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The former Uniontown Bar and Grill in Anacostia could reopen under new management as early as this summer, a year after it shut down.
New operator Melake Gebre, working with investor Gabriele Tripodo, hopes to open the space at 2200 Martin Luther King Jr Ave. SE by midsummer as a restaurant and sports bar. Gebre, a native of Ethiopia, plans to serve American food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at midrange prices.
It’s only slightly hyperbolic to say that the plight of Uniontown has reflected the struggles of Anacostia more broadly. The neighborhood, full of hype and hope, has so far been unable to attract and retain sitdown eateries. But Uniontown, once its big success story, shut down not for lack of demand. Instead, it shuttered months after its owner’s conviction for smuggling cocaine, and neighbors have watched uneasily as it’s sat vacant for more than half a year, without any word of a reopening until Twitter rumors surfaced last month.
Gebre, who says he was involved with the former Empty Pockets Cafe in Arlington and restaurants in Ethiopia, says he and Tripodo approached previous Uniontown owner Natasha Dasher about buying the restaurant or starting a partnership before her legal troubles began. After the restaurant shut down, they once again got involved. Tripodo, who owns nearby Union Liquors, is traveling in Africa and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Gebre hopes to turn the restaurant’s upstairs into a music space. The application he and Tripodo filed to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration on Feb. 6 mentions “recorded music” with “live entertainment periodically.”
“Upstairs I’m trying to put some music that would attract 40- and 50-year-old people,” Gebre says. “R&B and some jazz. The type of music I like. I understand that type of music more than the go-go music.”
The ABRA application lists the venture’s name as Union Town Bar & Grill, and Gebre says he’d prefer to keep the restaurant’s well-known name. But Gebre’s lawyer, David Taylor, says that the prior tenant still has an active liquor license, and ABRA won’t allow two licensees with such similar names. Gebre is leaning toward calling the restaurant Cherry Hill Bar & Grill.
Taylor emphasizes that this won’t technically be a reopening, but rather an entirely new restaurant with a similar theme. He also notes that it’s not a done deal, as the team is still awaiting various approvals from the city.
Gebre says there’s “a lot of work to be done” before opening. But any concrete signs that the restaurant is emerging from its long vacancy will be welcome to the neighborhood.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery