that Woolly weathers this latest political storm and continues to ‘defy convention.’

Woolly’s artists, staff, and Board will work their hardest to maximize savings and revenues; but we need your support to achieve this revised goal for contributed revenue. If we can succeed with all three parts of our plan, it will see us through in the short-term while we plan and prepare for reduced funding from the National Capital Arts Program over the long-term.

If you’ve been supportive of Woolly’s work in the past (or even this season), thank you for your support and for considering an additional gift at this critical time. And if you’ve never given a gift to Woolly before, please, now is the time. By helping us meet this challenge, you’ll be playing a vital role in maintaining Woolly’s long history of fiscal health and responsibility. You will enable us to continue supporting local artists and producing the most innovative new plays in America.

Thank you for your consideration.

Most Sincerely,

Howard Shalwitz
Artistic Director

&

Jeffrey Herrmann
Managing Director

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Hill Country to open this month

The new Hill Country BBQ at 410 7th Street NW is Penn Quarter is nearly set to open. Residents of the Lansburgh and Lafayette have been invited to a limited rsvp soft opening for this Wednesday and Thursday.

We first reported on Hill Country’s presentation in front of the ANC6C Alcohol Beverage Licensing committee back in April 2010. The opening of Hill Country this month is sure to set the DC blogosphere ablaze the remainder of the month as most major restaurant arrivals do. In order to stay a little ahead of the curve I offer the below review of my visit to Hill Country NYC in Chelsea last year.

The Hill Country concept is patterned after Kruez Market in Lockhart Texas. What does that mean? It signifies that the meat is prepared in the same Kruez dry rub style and smoked slow over post oak shipped in from Texas. The decor feels highly stylized with the good intention of putting off the appearance of an aged and rustic market rather than a shiny new restaurant. Tables are set with rolls of paper towels and cutlery thrown in a pickle jar. The dining arrangement is not centered around the typical restaurant table service. The waitstaff only services your table for drinks. Patrons order food at a series of service stations, watch as it is prepared, and bring it back to their tables. Actually the service model isn’t too far off  from Vapiano but you are issued an old school ticket rather than a digital-age debit card.

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Pi on Wheels

As reported by PQLiving last year, a new deep dish pizzeria called District of Pi is set to open at 910 F Street NW this Spring. While the import from St Louis will be unable to open by their original target date of 3.14.11 (pi day) they have arrived on the scene with a new food truck aptly named Pi on Wheels.

Earlier this month Pi on Wheels gave out free pizzas in Penn Quarter. The truck also did a test run this Saturday in Dupont Circle which I was able to sample. Their daily offerings include two meat and two vegetarian style 9 inch pizzas priced at $12. The signature Pi pizza is a deep dish with cornmeal crust and a sauce that I found sweeter than most. As is typical with the deep dish style the cheese is below the toppings and sauce.

Like any DC Food truck you can find the daily location of Pi on Wheels via Twitter (@PiTruckDC). Today the truck will be in Chinatown. As for when that brick and mortar restaurant will open? The guys in the truck told me likely in mid-May.

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Redline

The new sports bar/lounge Redline has been open for a few weeks at 707 G Street NW. The venue features over 33 plasma screen TVs, a 22 foot sports ticker, two popular Vegas-style “sportsbook” electronic boards and booths with self-serve beer taps.

Celebs Gabrielle Union and Hill Harper were both at Redline last Friday night when Usher was performining across the street at the Verizon Center. What’s the verdict on Redline so far from the locals?

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