City Desk

Chatter: The French Onion Connection

giveitupAre the prices at D.C. restaurants too damn high? And how soon is too soon for restaurateurs to raise them? In last week’s Young & Hungry column, Jessica Sidman dug into some glaring examples in which local hot spots have increased the prices of items on their menu mere months after opening—and often, not long after receiving positive reviews from critics. Offender No. 1? Fourteenth Street NW’s buzzy Le Diplomate. “All one needs to know about Le Diplomate is in the price of its French onion soup,” wrote tomaj. “When it first opened, it was $11, a shocking price for a bistro-level bowl of soup containing no expensive ingredients whatsoever. Now it’s $12.50. Business-wise, you can’t blame them. They get good critic reviews and they’re always packed—of course they can improve their profit margin. I just blame their food morals, and those of the hipsters willing to shell out that kind of money without question.”

Reader Ryan Jawetz chimed in with a semantic parry: “Uh, ‘hipster’ is not a synonym for ‘rich person.’ I love how it has become a catchall pejorative term. Who is more likely to be eating at a restaurant with $40 entrees: 20-somethings working for NGOs and selling artisanal pencils on Etsy in between bar-band gigs on H Street, or the rich lobbyists and corrupt politicians that have always dominated this town?” A clue might be found in last Friday’s POLITICO Playbook newsletter, the morning bulletin of Washington’s lobbyists and politicians. Sidman’s story got a hefty, two-paragraph mention.

Auctions Speak Louder Than Words

In parts of the city, the District government’s involvement in the development of private property can be hands-on to the tune of hundreds of millions of grant dollars. In other parts of the city—well, take the Congress Heights Vistas, a massive plot in Ward 8 whose recent sale to a mysterious buyer got a hard look in last week’s Housing Complex column. Could neighborhoods like Congress Heights benefit from a steadier guiding hand from District planners? Should we even care?

Put reader BiLL in the latter camp: “Oh whaaa, the city is ‘ignoring’ Congress Heights. It’s all about the market—and right now, the market isn’t supporting high demand over there. And who’s surprised—look around. The high concentration of low-income housing forces the average income levels down to such a depressed point that no retailer wants (or can afford) to open there. [Ward 8 Councilmember Marion] Barry is right when he says many people don’t have ‘spendable income’ in Ward 8. So why would any commercial development want to move into an area that is unable to support it?”

In the comments, urbanism blogger Richard Layman took a similar stance, with some qualifications: “Ignorance/ignoring is a dependent variable. The independent variable is ‘the market’ and market demand for that area. Because it is minimal, and for a variety of other reasons, more reputable organizations (other than WC Smith) aren’t interested in working in that area. People aren’t clamoring to live there. So it’s attractive to bottom feeder-type developers. OTOH, I agree that the city could step up and get involved in facilitating transactions favoring developers that do a better job. But it would require a level of planning that we don’t really do.”

Department of Corrections

Due to a reporting error, last week’s Loose Lips column incorrectly identified the Tortilla Coast location where a group of Libertarians gathers. They meet at the Logan Circle location, not the one on Capitol Hill.

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