This is meant to compile everything I've written, so far, about the closing of Citronelle restaurant, plus bits and pieces about other commerical goings on in Georgetown. Admittedly it is derived from a mix of credible information, hearsay, and the occasional "official" statements" - the latter reliably obtuse. I'm no authority, I just live here.
Yesterday, Saturday, I talked to a man who told me an interesting story. He said he was friends with a woman who represented a company that wanted to buy The Latham Hotel a few years ago. Her company spent a year doing their due diligence, he said, surveying the building from top to bottom and to each corner. At the end, they walked away, because they felt the foundation was in "questionable" condition, there were mold issues, that the hotel would need a wildly expensive structural renovation. Granted this is hearsay, but it backs up some of the other scuttlebutt out there, that rather than a bad flood the hotel had long-term plumbing issues. He said the last time he talked with the woman she said, "the building needs to be torn down." That's funny, because it's not that old. About the same age as The Four Seasons, meaning circa late 70s, early 80s. (I remember when there was a gas station at that location.) But there's nothing new about relatively new buildings in DC aging too fast.
One block over, the Capella Georgetown hotel is going up at seemingly record speed. Their target opening date is January 2013, which makes sense due to one word: Inauguration! What delights me is the planned rooftop pool. I've never understood why all Georgetown hotels didn't build rooftop pools. The Capella won't have a lot of rooms and they will be expensive, qualifying it as a "boutique" hotel. At the sister hotel in New York, The Setai, room rates today began at $545 for a standard. Earlier there were rumors that Citronelle would move to the Capella, but they got shot down by Michel Richard's very own people.
Another thing, this man said he knows a couple (regulars at other Capella hotels) who got a hard-hat tour of the Georgetown site. They were told during their tour (this is deep hearsay) that Capella is closing deals to buy the adjacent townhouses on 31st Street, which they plan to turn into their highest-end suites.
And then there's the dear old Monticello, in the same block as The Latham. It is undergoing a major renovation and hopes to reopen in December in a much more upscale mode. I say hooray all around. Maybe this competition will inspire The Four Seasons to soften its edges and The Ritz to step it up with their already handsome public rooms by creating a statement restaurant, which is the piece that's missing in Georgetown's most authentic feeling and best looking hotel.
On Tuesday, after wrtiting about the closing of Citronelle, and with some skepticism about the official reason (extensive flooding), I received this email from Citronelle: Hey Carol, Saw your Tweet about Citronelle this morning. Please let me refer you to Chris Daly, of Daly Gray Public Relations, who handle the communications for the Latham Hotel. Also copied here is Michael Damian, the General Manager of the Latham Hotel. They may be able to give you more information about the status of the building.
I replied: I want to see the "extensive flooding" damage. Can we make a date?
I'm still waiting for that date.
Also, an FB'r wrote to say she'd heard Citronelle signed a deal to move to Washington Harbor. My initial reaction? If true, ugh, because Washington Harbor has never amounted to much, especially in the culinary department, except for the brief time Warner Leroy was there. It's a meat market. Beautiful views wasted on barely average restaurants. That said, in the right space, removed from those other places, Citronelle could give the waterfront some high end cred.
Further along M Street we have the shuttered dinosaur known as Georgetown Park mall. Yesterday evening I heard that Saks Fifth Avenue has pulled out. I didn't even know they were in. I'd heard Bloomingdales was in, then out. I have no idea whether the Saks tip is true. (Turned out not to be, to the best of my knowledge. I called four different people at Vornado, but none returned my call. I did contact Saks corporate in NY. Saks said they have no store plans for Georgetown Park.) Advice for Vornado: put something in that serves the community, for a change. Build it (grocery, hardware, useful department store, electronics) and we will come. If you have us you at least have a base to hold you during tourist droughts.
That said, I don't envy Vornado (well, I envy their money but not Georgetown Park Mall). I wouldn't want to be the owner in 2012 of an interior mall. Kind of the retail equivalent of a great collection of VHS tapes. I think outdoor malls have a pulse, but interior malls have a dreadful, last century, toes up feel to them. But maybe they will surprise us and create something astonishing.
A New York pizza parlor is apparently going into the Old Cellar Door building at the corner of 35th and M. Spike Mendelsohn has started construction on his Georgetown edition of Good Stuff Eatery. I love this place TOO much, by too much I mean too many Toasted Marshmallow milkshakes. Around the corner, next door to the original Georgetown Cupcake, Luke's Lobster is about to open. That location is the site of one of the darker moments in Georgetown small business history, when some in the community, and notably Mayor Fenty, shut down a business in an ugly way, largely because the neighbors didn't like having rowdy college kids eating pizza in the wee hours. See, nobody told the homeowners they were moving in near a college campus. Regardless, opponents of Philly Pizza found a missed stitch in the owner's license and practically went after him with torches and pitchforks. The owner wasn't without fault, but it was not Georgetown's finest moment. Luke's Lobster should do well, however.
No one knows what will happen to The Guards, which closed this week, but the owner has made clear to friends that he wants out of the restaurant business. He's 60, done, and wants to move to Florida. The Guards has a gorgeous interior and lots of possibilities for a thriving rebirth by any name (knock knock Mark Politzer.) Please, whoever has a say in this, don't let the interior be gutted. And what's happening at Garrett's? There appears to be some second story construction going on, but no permits to indicate whether the work is related to a new tenant or simply necessary maintenance. That space has been empty too long. The landlord should recruit an innovative, business-savvy operator or chef and give him or her some support. I'd love to see Derek Brown at that corner.
When he opened Bandolero, Mike Isabella told me he wants to lead a restaurant reival in Georgetown. Those words warmed my heart and tummy. It can't happen soon enough. We need cool, not crass; good & great, not average; community, not tourist trap; original, not chains (certain fast food excepted). This can be done...with a little help from landlords and banks. With the right investor attitude, they'll get their money back pritty-pritty fast.