Busboy or Poet?

I wasn?t sure what to expect from Busboys and Poets, the new bookstore/coffeeshop/bar/performance space at 14th and V Streets. I?d heard varied reports labeling it either a symbol of gentrification or a symbol of defiance, either a buppie/yuppie hangout or IMF protesters ground zero. This hearsay incongruity struck me as rather intriguing, so a friend and I headed over Wednesday for happy hour to check it out.

I?m happy to say Busboys and Poets can?t be locked down into any slot. Its aim is to be inclusive. Buy a book, hang out with some coffee, drinks with friends, dinner, hear some poetry ? it?s aim is to be your Third Space, not the Next Hot Space. And the name? Apparently Langston Hughes once worked as a busboy in DC at the Wardman Park Hotel?

The layout, on the ground floor of one of the new condominiums, is large and open ? ambitiously able to hold about 300 people, with a performance space/private room in the back where they hold special events like monthly poetry open mics. The front room is eclectically furnished with tables, chairs, and very comfortable couches, rather like a more upscale Chi-Cha Lounge. There?s an expansive bar that looked very inviting if by chance the room is full. I didn?t get a chance to check out the political bookstore integrated in the front, but it was always humming with patrons browsing through books, a good sign. The lights were bright when we entered, highlighting the airiness of the space, but dimmed to create a cosier feel later on. The crowd also slowly changed from coffee sipping with laptops to Belgian beer drinking ? even with the very high ceilings the sound level stayed at a gentle buzz. I wondered how it would get later on in the night. We noticed right away that it was truly multicultural scene ? a rare thing in DC where nightlife can still be so segregated. There was a strong effort to keep the mood very low-key – our server would sit down on the couch opposite us and chat about the different merits of different ales. Somehow it felt genuine, not forced. I could see returning some rainy afternoon to check out their chai tea ? ?not a fake powdered chai latte like some places,? he winked, ?real chai.?

It all made for a congenial yet apropos atmosphere to discuss Anne Hull?s recent two-article series on the ?boom times? changing our neighborhood. For two hours or so we hung out, listening to chill nu-jazz, curled on a red velvet couch nursing our Deleriums, chatting about property values and housing bubbles and the absurd probability of a sushi bar on 14th in 2006.

And then, as we are Gen X, discussing the ridiculous irony of what we were talking about, our hysterical hipster backlash against yuppification compared with our complicity, the poignant lunacy of being thirtysomethings and having no idea how we went from poor students to responsible adults in the blink of an eye. I can’t help laughing at myself for even writing this…

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Writing for We Love DC restored her happiness after a life-threatening illness, and she’s grateful to you, dear readers. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

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