Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cleveland Park Is DC's New Restaurant Destination and the Sky Hasn't Fallen

One of the most enduring and heated neighborhood zoning battlegrounds has been Cleveland Park. Epic wars have been waged over the expansion of a Giant supermarket, a pre-school's expansion, and restaurants.

But now not only are there more restaurants in Cleveland Park, especially along the Connecticut Avenue strip --with more to come-- but some of the city's best  restaurants are located in this neighborhood. Change has come to Cleveland Park without the sky falling, without the neighborhood being ruined, as some restaurant opponents claimed it would be. Some of the star restaurants on Cleveland Park's Connecticut Avenue corridor include Dino's, Ardeo, Sorriso, Palena, Ripple, Lavandou, and Indique. Tackle Box, a seafood place, and Medium Rare, a steak house, will soon be opening their doors.

Over the years, neighbors have fought new restaurants. Cosi was opposed and defeated because it was part of a chain. An Argentine restaurant, Divino (there's one in Bethesda), was shooed away because neighbors feared it would attract a late-night crowd. The concern was that Cleveland Park would turn into Adams Morgan.

But surprise: More restaurants has turned out to be good for Cleveland Park. Not only are storefronts that have been closed for years now showing life again, but neighbors are able to walk to these restaurants. (That's something that the opponents of restaurants tried to ignore: People who live in Cleveland Park like to be able to walk to restaurants.)

Restaurants have been hampered by Cleveland Park's zoning overlay, which limits restaurants to no more than 25 percent of the street frontage. While most Cleveland Park neighbors want to relax or eliminate that anachronistic zoning regulation, it remains in place. Change is hard, especially when it comes to zoning. But there are some exceptions, and restaurants have been able to take advantage of those exceptions. First, if the storefront was previously occupied by a restaurant, that location can be used by a new restaurant, regardless of the 25 percent restaurant cap. (So if there are any restaurateurs reading this: The space that was once the Cereal Bowl, near the Uptown movie theater, could be yours.) Second, if a restaurant wants to expand, all it needs to do is ensure that the part that fronts onto Connecticut Avenue is something other than a "restaurant" -- a small food store, perhaps. This technique has been used recently by two restaurants to expand, much to the delight of just about everyone. (Or maybe even everyone: Not a single negative word has been said on the Cleveland Park Listserv, where restaurant opponents have never been shy about expressing their views.)

So there you have it. Cleveland Park is now one of DC's restaurant destinations. And as a byproduct of that, the neighborhood itself is a better place in which to live and work.


  1. I live just north of Cleveland Park in Van Ness, and I love being able to walk 15 minutes to have a bite or a drink.

  2. Me too -- I love being able to walk to local restaurants. The whole idea of city living is being able to walk to places. A few more restaurants in Cleveland Park would be very welcome and benefit CP.

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