Dear PoP – What Will Become of Social?

“Dear PoP,

I live right around the corner from the empty restaurant/bar Social on 14th and Meridian Pl., NW in Columbia Heights. It’s been months since it closed and I haven’t seen any changes or updates! (Aside from the smashed ceramic pots in the sidewalk patio.) There are even the same bags of trash right inside the door of the bar area that have been there since the day it closed. Have you heard anything as to whether or not it will reopen or a new business will move in it’s place? How can the owners afford to pay rent on the property and just let it sit there?”

Another reader writes:

“Social apparently owes a large number of unpaid taxes to the DC government. There’s now a lien on the liquor license, so anyone looking to open a restaurant there would have to pay the back taxes.”

When we first heard Social had abruptly closed back in Nov. ’10 I had hope that the close might only be temporary. Well clearly things are not looking good. I also have noticed that all the pots out front have been smashed in addition to garbage beginning to collect out front. I’m really saddened by the situation because I thought the owners were really nice folks who had taken a rundown building and made a pretty cool restaurant/bar out of it. I now fear that the building is going to sit vacant for a while if what the second reader writes is accurate. It’s really a shame because this corner had transformed from a rundown hole into a cool space seemingly overnight. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn back into a rundown hole before new owners can take over.

47 Comment

  • This place was a textbook example of style over substance. It’s not like I would have rather had the abandoned christian bookstore that Social replaced still here, but it didn’t make much difference to a lot of people – evidently there wasn’t a market for either. I really hope someone picks up the spot, gets the back taxes/liquor license issue sorted out, and opens a business that can actually survive here.

    • I don’t know what place you’re talking about, but Social was constantly full, especially during happy hours, Friday/Saturday nights, and Sunday brunch. Every day when I walked by there was something going on. It doesn’t seem to be a matter of “survival” because they couldn’t afford the rent. It appears to be more of a shady tax situation. Whether you think they had more style over substance is your opinion, but I seriously doubt this happened because they didn’t fulfill a need in the community. As PoP says, they transformed a rundown corner into a happening spot overnight. I hope whoever moves in there in the future draws as many people as Social did.

    • +1 to ontarioroader. It was a great atmosphere but the service was poor. Don’t get me wrong– the people were always friendly and nice. The food was *good* but nothing to return back for. I ate there 4 or 5 times and always had the same experience– nice people but an hour+ wait for food to arrive even on days when the restaurant was empty.

    • I am constantly amazed how long places in the DC stay open when they only thing they have going for them is a cool name, ambiance, the It crowd du jour willing to continue patronizing despite soso to bad service and food/beverage that are nothing to write home about. If you add on an outdoor patio with seating and all seems to be golden. Unless of course you don’t pay the city or the landlord.

  • I see sushi! and asian fushion. with beer.

  • Every time a restaurant posts something saying, “hey, we had some tax/ownership/financing issues and had to close temporarily” the closure is never temporary.

    Does anybody know of a case where everything turned out hunky-dory after that?

  • So, is a liquor license tied to a specific physical space? It seems silly to me that a new establishment in that location would have to pay the unpaid taxes incurred by the previous occupants.

    • Grumpy you are right – the liquor license is an asset. The DC Gov’t will seize it and then sell it. In neighborhoods where those are limited by statute they can be worth $500K – though I doubt the Columbia Heights market goes for that much.
      One of my favorite restaurants just closed for similar tax issues (Mendocino). If a business starts using sales taxes as a free line of credit the writing is on the wall and the business will soon fail.

    • The license is indeed tied to the physical space and it can be transferred to another party. My guess is that if the liquor license is sold the government wants to be paid it’s back taxes if the ownership of Social is going to reap $$ from the sale. Having that hanging over the transaction would likely reduce the sales price. If those back taxes are large enough that it doesn’t make financial sense then the new restaurant may be able to apply for a new license rather than buy the existing one. Choosing that path will necessitate a few months of jumping through the ANC and ABRA hoops delaying the ability of the new business to get the ball rolling.

  • can they be assessed for not keeping the outside of the property clean while they are not open?

  • What would become of the liquor liscense if a non-alcohol serving place opened up like a coffee shop lounge? And why aren’t the current owners responsible for the back-taxes? I don’t see how it’s fair for that to fall on whoever takes over…

    • Think about it like a lien. The penalty is attached to the license, so it becomes a neogiating point regarding the market value of the license in any potential sale. Not a penalty to a new owner.

  • Isn’t it about time people were allowed to purchase liquor with their cupcakes?

  • I bought 2 Groupons when offered.
    I hadn’t been there before but thought it would be a good opportunity to go (I live a few blocks away)
    So, I went there and was not too impressed. It was a weeknight and was mostly empty.
    The food was OK but silly–like most trendy places.
    I had a glimpse of the downstairs bar and thought that looked like it had possibilities (if I were in that set of people, which I am not)
    I was relieved (but not happy) when they closed because I still had a Groupon but was not anxious to return.
    By the way, Groupon is great. They refunded my money very readily.
    I would like Social to not reopen.

  • Word has it that there was a dispute between owners, and this was one of the reasons for the problems. I’ve heard many stories of the bar being great, but the food/service upstairs being a wreck. My personal experience bears that out. I think the problem is that one of the owners is the landlord. I’ve never met the guy, but I think he made some really unwise decisions. At this point, there haven’t been too many problems with them being closed other than the broken planters. If the space starts getting run down, I’ll be on the phone with the city. On the plus side, the number of rats nesting in my back yard has decreased substantially! The animal accessible dumpster behind the restaurant was a real magnet for rats…one time I saw 5 big fat rats just sitting around hanging out on top of their dumpsters.

  • I know there’s about a billion of them but I love it if Andy would open another Busboys or something just like that. He has a great business model, I know there’s a demand for spaces like that in this neighborhood and the crows he attracts do great for nearby businesses.

  • Social wasn’t a BAD place, but it wasn’t practical for that area. Overpriced food, overpriced drinks. If you’re going to be walking 7 minutes from the metro, you want to be for a good reason.

    Also, the place was really anything BUT social. It earned the nickname “anti-Social” in my house because of the lack of friendly service, and people were kind of standoffish. We went once during snOMG, looking to make some friends while escaping cabin fever, and everyone we tried to talk to looked at us like we had 5 heads.

    I’m all about local business, but this place was nothing to write home about. I wish they’d just close it and move on. I’d love to see something else in that spot that’s more practical.

    • I had a number of friendly/social experiences with the patrons, had a good rapport with the owners, bartender and one of the chefs who was only there during the first year…but I *still* had generally had crap-tastic service when I went there for dinner (with 1-2 exceptions). Super long wait for food mostly…

      Once the food quality/portions started to decline after the first year…I stopped going there to eat, and only went to visit the bartender I knew.

      Wasn’t too much longer before they closed though…

  • Couldn’t be happier that it closed.

    Went to the bar multiple times and each time the owner was there wasted trying to cause trouble with patrons.

    One time he tried to egg on a man to fight my friend (inside his own bar no less)….because my friend asked if he could grab a cigarette from the other patron…It was ridiculous.

  • The first time I went there, I was meeting a friend in the basement. I got there first and sat at one of those low coffee tables, and the place was empty except for a couple of cab drivers sitting alone at the bar, not talking to each other, who spent the next 20 minutes (friend was late) ogling me, while the bartender ignored me for about 15 minutes too long.
    Next time I was there, showed up with 3 very hungry friends, in the basement again, and service took forever again. Also, one friend got a little upset because it seemed they had forgotten to put any alcohol in her foofy cocktail.
    Last time I was there, was on the patio with friends including a baby, for the very good Sunday happy hour prices. The food was ok, but there were three middle-aged men at the table next to ours, who looked like they’d been there all afternoon and weren’t going anywhere, talking very very loudly in some language I didn’t know. So loudly that we couldn’t hear each other and were getting really uncomfortable.

    I never tried the dining room, but the three chances I gave the place were not worth it.

  • Idiots should have paid their taxes

  • As an insider, allow me to set the record straight. Taxes are not the issue. There is no lean on the liqour license. The building is vacant because the landlord wants it that way and they are solely responsible for its maintence and upkeep. The former operators of Social do not have anything to do with the physical property at 14th and Meridian and all concerns about the space need to be addressed by the landlord.

    • well, that’s ONE interesting side to the story. Sure would like to hear some of the other sides. Seems there are more than a few.

      Is it true or false, as stated in a comment above, that the landlord is/was one of the owners of the restaurant business?

  • Bear

    I went to Social for brunch a couple of times. The food wasn’t bad but the service was shameful. So, so bad. I thought they could have been a decent neighborhood place if they had worked on that aspect of things.

    Also, I’m the second reader PoP mentions above. A friend (who currently runs two successful restaurants in DC) looked into buying the space after Social closed, and they told me about the tax situation–apparently the lien is in the neighborhood of $300k. They also said that the kitchen equipment was ruined, so whoever moves into the space would have to replace that too. Of course, this is all second-hand information so I don’t know how accurate it is.

    I hope it does get sorted out at some point, because it would be a shame to see the building sit vacant.

  • Definitely a good idea, not executed well. Went there once, had the same experience as others – terrible service (long wait for our food when it was NOT busy) and mediocre food for a $35 per person bill. I vowed never to return. Not sorry it closed, but I hope something else goes in.

  • I hope we get a bar with an iota of personality, a good jukebox, live shows and hunkering burgers with onion rings. No need for pretense. We have enough in this city.

    • Nobody around here can do a hunkering burger right, like they do in NYC. And at least in NYC it’s perfectly acceptable to wear women’s jeans out in public. And ironic band t-shirts will never go out of style there.

      Sorry to go on a rant, but NYC is just better.

  • I think a Subway would do very well in this space.

  • Not only did social close unexpectedly, but they did so without paying the staff. I worked there and I have been unable to get in contact with any of the mangement. They owe everyone money. Terrible situation all around!

  • Hmmmm, this would be a great location for a Buffalo Wild Wings!

    Hmmmmm 😉

  • It would make one hell of an Arby’s for which there is significant demand specifically in the Columbia Heights neighborhood.

  • Kudos for taking a chance on an iffy location, and for doing a very nice rehab of a formerly dilapidated buildings. But alas, tax issue or no tax issue, it would not have survived because it was a HUGE space and the food was neither particularly cheap nor particularly good, certainly not enough of a draw to bring people to that location in sufficient numbers. Kind of an overambitious menu, and more focus on concept than execution. If there is really great food in that space, it will thrive, simple as that. If only Rasika had opened its new outpost there!!! OK, that is a pipe dream, but a tremendous Italian, Indian, or Sushi place would all do fabulously in that space.

    • It’s not the nicest part of Columbia Heights, so maybe it deserves a restaurant better suited to the cornucopia of residents in that area. Maybe a menu that is slightly less ambitious. Get the basics right first.

  • I had high hopes and am appreciative for how they improved the property. That said, the food was bland, the service spotty, the turnover low, and the seats in the dining room few. No suprise it went under. Too bad about the bar though. Looking forward to someone else giving it a shot in that space. Hope they take note of why Social flopped. Now if Palena could open another cafe and put it here…

    • It’ll be a long while before a restaurant of Palena’s caliber arrives in Columbia Heights. Enjoy Pho 14 when you want to stay in the hood, and take the trip when you want to indulge.

  • No one got their last paycheck, and hardly ever got paid for private events. SOCIAL WAS A SCAM.

  • No surprise that the restaurant didn’t survive – I could never figure out what they were trying to market themselves as! Bar? Restaurant? Lounge with couches?

    Even though the property was slightly north of the retail jungle, it was slightly outside the comfort zone for the Heights and Commonwealth (oops, closing) crowd. Not sure what will be successful in that location, but sending positive thought that hopefully a restaurant or bar group can make it successful!

  • Social seemed to me like it was a smash hit overnight, despite the “micro-dining” menu (small portions for fairly high prices). I was amazed by how many people were ready to shell out $11 for a cocktail.

    I hope the space gets filled soon with another restaurant/bar that has some local character. We have enough chains in CH already, and I’m encouraged by how well the new Vietnamese places and others are doing.

    In the meantime, it sounds to me like Social is probably violating rules which require restaurants to keep trash clear from their entranceway.

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