City Desk

Neighborhood Watch: Old-Fashioned Saloon Fight over Brookland’s Colonel Brooks’ Tavern

The Issue: Pity the newly-complicated life of Brookland's Colonel Brooks' Tavern. Once just a neighborhood bar with 15 beers on tap, it's now the focus of fiercely competing interests. Developers want to use it as the base for a 500-person mixed-use development, neighbors want to avoid more traffic, and tavern owner Jim Stiegman wants to leave a legacy.  

Into the Brig: "This is just a bunch of greedy developers," said Guy Durante, a Brookland resident for 10 years. He worries that new residents in the Colonel Brooks' building—211 apartment units are planned, according to a February 2009 proposal—will mean just one thing: more cars. "It's going to start looking like Chinatown by the time they're through with it," he said.

After a meeting of the neighborhood's ANC, architect Edward Johnson wrote a project summary that offered similarly dire predictions. If the development is built, it said, expect increased crime and "health deterioration of all who live and work in Brookland."

Honorable Discharge: The development's origin can be traced to April 6, 2003, when robbers shot three Colonel Brooks' employees preparing Palm Sunday brunch. Since then, Stiegman says, the restaurant has been losing money. "The murders of my staff members not only ruined a lot of lives, " he said, "but it also ruined our business." Stiegman blames the restaurant's fiscal woes on more expensive worker's compensation insurance and his tavern's new, dangerous reputation.

In 2006, Stiegman, who has worked at Colonel Brooks' since 1980, began looking for something to give the neighborhood besides a failing restaurant. He contacted the Menkiti Group's Bo Menkiti, who brought the Horning Brothers development group into the PUD (planned unit development) plan.

Stiegman expects the apartment complex to reduce crime by populating the area around Brookland's Metro station. He also hopes it will attract customers for struggling area businesses. "I didn't want to walk away from something and leave something behind that wasn't of value and wasn't of merit," he said.

What's Next: The PUD plans will be submitted to the D.C. Zoning Commission in a few weeks. If they're approved, Stiegman thinks the building will be ready in about three years. A finished development will mean retirement for both the tavern and its owner. Stiegman, 62, says the developers are looking for a new restaurant to take Colonel Brooks' space. "Sixty-five is not a unrealistic time to hang up your beer glasses," he said.

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  • David Grosso

    I am not sure who Guy Durante is (and why this article only chose a negative statement on this project), but I have lived and worked in Brookland since 1987 and I can tell you that new development (done the right way) is exactly what Brookland needs. The neighborhood has been stuck in a timewarp since the day I first came into it and the only thing that will bring about more safety and a better life for all of us is responsible development. I have closely reviewed the development plan for Colonel Brooks and frankly speaking if you cannot support the vision of Jim Stiegman then it is very likely that you will never support any development project anywhere. Mr. Durante, if you want less traffic and fewer people then I suggest you move to a more rural location and stop inhibiting the progress of our neighborhood.

  • David Nolan

    I like Chinatown. A bustling neighborhood, good restaurants, a cinema and a lot of passing trade for the stores. 500 more people in Brookland isn't going to get us anywhere near the population density of Chinatown, but it's a step in the right direction for a neighborhood that has been pretty flat for the decade or so that I have lived here. To be honest, I could do with seeing a little more development. I'm tired of having to go elsewhere for entertainment, shopping, and to eat out. Having at least some of that in walking distance would be great. Maybe there will be a few more cars, but 500 more people in this neighborhood will not make a huge difference.

    (And the subhead "Honorable Discharge" was clearly not subject to any reflections on good taste as it introduced a paragraph about the murders of three people. Shame.)

  • Rick Mangus

    'Colonel Brooks' now, who's next to close because of some developer, 'Ben's Chilly Bowel'?

    Also there is nothing Chinese about 'Chinatown' anymore.

  • noodlez

    "Also there is nothing Chinese about 'Chinatown' anymore."

    I DUNNO Rick Mangus.




  • Joshua

    First of all, Colonel Brooks is not closing because of 'some developer'. It's closing because the owners have decided it's time to move on, and it's closing because the folks in Brookland who would prefer that nothing new be built keep 12th St. moribund.

    I've been living in Brookland for a decade and I've seen any number of new businesses up and down 12th St. open up and then close like clockwork two or three years later. There's simply not enough people to support a vibrant business district, and until there are more people living here it's not going to change.

    It's too bad that Colonel Brooks won't be there, but 500 more people living next door to the Metro would help provide a customer base that will hopefully keep the next pub open.

    And as much as I love the Colonel, if their food was any good I might actually eat there more often. I used to eat there all the time when I first moved here but too many times I ended up with greasy burps the rest of the day.

  • Rick Mangus

    There goes the neighborhood!

  • Sandura

    I think that the new developments in Brookland will improve the place--god knows we need a few places to eat out in, and much improved shopping. A bit more density is good for Brookland; the RI metro development, the coming Abdo development, the Chancellors Row, all should help a bit. The important thing is to make RI and 12th streets walkable places where you want to go--because there are shops you want to visit, and at the same time drop stuff off at the PO, etc. Brookland and Woodridge have some of the sweetest housing stock in the city--like Cleveland Park but without the price tag, as Jim Abdo said. Every year a few dozen more people buy then fix up their houses, and plant gardens--but the change along 12th and RI avenue is still too slow. We need development in order to attract the business owners to build up the retail and restaurant base that will compliment the gorgeous houses to make Brookland and Woodridge more enjoyable places to live!
    And don't worry--there is no Chinatown in Brookland's future (you cannot get that kind of density without more rowhouses)--although there might be a future closer to Takoma Park if you attract the right buyers. And 12th street was once a thriving commercial little neighborhood mini-downtown, before the riots devastated it. It is only a matter of time that happens again--the signs are all there.

  • Toia

    I'm so sorry to hear that the Tavern is closing. I have lived in Brookland for the past 10 years and I love the smalltown feel of it. I hate that big developers come in and take over the small but big at heart quote on quote ma' and pa' business. Colonel Brooks will always be a dear place to me.

  • Honora P-L

    Someone who's lived there only 10 years (Durante) has no right to an opinion. I moved here to attend CUA in '74, and watched the sad slow decline of Brookland over the next 20 years. Colonel Brooks was the only bright light left and unfortunately Jim is right - the murders were a blow from which no one could recover. The building needs to be razed & the whole neighborhood needs new life. The only people who could want to maintain the status quo must be fans of wabi sabi. Good luck & God bless, Jim - CB's gave me many happy hours and I can honestly say saved my marriage and my mental health. Very sad to see the end of it but the redevelopment plan is the right thing to do.

  • Honora P-L

    And another thing, Joshua - I don't know about now, but back in the day Colonel Brooks served up some of the best food I've ever had in my life. I still remember with great fondness a grouper with pineapple beurre blanc, the occasional squid ink pasta special (orgasmic), and the creme brulee of the day (I don't know which I liked better, the berry ones or the Grand Marnier one). Cool custard with a perfectly crackly sugar crust. maybe if you ate something besides burgers & fries you wouldn't have "greasy burps."