City Desk

Did Big Bear Cafe Defeat Crack?

Bear-11-300x199

Despite having run smack into a big gentrification-laced clusterfuck, Big Bear Cafe may be on the verge of getting its long-sought liquor license—and its supporters are pulling out all the stops to help.

During a hearing at the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board last week, in fact, Bloomingdale residents who want Big Bear to serve booze asserted  the restaurant was more than a good neighborhood food and coffee joint. It was a great neighbor. For one thing, it'd managed to keep things quiet: witnesses said that though the place sometimes has live music in the evening, you usually can't hear it—even if you happen to live right above the business or right next to it.

Big Bear's patrons are helping to solve global warming, swapping bikes for gas-guzzling, parking-space-bogarting cars. (The ABC Board's concern for how bars affect parking is probably getting to be a bit of an anachronism, especially with places like Big Bear that mostly cater to people who live nearby.)

But by far, the most amazing thing about Big Bear, and one of the reasons it should, apparently, be granted a restaurant-class liquor license, is that it's helped fight crime in the gentrifying neighborhood it resides in.

Years ago, when the retail space the cafe sits in was occupied by Big Bear Market, things were terrible, a neighbor explained to the ABC Board: "There was definitely crimes based on the loiterers from the store." The neighbor shared an alley with the market. He describes the spot as having bulletproof glass and as being more of a liquor store than a grocery. The market/liquor store didn't just attract local drunks. Drug dealers and drug addicts camped there too. The neighbor sometimes discovered "people smoking crack in my back alley."

But when Big Bear Cafe moved in, all that changed. "That activity has disappeared," said the witness. "The alley itself has become less of a toilet and more of an alley." And if Big Bear is given a liquor license, things will get even better. Another neighbor and witness says that if they serve alcohol, they'll have a reason to extend their hours—which will help fight crime even more: "Feeling threatened by people on the street is not something that happens in the vicinity of the cafe."

Contributing to the argument that it's an ideal neighbor, a local Realtor sent a letter to the ABC Board, in which she pointed to Big Bear as being a catalyst for rising property values. And one witness twice mentioned how Big Bear makes its restrooms available to the homeless.

If that doesn't sound community-oriented  enough, it's not like Big Bear is going to use its license to become a tavern or something, its owner, Stu Davenport told from the stand. Instead, it'll be more like a "European cafe." He plans to serve tapas and restrict all live entertainment at the establishment to jazz or acoustic music.

The new, improved Big Bear Cafe will also likely be a lot more sensitive to the the fact that its alienated some of its non-white neighbors. The hurdles it's had to face have cropped up largely because of relations with longer-term area residents. "I was not aware of the issues growing in the neighborhood that I am now," Davenport testified.

The arguments made in support of the application—especially the crime-fighting ones—are exactly the type of arguments often made against expanding liquor sales in District neighborhoods, proving that as the city continues to change, things are bound to get more and more complicated. The outpouring of support for the cafe underscores this; years back, such an establishment would have never opened in Bloomingdale, much less drawn an aggressive campaign on its behalf.

The board has 90 days to issue a written decision on Big Bear's license.

*Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • why bb?

    Obviously written by someone that is a huge fan of BB. However, most of the change I bet is due to the fact the liquor store is gone and there is something with tables there.

    I hope they eventually get the license and continue to have the same atmosphere (well, maybe a little less cliquish). But if you're going for a liquor license in this city you have to be a f&*(ing idiot to not have your ducks 100% in a row before starting the process.

  • Rick Mangus

    Aman to that!

  • DCCommish

    Now just a few more hurdles and it will be done. Stu can come before the ANC again for the stipulated license, so he can server right away! I hope BBC is successful in the next steps; BBC is a great asset to the community...no matter how it all turns out. I'm glad to hear residents now realize [and I quote why bb?] "if you're going for a liquor license in this city you have to be a(n)...idiot to not have your ducks 100% in a row before starting the process".

  • downtown rez

    The argument that cafes bring about either a decrease or an increase in crime tends to depend on density and what type of crime one is speaking of.

    About 20 and 30 years ago people were talking about how the bars and restaurants on 17th st drew people to the area and therefor there were more eyes on the street, and so lowered crime. You don't really hear that argument made on Dupont anymore.

    It's a balance thing.

  • noodlez

    "For one thing, it'd managed to keep things quiet:..." LETS SEE HOW QUIET IT WILL BE AFTER SOME LIQUOR INFUSED WHITE FOLK, HYPED FROM SOME AWESOME BAND, START PARADING THROUGH THE HOOD OF SLEEPIN OR RESTING BLACK FOLK WHO HAVE TO GET UP AND GO TO WORK THE NEXT MORNING.

    SO YOU REPLACE CRACK SMOKING IN THE ALLEY WITH PISSING IN THE ALLEY. ONE COULD ARGUE THAT THE PISS AFTER A FEW DRY DAYS IS ACUALLY WORST THAN SOMEONE PUTTIN FIRE TO THEIR STEM.

    LETS NOT TALK ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF ROBBERIES AND ASSAULTS INCREASE AS SOME DAZED AND CONFUSED WHITE BOY MAKE A RIGHT DOWN THE WRONG STREET AND GET CAUGHT SLEEP WALKING CAUSE HE THINK THE REAL DC IS GENTRIFIED. HOW ABOUT THE DRUNK BIKE RIDER WHO MISTAKES FLORIDA AVE FOR ONE OF THOSE SNAZZY BIKE LANES ONLY TO GET PLUCKED BY A TRICKED OUT ESCALADE.

    THOSE PEOPLE IN THAT AREA HAVE BEEN THROUGH ENOUGH. JUST BE HAPPY AND CONTENT WITH YOUR CURRENT STATE AND THE FREE PUBLICITY AND KEEP THE COFFEE AND TEA FLOWING. TO SACRIFICE A GOOD THING FOR MORE MONEY IS WHAT GOT THIS CITY AND COUNTRY IN THE MESS IT’S IN NOW.

    I HOPE BIG BEAR CAFE GET SHOT DOWN. THOSE FOLK WHO ARE AGAINST THE PROPOSAL KNOW AND UNDERSTAND THAT NO MATTER WHAT THE MIND ALTERING SUBSTANCE IT WILL NOT FAIR WELL. AS WAS PROVEN ONCE BEFORE.

  • Skipper

    Why do they allow Internet access at St. E's?

  • Devoe

    Thank you Noodlez, your nonsensical racially charged craigslist-scam-all-caps rant has enlightened us as to the fundamental idiocy of the anti-BB crowd.

    Now please go back to your hole.

  • noodlez

    YOU CALLED IT EVERYTHING BUT WRONG? I WONDER WHY?

    HOWEVER YOUR FREEDOM FROM IGNORANCE DOESNT EXCUSE YOUR CURRENT STATUS: A REUSED ASSWIPE!

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