Mayorga Lounge Closes Its Doors

DSCN2292, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

Thanks to a reader for tipping me off to the sign. I went to check it out and was able to speak with the owner, Mark. And he confirms it – as of today Mayorga Lounge is no more. Mayorga of course was located at 14th and Park in the Tivoli complex in Columbia Heights. So this is what Mark tells me the future of the space will be: A Sushi restaurant. The new name effective as of today is “Asian Bistro”. He expects the remodeling downstairs to be completed in the next two weeks if all goes well with DCRA. It is actually a bit sad as Mark explained to me how difficult financially this has been.  Coffee just wasn’t cutting it so he’s going to give a go with “Asian Bistro”. For the moment the upstairs restaurant is still open and serving it’s new Korean menu. It wasn’t 100% clear if the whole restaurant will be sushi or just the downstairs. But the space will be more integrated. I certainly wish them the best of luck. And hey, Sushi could be cool, yeah?

63 Comment

  • Thanks for investigating this story so quickly and thoroughly, PoP! Interesting development, and sad. For one, a sushi restaurant is planned in the Highland Park building, right? That doesn’t bide well, though if Mayorga is a little cheaper and more casual, it might do well.
    Also, my wife is very sad that her knitting group will have to move. This was the official Columbia Heights knitting group, they met there every Saturday from 2-5, and where else can they meet with such a great space and tasty coffee drinks? Hmm.

  • I can’t imagine how these places can survive after paying rent. It takes a spirited and very talented (or naive?) soul, plus a generous following. I am a big fan of Yoga House – but it must be charity on the part of Ms. House when I do the math of rent/paying customers per day. A restaurant, with food/spoilage/staff – we are lucky to have so many people willing to take a chance on us. I brushed shoulders with a wealthy developer who went in on a cool restaurant in Georgetown and his one sentence statement: That was the quickest $100,000 I ever lost.

  • Ill be the dick who says it ” I cant believe the idea of a coffee house, korean restaurant, dj night dance club didn’t take off”

  • Mr. T…I am pretty sure there is a sushi joint being built in the Highland Park building. I don’t think sushi is a type of food you want to and sell on a whim, if that is the case. I think there would be a better shot of surviving if was strictly an Asian/Chinese restaurant, there isn’t a decent one of those in the area if I’m not mistaken.

    You may be a dick anonymous, but you are right on spot! Best of luck to the reincarnation…

  • His first failure was having a coffee shop that size. Mayorga’s space is biggest enough for 5 coffee shops. He was stuck trying to pay the rent for a grossly oversized place. Revenue per sq. ft. was probably close to zero. Yet, his rent per sq. ft was likely $20-40.

    My guess is that in the long run, we are going to see some of these commercial spaces chopped in half. They are too simply too large for the businesses to thrive. Very few locally owned non chain restaurants have the wherewithal to manage/afford a space that size.

  • Coffee was just too competitive with CH Coffee, Starbucks (x2), sticky fingers, dunkin donuts all in fairly close proximity. Right now, there is no sushi option. It is going to be awhile before the new place opens. And affordable, quick, good sushi will always be popular.

    Were I them, I would focus on doing two things, and ONLY two things, very, very well: get a damn good sushi chef, get very good fish, and make a small menu of outstanding sushi, and then in the kitchen switch to Chinese. Korean is just not that popular and there is very little demand for it. Chinese food, on the other hand, is enormously popular and there is no good chinese anywhere in the area (or for that matter, anywhere in DC). If he can find a good, AUTHENTIC style Chinese chef, someone who really knows how to make non horrifically americanized chinese, and make, again a SMALL menu of authentic, good, quick chinese food, he will do a gangbusters business. Keep it simple, keep it to items that are in demand, and most of all, make it high quality, and it will do well. What he cannot do is follow the Asia 9 model downtown — they make everything under the sun, and it is all horribly poor quality. rather a place like king fung garden in Boston, one of my faves there — tiny space, but they made authentic food off a reasonably sized menu and were always packed.

  • Maybe they could turn it into something like a Chuck E Cheese. That place is already like a maze (The upstairs just keeps on going and opening up into new rooms and hallways). Pull out the bar upstairs, put in a ball pit?

  • Commercial Rents are starting to fall. I recently heard that the owner of the space being renovated on the corner of 14th and U had to drop his asking rent from $60 to $40 psf. That is a pretty huge drop, on top of the fact that rents are usually the last thing a developer wants to cut…they’d give a build-out allowance any day before cutting rents. I agree with nate that spaces will shrink, but it looks like the developers are starting to feel the pinch too.

  • A few other suggestions, just in case he’s reading … get rid of the shaded in windows downstairs, makes the place feel less accessible .. and get rid of the hideous downstairs bar they put in. Also, I hope Asian Bistro is not the final name … something a little snazzier would be good. But really, it all comes down to HIGH quality food at an affordable price. If you cook it, we will come …

  • Ha! They don’t do well because there is a Starbucks down the street, so the response is opening a sushi restaurant even thought two such restaurants (if you count the supposed sushi version of panda express in DCUSA, plus some damn good sushi at Adams Express a few blocks away) are slated to open down the street? When that fails are they going to open up a Vegan bakery? Perhaps a burger and fries place or maybe a gastropub? Original stuff!

    Quite honestly, I’m not sure its the Starbucks that doomed them. My experiences there were never consistently pleasant, or consistent in anything for that matter (Korean, coffee, nightclub, bar?). I wish them luck, but Starbucks is clearly a straw man here.

  • I definitely support the call for good Chinese food. I limit sushi in-take to Sushi-Ko and Sushi Taro. You know, high-quality Japanese chefs, an embassy following, and very high turnover. We traipsed up to Silver Spring last weekend to try their reknowned dim sum place, and it was packed. I understand they also have good, standard Chinese dishes. Perhaps they would like to partner? In San Franciso, one branch (of two) of the successful Taiwan restaurant had to close several years ago. Perhaps they have a chef who would be interested in coming east? We must also have some New York connections.

  • I think the layout of the space kills it. I’ve gone in a couple times and it seemed like a maze of hallways without any real rooms, and you could really tell if different seating areas where ‘open’ or not. Despite being very interested when it opened, I went in twice, looked around without buying anything, and never came back.

  • So POP, is there anyway to communicate to the owner (assuming you are in touch) the desire for Chinese? Again, as others have said, sushi is great but there will soon be competition. There is NO good Chinese option in the area: Panda is icky fast food, and that is an improvement over the horrific purported Chinese options currently in the neighborhood. there isn’t even good chinese that delivers. I like the partnering idea. Maybe he could partner with one of the Chinese chefs up in the burbs like Rockville, etc., the places that are supposed to be so good (I’ve never been but heard only good things about places like Bob’s …). I’m telling you, if he has high quality sushi and high quality authentic chinese, and working on the marketing, lay-out (little touches can make it feel more coheretn, doesn’t need a dramatic re-do there), and cleanliness issues, there is ZERO doubt in my mind this place can succeed.

  • My biggest problem with Mayorga was always that the damn barstools are too low for the bar! It’s just not comfortable, you feel like you want to stand up all the time since the bar is at chest height while sitting down. That could be easily fixed.

    I tried the new Korean menu the other day. It was pretty good, though it could be spiced up a little bit. I mean with some spices, not variety, the food was just a tad bland.

    I don’t know why people have a problem with the space itself, I think it’s pretty interesting and cozy. I’ve been there for drinks and light eating on a number of occasions over the last 6 months and always found the service good and the atmosphere pleasant.

  • I agree with the comment about the place feeling inaccessible. Choosing the correct door that will open was always a challenge, and without any natural light coming into the place – and not being able to see outside – definately gave it a lower grade. It is a great space, though, if setup right.

    I’d like to see a good, clean, independent diner come into ColHts. I feel like all this area gets is cheep fast food, and expensive pretentious restaurants. We need a few places with that happy medium….

  • The people of the gamenight we have there love the bimbibop, so maybe Korean isn’t a bad choice after all. If there was to be a partnering with a joint in the ‘burbs of Rockville, I’d cast my vote for Vegetable Garden.

  • Speaking of renovations, wasn’t there some talk on this blog awhile back of Redrocks sprucing up its exterior a little bit? Did that just consist of the wooded siding to the outdoor freezer, or is there more to come?

  • New2CH – What Full Yum isn’t authentic enough for you. Jessh. I would agree with those who commented about the layout. It was just plain bizare! Sushi would be good, but does it mix well with Chinese? If they go Sushi, wouldn’t Japanese make more sense? The best Sushi places I have been to seem to focus just on Sushi. Can they make it doing just that?

  • Mayorga started to go downhill when they started hosting $100 minimum tables on weekend nights. What kind of person patronizes such an event? I stopped going there entirely when they started closing at 4:00 in the afternoon for the restaurant business. I often want a cup of coffee and a quick relaxing read on the way home, but they no longer provided that option. And I eat sushi on average maybe once a year.

    Meanwhile, where besides Starbucks is there a good place to get coffee in the new Columbia Heights?

  • (Just) sushi does indeed sound a bit risky, unless they focus on the happy middle ground between what Panda Expresss and the “higher-end-sit-down-place” that is coming will do. I guess that would also still mean selling a lot to go, but prepared on the spot.

    The space is not easy – actually, its down right impossible. I frankly think its probably not good for ANY food focused place. Too dark, too complicated, and the tilted floor in the corner does not help (although would hate to see it go as its original). That leaves you with some bar/loungy kind of thing – but even such a place is predicated on the notion of “hey look, I have a laptop, I am a freelance hippi-dippy-super-cool guy in a track suit 7 days a week” (errr.. Tryst comes to mind).

    Ok, what a rambling post… I guess the bottom line: best of luck..

  • Upps.. add “..people being able to make sure they are seen by everyone in that place at all times.”

  • My wife and I went into Mayorga a few times right after it opened, and after the set up the bar area upstairs – when it was more a casual bar than a nightclub. We met who I think was Mark (the owner), and talked to him on a few occasions. If I remember correctly, he came across the Mayorga franchise opportunity, and the company ended up sort of pushing him towards that space because of the corner location, and no thought was ever really given to whether the space would lend itself to a coffee shop.

    The downstairs was great for a coffee shop, but as several people here have mentioned, he was likely paying significant per sq foot rents for the upstairs as well, and as it evolved from part of the coffee shop, to a bar, to a club, to Korean BBQ up there, it was clear that he was searching for the right thing to make it work.

    I’ll steer clear of the sushi v. chinese debate, but say that I hope something can work in that space because, first, Mark seemed like a nice guy who really wanted to bring something worthwhile to the neighborhood, and, second, because that is such a great space.

  • Oh man! This sucks. Especially if the bar upstairs will be gone! Unless they bring back cheaper happy hour specials. Give me cheap beer, or give me death! (Or maybe just some half price apps.)

  • Nate could well be right that the space needs to be split into two – Mark might have been able to make it work as basically a tiny carry out corner coffee and sandwich shop only – the rest of the space became the killer.

  • You mean no more Mayorga coffee? This is so sad. I though finally a good coffee shop that sells quality coffee, but now to succumb to Starbucks? Is the only good coffee shop left now the one on 11th and Park? I think it is a sad day for Columbia Heights and coffee drinkers who can tell good coffee from chain coffee shops!

  • Ack! I totally have been meaning to check this place out and was planning to do so soon. This sort of thing always happens to me; I chose the week Sparky’s closed last year to head over, only to be greeted by a note on the door that the place had shuttered.

    Maybe these local coffee shops would be more successful if they started baking birthday cakes for their customers, like Red Derby apparently does:

  • Some additional information to note–the Carvel/Cinnabon store will start selling Mayorga coffee and breakfast/lunch items, in case there are any fans of the coffee around. Since there are serious financial issues, I’m guessing Mayorga’s owners will get evicted before “Asian Bistro” has a chance to get off the ground, especially with Saki opening up.

    With exactly zero previous restaurant experience, and high rent, those guys were doomed from the start, and it didn’t help that they did more drinking than working (it’s not cute to get drunk and hit on all your female customers–I saw that happen more than once).

    Patronizing that business was like having a lousy boyfriend who didn’t know what he wanted from the relationship.

  • I’m gonna second the comment that the name “Asian Bistro” sucks. I think if you hired a team of marketing consultants and asked them to come up with the most boring name possible, that would be it. Please, if you’re reading this, reconsider.

  • I just read on CHNews forum that Carvel is closing — so does this mean only closing temporarily? Were you joking about Carvel / Mayorga, or is that serious, could not tell? The good news for Asia Bistro or whatever it will be called is that Saki Club hasn’t even started construction yet, so it will be many months before that is opening up …

  • I would like to see it turned into a roller rink.

  • New2CH–I was being serious. I talked to the owner of Carvel yesterday and he told me that he would start partnering with Mark and Jae on the coffee, at least temporarily. If you walk by the Carvel store and peek in, you can see the bags of coffee. I also recall him saying that at least one of the Mayorga baristas will be working over there, too. The Carvel store had to be closed for a few days to do some rewiring and get the place prepped for the coffee and food items. Now, if it doesn’t work out, Carvel will be closing it’s doors soon, too.

  • 4 words…

    Columbia Heights Coffee rules. Walk to 11th st. between Park and Monroe and try it. They are the nicest and their coffee has kick. No velvet ropes and bouncers, empty pastry cases, bizarre seating areas, or random vagrants posting up by the counter. Added bonus, it doesn’t take 15 minutes to get a tosted bagle.

    New2CH- regarding RedRocks sprucing up, the large electric sign on patio received an overhaul as well, awning over kitchen entrance is also being replaced. Also, saw they had Direct TV and all NFL games available on Sundays.

  • animal mother – perhaps PoP could have a naming contest to name the new place!

  • Anon at 10:23: Nice, but how about a combination kite store, roller rink, and tattoo parlor. Which, when you think about it, is really not much weirder than a Korean restaurant, brass rail-type bar, and coffee shop.

    Good luck with the new plan, former Mayorga.

  • How about a roller derby where the competitors are towed by kites, which are powered by a giant fan under a grate in the floor? And spectators could get tattoos while watching the spectacle. It could also be a bank, and a discount clothing store.

  • To the two anonymouses, thanks for the info! Good news on Carvel (not that I like that ice cream, but good to not see the business close and hopefully adding the coffee will help their business). And thanks for the info on Redrocks, glad to hear that awful awning is going, and I will check out the sign, I hadn’t noticed that yet. Good to hear they are (as usual) being responsive to concerns of neighbors. And sweet news on Direct TV — I may drop by to check some games. The only issue is, with only one TV, there may be quite a battle to see which team is featured :).

  • To New2CH…

    RR has another flat screen upstairs, I think they’ll show primarily the Redskins on 1st floor and they were looking for feedback on a primary team on the 2nd? Any input?? My vote was for an AFC team that has a strong following in the area (not the RAVENS).

  • New2CH–You’re welcome. Hey, I saw on the columbia heights news forum that you said you saw them do “swinger’s nights”. When was this? I was a nearly-every-day regular for a year, but maybe these occured after I finally threw in the towel a few months ago and never went back. I did get surprised by Asian go go dancers one Saturday night, and after that I decided I’d better quit going to those parties before someone got shot.

    I always felt like they never wanted the the neighborhood folks around.

  • How would folks feel about a tapas place, or the middle-eastern equivalent? Think Zaytinya, maybe a little less chi-chi?

  • re: the swingers night, all I know is (I never went) for some brief period of time they were passing out postcard advertisements for adult-themed evening events, I think on Fridays, my memory is fuzzy but it was clear to me at the time that they were advertising either a swinger or some other similar type event, at least based on how it was advertised. I was pretty surprised to say the least.

    re: Redrocks, I haven’t been upstairs, did not know that. Hope it is a nice TV. My vote on football for the second floor: NEW YORK GIANTS!!!! There are a lot of Giants fans in D.C. and so far as I know no Giants bar in N.W. … of course I am a bit biased but for any Giants game I did not attend (about 4 per year) I would happily cross the street to R.R. to watch the game and eat some pizza with other like-minded fans. Rather keep my money in the area than going to the sports bar in the Hyatt …

  • I should say, I attend 4 per year, so I’d be a regular customer for many of the other 12 plus …

    oh, and regarding middle eastern tapas, I think something of that ilk will be going into Royal Blue across the street, at least whenever it FINALLY starts its long-awaited build-out.

  • Good news on the Mayorga + Carvel combo – although it would have to be more Mayorga than Carvel to be nice, so not sure how that will work. Their space is definitely better suited for a coffee shop than the cornes space ever was.

    And on the Red Rocks football TV thing.. PLEASE show football ONLY upstairs.. I don’t want RR to turn into a sports bar on Sundays..

  • Someone mentioned developers lowering their rent to$40/sq. ft. That is still very expensive.

    Large restaurants just do not lend themselves to being run by people with little experience. Losses from bad inventory management will sink most even if the place has a buzz.

    It is no coincidence that The Heights is the only large nonchain restaurant to make it in CH. I’ll take a family atmosphere with a little bad service from Moroni’s. Not so much from The Heights. EatWellDC has a lot of experience and some buying power. They can spread costs over several restaurants. Mayorga likely could have made it in a space similar to Red Rocks. The much cheaper rent allows Red Rocks to work out the kinks on the job.

    Even starbucks is not as big as Mayorga. And they likely sell twice as much coffee as Mayorga did on a daily basis.

  • tragedy! i really liked this place, especially it’s space. although, i will say, the last time i went, with two friends, people glared at us b/c we were actually talking–not working on our laptops: EVERY OTHER table there was a single laptop user.

  • If they do sushi, I’d like a casual sushi-go-round type of place in the mayorga cafe space- there is room for it. The kind of place where you can go in dressed as you are, grab a few plates as they roll by, order a bowl of miso soup, end up with a lunch time bill of less than $10, and leave within 30 minutes. Hi customer turn over, low revenue per customer.

    But they shouldn’t do sushi at all unless the know it. People will buy what’s good, not what some marketing survey said they’d buy. So, I vote NO on the tapas idea, unless they KNOW tapas. And no Mediterranean food from a restaurant that was previously serving Korean food. I hope they stick with what they know.

  • I like the idea of having an OPEN Sushi place. The Highland restaurant is going nowhere fast. It would be really great if you could call in and get pick up. Sometimes its nice to eat sushi while curled up on the couch, and the “sushi” at Giant just doesn’t cut it.

  • Actually, a more permanent swingers oriented club could do well. Just look at how crowded the Entres Nous club at Bar Nun on U St gets.. oh come on, you’ve all been there! 😀

  • Applebee’s?

  • The Harris Teeter used to be a roller rink

  • A business plan that involves selling sushi in that grand space is destined to fail. With that square footage — and that under-used square footage of the staircase and the two-story foyer — Mayorga needs a.) more stable cash flow than they currently have, b.) regular (paying, not nursing a coffee and free internet for hours) traffic, c.) high table turnover, and d.) a more expensive menu than any other in that neighborhood. “Affordable sushi” will put them right out of business when they’re dealing with an artificially high rent for 4,000+ square feet of space.

    And the loiterers out front sure won’t attract walk-up business.

  • saf

    Man Reuben, I was JUST thinking that. And after it was a roller rink, a concert venue!

  • I’m afraid I agree with CP. The space has so much wasted (unusable) square footage that the only way to compensate is with much higher prices. But Rumberos has proved that a cool interior with high menu prices isn’t exactly a winning lottery ticket in CH. So whoever is in charge of making the Mayorga space work is going to have be enough of a genius to come up with a unique idea that brings folks in from other neighborhoods (again, agreeing with CP that the bus-stop patrons aren’t likely to pay the rent on the place) and can justify the prices they’ll have to charge to make up for all that non-income-generating space. Sadly, I am not that genius.

  • I agree with the inaccessibility comment. I didn’t realize this place was even open for at least 3 months after it opened… and I pass by there all the time! one day I just happened to be standing at the bus stop, peered in, and saw people looking out at me!

  • Maybe the rents are presently too out-of-whack for anything to really succeed, or the commercial spaces are too big; but I think that a good Thai or Indian restaurant could do pretty well in Columbia Heights.

  • Second that! Actually, that would be much nice than Chinese. Then again, the space still sucks (as nice as it is) for a sit down dining restaurant.

  • I can’t recall if it was on this thread or elsewhere, but someone commented that there is a liquor license application for the space below yoga house a block from Tivoli. I walked by, it is a tavern license request for alcohol, music, including live music, d/b/a “Dave’s Tavern.” Gevani, Inc. or something like that asking for the license. Anyone know the scoop?


  • Yeah, I don’t know about the Mayorga space, but a Thai or Indian restaurant could really fill a void. If not on 14th, maybe somewhere along 11th?

  • Entre Nous likes to market itself as a gathering of hot sexy young singles, but when you think “Swingers Club,” overweight 50 year olds in leather thongs, with a smattering of strippers/hookers is actually more like it. Not pretty.

    But I digress… for the person who asked where a good place to get a cup of coffee is, I say this reluctantly because I don’t want to stand behind internet douches while I get my cup of joe, but Sticky Fingers offers both great coffee and really yummy pastries.

    As for Mayorga, as many people noted, they never really got their act together, so I’m not surprised that they closed.

  • I too frequently saw the owner and staff drinking on the job. No experience. No clue. No plan. No business. I’ll be happy to see something better run and more profitable in the Carvel and Mayorga spaces. Both were thoroughly disappointing from the get go. Carvel’s service was shit all around and the one time I had ice cream there I had one godawful case of food poisoning. This trend for some of the less thought out businesses to close is healthy for the neighborhood. The market is shifting and unless you’ve figured out your niche and meet a demand, you won’t make it. Besides, crappy businesses do not generate jobs, they generate a depressed staff and high turnover. Out with them. The Asian Bistro will be short lived no doubt. Sadly, I still think it’s very much a matter of the layout of the space. It simply won’t work for a dining or drinking venue and I can’t think of much to replace it. The stairs alone take up WAY too much room and it has no visual flow. I might work if the ‘cafe’ are were broken off and if it were completely gutted and redesigned to make more space and remove the floor slant.

  • What about a Thai place? I can’t seem to find one in the MtP/ ColumbiaHeights/ AdMo area! If there is a good one – someone please tell me- if not lets get some tasty Thai food around here.

  • Never was a fan of Mayorga, but just gotta say that Park Road Guy’s frequent negativity about our neighborhood tells me he’s one of the ones destined for a gated community in Fairfax within 5 years (and likely came from one as well).

  • You are all wrong. It’s true Carvel is selling Mayorga coffee. However a newsstand owner has already finalized moving into that space when Carvel closes its doors in December. Now for fact 2, the owners of Cafe Asia (downtown) and Asian Bistro (silver spring) have linked up to occupy the former Mayorga space. Cafe Asia will run the sushi bar downstairs and Asian Bistro will serve the oriental cuisine upstairs. I am friends with the owner of Cafe Asia and he has confirmed that there will be no more nightclub activity. Now here is some bonus info. A well established Miami entertainment promoter (owns 8 clubs and lounges) will be taking over the Rumberos restaurant and turning it into a swank lounge. You heard it hear first.

  • Wish I could say I was suprised…I worked for the “flagship” in Silver Spring for a while back in 2005 and to call the companies operations a circus would have been nice… I can’t imagine a franchise would be that much better run.

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