Hill Rag

November 2012

Print PDF

November 1, 2011

By Sharon Bosworth

Second Floor Super Stars

On Barracks Row our flourishing first floor businesses get the lion's share of attention. Neighbors from miles around are fascinated by the ten-year metamorphosis of 8th Street, SE, lead by Barracks Row Main Street. Where once the street was empty at 8 p.m., today our sidewalks are full each evening as families and couples stroll along under our elm canopy, shopping, people-watching, listening to band music drifting from Marine Barracks Washington either before or after enjoying dinner or dessert. Our corridor has quietly emerged as Capitol Hill’s premiere “restaurant row.” It’s only here, where without reservations, you can be assured that even on the busiest nights, one of our excellent eateries will have a table for you.

But only 12 feet up, above the first floor fray, another world exists. Often the unifying principle driving these second floor operations may be a non-profit cause. Surprisingly, peace, love and serenity are also part of many of their fundamental business models.

Granted, the thought of spirituality on Barracks Row may seem a little unlikely. Other than the old Meader Theater building, 535 8th Street, SE, which became a church years ago and is now about to become a “theater- church” thanks to new owners, National Community Church, our corridor is known for commerce. True, the Cava Mezze T shirts say, "The crazy feta made me do it," but other than drifting blissfully through an afternoon of bottomless mimosas now and then, most visitors to the row are all about the here and now, except for a group of 2nd floor business owners like Sifu Larry Hawkins and his followers.

Yin and Yang Above 8th St. SE

Sifu Hawkins discovered the yin and yang of existence back in the mid 1970's and he brings his school of inner peace, Wu Style Tai Chi Chunan Academy, to us in a second floor suite at 534 8th Street, SE.  His path is not meditative, but rather a way of life based on Tai Chi, the mind-body connection. Generations of Chinese have dedicated themselves to developing these practices which lead to being centered, joyful and naturally relaxed.

According to Sifu Hawkins it takes about six months to learn the basics and another six months to smooth out your style. The development of schools like this one goes back over 500 years and all originated in China. Yet, when Hawkins came upon Tai Chi he was living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, working for the local power company and looking for a deeper meaning to life. After years of dedication to these principles plus study under two masters in the United States and Canada, he is now an advanced instructor himself, converting negative energy into positive force. “The more tension you lose the more calmness you gain,” observed the Sifu.

I watched as he took six adults through the Thursday beginners-intermediate class that starts at 6:30 p.m. I felt calmed just observing pairs practicing their moves. There was mix of age, sex, race and level of accomplishment in the class. With soft, tonal Asian music in the background, it seemed downright otherworldly with a dash of adventure when big wooden swords were added to the exercises. Tai Chi has a reputation of being anchored in self-defense, but in this class only the wooden swords suggested the martial arts. There was a clear spirit of acceptance. Nobody was trying to beat the other guy--it was all about personal centering and perfecting the exercises.

Promotions for Peace and Wellness

Sifu Hawkins likes to keeps things serene and pure but some of his students think he should overcome his mellowness and let the world in on his secret to inner peace. After seven years on the row, he is following their advice and running a special. If you mention this article and sign up for the basic, six month beginner’s package, you will get a substantial discount on his classes. Call 202-546-0665 to learn more.

Unike Sifu Hawkins who is new to promotions, Meka Mathis, owner of Skin Beauty Lounge at 404 ½ 8th Street, SE, Suite 200, has been offering monthly promotions on her signature Swedish massage since the business began in 2004. Mathis’ products, both facials and massage, are all about soothing relaxation, but with her high-energy flair none other than In Style magazine has discovered her.

In October 2011, Skin Beauty was listed in the coveted In Style Black Book, meaning her operation is one of the best spas in the country. Here’s how Meka sums it up: “I am so excited to be on Barracks Row, especially in the first block at the Metro Plaza; business is booming!” When we spoke in October during the mad rush of business brought on by the In Style listing, Meka’s plans on November promotions were not yet final. But, not missing a beat, she immediately offered all Hill Rag readers 25% off any full price service in November!

Volunteer With Your Dog

In the land where water bowls for dogs at the front door are standard for a successful restaurant, it should come as no surprise that another second floor super star operation just-moved to the row is People Animals Love or PAL, located at 731 8th Street, SE, Suite 301.  A local non-profit that recruits and certifies friendly dogs and their owners to visit mentally and physically sick patients, PAL is dedicated to the proposition that as much as animals need people, people need animals.

PAL's posters on 8th Street say it all "You Know Your Dog Rocks, Now You Can Prove it! Volunteer With Your Dog.”  But, as charming as our area is, why locate this non-profit here? Program and Communications Officer, Laurel Edwards, explains: "Barracks Row is a high traffic area, with many dogs that would be perfect for our pet visit program. Having PAL headquarters here is really going to help us visit a greater number of people and involve more dogs"

To volunteer for one of the many opportunities to visit either adults or kids at area hospitals or nursing homes contact Edwards at 202-966 2171. Volunteers and their dogs are always needed to provide that inter species bond, one of the magical connections that make all of us happier human beings.

We find on our second floors architects, designers of both websites and kitchens, a psychic and an artistic tattoo parlor. With a growing number of residential tenants, a quieter, more contemplative side of life is emerging. Next time you’re on Barracks Row, relax, breathe deeply, look up and discover the treasures hidden above you.

October 2011

Print PDF

Barracks Row Fall Festival Recap

Festivals and fairs crowd the metro area calendar as summer fades into fall. Every neighborhood loves to celebrate this time of year in that delicious four-week moment between the extremes of heat and cold. But, among all the area attractions Barracks Row Fall Festival on Capitol Hill remains a stand out among worthy competitors, a completely authentic snapshot of an historic neighborhood brought back from the brink.

Our Fall Festival is a unique present-tense, 2 block long happening –a sample of the personality and physical reality of our home town commercial hub.  Every day both residents and employees living or working nearby meet, shop, run errands, celebrate a birthday and grab lunch, exactly as DC’s original urban planner, Pierre L’Enfant, intended us to.

Focus on the larger six block long corridor, now known as Barracks Row, and you’ll discover a multicultural group of entrepreneurs and their staffs s traveling to 8th Street, SE every day for jobs as architects, consultants, realtors, insurance agents, dentists and chefs.  We are home to not one but two active military barracks. Beginning in 1798 America’s founding fathers sited facilities for both the United States Marine Corps and the United States Navy on 8th Street, SE. To this day men and women of the military, some dressed in fabulous medaled uniforms, some in everyday camouflage, mix and mingle with all the rest of us as we make our way up and down 8th Street conducting the business of life.

Barracks Row Fall Festival reflects this diversity. It’s the one day in the year we come together, hold up a mirror to ourselves and enjoy and marvel at the reflection. Whether it’s the Home of the Commandant’s, open for tours during the festival or our 8th Street psychic, ready to reveal your future, we have something for everyone at the festival. Here’s a photographic rundown of the cast of characters found along the midway on Saturday, September 24, 2011, starting with Chesty the Marine Corps bull dog mascot who found the heat a bit much and had to lie down for a while.

Hard not to notice the aerialists wrapped in yards of “Silks” as they hold poses twenty feet above the asphalt, silhouetted against the elm trees. They train at Trapeze School New York, located right off of 4th and M Street, SE and walk over to 8th Street every day for lunch.
The Model T Ford and antique truck (where you could have your picture taken) are owned by Capitol Hill Village, the local nonprofit committed to aging in place. Their headquarters is on 7th near E Street, right around the corner from Barracks Row.

How about that giant papier-mache head? The mask and man-behind- the-mask, who greeted fair-goers represent the artists at The Fridge, a gallery and performance space located in the alley right behind Shakespeare Theatre Administration, 516 8th Street, SE.  This classic Second Empire building forms the centerpiece of 8th Street architecture.  At the festival sword fights were performed by Shakespeare Theatre’s actors right in front of the stage- hopefully not causing any long term distress to the under 5 year old set who seemed to think it was very much for real.
We have to admit the petting zoo is not local, but the crowd of children and parents enjoying the zoo live right around us. The zoo is a yearly ritual, an integral part of every single Fall Festival from the very beginning in 2003. Here we see a baby boy learning the word “pig.”
We had a new attraction this year, United Social Sports, a nonprofit organization which runs local bocce, shuffleboard, corn hole, and ladder golf leagues. They set up their games opposite The Ugly Mug and Molly Malone’s and they were busy all day long.  Want to join up? This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Not only does the United States Marine Corps help support our festival by sending Marines volunteers to help us to set up and break down the fair, but Marine Barracks Washington also plays host to the Military Chef’s Cook Off.  Each year, in cook tents pitched on 8th Street, teams of chefs compete in a black box competition as crowds watch the action. After the lightening round a winner is declared, Top Chef in the US Military. This year’s trophy went to a last minute throw together joint services team of Three Gunnies and a Specialist from the United States Army and the United States Marine Corps. The main entrée of their spectacular menu was Pear Glazed Duck Roulande served with Pistachio and Rosemary Crusted Lamb.

The stage at the corner of 8th and G Street was center of action. We began with rock band The West End then, after opening ceremonies including patriotic tunes by the Marine Corps Brass Quintet, we showcased singers from Saint Marks Players, witnessed a rousing Zumba performance,  met the DC Roller Girls,  and by early afternoon, we enjoyed the smooth Big Band sound of the Blue Sky 5.  Staying in that mid- century moment we then had a visit by the Georgetown Chimes, an all male a capella group who sang old favorites from the 50’s and 60’s. A special new treat: the Georgetown Chimes then left the stage and serenaded the crowds at our many sidewalk cafes.
Other good ideas from Festival also continue on- Signature Sponsor CSX was planting daffodil bulbs in cups all day long at their tent.  We will need volunteers to help plant these in the ground in late October! Watch www.barracksrow.org for more information.

For a complete scrapbook of images of this year’s Fall Festival on Capitol Hill see www.barracksrow.org.

September 2011

Print PDF

October 1, 2011

By Sharon Bosworth

President Obama’s Visit

Barracks Row Fall Festival Set For September 24

It’s easy to forget fiery August days once near perfect September weather begins. At Barracks Row Main Street we’re focused on September 24 when we host Barracks Row Fall Festival on Capitol Hill. But before we tear out the August calendar page, go back to the week of August 8th when our corridor played host to two distinguished visitors. Monday, August 8, Mayor Vincent Gray proclaimed August Sidewalk Café Month at a ceremony and tour beginning at The Chesapeake Room, 501 8th Street, SE.  Then, later that week on, August 10, an unexpected scene unfolded on Barracks Row which many vacationing residents missed.

Police taped off 8th Street, SE, between E and G Streets: no vehicular allowed and west side pedestrian traffic was detoured. Crowds began forming. Hill natives able to read subtle signals interpreted the situation: a visitor from the White House would arrive soon.  But, which visitor? Vice President Biden? The First Lady? The President, himself?

Black SUV’s with tinted windows arrived, taking up positions behind police tape. Men-in-black sharpshooters were positioned on the roof of Ted’s Bulletin, 505 8th Street, SE. Motorcycle police roared in blocking off E Street between 7th and 8th Street, SE.  A black van pulled up: out erupted reporters and cameramen heading for Ted’s Bulletin.

Around noon, two limousines with sirened motorcycle escorts turned on to Barracks Row, the doors emblazoned with the Presidential Seal.  Although the windows were tinted, there in the back seat of the second limo was President Obama waving at us! Huge cheers rose up as the limos quickly turned down 7th Street, then up the alley behind Ted’s Bulletin. Tents erected at Ted’s back door provided cover and President Obama went inside for lunch. For details on the presidential luncheon see Celeste McCall’s coverage in this issue.
Barracks Row Fall Festival on Capitol Hill: Saturday, September 24
Everyone, including the Obama family, has now returned to Washington.  Labor Day celebrations ring out summer and ring in fall.  As you make autumn plans, circle September 24th, the first Saturday in fall, the 10th Anniversary of Barracks Row Fall Festival on Capitol Hill.  Festival favorites from past years will return and new activities are planned. The petting zoo is back; city kids can once again meet real farm animals, right on 8th Street, SE. This year an expanded section of the festival is devoted to kids’ activities. At National Community Church, 535 8th Street, SE, vintage Mickey Mouse cartoons will run for parents and kids who need a quick break before going back for more face painting, henna tattoo, sno-cone, cotton candy, juggler and clown action. But before you duck into the movies, take in the live sword fight scenes up the block compliments of William Shakespeare and actors from The Shakespeare Theatre, 516 8th Street.

Knife skills will be on view at The Military Chef’s Competition which takes place every year at the festival. The Chef’s Cook-Off, conducted in tents set up at the gates to Marine Barracks Washington, begins at 7am, hours before the festival officially begins.  Each branch of the service, plus the White House, sends chef teams to compete in a black box competition. The lightening round begins mid afternoon; the winners takes home the trophy as Top Chefs in the United States Military

The Redskins cheerleaders are returning, too. At Barracks Row Fall Festival fans can meet the glamour side of the NFL, and watch pro football style cheering routines.  Today’s cheerleaders are the newest members of the longest running professional National Football League cheerleading organization founded in 1962 as the Redskinettes. The cheerleaders will be their booth on the midway where you can speak with them and get autographs.
Full Support from the United States Marine Corps
Our United States Marine Corps neighbors once again have offered full support for the Barracks Row Fall Festival with Marine Corps volunteers helping with set up and tear down. During the festival Commandant and Mrs. James Amos are inviting us in: the newly renovated Home of the Commandants is open for hourly docent-led tours. Colonel Paul Montanus, Commander of Marine Barracks Washington will open the 2011 festival along with Tip Tipton, president of Barracks Row Main Street. The Washington National’s Presidential Bobble Heads, George and Tom will join us, too, before they leave for National’s ball park to root for the home team at the afternoon game against the Atlanta Braves, the last home game of the season. Buy game tickets at our Barracks Row Main Street booth.

The renowned Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon is scheduled to perform later in the afternoon. With no audible cues, these Marines synchronize split second rifle and drill maneuvers. Every year the SDP is a show stopper. Fair- goers watch spell bound as the team executes air-borne bayoneted-rifle flourishes. The festival goes quiet for one instant at the close of the breathtaking, close range performance, then bursts into applause as the platoon quietly marches in perfect step up G Street, vanishing into the base.

Ever wondered what goes on behind the brick walls of the base? Find out. Marine Barracks Washington is open for docent-led tours. Chesty, the Marine Corps Bulldog mascot will be taking walks down the midway, wearing his one-of-a-kind uniform giving anyone wanting pictures with Chesty, a perfect photo op.

Live Big Band and DC Roller Girls
New activities this year include Swing dancing on the midway. Live Big Band music begins on stage in early afternoon. Dance instructors will be on hand to coach those of us who weren’t around to learn Swing back in the day. Find a partner and give it a try with the intersection of 8th and G Street as your dance floor. Then grab a seat at nearby restaurant patio: you’ll have great views of the dancing from Lavagna Italian Cuisine, 539 8th Street, SE, and Molly Malone’s, 713 8th Street, SE.

Back for their second year with the Fall Festival, The Trapeze School of New York will perform their Silks routines on an apparatus set up near Nooshi Sushi and Tash, (opening soon) at 524 8th Street. This act was created by the acrobatic troupe of TSNY.  Twelve to twenty five feet in the air, they hold stunning formations, involving one, two or three performers supported by flowing bands of silk- like fabric. The patios of Cava Mezze, 527 8th Street, SE, Matchbox, 521 8th Street, SE, Las Placitas, 517, 8th Street SE,provide ring side seats for this all day show.  For more drama, catch the Mussel Throwdown at Belga Café, 514 8th Street, SE.  Belga’s patio will be extended, an ideal spot to watch the Silks aerial act while determining the tastiest mussels from local DC’s chefs.

Back on the surface of 8th Street, you’ll meet a group of dazzling newcomers who make cement sing: The DC Roller Girls. At their first ever visit to our Fall Festival they will be showing off their skating prowess along 8th Street from 12 noon until 5 p.m. We hear the Roller Girls may challenge the Marines from the Pull-Up Booth to an arm wrestling contest, but that’s only a rumor.  Just remember, whoever wins, what goes on at the festival, stays at the festival!

For timeline of Barracks Row Fall Festival events go to www.barracksrow.org.

August 1, 2011

Print PDF

August 1, 2011

By Sharon Bosworth

Summer of 2011: Barracks Row’s Transformation Heats Up

As August 2011 arrives, Eighth Street, SE, continues its phenomenal trajectory.  Once a blighted urban shopping strip off of Pennsylvania Avenue, today Eighth Street/Barracks Row is Capitol Hill’s go-to hot spot for ages three and up.  Amusements for kids can be found at our two play spaces: the brand new Be With Me Playseum, 545 8th Street, SE, (202-543-0051), as well as neighborhood favorite, The Family Room, 411 8th Street SE (202-640-1865). For those old enough to go out without being accompanied by parents, our street is a “United Nations” of restaurants with something for everyone, especially lunch or dinner. From gourmet hot dogs to authentic Belgian waffles to a wide selection of fresh oysters to hand-made pasta to breakfast twenty four hours a day, visit Barracks Row any day or evening without reservations and you are guaranteed a culinary adventure.

Interstate 295 Overpass Gets New Look

At the south end of Eighth Street, SE an infrastructure transformation has begun. After many years in the permitting phase, Barracks Row Main Street’s long awaited mural designed by CityArt’s Byron Peck is now being installed on the east side of the tunnel under Interstate 295.  Already a coat of sunny yellow paint has been applied to the tunnel walls. Visible from blocks away at Pennsylvania Avenue, the north face of the freeway overpass is now painted in shades of deep rust red and warm tan. By Saturday, September 24, this year’s annual Barracks Row Fall Festival, the earliest mural images may be visible to fairgoers for close up inspection. Watch for spring 2012 completion of the mural.

Also, familiar green signs, featuring the internationally recognized giant “P” for parking will soon be installed by the DC Department of Transportation at the under-the- freeway parking lot as well as along 8th Street north and south of the lot, alerting drivers to the presence of the parking lot ahead. DDOT has posted the lowest meter rates in DC at the lot: seventy five cents per hour for two hours from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.  After 6:30 p.m. rates are the same but 3 hour parking is available. Parking is free on Sunday.

Barracks Row’s Video Stores’ Technicolor Past

Eighth Street’s transformation seems even more dramatic this summer because we bid goodbye to two iconic video stores, now overcome by competition from Netflix and on-line options. In recent years, the most prominent video store on the row was Blockbuster at 410 Eighth Street, SE.  As soon as Blockbuster closed last month we began to watch closely for hints of their replacement.  As we go to print, owners of the building will neither confirm nor deny rumors that a national menswear retailer has leased the space.

One day recently on our daily walk to view the demolition in progress inside at 410 Eighth Street, SE we were amazed to see that while dismantling the huge blue and yellow Blockbuster sign, a remnant of an old entrepreneurial saga reappeared. The Erol’s Video Club sign which was encased for years inside the Blockbuster sign is now visible.  Newcomers like me don’t remember Erol’s but Erol’s is a local legend, a great bit of lore I may have missed out on if the sign had not been uncovered. Like so many success stories, Erol’s Video Club began with an immigrant and a good idea.

Erol Onaran was born in Hungary in 1934 and moved to Turkey with his parents where he studied electronics. He immigrated to the DC, found work repairing radios and TV’s and soon started his own business, an electronics sales, repair and video rental shop in Virginia.  After his son joined him they grew Erol’s Video Club into the largest independent electronics and video rental chain nationwide, eventually selling to Blockbuster. Using the 30+ million dollars from the sale of Erol’s, in 1990 the Onarans started up a computer sales and repair business. They paused on their way to an IPO, reconsidered going public, and eventually sold to a competitor.  Erol Onaran retired to Turkey, an American success story.

Erol’s competitor on 8th Street was Capitol Hill Video Sales at 515 8th Street SE, an entirely different operation but not a bit less colorful.  Apparently the owners of this single-site operation had to search hard for a niche in order to survive in the shadow of Erol’s- Blockbuster. They found it in adult entertainment.  Upon entering the store customers saw a small scale video rental shop with all the usual titles. But, as one of their former employees recently noted, behind the double doors to the back of the store was “another world.”  The building that housed Capitol Hill Video Sales mimics this split personality. It was once a car dealership, with a showy sedan often parked on the roof to lure in riders of the Eighth Street streetcars. Then the building was divided in half with space for two businesses at one address. Today, the side that once housed Capitol Video Sales is now being converted into a restaurant, with a roof top patio planned for the spot where cars once perched.

From Sedans to Swordfish Tapas on the Roof

According to Xavier Cervera, the Capitol Hill restaurateur spearheading the project, the new restaurant will be named Pacifico with a menu reflecting the many Latin American countries on the Pacific Ocean.  Cervera and his design firm, ODC Studio, released a sketch of an early concept for the restaurant which is expected to open in early 2012. The roof top patio will be positioned above both Pacifico and next door neighbor, Belga Café.  Both restaurants share the 515 8th Street, SE, address which may make for some real GPS merriment in the future.

Back on the first block of Eighth Street, directly across the street from the former Blockbuster store,  513 Eighth Street, SE, will soon be home to Chipolte, opening in yet another split address building. The new owners of the building cannot give us a precise opening date for Chipolte, which is still in the permitting phase, but we do know that Dollar Express + Continental now at that address, will be closing in August.  Somehow this building was divided and a new address to the south, 515 Eighth Street, SE was created years ago. Presently 515 Eight Street is home to China Wall.

At this year’s Barracks Row Fall Festival the most amazing act will be the street itself. Every block of 8th Street is changing with new businesses opening each month.  Loyal fans of the Fall Festival who return year after year to see the Military Chef’s Cook-Off or watch the performance of the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon will be astonished and, no doubt, as pleased as we are with their new options as our historic corridor marches on into its best-yet third century of operation.

District of Columbia Main Streets DC Department of Small and Local Business Development

Barracks Row Main Street is a designated DC Main Streets commercial district.  Barracks Row Main Street is funded in part by the Department of Small and Local Business Development.