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.