Audiophiles who crave the warm sound of vinyl records with their coffee at Songbyrd Record Cafe have a new place to roost during the evening.
Songbyrd’s new bar and restaurant, Songbyrd Music House, located adjacent to the cafe at 2477 18th St. NW, opens tonight at 5 p.m.
The new bar will feature an exposed brick wall, wood paneling and a long bar that stretches through much of the space.
The Music House will be open until midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends. Like the cafe, the bar will be closed on Monday.
It’s easy to overlook Monarch Novelties.
Wedged between coffee and cocktail bar Slipstream and and an organic dry cleaning store, the shop’s faded, cracked sign looks messy in comparison. Two hand-lettered signs on the front door read, “RING BELL.” Four stuffed hippos wearing jester caps, an inflatable Tweety Bird, and a jovial, bug-eyed Santa Claus sunbathe in the store’s cloudy storefront window.
To some locals, the run-down shop is an eyesore.
“I can’t wrap my head around how it’s stayed open,” wrote a PoPville forum user last June. “Are any of [these buildings] slated to get torn down and rebuilt into new condos? Or will this block lag behind the rest of 14th for all time?”
But inside the shabby shop overshadowed by luxury condos and flanked by trendy bars lies a wealth of history and an assortment of odd items that are hard to find elsewhere in D.C.
Douglas Robinson, Monarch’s owner, is always the first person patrons see upon entering. From behind a small table cluttered with pads of paper, a rotary phone and a worn-down cash register, Robinson buzzes in customers, then watches them with an unwavering gaze. From time to time, he rises from his chair to follow shoppers as they browse, presumably to make sure they’re not pilfering raffle ticket rolls, plastic party hats, old postcards, finger traps or vintage political buttons inscribed with slogans like “I Hate Everybody,” and “Go Go Goldwater in ’64.”
The eclectic assortment of wares often prompts patrons to ask whether they’ve wandered into a store or a private residence. But Robinson, who actually does live above the store, always replies the same way: “You can shop here, as long as you have green currency.”
Many of the store’s wares come from garage sales, roadside stands, and going-out-of-business bargains. And those items are likely cheaper than you’d find elsewhere. Vintage buttons, for instance, sell for between $2 and $5 apiece. Postcards decorated with the portrait of President Nixon are fifty cents.
On a street where a night of cocktails might cost as much as a new pair of shoes, that’s quite a bargain.
Robinson, who’s lived in D.C. for 64 years, also likes to dispense historical knowledge. “President Johnson used to go to mass at the National City Christian Church,” he says softly to a patron holding a Lyndon B. Johnson inauguration button. “This city has gone through its ups and downs. Lots of changes.”
Of course, Robinson has his quirks. For instance, photography is strictly forbidden in the store. He also has a unique and quiet way of speaking, so it’s not always easy to understand what he says.
Fathom Creative founder Drew Mitchell has lived and worked in the building next to Monarch Novelties since 2009, and has gotten to know Robinson well.
“He’s a little like cotton candy that’s been sitting in the sun for a little too long,” says Mitchell with a laugh. “Kind of hard on the outside, but really warm and approachable when you get to know him.”
“He knows every bus route, every street, every building,” Mitchell says. “He’s explored every nook and cranny of the city. He has the memory of an elephant.”
But how can a store that sells plush animals and kazoos stay open? When asked, Robinson is tight-lipped. But Mitchell says he fields that question a lot.
“A lot of people think, with the rent on 14th Street, how in the world does this place exist?” says Mitchell. “His family owns the building outright, so [they can afford it].”
According to the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue, the property is owned by Lilly Robinson, and is worth over $1 million.
“It’s one of those places that gives our neighborhood its urban texture,” says Mitchell. “It can’t be manufactured.”
“We’re the last novelty store like this left,” Robinson says with a smile. “We’re the only ones.”
From Jamie Hurts. Email her at jamiehurst[AT]borderstan.com and follow her on twitter @highheeldtravlr
I recently tweeted my fellow Washingtonians asking where I could replenish my magazine stock and find some inspiration. I received only one answer, “Go to The Newsroom on Connecticut.” I’ve walked past the unassuming facade many times without noticing it and you don’t see magazines filling up the windows. You have to go inside to find them.
Walk past the deli counter, convenience store, and tourist shop, all the way to the back where simple shelves are filled with some of the most well respected and entertaining publications in the world.
Dupont Circle is saturated with bookstores (three on the Circle itself), coffee shops (upwards of ten within a five minute walk from the metro), and plenty of places to grab a quick sandwich.
The Newsroom is north on Connecticut, just past all the hustle and bustle. They don’t have a twitter or Facebook account, or even website. The shop isn’t trendy but it does have a cult following – panic and sadness ensued when they recently temporarily closed.
When I need a magazine fix – foreign, domestic, and small publications – I now go here to make a haul. My last visit I came away with Italian Vogue, Wallpaper Magazine, Nylon, and the Economist. If you are an expat feeling homesick in Borderstan, or just curious about the goings-on in other parts of the world, this is your one stop shop – you can even grab a cup of coffee, too.
The Newsroom, 1803 Connecticut Avenue NW (just south of Florida Avenue), Washington, DC 20009, (202) 332-1489
You walk into a restaurant with a couple of friends. The hostess greets you by name, asks if you want your regular table.
Your friends are impressed. They want to know why you’re getting the royal treatment.
“Oh, I own this place,” you say. “And it only cost me $50.”
This is the kind of story Fundrise and its co-founder, Ben Miller, want to help make happen in DC and across the U.S.
Fundrise is crowdfunding for real estate. Through the site you can buy into a piece of property, and can potentially earn money back, over time, on that investment.
Ben and his brother, Daniel, started the site, part of Rise Companies, which has eight full-time employees and also owns the site Popularise, to give more people a chance at participating in real estate investment.
Ben also hopes Fundrise allows people to have a greater sense of ownership in their community.
“It’s a tool for building communities,” Ben said. “So everyone can participate in investing in real estate and building their environment.”
Through Fundrise you can buy units, or shares, of a real estate investment.
The first such investment was 1351 H Street, a limited liability corporation representing property on H Street NE, which will house a business operated by the people behind DURKL and Toki Underground. The business is expected to open in Spring 2013.
While you will reap financial rewards of owning a piece of property through Fundrise, Ben cautions in real estate a return on investment can take time.
“It’s [Real estate’s] the opposite of Wall Street,” Ben said.
Along with another piece of someone’s investment portfolio, Ben sees Fundrise empowering people to greater participation in their communities.
“Who has the power to build neighborhoods?” Ben asks.
The answer, according to Ben and Daniel, is you.