City Desk

Capitol Hill’s Murky: History?

Tacked to the window of Murky Coffee in Eastern Market is a half-torn letter that the shop has received from Attorney Morris R. Battino. The letter addresses Murky owner Nick Cho and states:

Dear Mr. Cho/ Murky Coffee LLC

As you are aware, I am legal counsel to and for the owner /landlord at 660/666. Pennsylvania Ave, S.E. Washington D.C. 20003

This is your official (30) day notice to quit and vacate the premises at 660/666 Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E. Washington D.C. 20003. Due to expiration of your month to month lease term. If you do not vacate or[sic] before May 1, 2008, the landlord/owner will file an action for possession in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the District of Columbia Superior Court.

According to someone from the Battino office, Murky Coffee has an outstanding balance but will be evicted regardless of whether they pay their back rent or not.

The storefront has "possibly" already been rented to someone else, the source adds.

As reported previously in this space, Murky in late February was shut down by D.C. tax authorities over an unpaid tax bill tallying roughly $220,000.–Rend Smith

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  • Matt S

    I read today that the actual bill was over $400,000 in unpaid sales tax dating back to 2004.

    I will say that Murky had some pretty good coffee and I would usually buy a bag to take home. The coffee house itself however was dirty and uninviting, as thought there was little thought about the customer.

    When I found out that Murky had been seized due to back taxes, my first thought was about how fucked up DC government is. It pissed me off that government officials can steal with impunity, but a local business that had a tax problem is simply shuttered.

    But as my knee-jerk outrage began to subside and more information became available, I realized that Murky deserved to be shuttered and the owner deserves to sit in jail.

    What I find outrageous is that this man was charging his good customers and then pocketing all the money for himself. He basically robbed DC residents of vital services by not paying his share of the bill. Even if our corrupt government will end up stealing the money, our friendly merchant should not have been stealing from us.

    Perhaps the fact that Murky never accepted credit/debit payments, only cash, should have clued us all in to this fraud. In the end, I won't miss Murky, I will just head to Sidamo on H Street NE where they roast on site and appear to be honest. Fuck you Murky!

  • Ruth


    I too am a fan/undying supporter of/in need of good coffee Murky fan. I respectfully disagree with your thoughts on this seemingly delicate issue, however.

    I find your use of the word "stealing" appalling. While I do not condone or excuse any kind of mismanagement with finances, let us not confuse poor,irresponsible decision making with a mortal sin. It would be a shame to be too hasty in judging the situation, for who among us has not made a/many (sometimes irreversible) mistakes in his or her lifetime?

    Regarding the complaint about credit/debit payments, I as well am frustrated when businesses decide to place themselves "above" the convenience of the consumer and choose to implement certain standards. However, I strive to imagine that as a small business owner, there must be a reason to insist upon certain practices, regardless of whether or not they are completely transparent.

    Many would be deeply affected by a permanent closure of Murky. It is unfortunate you are no longer among this crowd.

  • Fenton

    ?!? I really loved Murky, the coffee was fantastic. It made my morning. Wen I lived in a terrible apartment nearby, it was one of the few worthwhile things on the Hill.
    Anytime a non corporate coffee houses closes, for whatever reason, it really is a shame.
    So what if they don't take credit cards? that is the LAMEST complaint i've ever heard. You do realize that credit cards charge merchants anywhere from 2 - 5% of the transaction as a fee? Thats a pretty sizeable hit for a small purchase like cofee. What's up with not having five bucks in your wallet for coffee? Are we so lazy that we can't go to an ATM?
    DAMN this is a TERRIBLE LOSS if true. Stupid DC.

  • sebastian

    I liked Murky coffee too but come on, a "mistake" for 4 years?? We made the same excuse when he failed a heath inspection a few years ago. The owner is a crook, and he got caught. Hopefully he can never do business in DC again, without paying up.

  • tiger

    bring back roasters on the hill!

    i still have my mug.

  • restaurant owner

    I am a restaurant owner. One month I ran short of case and failed to file my sales taxes. I just settles the bill at $18,000+ instead of the original $11,ooo owed (and you thought credit card interest is high). While I hate to see any small business fail, I don't see how it is fair to those of us who obey the law and pay up what we owe when some seemingly don't.

    I do not have any facts at hand. If Murkey and its owner failed to file $200,000 or $400,000 in sales tax returns, this is not an oops or a one time thing but a systematic taking of money that is supposed to be held in trust by the business owner for a maximum of 51 days. Call it theft, call it desperation, in any case it is not fair and your money was taken for uses other than what you gave it for.

    If Murkey failed to pay rent, this is an issue between the landlord and he owner and will be resolved in courts most likely. But again, businesses have a duty to pay their rent or negotiate space from their landlords.

    I hope I am never in the spot that Mr Cho seems to be in now. But if the facts are as reported in the press, or even exaggerated by 50% or 75%, there seems to be a systematic effort on Murkey's part not to meet their legal obligations. This is wrong. If the facts are wrong, the Government of DC will be in big trouble with regards to Mr CHo and his business. That too would be wrong.

    But none of us are privy to the real "facts" in the case.

  • Dissapointed

    It is a true dissapointment. Murky was one of the BIG reasons I chose to live in this neighborhood. Does anyone know of plans for another indie coffee shop in the area? Does Murky plan to open up again somewhere close? Or we all stuck being Murky refugees with nowhere to turn... I don't think marvelous market or port city cut it.

  • lincoln park lodge

    I'm a former employee of Murky Coffee on Cap Hill and while I won't comment on the back taxes, I will comment on the credit card situation.

    Murky does accept credit cards at their Arlington location. My old manager at the Cap Hill location, not Nick Cho, was a little Fight Club-esque in his disdain of credit cards. I always thought his logic was a little off when we said we didn't accept credit cards, only to see patrons walk to the ATM next to Ben & Jerry's that charged $2.50 plus whatever extra bank charges.

    Nick Cho is a nice guy, but this is a pretty stupid situation he put himself and his now jobless employees.

  • KJ

    Wow! Nothing to get people in this city fired up like fucking with their coffee.

    I'm torn on this issue; I loved the coffee at Murky and the staff was awesome, me and the fam spent many happy weekend mornings there. OTOH I was definitely paying taxes on every purchase I made at Murky, so if Nick was just pocketing that money that's totally fucked up. We'll probably never know exactly what happened at Murky, but at this point my sympathy is reserved for the staff members who are taking it in the pooper right now.

  • Blah

    If Murky coffee steals from DC Gov, it does necessarily follow that Murky is also stealing from us, sad to say.

    I do find the owner's disingenuous attitude off-putting. This is clearly an evasion of taxes, incited by greed. And I would bet heavily that this was not the first time he has been caught. It never is. If he had just followed the rules, he would still have made a considerable profit. That location (assuming a decent product) is a goldmine.

  • Reggie

    To Matt up there at the very top. As a former Murky employee while I am very disappointed at what happened, who do you think you are to make ridiculous claims in a situation you know NOTHING about?

    Secondly, what does accepting credit cards have to do with anything? Please. I guess the Black Cat is crooked too, huh? And I guess Dos Gringos in Mt. Pleasant -- or for that matter MOST of the businesses in MtP -- they're all crooked too. Yeah, right. THAT's the sign of a bad business.

    What a tool.

  • CT

    I'm not sure that it's relevant to the current situation, but the Murky Coffee location in Arlington no longer accepts credit/debit cards. They certainly used to, but they haven't since late last year. I was there this morning, and they have a sign on the front door reading 'no credit cards ever.'

    I love the place, and I hope the Arlington location is there to stay.

  • Hector

    Are Murky DC and Murky Arlington under the same business entity? If so, we can probably expect to see the imminent demise of the VA location as well.

  • Creative Meatloaf

    To Disappointed:

    Freshly roasted coffee beans, a grinder, and a french press will make a delicious cup of coffee.

    And it's cheaper than renting near a coffee shop.

  • andrew

    Fenton, come on, this is hardly DC's fault.

  • GH Naut

    I think the credit card issue Matt brings up just relates to the fact that accepting credit cards would create a clear record of their sales. Though yes, I hate having to use that damn ATM to get cash, but I wouldnt blame Murky for it.

    I too was a Murky fan. If they really held out on all that tax money, it sounds like they're getting what was coming to them. Lets just hope a responsible proprietor sees the need for a quality coffee shop there and takes over the lease soon.

  • meesh

    go to sova on H between 13th and 14th NE. it's way bigger and has really good coffee too. and i think they get their pastries from the same place murky did.

    or you can go to sidamo on H street and 3rd/4th
    they roast their own beans there and have food!

    do it. it's not a far walk from the precious market.

  • Dissapointed

    To Creative Meatloaf:

    I already do the French Press thing. What I like about indie cafes is the atmosphere and the occasional mocha/chai/wet cappuccino.

    And to those suggesting H street shops. To put it plainly. H Street is scary-- still.

  • H Street Revitalizer

    To dissapointed and others:

    People people. We are drawing up new proposals to deal with the 'black issue' on H street.

  • H Street Revitalizer

    Phase 1 is under process: Moving in Not Quite So Black residents, such as your former mayor Anthony Williams.

  • Matt S

    As for the issue of credit/debit cards, please don't make or accept naive argument about the cut credit card companies are taking. If Mr. Cho was worried about losing money to the credit card companies, it seems he was so only because he wished to pocket it for himself.

    The real issue is that the good owner of Murky clearly seems to not have enough transaction records which could prove or even disprove that he was essentially stealing from his customers.

    Throughout all of this, not a single individual has been able to fully explain where the money went. If back taxes are owed, wouldn't the owner simply sit down with the government and work out a payment plan? Where is the money?

    From all indications, Mr. Cho has pocketed the full price of the base sale, plus all the sales tax and stiffed the government. It simply does not matter that Mr. Cho is considered a "nice" guy by some former employees and customers. The best con men/women usually are smiling all the way to the bank.

    While there is no actual proof, yet, that Mr. Cho actually stole the money, the evidence indicates that something fraudulent may have occurred. Regardless of what has transpired, Murky in DC is finished as a business.

    Oh, and I want my money back.

  • MarkyMark

    Matt, IMO what he specifically did with the funds doesn't really matter. Given that it's funds held in trust to be paid in taxes, it's theft no matter how you slice it. He could have used it for paying rent, fixing a leaky roof, payroll, etc. As soon as he knowingly used those funds for anything other than the taxes for which they were entrusted, he stole taxpayer money. It's like your landlord spending your security deposit and not having it available when you move out. How pissed would you be?!

    I say good riddance. Yes, the city's tax office is flawed, but this does not excuse Murky's blatant misapropriation of funds. I hope the DC government can get OUR money back WITH INTEREST, PENALTIES, and FEES to apply toward the maintenance and betterment of our city. Anything short of this would be unfair to the taxpayers and to all of the other businesses that are operating in compliance.

  • Dissapointed

    To H Street Revitalizer:

    b/c H. feels unsafe to me does not make me racist. Try rephrasing your asenine comment, for the good of the community.

  • Dissapointed


  • Marva

    What Murky did well:

    Every weekend my family went to Murky. Many of the people we made friends with there--including the baristas, we don't even know their names. But we spent hours together and rain or shine, I knew someone would be there that knew me and would say hello. And now they've disappeared.

    This is a loss to Capitol Hill.

  • CF

    Looks like Nick has been using the same line for the last 9 months...funny how the statement looks hollow when it's repeated when the city finally gets around to shutting you down, 9 months after their intent was published.


  • Friends4eva

    How do you call the baristas "friends" and not know their name?

  • Monika Olsson

    A former Swedish student, me, visited Murky Coffee a lot during spring 2006 and what place Murky is! It was a great place of meeting great people, the athmosphere was open, fresh and familiar. When I left DC and took the flight back to Sweden I had dicided once I come back to DC I will bring my friends (both European and National) over at Murky´s for a nice hot cup of Java. I really look forward to see you all at Murky´s in near future.

    If not.. all of you are welcome to a unique environment in Northern Sweden.... white white white is the snow! and it covers the ground and more... it reaches up to a grown mans shoulders! Yes, that is trough!

    Best best wishes!
    Monika from the city of Arvidsjaur, Sweden.

  • SAM

    I may be a little too late on this post...but I am also a former murky employee. Nick had a bad attitude and treated his employees badly. We got paychecks up to a month late constantly. I quit months ago and I am still owed back paychecks. It doesnt surprise me at all that this has happened, and considering the fact that I know FOR A FACT that Nick charged double what he needed to for coffee I can tell you right now this is only a result of greed. His wife left him recently for that reason entirely. Other great shops are opening, one right on cap hill. So good riddance to bad rubbish.

  • Steve

    "Every weekend my family went to Murky. Many of the people we made friends with there–including the baristas, we don’t even know their names. But we spent hours together and rain or shine, I knew someone would be there that knew me and would say hello. And now they’ve disappeared."

    How do you make friends with someone, yet not know their name? Step away from MySpace, douchnozzle and learn about human relationships.

    And Nick Cho can suck it. He stole from customers by pocketing that money and not paying his taxes. Ten bucks says the asswipe behind "Rays the Steaks" and "Rays the Classics" is next. That guy is also incredibly dishonorable.

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