The Good Gentrifiers – DC Reynolds, Petworth Citizen

Petworth is very lucky to have them both.

The Great American Cooking Story
Episode 06. Washington, D.C.
“Cheers.”
Directed, Produced, Filmed, Edited and Narrated By Clara Ritger

Washington, D.C. is the city that inspired this documentary series, exploring the role of restaurants in revitalizing neighborhoods. There’s so much good food, and such a premium on real estate in the city, that new restaurants are opening up in neighborhoods on the far corners of the District. Off the beaten path, those neighborhoods are often home to the city’s minority residents, and when new restaurants and businesses start to change the face of a neighborhood, those residents risk getting pushed out as developers buy up properties to build high rises targeted at a wealthier, whiter demographic.

One such neighborhood in the middle of change is Petworth. The Petworth area is a historically black neighborhood, but that’s clearly changing. I met with Jeremy Gifford of DC Reynolds and Paul Ruppert of the Petworth Citizen and Reading Room to talk about what they can do to help bring the community together as economic forces work to drive it apart. The secret might be in a neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name.

65 Comment

  • How long until someone points out DC Reynolds is in Park View? Also, Petworth is only “historically black” If you date the neighborhood’s inception to ~1950 or so.

    • I predict it will happen at exactly 10:15am.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      According to my map from 1893 DC Reynolds is firmly in the hands of Petworth. Park View troops have been massing at the border for 5 years or so but they’ve been held off at Otis for the time being.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      But in all seriousness – watch the video – it is very good!

    • “Petworth is only “historically black” If you date the neighborhood’s inception to ~1950 or so.”

      This. Petworth is only ‘historically black’ if your analysis only goes back to 1960.

      • Since when does a neighborhood being historically x go back more than 50-60 years? By default all of America was historically native American if we go back far enough. After that nearly all was historically white because slavery and genocide. So how far back should we go to get the proper demographics?

        • Good questions/points.
          .
          Seems like there ought to be a way to distinguish between historically black neighborhoods like Shaw — which arose from encampments of freed slaves — and those that began as “white” neighborhoods (Park View, Petworth) and became majority-black after the Supreme Court ruled in 1948 that housing covenants were no longer judicially enforceable.
          .
          I went to an interesting presentation several months ago on the history of housing covenants in D.C. and where they had been in effect. I didn’t realize that much of the area between Sherman Avenue and Georgia Avenue had been black from the get-go, whereas housing just east of Georgia Avenue had originally been whites-only.
          .
          It would have been better if the TV host had said, “Petworth has been a majority-black neighborhood, but that’s clearly changing.”

          • anonymouse_dianne

            Not whites-only — Northern Europeans only. My Greek relatives, Italian and Jewish friends could not buy or rent in covenanted neighborhoods. That’s why you have Greek and Jewish enclaves, tho maybe its no longer Hanukah Heights. 😉

          • IIRC, Petworth was whites-only but open to Jews, whereas many neighborhoods further west within NW had covenants prohibiting sale to Jews.

        • justinbc

          Three generations seems like a fair marker to me. Most people seem to have no concept of time beyond their grandparents’ stories.

        • Petworth definitely had a lot of Jewish residents, they weren’t restricted by covenants. I’m extremely luck to know a bit about the only two families to own my house before me, one was Jewish and the other was black. Both owners eventually passed and the estate sold the home.

  • All hail the Greater South Petworth Co-Prosperity Sphere!
    .
    😉

  • These are definitely two of the bars where I see the biggest cross section of the neighborhood. Always a diverse crowd at both, which is a huge contrast to most of the places on H Street NE, for example.

  • love both of these places; also Crane and Turtle is awesome.

  • Awww, this made me miss my neighborhood. I love DC Reynolds, Walters, and Looking Glass!

  • Apparently developers bring in the free range bacon to petworth. Thanks for the lesson in Reganomics DCR.

  • Pat yourselves in the back, guys! You’ve made a successful business which appeals to young transplants Ina neighborhood that wasn’t “cool” to outsiders!

    • If you only think “young transplants” frequent either of these places, it seems like you’ve never actually been inside either of these businesses.

      • Agree with JS. Every time I am in DC Reynolds or Looking Glass there is a diverse crowd. They’re really great bars and loved that they were only a block from my house.

        • justinbc

          I don’t know about the transplant part, but whenever I’ve visited DCR or Citizen I’ve almost never seen anyone older than say 45. And definitely no black people older than mid-30s.

          • I take my 60 something parents to DCR when they’re in town.

            I go fairly regularly and there are people over 45 from time to time. Last night I walked by two guys heading into Looking Glass and they were easily in their 50s.

            But we’re all talking in anecdotes, which are based on varying frequencies of attendance and our perceptions.

          • justinbc

            Yes for sure, I’ve only been to DCR maybe 6 times, and Citizen twice, so I’m merely speaking from that experience. At the PoP HH @ DCR there were a couple folks 50 or 60+, but I don’t know how well that’s a representation of the normal environment. Based on my other visits it’s more the exception than the rule.

          • saf

            Yeah, we’ve tried the citizen a number of times, and always feel too old, and a bit unwelcome.

    • Im not a transplant, and none of my neighbors are. We are all born and bred in DC. We are however, young.

    • The crowd at Petworth Citizen is only young if you count all of the babies/toddlers who are in there before 7 pm. The median age of an adult customer is probably 35. Which I supposed is young if you’re in your 70s, but I’m not familiar with many bars in DC primarily frequented by the retired.

      • Well, now we know who’s definitely under 30….

        • Who is? I’m not. I just don’t consider thirty-somethings “young” when I’m talking about the demographics of a bar specifically. If someone told me a bar attracted a “young” crowd I’d assume college age, and early 20s, and I’d probably avoid it!

  • DCR’s segments made me want to spend more time there. the flippancy and guile with which PC owner talked about people’s entire lives being disrupted ensured I’m not headed his way any time soon– amazing that the gentrifiers themselves are the ones who get to declare themselves of the “good” or “bad” variety.

    • Love the BOGO and the general vibe at DCR, but there is a “funk” inside that basically makes it impossible for me to ever think about eating there. Glad they always have the local games on, and the price can’t be beat, but that odor is too much for me.

    • justinbc

      I’m the good kind of internet commenter, glad we can all agree on that!

  • justinbc

    The “secret” is pricing. I absolutely love the Reading Room in Petworth Citizen, but when it continues to host cocktail events where drinks are $15 a piece I can almost guarantee that the “old” residents of the neighborhood aren’t the ones attending. Figure out a way to still make your margins on booze (the only way any successful restaurant makes a healthy profit) while offering affordable options that aren’t a barrier for the part of the neighborhood who’s worried about being priced out. DCR has been a great example with their BOGO HH that makes it much easier for anyone to come and have a few drinks on the cheap.

    • Agreed

    • justinbc

      (FWIW I love the cocktail sessions in question, but they 99% appeal to the new denizes, not the old)

      • I’d probably fit into the “new denizens” group, but I’m still not paying those kinds of prices when there are 4 other great spots within blocks of PC with much better deals and similarly great people!

        • justinbc

          LOL very true. If Chantal weren’t behind the bar making the drinks I definitely wouldn’t be making the trek up there to support them. She’s fantastic though, so I try to taste her stuff anytime I can.

    • I agree, but let’s note that the Reading Room is open a few nights a week and is an offshoot of PC.
      The PC happy hour prices are great and likely accessible to a broad range of people. I think their prices on the regular menu are also fairly reasonable. Someone yesterday was looking for $7-9 glasses of wine and that’s what’s on their regular menu.

      • justinbc

        Fair point, I did check out the chalkboard specials and they seemed much more reasonably priced. That doesn’t mean they’re still not being exclusionary within their own environment though. If they want to be truly “good gentrifiers” then maybe encourage more cost-friendly sessions along with the pricey ones, so that it doesn’t feel so much like a secret club where you can escape from the “normal people”.
        ————————–
        Side note: I realize this really isn’t very different than say the former Passenger space which hosted The Columbia Room within it. But I don’t recall ever hearing them praise themselves for being such good stewards of the neighborhood in question.

        • Well, the Reading Room’s cocktail nights are pricey cocktail times, but they do actually have free and varied programming on other nights and cheaper punch nights. I don’t think it’s exactly a Busboys and Poets model in terms of the community use, but they didn’t really touch on the other offerings in the video. I know there are comedy and author readings there from time to time.
          Also, I think it was clear in Paul Rupert’s segments that a lot of the time he was talking about his collective businesses, which include the yet to be opened Slim’s Diner. That will likely have lower price points than PC. Still, I don’t think the prices at PC are crazy high, in fact they’re basically the same as DCR.
          These are my two favorite places in the neighborhood, so maybe I’m biased, but I just don’t get all the PC hate.

          • justinbc

            Don’t misunderstand my opinion of PC, it’s definitely not hate. I partly dislike the whole premise of the video where we get to proclaim ourselves “good gentrifiers”. It strikes me as the restaurant version of “I have a black friend.” I really like PC, a lot, I just feel like if you’re going to boast so proudly then you should / could be doing more. (and as you point out it seems like they are doing other things not as well known)

          • Oh, I definitely don’t hate PC, and you’re right, the regular offerings are in line with my other favorite area haunts, I was more specifically referring to the cocktail nights. I’ve just never gotten the feel (the admittedly few times I’ve been there) that there is a wide, diverse crowd hanging out there on any given night. It seems to be iterations of the same few hipster/yuppie types. Nothing wrong with that, but not exactly diverse. I haven’t watched the video so I can’t comment on that.

          • Thanks for clearing that up you two, it was sounding dismal for a bit.
            I guess I’m just not clear on what more he can do. The business has to make money to stay open so it can offer anything to the neighborhood.
            LBP- I do agree, the reading room cocktail nights are not diverse. I love cocktails, but the last time I went I didn’t want to pay that much for any of them, so went to the PC bar and got a glass of wine. Sadly, you can only bring beer and wine in their from PC, not cocktails. I’m not sure how I feel about it. It’s not quite analogous to the Columbia Room, which I was totally in love with. Maybe I just need to like Sherry more.

    • +100 yup, like everything, it’s about money. Not necessarily for DCR or PC, but any bar or restaurant saying they want to attract a neighborhood’s “old” residents while charging $10+ for drinks are kidding themselves.

      • I dont know what you are talking about. I live in this part of town and there are numerous small business owners/federal employees living in and around my house who could 100% afford to go to these places and they have lived in the neighborhood for years and years and years.

        • In Tim’s defense. Being able to afford something and actually paying that price on a regular basis are two different things. I have a decent income, but I have frugal tendencies so a place that had good food/drink options at a lower price point would attract me more than a business who consistently, outside of HH, had pricier items. I’m also not an “old” resident because I moved to Petworth in 2007, but I understand the gentrification issue from an “old” resident’s view because my childhood home in Brooklyn started going through it after the powers that be started heavily developing all neighborhoods adjacent to the East River in the late 90s.

          • Yea that’s what I’m getting at. For a bar that’s striving to be a real community place with diverse regulars and a Cheers “everybody knows your name” vibe, I think you need to have a fairly low price-point to pull in a broad range of people on a regular basis.

  • Statistics show that development also leads to lower crime rates and safer neighborhoods. I’d say Petworth does responsible development better than most. Development creates jobs for residents and can increase the tax base for better schools.

  • Phenomenal!!!

  • that dude Jeremy is HILARIOUS!! Seriously, this guy is a riot..

  • Interesting and well done video.
    There is a scientific principle which recognizes that the mere act of watching an experiment changes the results of that experiment. You can’t open a new business in a neighborhood without changing the neighborhood. If the Wendy’s Corp. took it upon itself to modernize and update that Wendy’s on GA. Ave., that would change the neighborhood even though the same restaurant would be in place.
    The folks who are opening these new restaurants are not just looking to service the existing neighborhood. They anticipate the neighborhood changing (or continuing to change) in a way that will make their business even more profitable going forward. There is nothing wrong with that. They say all the right things about not wanting to displace existing residents. But in the end, some existing residents are going to leave – some voluntarily, some involuntarily – in part because of the change these businesses are bringing about. That’s just the way it is.
    Things change. And if things change, they can’t and won’t stay the same.

  • Hmmmm… did not hear one thing in the video that differentiates them from any and all other gentrifiers. Not a one. Because they bring business and are open to everyone? Uhh, that’s virtually every business.

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