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Rainbow Streets, Kurt Powers and Plenty of Patterns

Capital Pride Decorations on 17th Street NW. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Capital Pride Decorations on 17th Street NW. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.

This week we’ve once again festoon anything and everything with the six colors that comprise the rainbow flag. It’s that special time of year, when our usually gay neighborhoods become cloyingly gay. And, yes, I contribute my fair share.

Each year in a futile attempt to outdo the previous one, I encrust the facades of several 17th Street businesses, Floriana included, with just enough rainbow materials to make Rainbow Brite wish she were colorblind. It’s fun, it’s harmless, and it couldn’t be tackier. Trust me, we’ve tried.

We call it Capital Pride because this is the nation’s Capital after all, and frankly, because it really helps with getting permits to close city streets for several hours so we can parade & party. Of course, anything involving gay men, summer heat, and vodka quickly becomes a large, messy, sweaty, street fair — albeit one attended by the happiest and best looking people you’ll eve run into.

Basically it’s fun, it’s upbeat, and it’s gayer than Barbara Streisand riding a unicorn sidesaddle, though the wedding of Lindsey Graham and Marcus Bachmann.

Kurt Powers, Patterns

With all these “Pride” related events  (Jello-O Wrestling is tonight (9 pm at Phase 1 of Dupont), other, dare I say, equally interesting, less colorful pursuits may be overlooked. To that end, may I suggest you experience the world through the eye of Kurt Powers.

Kurt is a DC-based photographer who has a knack for capturing the ordinary in a rather extraordinary light. Beginning this weekend, his work will be on display at Caramel, 1603 U Street NW. The show, “Patterns,” includes some wonderfully deceptive pieces from his travels through Yellowstone National Park.  Moments of self-reflection are all but guaranteed moments after even paying them a cursory glance. A reminder that first impression are not always what they seem.

"Kurt Powers"

Kurt Powers, “Patterns,” at Caramel Boutique. (Courtesy of Powers).

I know just what you’re thinking. This year’s Pride theme is Heroes, and his name — Kurt Powers — sort of sounds like he might look splendid in a cape… and that perhaps Yellowstone is the material the Yellow Brick Road was fashioned from. But trust me, it’s well worth your time.

Juxtaposed among deeply exposed, highly saturated scenes resembling nebulas, outer space, and the vibrant cosmos are hung somber images captured at Fort Zachary Taylor Park in Key West.

There, a stack of cannonballs piled ominously against one side of a diptych created by uneven decay of an exterior wall provides an excellent foil for the optimistic scenery captured at Yellowstone.

“Patterns” runs from June 7 to July 27 at Caramel Boutique (1603 U Street NW). Get a further glimpse of Kurt’s work.

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Posted in Arts & EntertainmentComments Off

17th Street: Morte Torium

From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.

"17th"

17th Street NW. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Last century, back in 1990 — before many of us were even born — the then residents of Dupont Circle were just beside themselves. They were deep in the throes of fighting a war. Their neighborhood was under attack.

Something simply had to be done to stem the rapid and unrestricted investments made in their community by evil, cash-hungry, noise-making, trash-piling restaurant and bar owners.

These greedy, profit-piling, pillagers came in — most of them foreigners — and started leasing and buying up empty, sometimes abandoned storefronts. They began, through years of hard work, clever financing, mutually beneficial partnerships, and other arrangements commonly employed by the “business community,” to transform them into money-making ventures.

Some succeeded, others failed. Some are still open for business. Most served a popular intoxicant, a liquid found throughout the world, an ancient substance with unknown properties: alcohol. What was worse, the owners of the storefronts, building, basements and the like also found themselves motivated by the much touted American dream of feeding their families, and making an honest buck.

So in one selfish act after another, they threw the deep love they were supposed to feel for their neighbors by the wayside, and they sold out, they rented space, or sold their land to these horrible people — to these bar owners. It just makes me sick.

That war begun 23 years ago has raged on, leaving a trail of casualties in its midst. Many of those residents are now dead. Those who survived are now 23 years closer to death, these veterans and heroes.

Though what one can imagine required the all-day efforts of countless retirees, the residents decided to take real action. Why fight each and every evil business person head on, why write so many letters, and voice so many complaints? That would have taken much more diligence than these sound-haters could muster. Even if they had time for it, which they did, why admit it?

Wasn’t it better to pretend they had to get up for work the next day? Well, of course it was. Rather than address the uncooperative, cash-rich, booze-sellers, why not abuse an element of DC government put in place after Home Rule was instituted in 1974? Why not manipulate the system granting Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs ( they even sounds flaccid ) “great weight” in the granting of liquor licenses?  What better way was there for small group to influence entire neighborhoods?

In their lame fury the residents succeeded in beating down the wrong adversary. You see, rather than face the current threat, rather than engage in a conversation hoping to negotiate a peace with the existing “business community,” the restaurateurs and bar-owning scum of the era — those who caused them annoyance beyond convenience — they decided, rather than fight what was, they would wage a battle into the future, they would prevent more businesses from daring to open new alcohol selling businesses on their streets.

Not in their back yards, no ma’am. No, never again.

As they could not win against what was already there, the residents would prevent new businesses from opening. Brilliant! The new investors would be punished for the sins of their ancestors. Sounds fair.

Thus was born the East Dupont Circle Liquor License Moratorium, although it’s commonly called the 17th Street moratorium. It has come up for renewal every five years since 1990 — it is up for renewal in 2013 because the decision was made three years ago to review it again this year instead of waiting five years.

I walk past their success everyday. Empty, unpainted, uninhabited storefront after storefront bedazzled with fading “For Lease” signs. What a beautiful sight it is, their success. The little group of residents got exactly what they wanted. Their victory against progress took the shape of a moratorium, a theoretically temporary cessation in the granting of more liquor licenses, the success of which is obvious.

Twenty-three years later there are fewer restaurants and bars on 17 Street — while moratorium-free, business friendly 14th Street has been transformed into a thriving community. This moratorium, set to expire on September 23, after four extensions (each supported by ANC 2B) of it’s original sell-by date has severely handicapped competition. It has made the idea of opening a new business on 17th Street near to impossible — and the impact of that is real.

A quick stroll down from R street to P street will leave one wondering in just how much laundry, and pill popping our community engages in. Pharmacies, and dry cleaners outnumber restaurants. The lateral expansion of two highly rated, critically acclaimed restaurants was a highly contested, and costly affair. Both Hank’s Oyster Bar, and Komi were finally allowed to expand to buildings adjacent to their existing locations, but not before hearings, and meetings, and “listening sessions,” all designed to address the same complaints of the past, from the same five people — complaints that were never directed at either restaurant to begin with.

Whether or not this moratorium is allowed to expire is anyone’s guess. Eventually it will, but when? In five more years, when another five storefronts are empty? Residents and businesses must realize that the future of the neighborhood in which they live and operate in is at stake. Our street’s bars and restaurants have each been open for years — their owners and operators have proved themselves to be valuable contributors to the community. Any suggestion otherwise is insulting.

On our street the reality is, longevity is the rule. Annie’s, the Paramount Steakhouse has been serving burgers here since 1948. The Trio restaurant predates even that.

Jr’s Bar has opened their doors — and their checkbook — for our community since 1985!  Floriana Nestore bought the failing Mercury Grill in 2001, re-branding it Floriana, and it continues to thrive in the hands of her son. Generation after generation has proven themselves to these people, but it never seems to be enough.

Maybe as I age I will need enough medication and artwork to see the benefit of another pharmacy, and a third frame-shop on my street. But until then, I find myself hungry for something better. I guess I’ll walk over to 14th Street to find it.

The next ANC “listening session” will take place June 24 at 7 pm at the Chastleton Ballroom, 16th and R NW.

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Posted in Business, Lifestyle11 Comments

Yelp, Stars, Le Diplomate and a Charm City Yelper Hits Town

From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.

"Le Diplomate"

Le Diplomate at 14th and Q NW. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Earlier today I took a rare moment to visit Yelp to take a peek at what the irrelevant set were saying about a restaurant that opened just two weeks ago — and only officially opened April 15.

Surprisingly, by their accounts, Le Diplomate is off to a great start here in DC. The users of Yelp, or “Yelpers,” as they’re known, have treated the restaurant with the restraint, patience and the respect an adopted French newborn deserves.

Le Diplomate can feel very proud of an average rating of just over 4 stars — a dream rating for anything found on Yelp. As time passes the restaurant will enter its stride, find it’s niche, and those 4 stars will surely hold strong.

DC’s picky diners will come to understand what those in Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey and Florida long ago embraced — that Stephen Starr is a force, that his restaurants succeed, and that he may know just what he is doing a little better than we do.

The Unhappy and Never Satisfied

Then again, tucked among the restrained praise of 4 and 5 star reviews, are the grenades lobbed by the unhappy and the never satisfied — which do a better job illustrating the reviewer’s awkward life experiences than the restaurant, dry cleaner or CVS in question. Here are some choice excerpts:

“Bob” from Baltimore, 2 stars for Le Diplomate brunch:

“Pros: Great job on the interior decor. Cons: Went for morning brunch on 4/21 and arrived 9:50 am and waited inline to get in. The atmosphere was chaotic (arranging tables, no wait staff to sit customers etc). A group of about 15 customers just milling at the entrance after giving their names waiting to be seated. Eventually around 10:15 waitstaff{sic}show up and start seating people. Although I requested a table in the atrium area I was not seated there and was taken to the back.”

Let’s see, the restaurant doesn’t even open until 10 am, and you were there at 9:50 am. You “waited inline{sic} to get in…”  So, you were early, and there were already other people waiting ahead of you. Perhaps next you should blame them because you had trouble parking — or because there was traffic on the drive down from Baltimore.

Chaotic atmosphere, a group of 15 milling around, giving names, arranging tables. How dare they! Really, on their first ever brunch, where they are bombarded by people who arrived early, asked to seat an entire sidewalk of diners at once? They were arranging tables? You mean they didn’t know where each and every person should be seated? I can’t imagine. Total fail.

And then, after the 15-minute wait, which must have felt like an eternity, you were seated in “the back!” Unable to sit in the section you self labeled as “the atrium,” and relegated to an area with available seating?  The horror.

But that’s not all. Life has bigger problems for this Charm City Yelper,  he was none too happy with the oldest takeout scam in the book:   Missing Shrimp.

“Tom” from Baltimore, 1 star for a Chinese restaurant:

“Such a scam! 12 bucks for shrimp with garlic, 5 tiny shrimp with tons of onion peppers and fillers. Stay away”

Heavens, what is the restaurant up to? TWELVE DOLLARS for five tiny shrimp? “Tons of onions, peppers, and fillers!” Oh no, my readers! Expect at least a pound of thumb sized, hand-cleaned, wild-caught, organic gulf shrimp for $12!  Did it come with rice? I bet the owner even went so far to add FIVE CENTS for the takeout bag.  The thief! Over on W Street NW, things just weren’t going “Dick’s way either…

“Dick” from Baltimore, 2 stars for an upscale fast food restaurant:

“Went here last night and ordered a wrap with shrimp to go. Got home and there was not a single shrimp. Very disapointed.” (sic)

Not a single shrimp. It must have at least lived up to it’s name, and been fast and gourmet (minus the lack of shrimp).

Last night, I asked my friend, fellow blogger, and DC radio legend, “Why do you like Yelp so much?”

Without pausing to think, she said, “It’s so great, I mean, it’s the fastest way to see if a restaurant is open, the hours are right there, and you can click to call the number.”

“And the reviews?” I wondered.

“Who has time for that? I just need to know what time they close.”

Hers was the first Yelp review I found useful.

By all means keep yelping, but most of us have stopped reading.

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Posted in Lifestyle7 Comments

Take a Short Road Trip for the Best Cherry Blossoms

From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.

"Cherry Blossoms"

Tourists along the Tidal Basin. The blossoms are great, but not the best in the area. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Washingtonians, by now you’re sure to have noted that we are deep into the collective spirit of spring. Having been confined by the last endless winter to a life inside, the out-of-doors is our new way of life, that is, until we are safely ensconced beneath the cool breezes of an air conditioner the moment Washington’s quintessentially south pacific humidity returns.

But for now, and for the foreseeable future the weather is beautiful, the city is buzzing, and the tourists have begun blocking the left side of escalators everywhere.

Nothing quite says “spring has sprung” in DC like the explosion of interest in Cherry Blossoms. Tourists and locals alike flock to Washington to experience the monumental beauty of more than 3,000 century-old trees in full bloom — a majestic, all-out full bloom with their dramatic dream-like effect on our city.

A Virtual Tour

Not having taken the walk around the Tidal Basin myself this year, I took a quick scroll through my Facebook news feed. The past two days leaving me dizzy from the spectacular white pink- and rose-colored blossoms taking my friends’ pages by storm. It’s rather impossible not to love them.

Even an allergy sufferer like myself can appreciate the absolutely breathtaking splendor they evoke. A temporary luxury, a perfect moment afforded an otherwise imperfect city. The gift of a people we would come to both war and peace with, in ideal circumstances the explosive blooms last no more than two weeks. Like all of nature’s gifts, they are unpredictable.

If you’ve had opportunity to see them more than once, chances are that you’ve developed a favorite spot from where to experience them… a vista which you think captures them as they can best be seen… the spot where you show everybody how amazing they are… and aren’t you lucky to live in such a beautiful city… and blah blah blah.

One more clichéd transcendent experience from beneath a branch across the basin towards the Jefferson Memorial and I’ll gag. One more photo taken at dusk as the weeping blossoms cascading toward the water are reflected back, creating a horizontal Rorschach of pink and blue beauty and I’ll vomit. They are beautiful, they are majestic, but they are not the best.

Kenwood: The Best Blossoms

For the best you’ll have to take a little drive, an adventure for most of you pavement pounding, bike-sharing Metro riders — but an adventure well worth the effort. You’ll need a friend, a car, a free afternoon and the desire to have a life changing experience. Less than six miles northwest of downtown tucked away off River Road in the generally banal suburb of Bethesda is a neighborhood of 300 or so perfect homes set in the most spectacular surroundings.

Kenwood, built in the 1920s, straddles a country club with which it shares it’s name. Grassy hills, lush valleys, impeccably maintained multi-million dollar homes set among quiet one-way streets and following a natural creek might be beautiful on their own. However, Kenwood offers something a little more. Taking inspiration from the late Dr. David Fairchild. He was the original importer of 75 weeping variety of Japanese cherry trees. Kenwood developers Don Chamberlin and Edgar Kennedy planted more than 1,200 Yoshino cherry trees in their new development.

The trees, at least 1,200 of which survive to this day, are magnificent. On some streets, the mature trees and their blossoms create a canopy, a street wide overhead explosion of pink and white clouds set in motion by the lightest breeze. The setting is magical.

The mall and the tidal basin are quintessentially Washington. They are the best our city has to offer and they are beautiful. But you’re denying yourself the best our area has to offer if you miss Kenwood.

Take my advice. Get in your car and take the drive. One right turn off River Road just past the Whole Foods and you will have long left the ordinary. One turn and Kenwood will envelop you in a car wash tunnel of blossoms. Park. You‘ll have to get out; you’ll have to walk it with your own two feet just to prove it’s real. It is and it’s the best.

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Posted in LifestyleComments Off

Food We Don’t Know We Don’t Want

From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.

"Food"

Food that we want to eat? (Luis Gomez Photos)

I work in a restaurant. I live above a restaurant. I eat out. Constantly.

Rather than qualify myself with a litany of reviews I’ve written, boring you with stories of experiences good, bad, and ugly, I will simply beg you, as the reader, not just of this story, but of menus everywhere to scrutinize restaurants offering any of these items and further plead with you not to order them. Each time you do, you reinforce the restaurateurs’ notion that you’re an easy, undiscerning mark.

Bon Appetite.

Hummus. I don’t care what you think. The hummus you just ordered is not fresh. It was not made in anyone’s “house.”  They doled out scoops from some 5-gallon drum of chick-pea purée, added the least virtuous olive oil they could find, and then, just to get you to notice it, added that “exotic” ingredient that made you think it was special.

Once upon a time it was “roasted” red peppers, which FYI, were also canned. Then they moved on to feta crumbles, and minced garlic, or, perhaps the “pesto” caught your eye. When that didn’t satisfy you they began including include sesame seeds, and diced apples, how innovative. Been there, done that. Every restaurant is not Lebanese Taverna. Why are you ordering hummus from a bar?

Beets. There they are, suddenly everywhere. A food nobody liked while they were growing up has taken DC’s menus by storm. A food which generally needs to be roasted, thereby defining it as a fall/winter ingredient is appearing on menus everywhere. And how do you camouflage a cheap, autumnal food, satisfying the “health conscious” yoga crowd?

That’s right, you make it small, and you serve it cold. Oh, there it is, the Beet Salad!  Oooo, look, they do it with pears, they do it with apples!  Wow. Oh, wait, look: it’s over greens with Gorgonzola. Are those figs? Oh wait, but not just roasted beets, no, no. That would be too easy to fool a gourmand like yourself; you need something drizzled over them, something to cut the canned taste of even the most expertly roasted beet, something they’d serve at the White House. Something like number three…

Honey Mustards. What a perfect complement to beets!  What a perfect complement to anything. A classic combination created by accident, or on purpose to satisfy the human desire for dynamic contrast, the sweet tangy deliciousness. The mixing of honey and mustard together was undoubtedly the work of a pot-smoking frat boy with, as food lore would often have you believe, too little in his fridge leaving him to improvise. Sure. Whatever.

The point is, this isn’t college, life is no longer a basket of chicken tenders. It is time to move beyond you starter dressings. You may choose to dip your cold pizza into a bowl of ranch, but restaurants have stopped pushing it on you. Not so with honey mustard, and it’s urban cousin, Honey Dijon, which restaurants like to keenly disguise with names that spell classy with a “k.” Menus offer, “honey glazed salmon with a Dijon reduction… wildflower & mustard seed sauce… a Sweet Mesquite, blah blah, HONEY MUSTARD. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s everywhere, it’s the H&M of food. Grow up.

Candied ___________. Yeah, you know nuts: walnuts, pecans, cashews… etc. Translation: “Hey, fatty, we got the food nature gave us and added a little something for ya, SUGAR.”  They sound innocent and elegant, but they’re nothing but extra calories, once again disguised as innovation. When did the “Field Green, Apple, Blue-Cheese Crumble, Candied ___________ Salad” get invented? I don’t know, but I do know why it’s still around… because you won’t let it go.

It’s barely a salad, and you know that because you’re not loosing any weight eating it. Further, as soon as Wendy’s starts serving it, you know it’s time to say goodbye. The candied nut craze is so over. Remember goat cheese and smoked salmon pizza? The candied nut is a remnant of then.

Calamari. Look, make no mistake. I will claim, until my death, that we (at Floriana) have served some of the best fried Calamari the world has ever known. Floriana herself was kind of obsessed with the whole thing, always reminding me that since every other restaurant in the neighborhood, Italian or not had it on their menus, her’s had to be the best. In her defense, it was, and might still be. I have, over the years taken a great deal of joy in ordering the disasters being served as Calamari at a number of Dupont and Logan restaurants.

I am far too much of a gentleman to name names, but one could stroll down 17th, around P, and up 14th on a tour of the worst calamari I have ever seen. Limp circles, aside a plastic ramekin of slightly warmed “marinara” as fresh as it’s journey from the jar through the kitchen to the table would allow. Calamari cut so small and breaded so heavily that it resembles a mysteriously small onion ring. Pile of calamari so enormous, served over a magenta vat of sweet and sour sauce so sweet, the entire experience is sour.

Or perhaps, worst of all, a calamari trip east. A greasy heap of squid pieces tossed in a sauce nodding to the flavors of Asia, but instead, greedily absorbing every drop of their soy-salt sauce, one bite resulting in immediate hypertension.

So next time, do yourself a favor. Order something new. If not new to you, at least new to the restaurant.

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Posted in Food & Drink3 Comments

Parking in DC: Sign Language

"sign"

The secret language of parking signs. (Dito Sevilla)

From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.

If you drive a car in the District of Columbia, eventually you’re going to have to find a place to park it. As a longtime DC resident I have learned when and where I can and cannot park. I know where hidden spaces are located and the best times to park in them.

I have also come to know other less than legal spots, and relish in their convenience to risk of ticket ratio. Expert though I am, there are some streets so mislabeled and jumbled, signs so confusing, redundant and contradictory that the risk of getting ticketed is incalculable.

Usually, my car — like so many others belonging to non-commuters — remains safety parked in the same space for weeks, sometimes months. However now that city street cleaning has resumed I am forced to move it at least twice a week.

Mondays and Tuesdays in my neighborhood mean that between 9:30 and 11:30 am there is no place to park at all. So I often use the time to visit a Target, or make a Costco run, picking up enough toilet paper to last all year. Incidentally, if anyone is making Chicken Picatta, I have several gallons of capers left.

Meanwhile, if I am lucky enough to get back into the city before noon I can find a space close to my house with relative ease. Unless three homes on Q Street are under construction… along with interminable renovations on Church Street… and another home on 17th being moved into, or out of at that time. Parking becomes impossible as residents kindly abuse their “Emergency No-Parking Signs” — but more on that in another article.

I return into the city, do a couple loops around my block and suddenly my understanding of legal, illegal, convenient and possible becomes very muddled. Really, is that what that says? When, where? I read the signs as if I have never been to Washington.

I try to make sense of the alien math used to limit times and distances from curbs, intersections and crosswalks. Everywhere I look another regulation discourages the act of parking altogether. It’s as if the city itself wants me to remain in perpetual motion.

“No Parking,” that’s clear enough, but why is the red arrow pointing directly at a green arrow advertising “2-Hour Parking, Zone 2 Residents Exempt.” Does that mean that if I live in Zone 2 I can park there?  Doubtful. I’ll just keep circling.

It is then that I realize: no two streets are labeled the same; it’s a complete mess. I took pictures, of course, because who could believe me. The president lives but nine blocks away, and we can’t agree on where and when we can and cannot park? Really? I’m well acquainted with the District’s third-world mentality in all things regulatory, but I think that even they could draft parking guidelines that exhibit a modicum of equanimity to all drivers.

So I ask, readers, am I wrong? Is your street clearly labeled? Has every ticket you’ve received been fair? Did it make sense to you? Was that meter really expired? Was the posted sign you ignored really “clearly posted?”

I have included some of my photographic findings (above), and rather than try to explain them, I will let you decide what they each have or do not have in common. In a city where inches matter, who rules?

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Posted in Lifestyle3 Comments

Timing Is Everything

From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.

"timing" In the near 10 years I have spent underground, mixing and listening, advising and shaking, pouring and un-popping I have seen and heard a lifetime of celebration and sadness, mind numbing plotting, relationship building and ending, the excitement of newly minted, fresh faced, non-profit workers alongside their jaded counterparts and results of three presidential elections.

After 10 Holiday Seasons, 10 High-Heel Races, 10 Gay Pride Parades and thousands of guests, I thought I had seen it all. Then came Tuesday, February 26, 2013.

It was a nasty, windy, cold and rainy night. My little bar was blessed with its usual mélange of friends, regulars and neighborhood newbies, each angling for a seat at the subterranean watering hole at which I have chosen to leave my mark on the world of service. The evening began normal enough: wine, lasagna, two Grey Goose martinis, some gays, some girls, a man on a date, a couple in the window and umbrellas strewn about.

Around closing time though the door walked a woman, a young woman with that look on her face. That look which says, “Oh, you’re still open…” I wasn’t, but why should that stop her. Morphing my disdain into a smile, I offered her a seat, affording her ample opportunity to ignore every subconscious signal I sent pleading with her to get out.

I guess my smile was convincing; she quickly made herself at home, ordered some wine and did her best to ignore me ignoring her. As there were few conversations in which she could insert herself, I took it upon myself to do the part of my job I either love or hate depending on who I have to do it with.

I asked, “So who the hell are you, where are you from, what are you doing here, etc.?”

I used nicer words; she unburdened herself. I re-filled her glass, and then my own.

After a few minutes, her story went from boring to depressing. She is, or was, an attorney. She was just laid off, and has come to DC for a temp job reviewing documents, blah, blah, blah. I can now assure you: the only thing more boring than reviewing documents is listening to a story about reviewing documents.

Anyhow, while I knew that the past 30 minutes were a half-hour I’d never get back, I forced myself to be pleased I had done a kind thing, not letting this stranger-turned-new-friend go thirsty. All was right in our little world. No sooner had I sighed, “Okay, well… goodnight…” the door opened again.

Really, now what?

Audibly exhaling, I turned to make eye contact with a very wet, yet extremely distinguished gentleman. I would like to say it was kindness which edited my internal monologue from “And who the hell are you?” to “Good evening, sir. How are you this evening? A little wet I see. Well have a seat.”

But no, it was curiosity.

I love people, especially when people look like they’re somebody, and he did. I thought to myself, his bearing is dignified. His overcoat is tailored. He looked like the kind of man who thrives in all climates. Wind, rain, perfect! This man was born with the understanding that what makes a man great is his ability to adapt, to succeed in the face of opposition, and prosper, not in spite of it, but because of it. Then again I had made all this up in my head. He sat, ordered a beer. I began my paperwork. I’d be home in 20 minutes. No, of course I wouldn’t.

They began talking. And talking. There was a connection, a spark. Conversation flowed; I eavesdropped. He’s a lawyer too. She’s always thought older men remind her of her father (daddy issues). He has two daughters. She wants to relocate. He’s a partner in a firm. He’s going to Greece next week.

She spent a summer in Athens. She loves Dogs. He did pro-bono work for PETA. She just bought a new watch. He collects them… and on, and on, and on. After two hours of agreement, I could take no more. They exchanged numbers, he asked her to join him in Greece. She said, yes. When they returned, he said, there might be room for new talent at his firm.

Just as I was thinking how magical my job was, that my patience somehow allowed these two to make such a meaningful and powerful connection right there, all before my very eyes… the phone rang. No, no. Not my phone, hers.

It was her “boyfriend.” WHO?

I raised my eyebrows, rolling my eyes back so far I could see my own ass. I turned, daring not to look at the gentleman. I heard the sound of my teeth grinding as she indicated she’d be home, “in a few.” Oh dear.

The room became cold. Goodbyes were exchanged. Calls and emails were promised. His dignity impressed me. No sooner had she returned my goodbye nod she was out the door, across the patio, and onto the sidewalk. Luckily, I didn’t have to say a word. With a last glance at her name and a flip of his wrist, her card fell to the cold, wet, concrete floor. He asked, speaking to me with the same bearing with which he entered “I’d sooner hire my ex-wife to litigate. Can you believe that simple bitch.” It wasn’t a question. I didn’t answer.

So, while there is probably a lesson here, something about opportunity, timing, the motives of man, I still haven’t figured it out. But people, when you’re in a restaurant, silence your phones, because the next time your “man” calls, you might be in Greece, with your new boss. Next Tuesday, I’m closing at 11.

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Just Your Ordinary Wig Night Out: The Story Behind the Event

From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.

"Wig Night Out"

Wig Night Out 2012. (Luis Gomez Photos)

We live in the greatest city in the world! Okay, maybe we do. After all, we have some of the nation’s worst traffic; we attract ignorant tourists who seem genetically inclined to block the escalators descending into the one of the world’s most disappointing transit systems, and our taxicabs stink, literally.

Our summers are hot, and they are humid. We lack a vote in Congress. President Kennedy called Washington, a city of Southern efficiency, and Northern charm — and right he was. We are not the nicest people on earth, certainly not the kindest, and even, it seems, almost 5% of us may be Republican voters.

One trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles will expose you to levels of efficiency that will make digging your own grave with a baby spoon seem productive — and desirable. But the fact is, it’s still the greatest city in the world because of us.

Washingtonians are highly educated, extremely tolerant, and generally pretty attractive. We are politically active, highly motivated, and very well read. Look, you’re reading this, aren’t you?

“Get Out Your Wigs”

The email read: “Get Out Your Wigs.”

Assuming that basically every gay man owns a wig, James said he’d like to fill the little bar at Floriana with friends — our friends — and just have a “wig night out” — just us, in wigs, with drinks, having fun, among friends; why not? Being no stranger to Washington’s multitudinous annual drag events, pageants, costume balls and other extravaganzas I consented immediately. How exciting, a drag party in the middle of the week; so much to do, so much to prepare, what heels to wear?

As the party has outgrown both the bar at Floriana and Level One, this year, our event will be held at JR’s Bar and Grill on Saturday, February 23 (17th and Church Streets NW).  We are expecting 250 generous, wig-clad attendees, and with their help, we hope to raise more than $10,000. For more information on Wig Night out, visit the Facebook event page.

“No, no, no…” said James, “it’s just your ordinary wig night out.”

Well, that sounded strange. No heels, no makeup, no dress?  I was confused.

“We’ll just be men in wigs!”  I had an image to protect, so I thought.

James insisted, it’s just your ordinary wig night, he kept saying, “because drag is too much work…”

Of course, but this is not just a bar I thought, it’s a restaurant, we have dinner customers… we call them ‘guests’ now. Are they not going to be startled by the sight of 10 men standing around in wigs? Drag, they might understand, but just wigs? People need a reason, don’t they?

The First Wig Night

Wig Night Out 2010 was upon us. Though back then, we just called it Wig Night. And it was just that; 10 men in assorted wigs, filling my little bar, enjoying a drink.

There was however one addition to the original plan. On the bar I placed a glass jar, which simply read “Donations.”

I had thought, that perhaps were anyone to inquire about the mid-week appearance of ten wig-clad gentlemen, rather than explain the point that there really was no point, well that it would just be easier to say that we were raising money for some wig-related cause. After all, it must have been a few years before people stopped asking thousands of women why they were jogging about the city in head-to-toe pink.

At any rate, the jar sat mostly ignored, until it didn’t. A lovely suburban couple had been sent to the bar to await their reservation when they wife, her name was Susan asked the question I had been awaiting: “Why, uh… are…?”

“Why are we in these wigs, you ask?” I launched into a completely fabricated account of this new tradition we began, where we wore wigs, and nothing more in order to look silly and raise awareness for assorted causes, and that we had chosen Locks of Love, a charity that provides… I couldn’t keep lying, because suddenly the unexpected happened.

Susan opened her purse, and began writing out a check, for $60 to Locks of Love, coupling it with another $40 in cash from her husband, placed it in the Jar. We had accidentally, on purpose began turning Jaime’s party, and my lies, into reality. That night all the men in wigs put a little something in that jar. Just over $230 was raised, by accident, on purpose. We had begun a tradition.

The 2011 party grew, and so did the donations. We broke the $1,000 mark and sent it off to our charity of choice, the Point Foundation, providers of financial support, mentoring, leadership training and hope to meritorious students who are marginalized due to sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Last year’s WNO at Level One raised more than $5,000 — no longer by accident, and most certainly on purpose.

As the party has outgrown both the bar at Floriana and Level One, this year, our event will be held at JR’s Bar and Grill on Saturday, February 23 (17th and Church Streets NW).  We are expecting 250 generous, wig-clad attendees, and with their help, we hope to raise more than $10,000. For more information on Wig Night out, visit the Facebook event page.

Something tells me, it can be done, either by accident or on purpose. It’s just not your ordinary wig night out anymore.

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Trio and Fox & Hounds Sold

"Trio"

Trio Restaurant in February 2010. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.

Well folks, it appears the rumors are true. Trio has been sold along with Fox & Hounds, 17th Street’s most elegant dive-bar to long-time manager of its sister restaurant Trio. Both businesses officially changed hands earlier this month.

The prospect of an eventual sale was nothing new. For years, Trio and Fox & Hounds have been officially, or rather unofficially “for sale” through brokers and agents tasked with finding the right buyer for one of DC’s oldest restaurants. Trio Restaurant opened as a luncheonette by an eponymous “trio” of partners sometime in 1940.

Since that time, the restaurant has remained in the same family, some 73 years. Over the decades, owner George Mallios and his family expanded their luncheonette several times, first into a full-service diner, and then around both corners of 17th and Q Streets NW adding the Fox & Hounds “Lounge” in 1967, and Trio Pizza in 1973. Trio Pizza was eventually broken off and sold to Jaime Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bar where it remains today, having itself expanded further down Q Street.

Of all the recipes served at Trio and Fox & Hounds, none are more vexing to me than their astonishing recipe for success. Having lived in Washington my entire life I have seen restaurants come and go, open and close, reinvent, repaint and renovate… but not Trio. As long as I can remember, the corner remains unchanged.

Sure the burgundy awnings are now green, and the faded mismatched plastic patio chairs are replaced as soon as they no longer support the weight of exactly one drunk person, but for the most part, no effort has ever been taken embrace change. I usually subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, but Trio has taken it to another level altogether.

Though you’d never notice, every year the wall-to-wall carpeting of the Fox and Hounds is changed out for (you guessed it) the same exact gray-tan-beige Astroturf. Drinks are served, as they always have, “English Style,” where the liquor is poured over ice, and handed to you with a small bottle of mixer, allowing you to add it as you see fit. The recipe only changes if you change it yourself.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you cut a hole in a wall and jammed a port-a-potty into it?  One visit to either Fox & Hounds bathroom will illustrate the result better than I could in writing. Although we are told that they are closing the second weekend of February until Tuesday at 4 pm to redo the bathrooms!

For all of it’s idiosyncrasies, dysfunctional pricing system, handwritten receipts, quizzical odors and so-outdated-it’s-new-again-décor, Trio and “the Fox,” as locals know it, are places where you always feel at home, (assuming you live in a bowling alley’s party room). One can’t help but let their guard down in a place where judgment is the only thing not welcomed. Chelsea Clinton chose Fox & Hounds as the place to drown her sorrows after one particularly tough break-up with her now husband. Tears and Jameson flowed, as patrons and secret-service agents looked on, both in horror. How could we judge?

As the next few months pass, the staff may be retained or replaced, the walls may change color, the bathroom may no longer resemble a jiffy-john, and with luck, the food may even improve, and under the right circumstances you may even eat it. But, remind yourself that no matter whatever the future holds for the corner of 17th and Q, it will always be Trio, it’ll always be the “Fox” and the tears of a president’s daughter will always be welcome.  On a block where Agora was Jack’s, and Jack’s was Le Pigalle, and Le Pigalle was Peppers and Peppers was Boss Shepherd’s — I know as much as things change, they will, too, remain very much the same.

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Moving Forward with New Resolutions: “Tomorrow Never Comes”

From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.

"Resolutions"

Resolutions. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Happy New Year all. How are those resolutions working out for you?  It’s been more than two weeks – have you quit smoking, did you loose the weight, are you living healthier? Did you walk your dog further, drink more water, go to church more often?

Have you cut out fast -food, gone “paleo” or woken-up without the snooze? Are you spending less time on Facebook, have you built new relationships, did you call your mother? Did you start a project, paint a room, clean out the garage, get those thank-you notes mailed out?

No? I didn’t think so. Nobody thought so. They didn’t either.

Every new year is accompanied by a euphoric fresh start. The first days are overflowing with optimism. Glasses are all half-full of promises, declarations, and statements of purpose.

We move from life on Earth to a newly designed universe of possibility. Resolutions are as much a denial of our current condition as they are goals for change and self-improvement.

Years ago I worked for a man who for a time served as a colonel in the Egyptian army. Above his desk, written in Arabic was an idiom I originally viewed as terribly pessimistic. It read, simply, “tomorrow never comes.” It took me years to understand its purpose, much less its inspirational value. As he explained, every day and the next will have a tomorrow but we will never see it. We, it seems, will always live in today. So, don’t let tomorrow be the place you store your life.

A week or two passes, bills arrive, laundry piles up, suddenly it’s been raining for five days in a row, and the morning jogs you had planned are on their way to the resolution list of 2014. It just happens, your life gets in the way of your plans. It’s nothing new. Words penned by Allen Saunders and later adopted by John Lennon explain everything, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

Resolutions are by definition, “other plans.”  Sometimes, plans don’t pan out, actually I find they rarely do. Of course, I’m not suggesting self-improvement isn’t possible or desirable. Of course it is!

Pause and Reflect

However, what I’m putting forth is a suggestion to pause. Take a moment to reflect on the notion that no resolution is new. How different are this year’s promises to those of year’s past? Weren’t you always striving to eat healthier, read more and do better? Look back, because in that pile of life you’ve lived, there are failures, yes — plenty of them, but there, too, are successes.

Rather than approach each year with a list of things you want to improve, which is by default things at which you have failed, or at the very least not mastered, reflect back on a year of life lived, hands held, walks taken and sights seen. You’ve made it, you deserve to feel good about it. Not everything was perfect, no, no, it wasn’t, but you made progress, you gained experience.

New years are not simply a time to gaze into the great unknown of things to come. That’s too simple, too cheap, too much the same for everyone. New years must also be the time to pat oneself on the back, to take that often forgotten moment to be self-congratulatory on a year well spent. Making resolutions often robs us of that opportunity. It focuses too much on the negative, by not recognizing the good we’ve done.

Focus on Today

Focusing too much on tomorrow, we lose sight of the joys of today. Think of it, when do resolutions begin? Tomorrow. The whole process is procrastination.

So, where is your list? I know you’ve made one. Perhaps it has not been written down, but it still exists. Go over it. Review the plans you have for 2013 and picture yourself completing every task, now add to it, “winning the lottery.” Jackpot! All that possibility feels good doesn’t it?  It’s nice imagining yourself as the success you want to be and feel.

The difficulty is, it’s not sustainable. The feeling dies with every day our lists don’t get done. The further from complete they are the greater our chances of feeling unsuccessful become. Setting realistic goals is important, but more so is my suggestion that your list is wrong. You’re looking at the wrong list.

Get yourself a pen and paper and start a new list. Write out those things you did last year that made you happy. Reflect back on those moments you felt successful. The beautiful things you saw, the great foods you ate, add those too. Time with friends, moments with family, movies you loved.

Friendships you created, relationships you cultivated all have a place. As your list grows, so will your happiness. Think of the great days at work, the difficult times you overcame, goals you set- and achieved. That is your life. Those are your successes. Don’t focus on the projects you started, focus on those you completed.

Your list is should act as the résumé for your soul. Not so bad is it?  Don’t let the goal of happiness get in the way of actually being happy. If all you’re ever going to do is plan, then you better enjoying the planning.

So smile, get up, drink that water, go to the gym, and pay down your debt. Today things need doing, and you’re just getting started.

This is your year. They all are.

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