Telling the Truth About Domku – It Was Terrible, Fantastic and Most Definitely An Original

OG

Word of Domku closing has loosened a few memories for me. I’m gonna have to put on my old man hat and remind some folks what Petworth was like it 2005 when they first opened. Petworth was spectacular in 2005, thank you very much. It was spectacular because it was “real” and the people were the best. No nonsense, no bullshit, no pretension. Now despite the fact that Petworth was the most underrated neighborhood in the District, it was far from perfect. There were not many sit down restaurants on Upshur Street (RIP old school Hitching Post) and there certainly weren’t any that served borscht. In came Kera Carpenter with W. Domku. Domku was a game changer. It was cool as shit and despite it’s originality it was most definitely not pretentious. It was what so many of us had been pining for – simply a cool spot to eat, drink and meet folks from the neighborhood (and beyond.)

Now having said that Domku was far from perfect. I actually always enjoyed the food but as others have noted the service was, at times, uh, inconsistent. And the owner was at times, uh, no nonsense. But let’s again go back to 2005 for a minute. Opening a new restaurant on Upshur street was not roses, rainbows and celebrations like it is today. You had to be tough as nails.

Crime was a serious issue. Kera needed to be tough and project “I’ll kick your ass, if you F with me.” Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But this toughness didn’t come from a vacuum, it was absolutely 100% essential. Once you’re tough for so many years, I’m not sure how easy it is to just flip a switch turning it on or off. Also, Kera could be incredibly pleasant too. I’m rambling – point being – Domku did change the face of Petworth but it wasn’t easy. I’d argue it changed Petworth for the better. Could it have been better? Sure. But if a hundred people opened a restaurant in Petworth like Domku back in 2005 – I’d be surprised if ten were successful. So Domku deserves props whether or not it was your favorite spot on the block.

Personally, I found Domku maddening, spectacular, the absolute best, the absolute worst, delicious and warm and cold and loving. Kera has most definitely done a lot for Petworth and Upshur Street in particular. She is a pioneer and deserves the thanks from those who like the revitalized Upshur Street of today. Paul Ruppert should send her flowers every day for a year. Thank you for all you have done Kera. Good luck on your next project. Domku will be missed by many. Personally, I thank you for all the memories: the good, the bad and the ugly. Domku was an original, no doubt about that.

43 Comment

  • I went there a few times about 7-8 years ago when a friend’s band very briefly used to play there once a month. Never had the food but I’ve never seen a worse bar staff. Maybe it got better. My best/worst memory was staring for several minutes at a bartender playing a game on his phone behind the bar. When I finally asked him if I could get a beer, he told me to wait a second, he needed to finish something, and continued playing his game for a few more minutes before walking over to take my order. No apologies, not even a recognition that he had about a half dozen other people waiting to order beers. Worth noting that he immediately pulled the phone out and went back to whatever he was doing after getting everyone beers. Unsurprisingly that left a new back-up of people staring at him, waiting for beers, and having to wait for him to finish playing his game.

  • I once got a plate of pierogis that were still frozen solid in the middle. But I also got several fantastic Norwegian pancakes with kielbasa and gouda and I’m going to go get another one before they close.

  • One time, a friend of mine ordered a beer and the owner poured a cold beer in to a hot glass that had just come out of the dishwasher. The glass exploded covering the table with glass and beer. She looked at my friend and said “what did you do?” Like he was Uri Geller using his mind to shatter the glass. She never offered to replace the beer or make up for the accident. Good times.

  • You said what I’ve been thinking all morning, Dan. Petworth in 2005 was definitely different. (A friend selected Domku for his birthday dinner right after it opened, and were like, “Where the hell is Petworth?” Now we live here and love it!)

    People are entitled to their opinions, but even when Domku had service issues, we never forgot that Kera was taking a risk and making an effort to improve Upshur and Petworth. She was responsible for a number of community improvements, including helping to develop and support the Petworth Community Market. Running a successful restaurant is really hard. Most fail. And she managed to be successful and make a positive impact on the community over 12 years. I’m joining Dan in saying “thank you.”

    • I’m with Dan. Yes, not perfect, but I totally respect Kera. Domku opening basically brought me to Petworth (along with the old “Petworth News” website!). Domku was our downtown in many ways…when I bought in Petworth Columbia Heights was a construction zone and we were still waiting for the Giant to open. Kera was tough, brave and determined and a true pioneer. She and Domku will be missed!

  • The service was not merely bad. It was contemptuous of the customer. I’ve never sat longer waiting for a check at the end of a meal than I did at Domku. Literally 45-60 minutes just trapped, unable to leave the restaurant. I actually created a Yelp account just to rate Domku poorly. I never Yelped before, haven’t Yelped since. It takes special talent to so thoroughly alienate so many willing customers.

  • houseintherear

    Well said, PoP!

  • I was there three times. All of those times we had a fantastic experience and the staff was extremely friendly and accommodating. I’m not sure why the owners and servers were rude to, what appears, was everyone else, but with us they too their time to explain ingredients, preparation, we shared life/travel stories and even got complimentary dessert.
    May be we’re just weirdos in Popville because we like this place and Lauriol Plaza, while we will never set foot on Tamarindo again and can’t wait for the Jack Rose group to take over it.

    • Way off topic, but I hate Lauriol Plaza with a passion and have a soft spot for el Tamarindo, mostly due to some really fun experiences there with great company.

  • “Paul Ruppert should send her flowers every day for a year. ” – couldn’t have said it better myself. That and the whole op-ed. I’ve left meals there feeling euphoric and grateful, I’ve left meals there feeling pissed- and ripped-off. But opening a restaurant – in those conditions in 2005 and even now – is something I don’t have the guts, drive, or passion to do and we are all in debt to Kera for having all of that and more. I personally never had an unpleasant interaction with her. Staff–oof. And lots of cold meals I waited a long long long time for.

    • – “I’ve left meals there feeling euphoric and grateful, I’ve left meals there feeling pissed- and ripped-off.”

      This is so true.

  • I had two really excellent meals at Domku; service was leisurely, but not terrible. When I went back for a 3rd, I didn’t get it. Sat for an hour being completely ignored by the staff (and when I walked over to the two women talking to each other to ask if we could order, they gave me the dirtiest look and said “we’re busy, you need to wait”.
    I feel as if these three experiences sum up Domku.

    • Please see the earlier Question of the Day thread – a not insignificant number of posters apparently feel that was inappropriate (borderline rude) of you. I don’t get it either.

  • I don’t know how it managed to survive as long as it did, with an hour and a half wait for pancakes when there’s only one other person in the entire place. Their food was good, but I could have grown a crop of wheat, bought a dairy cow and milked it for cream, and built an entire chicken coup and harvested some eggs before they got those fucking pancakes to me.

    Gonna miss their schnitzel.

  • “Petworth was spectacular in 2005, thank you very much. It was spectacular because it was “real” and the people were the best. No nonsense, no bullshit, no pretension. Now despite the fact that Petworth was the most underrated neighborhood in the District, it was far from perfect.”
    .
    You can take the booster out of Petworth . . .

  • I’ve always loved the food at Domku and took friends and family many times during the first couple of years I lived in Petworth to show off my neighborhood. But the service got progressively worse and worse. I eventually stopped taking guests there out of embarrassment. Then I stopped going altogether about a year ago after what was probably the worst service experience I’ve ever had in a restaurant anywhere.

    I think I will miss Domku in concept, but not in practice.

  • What will happen to all of the aquavits? Any chance they’d be put up for sale as part of the indoor yard sale?

  • Tsar of Truxton

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

  • Egad

    Thanks for helping to put everything into perspective, Dan. I still refer to the new restaurants on that part of Upshur as being “by Domku.” Although there are now many better options popping up in the area, I will never forget the simple pleasure of being able to grab a bowl of borscht and an aquavit in the neighborhood. Cheers, Domku, and thanks for the memories!

  • Bad service, mediocre food was acceptable in Petworth circa 20005, but things change. With more options on Upshur and especially 11th St, the market takes over. I respect and appreciate Domku, but it was never my “choice” among what I determined were better restaurants. But neither was Crane & Turtle, so… My point being, Petworth is a golden land of opportunity if someone would just come in with some quality, standard neighborhood joints with accessible cuisine.

  • Though the food was good, I had the same experience with the downright unfriendly/hostile staff. Domku closing is sad, but I really hope that someone comes in and turns the inviting physical space into an inviting place to come to by instituting a culture of friendlier interactions with customers. I have lived close by for years, and always thought that wrap around bar would be a great place to grab a casual drink regularly, but I never felt welcome to do so. Hopefully the next people will change that.

  • Liked it. Good meatballs… But flavored vodka is not aquavit and I always thought they should have had at least one aquavit. I wish they could have been more but was happy to have enjoyed what they were.

  • Very sad to hear this news. Domku is our favorite restaurant in the neighborhood. The sauerkraut pierogies and the raspberry almond french toast will be missed, especially. Hope the restaurant finds a new location!

  • Used to go to Domku every few months with a group of work-from-home colleagues. One afternoon, Kera had to go pick up her daughter from school. She was there by herself because the afternoon-shift waiter hadn’t shown up but, rather than kick us out, she offered to let us stay until she returned.

    She went to meet her daughter. We locked the door and waited around. About half an hour later, one of the evening shift staff arrived and service resumed.

  • Domku used to be our weekly Sunday night. Loved it there and loved the fried pickled herring, pork schnitzel, stroganoff & so much more. Sad to hear this news. Hope that Domku can reemerge somewhere else. The owner really does try to do good in her neighborhood and in the industry itself. It’s a hard one to be in.

  • So true PoP! The cheese pancakes were delicious but Kera and some of staff would frequently treat customers, as one commenter here put it a few years ago, ‘like you s–t on her doormat.’ Erratic hours – I always felt they could have made more of the breakfast crowd. Am really looking forward to patronizing Slim’s Diner, hoping the service is above par.

  • Kera is the rudest restaurant owner I have ever encountered in my 30+ years on this earth.

    She has treated us every time we’ve come in like we are a nuisance and she is doing us a favor for being there and requesting, um, service.

    The kicker was when, after presenting her with. Groupon, for HER RESTAURANT THAT SHE SIGNED UP FOR, that said “never expires” she refused to accept it and handed me a phone and said “call groupon yourself”

    Good riddance. Learn how to treat people who put money in your pocket, and maybe they will return to your restaurant instead of vowing to never step foot in it again, after giving it at least 4 “benefits of the doubt” and about 200 dollars later.

    • We had a dinner party this weekend and everyone started reminiscing about their “favorite” rude story from the owner of Domku. One person had waited for over an hour for their food and when it came it was the wrong food, she was told “it’s your fault for coming when we’re so busy.”

  • Domku was my version of ‘cheers’ in the early years. I met some of my best friends sitting at the bar there. I have very fond memories of the Wednesday night music Dan and Maria organized. It will be missed.

    • the deej here — thanks for the note. those were fun nights for the one year that we hosted the wednesday shows. i wish we could have hung in there longer, but we were certainly not the exception to the rule when it came to hospitality. twenty five wednesday shows, hundreds and hundreds of guests (many of whom had never heard of the place prior to coming out for the bands), lots of gratitude from the musicians and our friends — not one “thank you” from the proprietor.

  • Honestly, as someone with Swedish heritage who has been to Sweden many times…

    The meatballs were not good the time I had them and didn’t taste like Swedish meatballs. The biff a la Lindstrom hash was alright, but stingy. Chicken goulash is not Swedish, but I didn’t like it all the same.

    Not sure what the good food is that I missed out on.

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