City Paper is not for tourists
The sun set an hour ago on Connecticut Avenue NW, and yet all four umbrellas on the sidewalk patio at Dino are in full bloom, serving a purpose that may not be clear to the average diner but is painfully obvious to David Metzner. The co-owner and general manager of Sabores, the Latin tapas
restaurant adjacent to Dino, accuses his next-door neighbor of a coverup—attempting to cover up his new eatery’s entrance from passing pedestrians.
“The way that he sets up his patio hinders our business. He tries to block access to our building,” Metzner says about Dino’s bon vivant owner Dean Gold, whose well-respected Italian eatery already has the upper hand on Sabores in terms of location. Dino fronts busy Connecticut Avenue; Sabores sits farther back, camouflaged by Dino’s outdoor tables, chairs, and umbrellas.
The sidewalk patio, it seems, is merely one front in a low-level war between Dino and Sabores that has been waged in a variety of theaters: trash collection areas, kitchens, even within walls where shared water and sewage pipes run. Tensions between the two parties started not long after Metzner and his partners bought the bankrupt Park Bench Pub in July 2005 and re-christened the basement portion the Uptown Tavern while working to renovate the upper level into Sabores.
The first flare-up occurred just weeks after Uptown opened in October 2005, when water began dripping into the subterranean bar. Metzner says his plumbers traced the leak to Dino’s kitchen but not before it finished off an aging walk-in cooler, which cost nearly $7,000 to replace. Metzner didn’t ask Gold for reimbursement, but he wanted the Dino owner to fix the leak, which he feared might lead to a slip-and-fall accident. Gold dragged out the repairs for months with half-assed fixes, says Metzner, who says he had to threaten a lawsuit to get the work done right; Gold says no suit was threatened, nor needed, to spur him into action.
“Once we figured out what it was, we had it fixed,” Gold says of the leak. “It took some time to figure it out, but from the time he first identified it to the time it ended was not months or years, it was days.”
From there, the relationship got chillier than, well, a new walk-in cooler. Metzner wanted Gold to move his trash containers to a spot away from Sabores’ back windows, even though Gold notes he had a “legal right to a space behind the restaurant to store those things.” (Metzner eventually spent about $3,000 to camouflage the containers with evergreen trees.) For his part, Gold had issues about the duration and general untidiness of the Sabores construction site, which apparently sent bugs scurrying over to Dino and forced Gold to comp some meals. “I didn’t make a demand of him to pay for this,” Gold says, but Metzner recalls shelling out cash anyway.
The breaking point, for Metzner at least, was a second plumbing problem. This one caused sewage water to bubble up through floor drains in Metzner’s basement space, forcing the owner to close the tavern on five separate occasions and throw out all his food. The lost revenue was motivation enough for Metzner to spend $20,000 to replace the plumbing in his underground kitchen and even call in experts with D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, whom Metzner says laid the blame on a clogged pipe, presumably caused by Dino’s waste.
Metzner remembers telling Gold that, “‘This is your stuff. I’m not going to have this anymore.…[These are] your paper towels, this is grease from your restaurant.’”
Gold readily acknowledges that he didn’t accept Metzner’s word as gospel on the source of the clog. “I talked to the [WASA] guy myself, and he did not say anything that would indicate to me that there was a problem that I had to deal with,” Gold says. “If David wanted to get that point made, all he needed to do was have the WASA guy talk to me while both of us were there.”
Still, Gold says he spent thousands to hydro-jet his lines and replace a grease trap. But the fixes did nothing to mend their fractured relationship. Metzner refuses to deal with Gold anymore “because we’ve gotten into really, really heated arguments, and I don’t want to lose my temper.”
“He’s the neighbor from hell,” Metzner adds. “[T]his individual’s mentality
and personality is very unique.…You could tell him something’s blue, and he’ll tell you it’s purple.”
But does this feud really boil down to a clash of personalities? It seems both history and hiring practices play a role. Among Cleveland Park residents, Metzner says, his business carried the baggage from previous tenants whose patrons had a reputation for being loud, drunken, and obnoxious.
Of course, Metzner probably didn’t help his cause when, just weeks before Sabores opened in August, he hired chef Daniel Amaya—from Dino. Amaya brought two cooks with him from Gold’s restaurant.
Gold says that none of the kitchen defections has colored his feelings, or his dealings, with Metzner and Sabores. “No, I don’t have any issues with it, believe it or not,” he says. “We’re very, very excited to have Stephan [Boillon, Dino’s new chef]. The timing was a little abrupt, but I can’t control what other people do.”
So why then does Metzner get the feeling that Gold “would shut us down” if he could? Maybe it’s the sign steering pedestrians toward Dino—which Gold says predates Sabores—that hangs near the entrance to Metzner’s restaurant. It reads: good food around the corner. Maybe it’s that Sabores employees say they’ve spotted Gold chatting up Metzner’s customers. Or maybe it’s the arrangement of Dino’s patio furniture and umbrellas.
“We have added more umbrellas because the lighting overhead is harsh, and we have people complaining about the lights shining in their eyes,” says Gold, who says he has no interest in shuttering his neighbor. “I’ve not been able to figure out a way to modify the lighting to make it more gentle without doing more work that I can afford to at this point.”
More to the point, Gold adds, had Metzner done more due diligence, he would have noticed how the patio affects the space that eventually became Sabores. Then again, Gold says, Metzner displays no knack for communication, or really courtesy; Gold says he was surprised to learn the patio is an issue with Metzner, much like he was surprised when WASA employees arrived to tear up the sidewalk in front of Dino to check the clogged pipe.
“I think he’s been engaged in behaviors that have been damaging to my business,” Gold says of Metzner. “I don’t think he’s been a good neighbor.”
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