Loose Lips

What Voters Think of the Changes to D.C.’s Food Scene

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New construction, trendy restaurants, expensive drinks: For a local politician on the make, the 14th Street NW corridor these days is basically one-stop shopping for talking points on economic development and the District’s boom times.

And the new Washington City Paper/Kojo Nnamdi Show poll by Public Policy Polling shows the changes in the neighborhood are popular, even if people aren’t ecstatic about the prospect of $14 cocktails. Two-thirds of likely Democratic voters said they’re excited about the neighborhood’s transformation into a dining destination, although 22 percent also said the food and drinks are too expensive. Only 9 percent think the changes are “awful” and an example of the bad ways the city is changing. (The rest weren’t sure.)

If you don’t like what 14th Street has become, chances are your vote’s with Vince Gray. Of the survey respondents who think 14th Street’s changes are awful, 43 percent are Gray supporters. Only 2 percent of those who view the neighborhood negatively are Jack Evans supporters. Among voters who most love 14th Street, 27 percent plan to vote for Muriel Bowser, 22 percent for Gray, 20 percent for Evans, 10 percent for Tommy Wells, and 8 percent for Andy Shallal.

Evans kicked off his mayoral campaign at Le Diplomate and has embraced (and tried to take credit for) 14th Street’s transformation more than any of his competitors. Even at a groundbreaking ceremony for The Wharf development along the Southwest Waterfront last week, Evans couldn’t help talking up his work across town. “When I came to the Council in ’91, 14th Street was known for two things: drugs and…” “Prostitution,” the crowd chimed in, having heard Evans use that line over and over again while campaigning. (These days, of course, that’s so far in the past that a red light district–themed cocktail and dessert bar is about to open up.)

Evans wants to replicate 14th Street’s yuppification elsewhere across the city. At a recent City Paper debate—at the Black Cat, nestled snugly amid all the new spots—he called it an “outrage” that 14th Street has 72 sit-down restaurants, while Ward 8 has one.

But other candidates have been more ambivalent about following in the footsteps of 14th Street, which has been a hot topic in the conversation around gentrification: Just ask Andy Shallal, with his repeated rhetoric about D.C. as a “tale of two cities.”

Shallal’s own 14th Street restaurant, Busboys & Poets, helped usher in the neighborhood’s new dining scene, but he’s uncomfortable with the way it’s unfolded. He praised “the most gentrified area in the entire city” for its businesses at a candidates’ forum hosted by the Ward 8 Democrats, yet warned against such gentrification in other neighborhoods.

“If that’s what the development looks like in the city, beware,” Shallal said.

That seems to be the minority opinion among most voters, though. The only thing they care to be wary of on 14th Street are the restaurant’s long lines.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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