In January, an arcing insulator and a series of false steps caused a tunnel near the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station to fill with smoke. By the end of the day, one woman was dead and dozens had been hospitalized. Electrical arcing—when materials including water come into contact with the electrified third rail, producing sparks or smoke—is a common occurrence in Metro’s system, especially on the Red Line. In mid-November, firefighters were called to the Bethesda station for such an incident, which caused a 45-minute shutdown; they were back again on Dec. 16 for the same reason. Arcing insulators are just one of the many issues Metro is now grappling with after years of delayed repairs and maintenance. And while the majority of incidents don’t end with a fatality, like January’s did, they do cause single-tracking and delays that turn riders away from Metro. With confidence in the system at an all-time low, arcing insulators are just one part of a broken system Metro’s leadership needs to fix to win back the region. —Sarah Anne Hughes
Early in 2015, the Arlington County Board voted to close Artisphere, the multimedia art space it had operated in Rosslyn since 2010. While the center never generated the profits the county hoped it would (because really, who was going to Rosslyn in search of art?), it did welcome some of the region’s most experimental and interactive works, like an installation of Andy Warhol’s “Silver Clouds” in 2013 and a silent performance by Chicago’s Manual Cinema this past February. Artisphere also hosted work by community members, be they filmmakers, musicians, or aspiring curators, an opportunity not afforded emerging artists at the region’s more famous museums. The center officially closed in June, leaving the area with one fewer center for artistic expression and Arlington with one more vacant building that it will have to fill. One of the final live programs was a performance by artist Carolina Mayorga called “Our Lady of the Vanishing Arts,” a grim omen for the future of arts programming in the D.C. area. —Caroline Jones
Months before Marion Barry died, he brought his son Christopher onstage to help endorse Mayor Vince Gray’s 2014 re-election campaign. Barry’s embrace of his son made a not-so-subtle point: Barry, ailing for years, wanted Christopher to replace him. Thanks to his often strained relationship with his father and a criminal record filled with DUI and drug charges, Christopher struck political wags as an awkward choice for the new mayor-for-life. The beginning of 2015 proved the whisperers right, as the younger Barry, already a declared candidate to replace his father on the D.C. Council, allegedly threatened a bank teller who wouldn’t let him overdraw his bank account. Barry started playing down his middle name and styling himself as “Marion C. Barry,” but it didn’t help on the ballot, where he came in sixth. Barry promised to run for the Ward 8 seat again next year, only to back off more recently and endorse another hopeful, exercising the kind of electoral restraint that hasn’t normally run in the family. —Will Sommer
Because we live in a landlocked territory, District residents’ interest is piqued by any mention of a beach, even one made out of plastic spheres and artificial turf. The National Building Museum’s summer installation, an adult-sized ball pit designed by Brooklyn-based Snarkitecture, drew more than 180,000 visitors between the Fourth of July and Labor Day. Guests entertained themselves by tossing around beach balls, “floating” in the 3.5-feet-deep pit, and taking selfies. Beachgoers had so much fun that they lost items in the exhibit’s depths. Among the things found when the exhibition was emptied: phones, fitness trackers, more than $400 in change, and an engagement ring that has since been reunited with its owner. But even with its sleek white and translucent color scheme, the Beach couldn’t dispel the notion that all ball pits are breeding grounds for bacteria. Despite the balls being made from an anti-microbial material and the exhibit being regularly sprayed with disinfectant, one visitor claims to have gotten pink eye there, and others were snapping photos of gunk-covered balls. In the coming year, the Beach will exist in a different form in D.C.: 650,000 remaining balls will be used as part of a site-specific installation for the Dupont Underground. —Caroline Jones
You could say it took a near-death experience for Beauty Pill to create one of the best albums of the year, but that’s too convenient a narrative. Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are is so much more than Chad Clark’s “comeback album” after a heart infection nearly killed him in 2007. That’s because there’s nothing singular about Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are. Clark may front the experimental pop group, but each member—Drew Doucette, Basla Andolsun, Jean Cook, and Devin Ocampo—brings a nascent musical element to the table, which adds to the wonderfully dynamic, layered sounds on each song, creating a vibrant ecosystem of sonic soundscapes. It’s the most alive an album has sounded in 2015, with death nowhere to be found. —Matt Cohen
On Aug. 22, Mei Xiang, the National Zoo’s resident panda oven, gave birth to two cubs, one of whom survived. That cub would go on to momentarily break me, an unapologetic and unrepentant panda lover. Unlike ten-year-old Tai Shan and two-year-old Bao Bao, Mei’s youngest cub, Bei Bei, was named unilaterally by the first ladies of the U.S. and China. The decision to not hold a public vote on the name of a panda who lives at a taxpayer-funded facility in our nation’s capital was a disgrace. (Just 50 blocks from the White House!) I honestly was not sure that democracy would survive. But survive it did, as did Bei Bei, who has grown into a top-notch ball of fur. He will go on display in January. —Sarah Anne Hughes
Black Lives Matter DMV, now in its second year, may not be as visible on the national stage as other movements across the country, especially in cities that are grappling with the public deaths of black men and women at the hands of law enforcement. But the D.C. area’s movement did see at least one victory this year: stopping a provision of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s crime bill. Protesters opposed to large parts of the bill including the proposed “warrantless searches” of ex-offenders and their homes disrupted Bowser’s August announcement, shouting “We don’t need more police!” and “We want jobs!” A D.C. Council committee seemed to agree, and the provision appeared to be dead after an October hearing. (The bill is still under Council consideration.) The victory should serve as a warning sign to the District’s officials: Black Lives Matter DMV isn’t going away. —Sarah Anne Hughes
Though D.C. launched a pilot program for police body-worn cameras in 2014 as part of an effort to boost government transparency, it hadn’t released a single video captured by the roughly 400 devices currently on the streets until this week when Bowser’s office made footage of the Alonzo Smith incident public this week. Why? Because until recently, the District was still deciding how footage from body cameras ought to be made public—that is, if it should be disclosed at all. In short, some argued that allowing citizens to access the film risks violating individuals’ privacy rights, particularly those of domestic violence survivors. Advocates for the press and open government, however, criticized proposed exceptions to public-records-request laws, such as the D.C. Freedom of Information Act, since these would limit citizens’ ability to review footage and thus hold officials accountable. (What if, the thinking goes, police officers had been wearing cameras during the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo.?) So after a months-long process involving advocates and the mayor’s office, on Dec. 1., the D.C. Council assented in the first of two votes to a compromise bill governing the footage. On Dec. 15, it approved the legislation, which forbids D.C. from disclosing video taken inside private residences. —Andrew Giambrone
It turns out, being a cat lady is a career. Just ask Kanchan Singh, the 25-year-old owner of D.C.’s first and only cat cafe, Crumbs & Whiskers. Singh got the idea during a “quarter-life crisis” backpacking trip to Thailand where she encountered her first cat cafe. She eventually quit her consulting job and leased a former psychic and astrology center in Georgetown to fill with felines. The health department wasn’t so keen on mixing food preparation with furballs, so Crumbs & Whiskers became less a cafe and more a place to hang out with cats and read books like I Could Pee on This. Some see it as a future model for pet adoption, others as peak ridiculousness. The place hosts yoga with cats, after all. —Jessica Sidman
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden stumbled right into its This-Is-Forty moment. Melissa Chiu, the Hirshhorn’s director since October 2014, announced this August that the museum would celebrate its 40th anniversary with a gala in New York. This decision set off a crisis of mid-life proportions in D.C. Would the Hirshhorn rather live in New York? Does Chiu care about the District at all? The birthday party came and went, and going into its 41st year, the Hirshhorn is $1.5 million richer for having hosted that party. (The ceiling is lower for galas held in D.C., the museum claims, although it’s never tried having a massive 40th birthday party here.) What happens next will show how committed Chiu is to D.C.’s favorite concrete donut. So far, she’s staffed up the institution (hiring local arts administrator Lisa Gold as director of engagement, for example), slotted in some exciting exhibits (most notably Mark Bradford’s 360-degree painting installation), and brought more trustees and cash through the doors than any director in years. Now that the party’s behind us, it’s time for Chiu to get to work. —Kriston Capps
After the Nationals signed pitcher Max Scherzer to a $210 million deal in January, he was going to need to do more than just excel on the mound for the mammoth deal to pay off. Scherzer found a way, tossing two no-hitters—and bringing innovation to the realm of postgame celebrating when he squeezed chocolate syrup all over a teammate’s head in April. The experiment proved to be a breakthrough, and chocolate sauce figured into Nats celebrations throughout the season. Baseball players typically dump a bucket of Gatorade on the hero, but this tradition’s durability stems largely from convenience: The bucket is already close by, and its contents become expendable once the game is over. Yet, the beverage’s application is imprecise, and those who are successfully doused often react as if they’ve been hazed, not praised. Thanks to its viscosity, chocolate syrup jolts the recipient less than Gatorade does. And taste-wise, its virtues need little elaboration. “When you have a great win,” Scherzer would proclaim, “let’s top it off with the best topping there is: chocolate syrup.” —Zach Rausnitz
Forty-seven thousand, seven hundred and eighty-one minutes: That’s how long Metrorail trains were delayed this year through Dec. 15, according to data pulled from Metro’s daily service reports. It adds up to more than 796 hours—that’s about 33 days. Yes, Metro users, you spent more than an entire month waiting out delays this year. The main culprit, responsible for 11,617 minutes of delays (more than a week), were trains scheduled to run that didn’t. This happens when not enough trains are available in the system. Another lost week (10,994 minutes of delays) was attributed to brake problems. Passengers waited for another three whole days due to door problems. Track problems, signal problems, unspecified equipment problems, and what Metro simply calls “operational problems” each claimed at least a day’s worth of delays. Medical emergencies and police activity were to blame for a combined 47 hours of delays. But humans and machines weren’t the only ones at fault: Eight incidents (totaling two hours of delays) involved deer on the tracks. —Zach Rausnitz
Officials struggled to stem the spread of synthetics.
This summer, discarded packages of “Bizarro,” “Scooby Snax,” “Ice Dragon,” and other synthetic drugs began to pepper certain public spaces in the District, evidence that people had consumed their high-inducing contents. What became clearer as the season went on, though, was that these were no ordinary drugs, much less the “marijuana” (or even “potpourri”) they’d been advertised as. The number of emergency responses related to overdoses and bad trips from synthetics skyrocketed, peaking at 611 cases in September, according to data from D.C.’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. (FEMS averaged 20 synthetic drug-related transports per day that month, rivaling the number of calls it’d received for car crashes and exceeding that for heart attacks by tenfold.) To put that in further context, the District had seen fewer than 30 cases a month until May 2014.
“The scariest thing about synthetic drugs is everything that’s unknown,” the Washington Post declared in a headline in mid-July. Officials echoed that sentiment in public remarks, with Mayor Muriel Bowser and police Chief Cathy Lanier speculating that the “influx of synthetic drugs,” in the latter’s words, might have been associated with a concurrent uptick in violent crime. (“I know why it’s happening—it’s not even a hypothesis—it’s exactly what we saw in the late 1980s with the crack cocaine epidemic,” D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans said on the Kojo Nnamdi Show. “You’re seeing a synthetic drug epidemic.”) The District was quick to crack down on the drugs, or at least appear to: On July 10, Bowser signed an act that increased penalties for businesses found selling the stuff, based on a two-strikes-you’re-out regulatory scheme, and authorized the Metropolitan Police Department to close down offending stores.
About a month later, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. launched a series of educational meetings at area homeless shelters to inform residents about the risks of synthetic drugs, which, the office said, were “readily available and can cause unpredictable and deadly reactions.” (The campaign followed several overdoses thought to stem from synthetics at CCNV, the city’s largest shelter.)
But all along there was a problem of chemistry: Manufacturers were creating drugs whose chemical compositions kept changing. This meant that law enforcement spent a lot of time and money testing samples for an array of controlled substances; prosecutors would have had to employ “analogue” arguments to prove that the products offenders had been making or selling were “substantially similar” in their chemical makeup to banned substances. So in November, the Office of the Attorney General proposed a bill, now under Council review, that would simplify this process by adding synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones (found in bath salts) to D.C.’s controlled-drugs schedule, and by testing for classes of compounds rather than the individual compound in a given substance.
Synthetic drug cases, according to hospital executives and medical personnel, have contributed to violence in emergency rooms. They continue to put stress on the city’s already overstretched fleet of ambulances. And for the people who have taken or continue to use synthetic drugs, the long-term effects remain to be seen. —Andrew Giambrone
Have you heard about the Embassy Row Hotel? Have you heard, from any particular New York–based media outlet, that it has a rooftop? Did a publication also tell you D.C. was suffering acutely from a “dearth of rooftop anything”? Did that strike you as odd? It did us. Earlier this year, our arts editor poked around and found that, in fact, the hotel had given a free media junket to a Gothamist reporter, which resulted in a listicle about how great the hotel was. Only later did the piece get an update to reflect the fact that the author got freebies. And then something curious happened: Laudatory statements about the Embassy Row Hotel started popping up in other places. The New York Daily News published a mortifying piece titled “Nation’s capital is not your father’s Washington; it has hipsters,” which claimed that “[young people] are inspiring local chefs and bar owners to break out of the box in a way that would have been unthinkable just 10 years ago, when our nation’s capital felt like the kind of place only a bureaucrat could love.” Curbed, the Washington Post, The Daily Meal, The Globe and Mail… this hotel renovation was getting plenty of attention. There’s nothing to do but salute the hotel for its unstoppable PR game, and to remind our fellow journalists to always disclose when you get a handout. But seriously, if you haven’t seen the view from the rooftop bar… —Emily Q. Hazzard
You know the scene: You’re at dinner with three friends at a small plates restaurant when a dish arrives with just three scallops. How do you divide it among four? How annoying is it going to be to split the check? When will the tyranny of tapas come to an end!?! Relax. A new trend is underway, and while it still involves sharing, nobody leaves hungry. More and more restaurants are adding large-format, family-style platters to their menus for groups of two or more. Rose’s Luxury has become popular for serving a brisket platter with horseradish, slaw, and white bread this way. Other examples include a whole animal rotisserie at Iron Gate, an American Wagyu bao platter at Maketto, and a Filipino-style fried suckling pig’s leg at Provision No. 14. Yes, bigger is better. —Jessica Sidman
For 20 years, Walter Fauntroy was the District’s delegate to Congress. But in 2015, he was cast in a very different role: international man of mystery. Fauntroy’s post-Congress career first earned quizzical looks after he flew to war-torn Libya on a hazily defined peace mission. But the strangest part of Fauntroy’s world tour happened this year, as the District home where his wife still lives headed to foreclosure. For his part, Fauntroy insisted to baffled friends that he was in Dubai working on an undisclosed project. Also mitigating against Fauntroy’s return to the U.S.: a Maryland warrant for Fauntroy’s arrest for allegedly writing a bad check. Fauntroy pals stateside managed to push off the foreclosure, but couldn’t explain why he’d disappeared in the first place. —Will Sommer
The award for this year’s biggest public health and PR disaster goes to Fig & Olive. Just months after its splashy opening at CityCenterDC, the New York-based restaurant was shut down for its part in a salmonella outbreak that hit locations on both coasts. The D.C. Department of Health has confirmed at least 41 cases of the potentially fatal bacterial infection and interviewed an additional 226 people who dined at Fig & Olive during the outbreak. Nearly as bad was Fig & Olive’s response. The day before the restaurant was shut down, Fig & Olive’s VP said he wasn’t “aware of any violation or risk found,” despite the fact that an inspector had found a whopping 16 violations (independent of the salmonella reports). After the fact, the company avoided questions from media, and some victims reported indifferent or unsympathetic responses from staff when they called to report their illnesses or ask for refunds. Lawsuits are stacking up against Fig & Olive, although the restaurant blames an unnamed third party in court documents. And yet, somehow, the place remains packed. —Jessica Sidman
Every mayor helps their favored councilmembers win re-election, but this year freshman Mayor Muriel Bowser super-charged the mayoral money machine. Working in the post–Citizens United frontier of campaign finance, Bowser associates created FreshPAC, a political action committee aimed vaguely at advancing the mayor’s “agenda.” Thanks to permissive campaign finance rules, FreshPAC could raise unlimited individual donations in years where it didn’t support candidates. That meant big fundraising totals for FreshPAC and big bank account hits for the kinds of people who want to stay in Bowser’s good graces. Many FreshPAC donors gave $10,000, and one gave $20,000. FreshPAC aimed to raise $1 million by the end of the year, a wad of cash that would have swamped D.C. Council races next year. Instead, Bowser’s pals closed it down after an outcry from the Council and the Washington Post editorial board. Still, that money, and Bowser’s desire to choose the city’s councilmembers, will be back in the new year. —Will Sommer
What does the future sound like for the man who invented future bounce? That was the big question looming over the highly anticipated follow-up to GoldLink’s explosive debut, The God Complex. Sure, GoldLink could’ve done more of the same on And After That, We Didn’t Talk, but he didn’t, and it’s a far stronger album because of that. Don’t get me wrong—the future bounce is there, but GoldLink pushed it to the next level, incorporating elements of oozing neo-soul and calculated R&B rhythms into a contemplative record about the dissolution of a relationship. It’s a breakup record, but in many ways, And After That, We Didn’t Talk says more about God and spirituality than The God Complex does. —Matt Cohen
As Ward 1’s councilmember, Jim Graham was an old-style wheeler-dealer with an apartment in South America and a taste for outlandish bowties. Against all odds, he’s become even more surprising after leaving office. Instead of bouncing to the usual lobbying or nonprofit jobs available for ex-councilmembers, Graham started organizing male strip shows for women and gay men. Graham might seem like an odd match for Georgia Avenue NW strip club The House. But his male shows come with a Grahamian flair—catch one of his bowties thrown by a dancer, get a drink. —Will Sommer
2015 was the year #squadgoals went mainstream, but Taylor Swift doesn’t have anything on Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Muriel Bowser inherited her political mentor’s Green Team crew this year, then put it on steroids.
When Adrian Fenty ran for mayor in 2006, he attracted a crew of political operatives, donors, and technocratic staffers. Some were more controversial than others—remember pitbull Attorney General Peter Nickles?—but they coalesced around the Green Team, named after Fenty’s characteristic campaign color.
No crew is complete without some less savory characters. Fenty’s frat pals were caught up in a suspicious contracting scandal, while others helped push a bizarre scheme to send a District fire truck to the Dominican Republic.
Still, by 2010, not even go-go concerts organized by members of the Green Team orbit could help Fenty. His comically grouchy attitude helped Vince Gray beat him in the mayor’s race, kicking off the endless factional feuds we still “enjoy” in the District today.
Bowser came to prominence in the Green Team’s salad days, winning Fenty’s endorsement to fill his old Ward 4 Council seat. Running against Gray in 2014, Bowser co-opted the Green Team’s winning ways without co-opting the bad apples. When news broke that one of the fire truck scheme’s organizers planned to host a fundraiser for Bowser, she shied away.
After becoming mayor, Bowser put the Green Team on two Council races. She made clear who her candidates in the April special elections were, picking one of her former campaign workers to replace her in the Ward 4 Council seat just as Fenty had done for her. Bowser backed another associate to replace the late Marion Barry in the Ward 8 seat. They both succeeded with fundraising help from Bowser—and were called the mayor’s puppets all the way to the ballot box.
Going two-for-two in Council seats helped Bowser and the Green Team flex their fundraising powers.
“What is it about the Green Team that’s so good?” Green Team patriarch and former Councilmember Bill Lightfoot exulted at one Todd fundraiser. “Everything!”
Perhaps everything’s not quite so good for the Green Team, though. While Bowser’s fundraising abilities as mayor have led two councilmembers up for re-election to align themselves with her, some of her picks are facing grim prospects in June’s primary.
The Green Team’s solution for next year’s primaries was meant to be FreshPAC, the political action committee organized by Bowser supporters that could take unlimited contributions from donors before next year. But FreshPAC, funded by donors involved with more than $70 million in city contracts, showed the downside of having a mayor surrounded by people who want something out of the city. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, a frequent Bowser foe, lamented that the PAC’s enormous financial influence already had councilmembers scared to cross the mayor.
As the Green Team threatened to become the Green Regime, Cheh and other councilmembers organized to close the fundraising loophole it exploited. The PAC even earned criticism from the Washington Post editorial board, usually Bowser devotees. In November, Bowser’s supporters shut FreshPAC down and returned the money.
The PAC’s end means a setback for Bowser’s political ambitions, but that shouldn’t last long. As FreshPAC’s huge fundraising totals prove, the Green Team doesn’t lack recruits. —Will Sommer
As D.C.’s homicide rate goes up, a city becomes nervous
In August, as the District approached an uncomfortable marker, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier flooded the streets with cops. Crime had surged in cities across the nation and D.C. had not been immune, with a rise in aggravated assaults and homicides. The District’s response was to have “all hands on deck,” to use the chief’s words. But on Aug. 28, one day after Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a $15 million “Safer, Stronger D.C.” program, shootings left two dead in Marshall Heights—Omoni Johnson and Shaheed James—and the city topped its 2014 homicide total of 105 with a little over four months left in the year.
As of Dec. 16, D.C.’s homicide count totaled 155, a 59 percent increase over the same period in 2014.
Bowser and Lanier’s approach to the problem was multifaceted. First, they increased the amount of money given to tipsters for reporting illegal weapons ($2,500 for a gun, $10,000 if it was used in a shooting). Next, the mayor pledged to go after the synthetic drugs she says are fueling the homicides. And third, Bowser pushed a strong anti-crime agenda full of increased security cameras and searches of the homes of “violent criminals” who are on probation.
The killings have made D.C. residents jittery. In a November poll by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, crime and violence jumped to No. 1 when residents were asked to rank the city’s biggest problems, nearly double (34 percent to 18 percent) over the second biggest problem, affordable housing. Only one other category rated a percentage above single digits.
That perception has its roots in a trend: The District has experienced a historic low in most forms of violent crime over the last five years. This year’s homicide rate pales in comparison to the crack days of the late ’80s and ’90s, when double or triple that rate was common. The city became a much safer place, with homicides dropping as low as 88 people in 2012. Now with the trend in reverse, Lanier and her commanders have had to spend extra time in the community attempting to calm fears that the gains of the last decade are gone. Tensions with activists and rank-and-file police officers haven’t soothed perceptions, either. A straw poll of police union members found “no confidence” in Lanier while Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted a Bowser press conference on crime, shouting down the mayor’s initiative on searching ex-offenders.
Bowser believes the city has a gun problem. In a press conference with Lanier on Dec. 9, she said that police have captured 450 illegal weapons since the summer. Lanier said that the disputes have largely been small in nature and that her department had closed a dozen cases in the past month.
Will that make a difference? It remains to be seen. But as the year closes, the number hangs out there, with a city anxious to find out whether it was an anomaly or a return to a more violent past. —Steve Cavendish
While we’re used to seeing investigative journalism spread across the pages of a newspaper or magazine, this past year has shown us that investigations can unfold through podcasts (Serial), TV series (The Jinx), and, of course, documentary films (Going Clear). So it comes as no surprise that a film festival and symposium celebrating the work of investigative journalists would find a home in D.C., where many of those practitioners live and work. Directed by Diana Jean Schemo, the president of the investigative journalism site 100 Reporters, and Sky Sitney, the former director of AFI Docs, the three-day-long event featured screenings of seven documentaries, plus panel discussions with acclaimed filmmakers and newsmakers like Alex Gibney and Edward Snowden. Its big get, however, wasn’t a work of investigative journalism but a love letter to the craft: Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, the feature film that examines the Boston Globe’s uncovering of the Catholic church sex abuse scandal. It opened the festival and proved that D.C. is still worthy of a bit of Hollywood attention. —Caroline Jones
When we talk about gentrification (is it bad? a little good? a thing at all?), we tend to talk about how a specific area of the District is changing: U Street NW, Columbia Heights, H Street NE, Trinidad. The latest neighborhood we talk about when we talk about gentrification is Ivy City, a small industrial and residential area tucked between the New York Avenue speedway, Gallaudet University, and Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Douglas Development’s redevelopment of the Hecht Warehouse into 300-plus luxury apartments and the addition of retail like an organic market, as well as the breweries and distilleries that have opened in and near the neighborhood in recent years, have created at least two streams of gentrifreakout. The first can be summed up in a tone-deaf Washington Post headline that called Ivy City “the next cool D.C. neighborhood you have never heard of” (unless, of course, you lived there before the Crossfit studio opened). The other is more incredulous about the neighborhood’s actual potential to become the next 14th Street corridor, considering its lack of a Metro station and limited millennial-baiting amenities. Is it the next Shaw? Is there, as former City Paper writer Aaron Wiener wrote, an Ivy City bubble? I can only provide you one definite: We’ll be talking about Ivy City for years to come. —Sarah Anne Hughes
On Oct. 12, 18-year-old Jason Goolsby was standing outside a Citibank in Capitol Hill when police arrived on scene and ultimately detained him and his friend, Michael Brown, for a disputed period of time. Police released the pair between 20 minutes and two hours thereafter, without charging them with any crimes (a woman had called 911 reporting “suspicious” activity related to three black men near the bank). Brown recorded a part of the incident on his phone and later that evening posted the video online. With the use of police force being called into question almost weekly in the U.S., it went viral, getting tens of thousands of shares: Black Lives Matter activists picked up the footage and brought attention to it using the hashtag #JusticeforJason. Fewer than 24 hours later, dozens of protesters gathered outside the Richard Wright Public Charter School, where Goolsby had graduated the year before (he’s now at UDC), and marched along Barracks Row to the Citibank on Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Along the way, they stopped traffic and shouted “Justice for Jason now!” and “No justice, no peace.” In November, the Metropolitan Police Department put out an internal review of the incident, finding that officers’ conduct toward Goolsby and Brown was “necessary and reasonable.” Lawyers representing the pair have since contested aspects of the MPD’s account. However matters proceed, the incident brought allegations of police use of force very close to home. —Andrew Giambrone
Dropping a performance venue into the Potomac River proved too bold an architectural move for the Kennedy Center, which early this year had to scrap its plans for a floating pavilion after citizens who actively use the river complained to the National Capital Planning Commission. The center has broken ground on three land-based structures—the first major renovation in its history—that will expand its administrative and rehearsal spaces, allowing more work to gestate on-site. With the expansion comes more changes in the center’s programming. A grant from Capital One provided funding for more live comedy shows, and the Kennedy Center also hopes to build on its original musical theater program. But with this growth could come one notable loss: Shear Madness, the money-making murder mystery that’s played at the Theater Lab since 1987. The play will go on hiatus next summer, and the Kennedy Center board will make more decisions about its future in the coming weeks. However will the tourists entertain themselves now? —Caroline Jones
It’s been a long time since D.C. has hosted a big annual music fest (RIP HFStival), mostly because there aren’t a lot of places in the District that can accommodate a Lollapalooza-esque festival. Except the National Mall. This year, the first annual Landmark Music Festival emerged—a two-day event billed as a benefit to raise some of the $750 million or so the Mall needs for backlogged upgrades and repairs. And with it: a controversy over use of the Mall for paid-admission events. Prior to Landmark Fest, all events on Mall grounds were required to be free and open to the public (Landmark Fest took place at West Potomac Park). With ticket prices that ranged from $105 for single-day admission to $2,350 for a platinum VIP pass, some questioned whether Landmark Fest was an appropriate use of the land. At the end of the day, the fest raised a whimpering $570,000 for its benefit. Don’t expect the debate to die down anytime soon—C3 Presents, the promotion company that put it on, has already hired a firm to lobby for more events like Landmark Fest on the national park land. —Matt Cohen
For three years, U.S. Attorney Ron Machen played relentless foil to Mayor Vince Gray. While Gray tried to govern the District and keep himself out of prison at the same time, Machen racked up plea deals from people who illicitly helped Gray win office in 2010. First, Machen brought charges against some of Gray’s friends, then he nailed operatives in the so-called “shadow campaign.” Just weeks ahead of Gray’s re-election last year, Machen brought charges against shadow campaign mastermind Jeff Thompson, dooming Gray’s chances. The timing of the Thompson plea suggested that Machen was about to charge Gray, but he apparently didn’t have enough. This March, nearly a year after he kicked Gray out of the mayor’s office, Machen quit to take a job at his old white shoe law firm. Nine months later, Machen’s successor closed the case, citing a lack of strong-enough evidence; that means there won’t be any criminal charges against Gray (and several other people mentioned in court files). Machen’s possible political ambitions won’t amount to much now, but hey—at least he still managed to influence a District election. —Will Sommer
The District is still constrained by its building height limit, but that doesn’t mean 2015 wasn’t a great year for getting high. In March, as the District prepared to legalize pot, congressional Republicans who attempted to defund legalization fumed that Mayor Muriel Bowser was breaking the law. Alas for the out-of-town prohibitionists, members of Congress aren’t prosecutors. Simpatico activists started giving away marijuana seeds, while entrepreneurs now sell spiked brownies out of cars with marijuana buds painted on the side. A November Washington Post poll found that most District residents regularly smell pot on the street, but don’t mind it. House Republicans can threaten prosecution all they want, but they can’t do anything about it without the District’s U.S. Attorney’s Office on their side. So for now, the city can toke on—pending the results of the 2016 election. —Will Sommer
2015 turned out to be among the transit agency’s worst years yet.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s nightmare this year started on Jan. 12, when an electrical meltdown hundreds of feet south of the L’Enfant Plaza station produced smoke that snaked its way through a tunnel and poured into the station minutes after 3 p.m. The incident, which has become a kind of case study in public-transit mismanagement, resulted in the death of a woman and sickened more than 85 others. In June, the National Transportation Safety Board published documents that revealed details of the day’s events, including interviews with two train operators and various Metro workers who were involved in the incident. “There was plenty of people who were saying that they are on the floor, that they couldn’t breathe and they felt like they were about to pass out,” a train operator said in his debriefing with the NTSB. A staffer at WMATA’s Rail Operations Control Center, in Landover, which monitors the system and communicates with first responders, crystallized the atmosphere of the ROCC on Jan. 12 succinctly: “Everyone was literally in a frenzy.”
Given that Metro receives millions of dollars each year in government funding, and that it serves hundreds of thousands of passengers daily across the region, it wasn’t long before the feds stepped in. The Federal Transit Administration in June released a 116-page report which found that Metro had “serious safety lapses,” including “organizational deficiencies and operational concerns that continue to limit the agency’s effectiveness in recognizing and resolving safety issues and hazards.” The FTA issued more than 90 required “corrective actions” for Metro, and eventually assumed lead oversight of the agency in October—amounting to the “strictest level of federal safety oversight ever placed on a rail transit agency,” the FTA noted in a memo.
The January smoke death may have been Metro’s worst incident this year, but it wasn’t its last. In addition to long delays that have become regular rather than rare, an empty train went off the tracks near the Smithsonian station in August, creating headaches for Silver, Orange, and Blue line commuters throughout that day and into the next. The cause of the derailment, a report later stated, was that fasteners hadn’t securely held the track in place. But the deeper issue was that Metro knew there was problem at that particular rail location almost a month before the incident occurred. “For reasons I will not defend, we frankly did not act quickly enough to make repairs,” then-Metro CEO Jack Requa told reporters in August. “Metro from top to bottom is responsible.” Then in September, a fire near the Stadium-Armory station caused delays for weeks.
So what’s next? As of November, the transit agency has a new leader in Paul J. Wiedefeld, whom Metro’s board confirmed after its first pick for the top job, Neal Cohen, pulled out of negotiations. (Cohen reportedly couldn’t handle the public scrutiny required of the position. Alas.) Wiedefeld has said he opposes fare hikes and service cuts for riders until the agency is able to boost its reliability and, ultimately, credibility. Metro is currently looking for a chief safety officer to replace the guy who resigned in light of the August derailment The agency is the subject of an efficiency study by consulting firms McKinsey and Ernst & Young which seeks to get Metro’s financial and managerial house in order. Best of luck, Paul. Truly. —Andrew Giambrone
In what’s just the latest in a series of death knells for old D.C., many of the District’s historic murals are disappearing. Last year, muralist Byron Peck almost daily passed construction workers tearing down the Ontario Theatre on Columbia Road and 17th Street NW. With it went a gorgeous, towering mural Peck painted in 1991 after riots in Mount Pleasant. Over the years, longstanding murals throughout the District have been knocked down or obfuscated by new developments, rendering their kind nearly extinct. However, while few historic murals in the District remain, new ones are popping up all the time. Earlier this year, the D.C. Alley Museum opened in Blagden Alley, showcasing nearly ten new murals celebrating the historic alley in the rapidly changing micro-neighborhood. Gentrification might be making D.C. almost unrecognizable to longtime residents, but at least there are some people out there trying to keep traditions alive. —Matt Cohen
What is Chinatown without Chinese residents? It’s a reality we don’t have to face—yet.
Museum Square, in the 400 block of K Street NW, stands out among its neighbors—brand new apartment and condo buildings with all the out-of-reach-to-most amenities we’ve come to expect in D.C. But Museum Square is different: It’s home to some of the last Chinese immigrants who can afford to live near Chinatown.
Until October of this year, the building was under a Section 8 contract, meaning the tenants paid 30 percent of their income toward rent while the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development paid the rest. That designation made it one of the last affordable buildings near Chinatown, and a building that many elderly, low-income tenants have called home for years. In summer 2014, the building’s owner, the Bush Companies, sent a letter to tenants informing them that they either had to move out or pay $250 million to buy the building. D.C. tenants are given the opportunity to purchase their buildings under the aptly named Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. But the high price tag—about $828,000 per unit—put on the low-income building struck tenants, advocates, and some local officials as unfair.
The D.C. Council tried twice to fix the problem with legislation (Bush Companies sued the District, alleging it had been unfairly targeted; the case was voluntarily dismissed), and earlier this year the tenants sued Bush Companies. A D.C. Superior Court Judge agreed that $250 million was exorbitant, granted the tenants summary judgment, and ordered Bush Companies to pay more than $76,000 in attorney’s fees and costs. That case is under appeal.
In April of this year, Bush Companies revealed its intent to raze the site and replace it with an 825-unit condo building by 2018. The building’s Section 8 contract expired in October, and tenants, fearing displacement, rallied to stay put. They had that option, by using their Housing Choice (formerly known as Section 8) vouchers at Museum Square. According to the D.C. Housing Authority, 212 Museum Square families have been given such vouchers; of those families, 190 chose to use them at Museum Square “on a month-to-month basis.” “Some families chose to use their vouchers at other rental properties,” a DCHA spokesperson says. “Several families moved out without assistance from DCHA.” Advocates, meanwhile, allege that tenants are still being pressured to move. Get used to this: As other Section 8 contracts expire around the city, more tenants will likely find themselves fighting the same fight. —Sarah Anne Hughes
Washingtonians may occasionally have an inferiority complex when it comes to New York. But at least the New York Times always gives us plenty to turn our noses up at when they write about D.C. The Times has a long history of slights and shoddy observations when it comes to the District’s food scene in particular, whether it’s insulting our pizza or “discovering” how “Restaurants in D.C. Are Moving Into Residential Neighborhoods.” This spring, D.C. got a visit from the Frugal Traveler, who couldn’t help but lead his column with tired cliches about lobbyists and “steak-loving senators.” His recommendations for cheap eats weren’t much better: a $12 burger from Farmers Fishers Bakers, a pizza and kale salad at Rustik Tavern, and a hummus and tabbouleh sandwich from the DC Ballers food truck, which, of course, he noted was “just a couple blocks from the White House.” —Jessica Sidman
As the District’s delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton can’t vote on the floor of the House. What we didn’t know until March, though, is that she also can’t park a car. In an excruciating two-minute video obtained by Roll Call, Norton struggles to park her car and even apparently brushes another car in the attempt. After the fiasco, Norton promised to consider getting a self-parking car, an idea that would be more believable if she hadn’t just a year earlier shut down a self-driving car by hitting its kill button. Forget the GOP—Norton’s true beef is with the automobile. —Will Sommer
It’s not often that a British person issues a clarion call for a place named after the Yankee who fought against the United Kingdom for independence. But so it happened in early August, when English comedian John Oliver aired a 17-minute segment devoted to D.C. statehood, featuring a chorus of kids who sang—impressively in tune—“Let them have gun laws! Let them have weed! Let them decide the things that they need!” The segment still would have been notable in itself (“They are treating more than 600,000 people right now like children,” Oliver explained of Congress’ repeated attempts to quash District autonomy), had D.C. residents not taken matters into their own hands the following week: Parents in Capitol Hill organized a live sing-along of the HBO host’s statehood tune and uploaded a recording of it to Youtube. Advocates for the District have praised Oliver’s segment as an authoritative account of the case for equal treatment; even the likes of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton have referred to it as a pedagogic tool. —Andrew Giambrone
Policymakers and other concerned citizens are debating whether D.C. workers should be entitled to 16 weeks of paid family leave, which could be used to take care of an ailing relative or a newborn child. The first hearing on a proposed bill before the D.C. Council, on Dec. 2, attracted the expected cast of characters: workers’ and parents’ rights advocates on one side, the local business community on the other. The legislation, which a majority of the Council and the public have expressed support for with votes and in polls, would require employers to pay up to one percent of their payroll into a fund that covered the whole city. (Notably, federal employees who live in D.C. would have to foot the bill themselves since jurisdictions cannot constitutionally impose a tax on the U.S. government.) Some business leaders argue that paid family leave would be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, piled on top of other regulations like D.C.’s minimum-wage and paid-sick-leave laws. But if the bill gets passed as introduced (unlikely), it’d be one of the country’s most generous benefits. —Andrew Giambrone
In the end, the wonkiest political fight of 2015 could end up being its most important. Environmentalists scored an unlikely win this August, when the city’s Public Service Commission rejected Chicago-based Exelon’s takeover of power utility Pepco. That so many people oppose the deal shouldn’t be a surprise: Exelon has an aging set of nuclear plants that could be shored up with money from Pepco customers in the District. Still, it says something about Pepco’s power in the District that the PSC’s rejection came as a surprise. Less surprising, thanks to the Pepco alums and investors in top spots in District government, was the settlement Mayor Muriel Bowser cut with the companies that lends their PSC appeal more weight. A decision on the merger likely won’t come before the end of the year, but when it does, District residents who use electricity (i.e. everyone) will find out whether the quality of their power service will be influenced by a company halfway across the country. —Will Sommer
It’s like they say: You can take the Prince out of Petworth, but you can’t take Petworth out of the Prince! Actually, it turns out, you can do both. In 2012, local blogger Dan Silverman took Petworth out of the name of his popular Prince of Petworth blog, changing it to PoPville. Then in July of this year, Silverman announced he’d moved from Petworth to his new house near the Van Ness Metro station. Silverman, a father of one with another kid on the way, was blunt about his reason: “I moved because of schools.” For all the speculation that this generation’s yuppies will make their lives long-term in neighborhoods that their parents shunned, the old pattern still prevails for many once schools become a consideration. Having kids gives a timeworn saying renewed appeal: Go west of Rock Creek Park, young man; go west. —Zach Rausnitz
2015 was supposed to be the year for the Washington Wizards. John Wall and Bradley Beal had matured into aggressive scorers, Marcin Gortat and Nene were healthy, and before the season started, the team acquired the player thought to be the key to a championship: Paul “The Truth” Pierce, a sharp-shooting NBA champion and ten-time All Star with the Boston Celtics. As the only player on the roster with extensive playoff experience, Pierce became a swami-like advisor to his teammates, encouraging them to take care of themselves, something he didn’t do in his early years. Before the playoffs even started, he told ESPN that the team “has all the tools to get to the Eastern Conference finals,’’ while also questioning whether Wall, Beal, and former Georgetown standout Otto Porter possessed the determination to do so. Pierce helped the Wiz sweep Toronto in the first round and stepped up even more in Game 3 of the second round, when a three-pointer at the end of regulation gave the Wizards the win over Atlanta. He’d nearly save them again in a decisive Game 6. A photo taken immediately after the shot shows an ecstatic José Andrés clutching Pierce’s jersey. But further review showed the ball hadn’t left Pierce’s fingertips by the time the clock expired. Despite having another year on his contract (and an offer of monthly dinners from Andrés if he stayed in D.C.), Pierce returned home to Los Angeles and joined the Clippers. Without their wizened master encouraging them to nap in hyperbaric chambers before games, the 2015-16 Wizards are two games below .500 as of this writing and appear listless, recently falling to the abysmal Lakers. Fans are left with the memories of Pierce, his off-balance fadeaway jumpers, and thoughts of what could have been. —Caroline Jones
After a lousy string of games in January and February, Wizards coach Randy Wittman ranked fourth on a gambling website’s list of the NBA coaches with the highest odds of getting fired. The three coaches with grimmer odds were all canned in the spring. But Wittman managed to keep his job, after a transformation in the playoffs that had fans hailing #PlayoffRandy. Wittman was long maligned for refusing to adapt as other teams thrived on smaller, “pace and space” offensive schemes. #PlayoffRandy finally shifted small forward Paul Pierce to power forward. Otto Porter, a versatile second-year forward whom Wittman had barely bothered to develop—he was ninth on the team in regular-season minutes per game—was the third-most used player during the playoffs. The moves paid off: The team won its first five playoff games, before star guard John Wall fractured his wrist. Even after that blow, they came within one Pierce fingertip of a chance to force a seventh game against top-seeded Atlanta. It got fans thinking: Had Wittman been playing the long game the whole time? Most NBA teams make the playoffs—so why not save your best schemes for when it really counts? As the team struggles early in the 2015-16 season, fans are clinging to the hope that #PlayoffRandy is simply biding his time once again. —Zach Rausnitz
Pop-ups have proliferated so much that the term has almost lost all meaning. Once the territory of up-and-coming chefs in non-traditional locations, the term now applies to any and every event or temporary menu. You can now attend a different “pop-up” or “takeover” or “residency” any day of the year. Kolache pop-ups! Chicago pizza pop-ups! Christmas bar pop-ups! Pop-ups have even spawned “pop-upperies,” spaces designed for the sole purpose of hosting a rotating cast of chefs and concepts. One of the most notable is Prequel, a Penn Quarter space connected to a local crowdfunding platform called EquityEats that can host up to five bar and restaurant pop-ups at one time. Or as they’ve called it, a “pop-up megaplex.” —Jessica Sidman
He came, he saw, he concurred that Congress had dropped the ball on climate change policy, and his statement saying as much left Republicans seething. But for District residents, pope hysteria peaked on the days leading up to his visit, before he even made it to his Congressional address, when streets were starting to close for his ponderously slow parade around the Ellipse. Local media outlets (including City Paper) rose to the occasion, meeting the panicked needs of pope avoiders and seekers alike with what was effectively a nonstop stream of breathless coverage. Where would he be at what time? Would public transportation grind to a standstill? Would Metrorail seek his blessing so its trains would never malfunction again? It turned out that commutes weren’t as disastrous as expected, since federal workers were told to work remotely. And no, Metrorail did not, to our knowledge, seek a papal reprieve from its apparently doomed fate, so in many ways the District remained unchanged by His Holiness’ historic visit, and the panic was much ado about nothing. —Emily Q. Hazzard
What’s left to say about Bravo’s hugely popular franchise of not-even-a-little-bit-real housewives? Nothing, frankly, except that in 2016, Bravo’s perversely brilliant hate-watch—in which Andy Cohen’s braintrust entices privileged but existentially bored middle-aged women to backbite their friends in front of rolling cameras—is coming back to the D.C. area. Remember The Real Housewives of D.C.? It was a single-season flop, despite the promising inclusion of White House party crasher and litigation magnet Michaele Salahi, because the rest of the cast was so disappointingly well-behaved. This time around, it’s set in Potomac, Md., and the sizzle reel looks perfectly crass and bitchy, but it looks like there could be some potentially interesting (or facepalming) moments that touch on race (the show’s core cast is entirely women of color). “You act like it’s a problem to be black!” says one cast member to another, jabbing an accusatory finger. In another scene, a white drag performer onstage asks the cast, in the audience, where they’re from, “because y’all look like you’re from D.C., Southeast.” There could be a lot to pick apart here, but then again, if you’re just looking for the cast to get pilloried for classless behavior in the court of public opinion, or, at the very least, watch a table get overturned into someone’s lap after an argument about… something, you’ll probably find plenty. So why has Potomac earned its own franchise of this show? Who cares. The series premieres Jan. 17. —Emily Q. Hazzard
You’re not single. You’re solo-ish.
Are you in a romantic relationship? Are you—pay attention here, because there’s a twist coming—not in a romantic relationship? If you answered yes, no, or maybe to both questions, neither question, or one of those questions, your interpersonal status is (probably) covered by the collected writings of contributors to Solo-ish, the Washington Post’s utterly perplexing yet earnestly endearing blog that debuted this year.
Lisa Bonos helms this vertical, which covers some of the standard fodder of relationship blogs: cuffing season, deal-breakers, how to bring your partner to an office party, the vagaries of moving in together, etc. But when it veers away from the predictable, it really veers: what to put on your holiday card as a single person, “5 reasons I love being the third wheel,” and how to solve the “problem” of buying a dozen eggs as a single person were all published recently. The droopier topics are often written in such a hand-wringing tone that it’s tough to imagine who this column’s audience is, other than people dealing with their own crippling self-doubt.
When it really falls short, unfortunately, it’s because the Post is A Family Paper: They censor anything bluer than PG-13. So when I want to know, in my heart of hearts, whether other single women are all, say, bleaching their assholes and I’m left out, or whether there’s a thrilling new kink on the horizon that I might soon encounter in the wild, or “What Happened When I Stopped Worrying and Started to Leave My Nipple Hair There, For All to See,” or how soon after his genital surgery could one fuck one’s trans partner… I’m not going to find it anywhere near Solo-ish. It captures the chaste generalities of relationship drama but none of the gnarly details that are so satisfying to read about. There are no curtains pulled back or wounds exposed, just the airing of mild neuroses—not even the kind your therapist would break a sweat at hearing. Except for that one time Bonos admitted to crying in the portable toilet at her ex’s wedding. That was gold.
Nevertheless, count me among its loyal readers, as well as, apparently, the entire City Paper editorial staff: We have a Slack bot that publishes a link to our office chat every time a new story comes across the Solo-ish RSS feed. Solo-ish really is that fascinating, and probably the most zeitgeisty column whose zeitgeist hasn’t even come yet, or perhaps never will. It’s familiar yet constantly surprising; charming yet pedantic; cloying, annoying, and staid, and yet endlessly satisfying—all qualities you’ll start to see in your partner when you’re in a committed relationship but aren’t yet convinced to either stay or leave. —Emily Q. Hazzard
After years and years (and years) of missed deadlines, starting passenger service on the H Street–Benning Road NE streetcar line before 2015 ended seemed like a reasonable goal. And like the fools we are, we believed the promise. But this summer, crews began digging up and rebuilding parts of the system’s platforms after a report revealed construction issues. In the meantime, public support for the streetcar has continued to wither as the city enforces expensive traffic violations to keep a streetcar that carries no one moving. DDOT’s latest director, Leif Dormsjo, has wisely stopped publicly declaring deadlines for the streetcar’s beginning (his boss, Mayor Muriel Bowser, unfortunately doubled down on the end-of-year promise in September). The system is now (once again) in pre-revenue mode, meaning it could theoretically begin service by January. But instead of getting my hopes up, I plan to sit back and enjoy the $200 million Twitter jokes. —Sarah Anne Hughes
Time to hoard your old takeout boxes, Earth haters, because starting Jan. 1, restaurants and food-service businesses will be banned from using containers and cups made of expanded polystyrene (including the popular brand Styrofoam). This may seem like a pretty great idea until you consider what D.C. is giving up: What will the fish in the Anacostia use as floatation devices? What will choke the local birds and pollute the waterways? How will we get that special chemical taste back into our cheap Chinese takeout? Those landfills aren’t gonna fill themselves, after all! In reality, like the plastic bag ban, it’s another progressive move by D.C.’s department of the environment to force the good people of this city to be a tiny bit better. —Sarah Anne Hughes
Tableside preparations often conjure up images of tuxedoed waiters in white gloves deboning Dover sole on a silver platter. But restaurants are getting much more creative with this fine dining tradition. And no, it’s not just tossing up a bowl of guacamole tableside—although there’s plenty of that. At José Andrés’ Chinese-Japanese-Peruvian restaurant China Chilcano, servers make a show of mixing fried rice, pork belly, Chinese sausage, and other ingredients in a clay pot dish called concolón. (Andrés has a history of presenting dishes tableside, from sangria at Jaleo to beef tartare at America Eats Tavern.) A cart roves The Source’s recently renovated dining room, serving wonton soup. And at The Oval Room, coffee is an interactive presentation in which the staff grinds beans in front of diners and brews a cup with a siphon and Bunsen burner on a cart. Meanwhile, forthcoming restaurants Pineapple and Pearls (from the owner of Rose’s Luxury) and Shaw Bijou (from a recent Top Chef contestant) both promise tableside preparations, too. —Jessica Sidman
Should restaurants ditch gratuity for good?
Famed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer made major headlines this year when he announced that all his restaurants would eliminate tips and raise prices instead. His 13,000-employee Union Square Hospitality Group is by far the largest and highest profile restaurant group in the U.S. to make such a leap.
A major motivation for Meyer was to bridge the pay gap between servers and lesser-earning cooks, who can’t legally share in tips. Amid a nationwide shortage of skilled restaurant workers, Meyer hoped the move would help attract and retain kitchen talent. And in fact, since instituting the policy and raising cooks’ wages, Meyer says he’s seen a “4,500 percent increase in applications,” Esquire reports. Servers, in addition to receiving hourly wages, are now part of a revenue sharing program.
The news has a lot of D.C. restaurateurs talking, and some are considering the gratuity-free model themselves. But so far, only two places have actually done it: H Street NE small plates restaurant Sally’s Middle Name and Langdon brewpub The Public Option.
Unlike Union Square Hospitality Group, the owners of Sally’s Middle Name have opted to implement a flat 18-percent fee on every check.
“Having someone else determine your pay is not necessarily fair. It can be a little bit degrading,” co-owner Aphra Adkins explained upon the restaurant’s opening. She and husband co-owner Sam Adkins also wanted to give staff more paycheck consistency.
Several months after the opening, in October, Adkins said the staff was happy with the system. And she claims it eliminated resentment between the front and back of the house. The kitchen staff remained the same since day one.
The Public Option, meanwhile, has no flat fee. Drafts of house-brewed beers go for $7, and staff, when they’re hired, will make a starting wage of $15 an hour. Owner Bill Perry says the idea is to take responsibility for giving employees a living wage, rather than passing it off on patrons with tips. “We’re interested in looking at and challenging business models,” he says.
Other restaurateurs are thinking about moving in a similar direction, some more seriously than others. One of the biggest hesitations about eliminating tips is that restaurants would have to substantially raise prices to make ends meet. Meyer has bumped up prices as much as 30 percent. Some restaurateurs aren’t sure that someone paying $30 for an entree would be willing to pay $40.
Plus, servers wouldn’t make as much as they make with tips, argues restaurateur Jeff Black. “I don’t know how you run a restaurant and pay that kind of money,” he says. He believes he would lose staff if he got rid of gratuity.
Others are interested, but want to see how the regulatory landscape shakes out as minimum and tipped wages come under debate. Clyde’s Restaurant Group President Tom Meyer isn’t rushing to make the move, but he also thinks it might be inevitable.
“Eventually, that’s where this business is headed,” says Meyer. “If you time warp me in ten years, I would guess America is going to be kind of tip free.” —Jessica Sidman
Donald Trump has fired up more drama than an entire season of Real Housewives this year, but let’s not forget his starring role in a D.C. restaurant controversy! Following the presidential candidate’s disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants, celebrity chefs José Andrés and Geoffrey Zakarian backed out of deals to open restaurants in Trump’s swanky Old Post Office hotel. Trump’s response? Slap each of them with $10 million lawsuits. The chefs countersued, and the mudslinging continues. In court documents, Andrés’ team says Trump’s statements make it too difficult to recruit staff for and attract diners to the Spanish restaurant. The Trump camp maintains nothing in the lease allows the would-be tenants to terminate their agreements based on personal offense. As the legal drama continues, BLT Prime, a sister restaurant to BLT Steak, has swooped in to open a steakhouse in the hotel. Because D.C. needs more steak as much as it needs Trump. —Jessica Sidman
Here’s a riddle for you: What has length and width but not depth, and makes some people feel safe but others feel threatened? No, it’s not the NSA viewed from above… it’s a bicycle lane! The United House of Prayer, a church located one block away from the Convention Center, cried foul in September over proposed bike lanes that would partly run outside its property, on Sixth Street NW, where churchgoers park. The infrastructure, an attorney for UHOP argued in a seven-page letter to the District Department of Transportation, would infringe upon UHOP’s “constitutionally protected rights of religious freedom and equal protection of the laws.” During a DDOT-organized meeting about the proposals at the Shaw Library, cycling advocates tried to make the point that a bike lane could reduce crash incidents in the area. But library police had to shut down the meeting an hour early, because the room had filled beyond capacity. “We consider it a threat to our existence,” one pastor said of the lanes. “If you see a cancer, you don’t wait until it gets to your address,” another man said. His remark laid bare some of the tensions in a rapidly changing D.C.—between those who are drawing new lines on its streets and those who are drawing a line in the sand. —Andrew Giambrone
While many drinkers have strong opinions about the type of whiskey in their Manhattans, few fuss over the vermouth. And while fewer still would think to order a glass of the aromatized, fortified wine on its own, a group of bartenders and booze makers in D.C. are looking to change that. This summer, Etto manager Kat Hamidi and co-owner Peter Pastan teamed up with New Columbia Distillers to launch Capitoline Vermouth, the first commercially sold vermouth made in D.C. Meanwhile, bartenders at Dram & Grain, Lupo Verde, and The Royal have experimented with their own versions. And at Nido, there’s vermouth on tap, a vermouth happy hour, and a vermouth-heavy cocktail list. Fans of the stuff say it’s just beginning to get its due. “Americans look at it like it’s a mixer,” says New Columbia Distillers co-owner John Uselton, “and it doesn’t have to be that way.” —Jessica Sidman
Along with other major cities worldwide, D.C. is on a quest to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2024 with a plan derived from a Swedish idea dubbed Vision Zero. Mayor Muriel Bowser committed the District to that goal in March, and the local initiative (led by the District Department of Transportation and involving more than 20 agencies) kicked off in July. Since then, DDOT has strived to collect data on crash incidents around the city using an online crowdsourcing map, and it just released a two-year “action plan” for implementing Vision Zero based on the principles of education, enforcement, and engineering. So, for example, a means of achieving Vision Zero includes lowering the speed limit in certain areas of D.C., or collecting more data to better analyze crashes. It’s ambitious, and time will tell whether the District can pick up speed on the initiative. —Andrew Giambrone
With the death of Paul Reed in September, one of the most celebrated chapters in D.C. art history came to a close. Reed was the last of the Washington Color School, a band of painters who explored cool, formal abstraction by staining untreated canvas with acrylics. The original cohort included Reed, Gene Davis, Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis, Thomas Downing, and Howard Mehring—six artists known for their stripes, blots, dots, and other distinctive strategies for colonizing the canvas—although others came along to represent successive waves of Color School artists. The most notable of these later painters may be Alma Thomas, who died in 1978, and Sam Gilliam, who, still painting at 82, is having a moment. Indeed, Gilliam’s accomplishments may come to eclipse those of his Color School forbears: He was included in Frieze Masters, an elite art fair focused on important historical artists. For D.C., his success is a sign that the discoveries of the Color School are still percolating in the art world today. —Kriston Capps
Around this time in 2012, things did not look great for the Washington Post. Its top editor, Marcus Brauchli, stepped down after he and then-Publisher Katharine Weymouth “mutually agreed” it was time. The paper had struggled in the preceding years to balance its budget while navigating a long-delayed and oft-contentious joining of the print and digital teams. As an intern and later blogger at the Post between January 2010 and June 2012, I can attest to the general panic over the paper’s future (aggregation! layoffs! the good ol’ days!). But the replacement of Brauchli with the Boston Globe’s Marty Baron and Amazon honcho Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the paper set in motion a number of reforms that allowed the Post to reach an important milestone this year: In November, the paper topped the New York Times in domestic digital visitors (international visitors are a stickier matter), launching 1,000 think pieces about its revival and bright future. There’s still a decent amount of hand-wringing going on about how the paper reached that mark (mainly its mixed-quality PostEverything essays and Morning Mix aggregation) but it’s clear the Post is no longer in danger of falling into oblivion, like so many other metropolitan dailies. The Post is back in the game, and this time, it may actually stay on top. —Sarah Anne Hughes
In Novemeber, Paul J. Wiedefeld arrived at Metro with decades of transportation-management experience. The former Baltimore–Washington International Airport CEO took the helm of the hapless public transit authority to cautious acclaim; riders and Wiedefeld himself were quick to note he has a “load of work to do.” Customers across the region have lost significant confidence in Metro as a safe, efficient, and reliable way to traverse the D.C. area, and the new general manager will need to win back their trust. Will he be able to? “To me, what’s important is, given where we’ve been over the last year, [that] it’s not the time to put any additional pressure on the customer, either through fares or cut[ting] service,” Wiedefeld told City Paper. Maybe he’s getting off to the right start; he supports allowing riders who don’t board trains to exit the stations they entered at no cost. Wiedefeld’s salary is as high as the expectations set for him: He’ll make about $400,000 per year (not including bonuses). —Andrew Giambrone
Female playwrights get a fairer shake from theater companies
Like many American art industries, theater is dominated by white, male voices. It’s easy to find revivals of Arthur Miller plays, but new plays by female authors are harder to come by. This year, the directors of seven local theater companies recognized this disparity and banded together to celebrate the work of female playwrights from around the world. First launched as a way to bring national attention to the District’s bustling theater scene, the Women’s Voices Theater Festival grew into something else entirely. Between August and October, 51 companies produced 56 plays by 58 women at theaters in cities as far away as Annapolis and Baltimore.
What is the argument for not producing an equal amount of work by female writers? That their work is somehow less serious than work written by men? The festival shattered that myth by offering as much variety as any typical D.C. theater season. You had dark relationship melodramas (Studio Theatre’s Animal; Quotidian Theatre Company’s Maytag Virgin), works rooted in history (Theater J’s Queens Girl in the World; Scena Theatre’s Lady Lay), and theater for young audiences (Adventure Theatre MTC’s Caps for Sale). But the plays that did directly address the social constraints placed on women—like Karen Zacarias’ Destiny of Desire, a bold take on the telenovela format set in Mexico, and Sheila Callaghan’s Women Laughing Alone With Salad, about three women and their relationship with the same man—did so in interesting ways and received generally favorable reviews from critics.
The festival was not without criticism. An October review in the New York Times called the event “an energizing showcase,” but local drama geeks were miffed when Charles Isherwood got to see and review Signature Theatre’s Cake-Off before press night. The horror! This may have reinforced the New York superiority complex that bothers D.C. so much, but with New York theaters experiencing their own challenges with regard to the gender imbalance of playwrights’ staged works, the “fight” fizzled out before it really began.
The producing theaters seem to have taken the festival’s purpose to heart: Many are featuring work by women in the back half of their seasons as well, bringing out the diversity that D.C. is known for. The 2015-2016 season also saw the launch of Mosaic Theater Company, which focuses on presenting plays centered around themes of social justice and equality. If the lesson from within the D.C. theater community was to present more diverse offerings, you can consider it a success for now. Just wait to make a final judgment until their 2017 seasons are announced over the summer. Who knows whether Arthur Miller will make an appearance? —Caroline Jones
The X2 is just a bus line. It allows people who live on the east side of the city to travel downtown for a mere $1.75. It provides a much-needed public transportation option for people who live in Metrorail deserts like Kingman Park, Trinidad, and Near Northeast. It’s also a bus line surrounded by an almost laughable mythology. “It starts and stops in front of the White House. What happens along the way isn’t always so pretty,” the Washington Post declared in a piece. Yes, X2 buses have been the sites of several violent incidents this year; an argument that began on an X2 ended with one person allegedly killing another on H Street NE. But the singling out of the X2 also creates an unfair stigma around the line and the D.C. residents who ride it. More than 13,800 people use it on an average weekday, making it one of the most popular WMATA bus lines. It’s not the only line that sees violence or arguments. It’s not the only one whose riders live across the District, making it a convenient metaphor for Our Changing City. It’s just a bus line. —Sarah Anne Hughes
Top illustration by Lauren Heneghan