Dear PoP – What’s Up With Rumberos?

by Prince Of Petworth September 21, 2009 at 11:05 pm 73 Comments

IMG_1923, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

“Dear PoP,

After the “success” of the outdoor tables over the summer (I only live around the corner so I’ve seen people out there on the sidewalk all summer) I thought maybe Rumberos had turned a corner. I walked by today on my way home from the gym a few minutes ago to see all the windows blocked up with white paper, like you would see during a building fit out.”

I walked by today and a neighbor and worker inside told me the place had closed. They were packing up all the tables. The neighbor was truly surprised because she said she had just seen folks outside this past weekend. Rumberos was located at 3345 14th St, NW in the Tivoli complex. Whenever we spoke of Rumberos in the past folks always had wildly different opinions. Some folks loved it and others hated it. I personally enjoyed it the few times I went but I wasn’t a regular. I am sad to see another empty storefront…

Will anyone miss them?

UPDATE Apparently they are not closing. A bit of a language barrier problem. Totally my fault. More details as they become available.

  • Rachel


  • Kristen

    This is awful. That place was great, albeit ahead of their time for that area. Good food, good wine and good music. RIP Rumberos.

  • I just looked at their web site – apparently they are still hiring (!).

    I really liked Rumberos – the food wasn’t great but it was a good neighborhood place to go for a drink and listen to some music and then walk home. Count me in the “I’ll miss Rumberos” category~

  • voiceofreason

    I’m sad. I really liked this place. The food was so-so, but the drinks were really good, the music and art and atmosphere was really good, the owners and management are super nice and always willing to do things to help the community. This makes me sad.

  • inmtpl

    they were such gracious hosts

  • LM

    Horrible! This place has delicious mojitos and great live music. The staff was friendly and the food delicious. A loss for CH.

  • Néstor Sánchez Cordero

    Did you ever hear this classic there? Being at rumberos always brought memories of Havana….


  • Néstor Sánchez Cordero

    Did you ever hear this classic there? Being at rumberos always brought memories of Havana….


  • mark

    I will miss them very much.

  • Maria

    This is sad, sad news! This place was great and had the best piscos in town.

    What about Rumba cafe? Is that still opened? It belongs to the same guy.

  • New2CH

    Damn, sad to hear this. Amazing atmosphere, best in the area. The problem was, it was a HUGE space so I imagine quite expensive in rent, they did (so far as I can tell) almost nothing to market themselves, and the location is a bit tricky as you pass a LOT of other options on the walk there from the metro, so they really needed to do more to call attention to themselves. More importantly, the service was inconsistent and the food spotty / mediocre, especially for the cost which was high enough to expect higher quality fare. Similar story to Nori Bistro — nice folks who were a bit out of their depth and didn’t realize that the top priority for any restaurant HAS to be making consistently great food. I worry about Social as well, another gorgeous space in a tough location, where reviews on food to date have been similarly all over the map. Folks, if you cook it, they will come. The focus of any restaurant has to be, first and foremost, on making great food. Still, I had a lot of fun evenings in this spot, they were indeed ahead of their time, and they’ll be missed. I hope this gorgeous space is quickly snatched up by another restauranteur.

  • I loved the space, especially the remnants of the old proscenium arch from the Tivoli Theater. Between Rumberos and Nori/Mayorga, lots of cool interior details of the theater were preserved. Let’s hope they get some successful tenants who will make creative use of such beautiful spaces.

  • Anonymous

    CH may be the happening place but it’s not happening for everything.
    CH is still primarily a lower income type of neighborhood. It’s convenient and has had a major facelift and is so much more comfortable than it used to be and better than a lot of neighborhoods in DC, BUT, high priced establishments are going to struggle here.
    I know it offered more than food, but the higher prices of the meals here put me off from going there. Value for money comes to mind, so the price alone was not the deterrent.
    Still, I am sorry to see it gone.
    It would have done better if it were more “barrioesque” but I am sure with the rents charged in the Tivoli that would not have been possible.

  • Jay’O

    Damn! That’s sad. Being vegetarian, we rarely went, and it was a little pricey, but we assumed it was doing ok – especially with all the people out there this past weekend.

    I guess this goes to show that even if you have a lot of customers you need to have a business model that works. (kinda goes along with the movie theater conjecture yesterday)!!!

  • Jay’O

    All of you blaming this closure on CH being too low-income I’d direct you to the global recession/depression we’re going through. There are tons of restaurants going out of business = even in Dupont, Georgetown, etc. I wouldn’t say they are low-income neighborhoods with a face lift.

    Maybe if we had more higher income people around it wouldn’t have gone out of business, but it’s probably more of a combination of a weak business plan limping along and then being taken down by a bad economy…

  • Murdoch

    I’d concur with a lot of what was said above. They executed a great, beautifully designed space, had a great bar, and the live music was good. But it was, at the end of the day, a restaurant and the food wasn’t anything to write home about. Wish they’d have overhauled the kitchen and done a little bit more to market themselves. Kudos for taking the leap, though, and believing in the neighborhood, even if it didn’t ultimately work out.

  • asl

    2CH has it right by saying the location was ‘tricky’. We’d walked by only a couple of times even though we live a block away. We’d been meaning to try it so feel bad we didn’t in time.

  • BS

    put me in the “miss” category. I didnt frequent the place, but I dont really “frequent” any given restaruant because I like variety…but I loved the space, the atmosphere, the art, the music, the people, and the food (even if it was pricey).

  • I too hate to see this place go. such a great spot.

  • ShermanAveGuy

    This makes me sad. I was a regular there, and I really enjoyed the place. If only I had eaten there more often 🙁

  • Anonymous

    I agree. It’s ShermanAveGuy’s fault.

  • Odentex

    It was a nice space, great for drinks, and the staff was always pleasant (not to be taken for granted in DC where a lot of restaurant staff are terrible), but the food was always very average to very, very bad. After having two literally inedible meals in a row (including the worst sandwich I’ve tasted in years) we gave up on them. I think they would have been better off if they had half the space and just closed the kitchen. I feel sorry for the front of the house staff but I don’t feel sorry for the chef who needs to seek another vocation.

  • Wow, this sucks. My financially responsible roommates took me there for my birthday this year and we had a great time. The food was good, the drinks were strong, the service was impeccable… I was really looking forward to going back there now that I have a decent paying job. That said, I never saw the place with more than a few tables in it and I honestly think that a bad case of sticker shock kept this place from thriving. $25 entrees in the worst recession since the breadlines on the fringe of what most people outside the neighborhood consider CH (too far from target) doomed this place from the start. No promises, but I fear the same fate for ‘Social’ as well.

  • I walked by there Sunday night at around 10:30pm and there was a table of customer-looking people. Did they know they would be the last?

  • MandarinZazz

    Good news, I hope they put a Jack-in-Box there.

  • This was my favorite place in town and I was a regular. “The other regular” was once pointed out to me, so I guess I was in a minority. I’m shocked and horrified about this. It was the only place that made me feel simultaneously in NYC and in Spain. And I had such plans for parties there! They had live music, dancing, friendly service, the most wonderful fish dishes, and an atmosphere I can’t find anywhere else… boo hoo!

  • anon

    Maybe they’ll put a check-cashing place in.

  • Anonymous

    Finally, this makes the recession REAL in Columbia Heights!

  • dcmom

    It was never packed. It was a big space that was never full. I have had some good times there, but I often worried how it survived. The food was ok. I agree that the drinks were fab and it was a fun bar handout with a group, but not a place I would go over and over again.

    I would like to recognize and thank them for pioneering the area. They were one of the first believers – there before all the construction was done and the houses rehabbed. I think that they should be commended and recognized for being a strategic part of the CH revitalization.

  • WDC

    We went just once, even though it’s two blocks from our house. Spent $60 on a few appetizers and one drink each. So we never went back, because that is out of our price range. I think they should have tried lowering prices (and of course, a little marketing) to see if they could find a better balance.

    I am sorry to see it gone, because who knows how long the space will be vacant. But I’m hopeful that the next business to move in will be something I can enjoy, too.

  • SoLong

    I really doubt the “recession” had much to do with this place closing. The fact is that DC has one of the best economies in the country right now, and the highest percent of young adults making over $100k. The Feds are hiring at a record pace, and DC is one of the first places seeing the benefits of the stimulus.

    The place didn’t succeed because the people willing to pay too much for mediocre food don’t like going to CH after dark because of the random shootings and fights. If you want to pay for overpriced food and drinks, you can just go to Chinatown and not worry about getting shot or mugged. Plus, if you get bored, you can go to another of the 30+ places in the neighborhood.

    Sadly, those slamming Chinatown yesterday are the same that are surprised by this closure. Guess what? Creating increased trafic and safety- even at the expense of commercialization, allows for smaller businesses to thrive so long as they’re not priced out.

  • Quincy street neighbor

    What?! I was just there ths past Sunday, sitting outside enjoying their brunch and bottomless mimosas!! I’m truly saddened to hear this. I love the atmosphere, Gustavo the propriator is so warm and always made me feel so welcomed. They were big community supporters too: sponsors of GALA HIspanic theatre and LEDC. This news gives me a sad ? ;-(

    I hope they are simply under new management and not shuddered completely.

  • There is no justice in the world when The Heights can survive and Rumberos cannot.

  • @ anonymous

    How is that a justice issue?

  • I’ll miss it. I liked the food but the service was indeed spotty. Sad to see it go. Maybe it’ll be replaced with a bookstore? I would love to see one in that space.

  • Oops, I wasn’t trying to be anonymous above. I only do that when I am posting as my alter-ego, “gentrifier hater” or “big business sabateur.”

    @Anon 10:21, It is just a figure of speech. My point is, I think The Heights is the height of mediocrity and overpriced. Rumberos was also expensive but they offered a lot more – a great space, live music, interesting food and drinks. It was an asset to our neighborhood.

  • I went there once, despite it being about a block from where I live- it was ok, good drinks, but as everyone says, the food was just mediocre. I think that it will be tough for an “expensive” or “high-end” place to succeed in this neighborhood- I don’t think that CH is really a fine dining destination yet. If a “high-end” place wants to succeed in this area, it needs to make people want to come to CH just to eat there. For that, you really need to have either a winning concept, or perfectly executed food. Not sure if Social has that yet, and unfortunately, Rumberos and Nori did not. The Heights has a whole syndicate of restaurants behind it. What about Commonweath? Do people go there just to drink, or are they ordering food? To me, a gastropub that serves high end English cuisine seems like a waste- can you ever consider English cuisine high-end?

  • Sherman Circle

    Yes, my friends and I were just there on Sunday for brunch! This is a surprise. I frequented this place and really liked Gustavo, the owner. He had his heart in the business and was there every day. This place had soul and it makes me sad if it is truly gone. We really need to support out local businesses.

  • JR

    I went there shortly after they opened and was left unimpressed by the expensive drinks and mediocre food. I always planned to go back and give them another chance later on, but due to the odd location and lack of promotion, I just kind of forgot all about the place.

  • @Totochtin – In regards to the gastropub; I agree completely. I love English food, I regard it as some of the best comfort food in existence, and have been known to frequent the Gastropub on occasion when I don’t feel like battling crowds at Derby or Wonderland. However, every time I check out the menu at the Gastropub, Elephant & Castle, or similar establishments I can’t quite rationalize $16 pot-pie, bangers & mash, or fish & chips.

  • Eva G

    Oh no, I loved that place and went there frequently! I will really miss it. While I do enjoy the other places (well, maybe not The Heights) this one was different as it was not a pub or a pizza place. Sad!!!!

  • New2CH

    I think Commonwealth is doing well, or at least it seems fairly busy whenever I go there. The food IMO is substantially better than Rumberos at around the same price point (or actually probably a little cheaper), and the service is more consistent as well. I have almost always really enjoyed the many meals I’ve had at Commonwealth — I wouldn’t say it is incredible, but it is very good and reasonably priced for the quality. Plus, its location in a large apartment building and right above the metro, with a huge, attractive outdoor seating area, can only help …

    We really need a place that serves Japanese / Sushi in CH. Someplace that did that really well at a reasonable price would do a KILLER business around here. The newer restaurants that have opened that have good food — Redrocks, Pete’s, Commonwealth, Room 11, Pho 14 — are consistently pretty packed. It’s a simple formula, really. (I gotta admit, I, too, am surprised by The Heights … I don’t think I’ve eaten there in a year, way too generic).

  • Anonymous

    I think you all need to start heading NORT (i.e. north of Ruby Tuesday’s)
    for the down and dirty CH experience. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

  • ColHeightsChic

    Didn’t somebody write on your site a while ago something about a Miami entertainer buying out the Rumberos space? I thought they were closing way back when.

  • voiceofreason

    The Heights is an okay place to hang out outside and have a drink, but the food is really bad. Over salted, mediocre dishes, much of it clearly of the frozen variety. Yuck.

  • JodiHeights

    Agree with Japanese/sushi.

    Also, I just noticed Rumberos a couple of weeks ago (moved here in May) and was interested in trying it. Too bad.

    I would love more affordable options in CH.
    We don’t go to Commonwealth… Last time, 2 shots of Jack Daniels (because we were trying to be cheap) and a pint of beer cost $37!
    And then there’s Pete’s… Who are you people that pay $25 for a pie?? The best pizzas I’ve had in my life have never been more than $14 or $15 (sometimes TWO for $15!). And even pizzas (better than Pete’s) that I’ve had in more upscale restaurants… no more than $21 or $22. This does not compute.

    For now, I will continue to cook my own food… With visits only to Room 11 & El Rinconcito II (in the neighborhood). My rent’s too high to be dining about carelessly.

  • Jason

    inconsistent food! poor service! poor service! and more poor service!

    My wife and I eat out 2-3 times per week and we tried this place twice.

    We actually walked right passed it last week thought about going there and then headed to Ruby Tuesdays. Had much better service and better food for half the price. LOL

    I was never impressed. Very nicely decorated, but service was bad and food was just ok.

    When will restaurant owners realize that service is the number one thing that has to be excelent!

    Hopefully some one will do it right next time.

  • JR

    I think the quality of the food at Common Wealth has declined in recent months. The menu is missing many of the tasty dishes that were there when the place opened, and every time I’ve been there recently, it’s been much easier to get a table than it should be.

  • Odentex

    I totally agree on the Heights – it’s like a more expensive Bennigans without the bottomless margaritas and old tin signs nailed to the wall. If you want a quick frozen appetizer you can walk a block to Ruby Tuesday and save $15.

  • Anonymous

    Hey don’t knock Pete’s!
    Too expensive for pizza, but affordable AND the closest thing to NY pizza this town is going to get (I know it’s New Haven)
    Maybe JodiHeights would like a little pineapple on the pie.

  • Anonymous

    It’s true about Ruby Tuesday’s.
    If you just want something to eat, the food is good enough (just, hopefully) and the price is right.
    Not much of an “experience” mind, but as I said, if you just need to eat.

  • A-lo

    I had one of the worst dining experiences I’ve had in this town at Rumberos. The food and service were so terrible, we started talking to our neighboring tables about bad it was. I haven’t returned since.

  • dcdude

    It’s amazing how much unanimity of opinion there is on this place. Cool space. Good drinks. Bad food. I have to agree on all counts. Hope the owners read this.

  • NAB

    Pete’s succeeds in all the ways that Nori and Rumbero’s failed. It’s consistently a good meal under that psychologically important $10 mark with some niche things like salads (name how many places in CH will serve you a salad), revolving microbrew selection, illy coffee and tasty desserts. It’s not the “best” anything in town but its success is easy to figure out.

  • Anonymous

    Hate to jump on the bandwagon here, but I always found the service poor and the food mediocre. I was never going to be a regular, because I’m cheap like that, but my house is a block away, and I would have gone much more frequently had the kitchen and service inspired me to do so. I went several times and on each occasion sort of regretted my choice until I finally gave up. Seems like this place might have been a victim of its own inertia in the face of obvious shortcomings. I think CH is past the point where just being here, new, and different is going to get a place business.

  • Marcus Aurelius

    It’s funny to read so many posts about how some restaurant or bar is or was “overpriced.” It costs a lot of money to open and then run a restaurant or bar. There is a sizeable initial capital investment and significant ongoing operation costs. There’s a reason why over 50% of restaurants fail in the first year. I liked Rumberos. The space was well done and the food was decent, though some of my dining companions have had forgettable dishes there. The space was also huge and I am sure it was not cheap to rent, furnish, clean, heat, and cool. Those costs were undoubtedly reflected in the price structure.
    Someone called for Japanese/Sushi at a “reasonable price.” “Reasonable” is in the eye of the beholder. My mother (and many other people) think it’s insane for people to pay $4 for a cup of designer coffee. Yet many other people find it completely reasonable.
    I’m a big fan of Pete’s Apizza (which incidentally seems to have recently raised its prices) but there are plenty of people who think it’s unreasonable to pay $4 for one slice of pizza, or $25 for a pie. You could get 3 or 4 pies from Pizza Boli’s for what 1 pie will cost you at Pete’s. I like Five Guys but you can get an entire meal from McDonalds for what one burger will cost you at Five Guys.
    The irony is that the more the area gets developed, the more expensive the real estate gets, and the less likely it becomes that a restaurant or bar will be able to survive with “reasonable” prices. Either you go upscale at high prices, or downscale at high volume.

  • JodiHeights

    @anaon 11:27
    pineapple doesn’t belong on my pizza, actually.
    pete’s is ok. but a $25 price tag? REALLY?
    even my most favorite pizza, that i crave constantly, isn’t worth that.
    and it’s not terribly far from NYC, if you must know.
    i’ve talked to many other people about the price of that pizza, and none of them even comprehend.

    as far as prices raising with rent… i don’t think that rent should be as high as it is (and will be).
    was surprised to find out that i pay more than my friends in both san francisco and nyc.
    but anyway, making a pie $25? i would think that they’re making gobs of money then, because you can get pizza ingredients in large quantities at a smaller cost than a lot of other things.

    guess i’m just trying to wrap my head around this price-gouging that dc seems to do a lot.
    it’s quite possible that i am just not on the level!

  • voiceofreason

    Rents are artificially high in DC, that’s why you get ridiculously expensive food, ownership chains opening businesses instead of individuals, and empty buildings.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry about the pineapple crack Jodi.
    So where is this other pizza that is good?
    I NEED to know. I crave pizza constantly.
    Don’t let me down.
    (OK $25 is too much, but I NEED good pizza)

  • saf

    Anon – have you tried Vace? I like them a LOT.

  • Anonymous

    I think I will break with the crowd and say that the two times I went I had great service, great food, and GREAT drinks (really — you can’t get a better pisco or mojito around.)

  • Anonymous

    Vace. Where is Vace? I remember Vace as a grocery store in Cleveland Park and I think there was also one in Silver Spring.

  • JodiHeights

    @ anon 1159
    haha… i understand!
    no idea where to go around here.
    the 5-6 places i’ve tried aren’t super fantastic.

    my favorite pizza is from my hometown in NE pennsylvania.
    next time i go home, i can bring a bunch of them back and we can all have a pizza party!

  • saf

    Vace – yep, Cleveland Park. Not just a grocery store/deli, also a great pizza and sub carryout.

    And PoP – Rumberos is answering the phone and says they open at 4 today. So, maybe not closed?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks anyway Jodi.
    I grew up on NY pizza in the Bronx.
    I have learned that today, even in New York, you cannot rely on getting good pizza randomly as was once the case.
    I am feeling suicidal.

  • LGinDC

    So I just called Rumberos to confirm and he offered me a reservation tonight.

  • dcmom

    Vace used to be my fave pizza, but then Pete’s opened. Pete’s is much tastier and fresher. I would rather have Pete’s half as often. BTW – 1 pie feeds my family of 4 and they will do half and half to please everyone – that is a value to me.

    Overpriced in the eye of the beholder – in my mind it is all about value. If the service is good, the food is good and interesting and it is a fun place, I am willing to pay a bit more. Commonwealth’s food and atmosphere is good. I don’t go there all the time, but I think it is a good value. My husband had a lamb dish there that was out of this world. In contrast, I have never described Rumberos (or The Heights for that matter) that way.

  • Anonymous

    OK. I too just called Rumbero’s and was told that the place is closed.
    I said “So you’re not open for business anymore”
    The sad Spanish accented voice said, No I don’t think so.
    He wanted to know who I was and I said, haughtily, as I have a tendency to be haughty (OK my friends think I’m an asshole, only sometimes I hope) What difference does it make, I’m a customer.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    This is insane. I’m heading down there in one hour to see what’s up.

  • Dirty

    What are most people doing 9-5, M-F and where? They are not in CH, they are downtown or elsewhere. Most of these restaurants survive from 5-11pm, so they have to charge more because they aren’t generating much(if any) profit the other 18 hrs of the day during the week. The commercial office space under construction at 14th and Florida (if/when occupied) will bring much needed lunch demand to the U St. restaurants. CH needs similar day demand (beyond what the retail generates, which during the week is probably minimal). The re-development of the immediate blocks south of Irving with commercial office space and ground level retail would greatly enhance the 14th street corridor.

  • Sleepy

    I was just here on Friday night for drinks and the place was packed – both inside and out. While the food is mediocre at best, they make a good mojito. Surprised to hear that they might, in fact, be closed.

  • Anonymous

    Cubadorian food, like Mexadorian food, only cuts it with some people who possess no taste buds. Just because someone speaks Spanish doesn’t mean they can cook anything from another Spanish-speaking nation’s cuisine. Stick to pupusas in D.C.

  • Bitter Elitist

    Anon@ 1:13 I have to agree. The fusion (mishmash) gets old.


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