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It seems Anacostia’s food scene can’t take a step forward without taking one back. Less than three months after the seesawing Uniontown Bar & Grill finally reopened its doors, Big Chair Cafe Bar & Grill—-long the neighborhood’s only proper sit-down spot—-closed down yesterday.
Big Chair manager Michael Sterling made the announcement in a Facebook post this weekend, as first reported by the Washington Post. “Due to unforeseen circumstances, I’ve decided to close the Big Chair Bar and Grill effective Monday, October 14 2013,” Sterling posted, adding that he’d be joining Mama’s Pizza, just down the street on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE.
All indications are that the closure is the product not of bad business, but of an internal dispute. Greta Fuller, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the area, says Sterling told her he was hoping to purchase the business, but that its owners, Ayehubizu and Bantamlak Yimenu, were unwilling to sell it. The dispute escalated to the point where Bantamlak Yimenu marched into the restaurant with police in tow to revoke its liquor license, Fuller says. Sterling and the Yimenu siblings couldn’t be reached for comment, nor could Stan Voudrie, the developer who owns the building.
“It’s not for lack of business, it’s for lack of management,” says Fuller. “It’s not the neighborhood. Every time, it’s been management.”
Anacostia just can’t seem to catch a break on the restaurant front. Uniontown, also on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, closed last year after its owner was convicted of drug smuggling. Again, neighbors insisted that business was good, and the restaurant’s shutdown had nothing to do with lack of demand in the neighborhood. Uniontown has since reopened, but now Big Chair is gone.
The neighborhood is perpetually at the cusp of a retail boom. It’s recently gotten two workspace-sharing centers, a series of galleries and arts spaces, and plans for a new municipal building. But at the same time, neighbors helped reject a proposal for a big mixed-use development, and vacant storefronts still abound. Despite the neighborhood’s historic retail spaces and Metro and bus accessibility, retail just can’t seem to stick, with the exception of a few carryouts, liquor stores, and beauty salons.
The big chair in a parking lot on MLK has long been a neighborhood landmark, and the Big Chair Cafe across the street has been the meeting spot to accompany it. Now, for the time being at least, that meeting spot is gone.
Image via Google Maps