It was interesting to read the reports this week about the plans for what many call "the Nathans building," at the corner of Wisconsin and M, where my family owned and operated Nathans bar and restaurant for 40 years. Soon enough we'll all be calling it the Under Armour building. They are the building's owners now, having bought it from the family who inherited it back in the early part of the last century.
According to Topher Mathews at The Georgetown Metropolitan, Under Armour's renovation plans have merit. Anything would be better than what the interim tenants (Serendipity) did, covering up the red brick with white paint and adding black and purple trim. They made it an eyesore and a very sad end for the space as a restaurant. People brought their complaints to me, as if I could do anything. I couldn't. I could listen, and sympathize, but that was it. My family never owned the building. Obviously, my story would be different if we had.
People would also ask me what I thought of Serendipity. In truth, I never set foot in the building again after I closed Nathans. Part of it was out of respect for my husband and part of it was just not wanting to deal with the ghosts. I preferred to remember it as it was. And, by the way, I quite like Serendipity in New York and have patronized the ice cream parlor since the early 1970s. It was always a great stop after a night of partying, and once I became a parent a great place to take my son. Unfortunately, from every account I heard, the version they opened in Georgetown compared very poorly to the New York original.
But that's gone now. All those chapters are closed and the building will begin a new chapter as a retail hub. Under Armour first started coming round and asking about the building soon after I inherited Nathans in 1997. But the first most interested retailer was Ralph Lauren - himself - who liked the space a lot. He sent his architects to look it over, we got as far as talking (not drawing up) a long-term lease and renovation, but the owners of the building did not take the offer seriously, the economy turned, the offer faded, and when Lauren next looked at Georgetown he opted for a space up the street.
Under Armour has been in my life since soon after the company started in the mid 1990's. As a parent, and a lacrosse parent at that, I bought a lot of their athletic apparel -- for my son and myself. Also, as I built my son's college fund, I bought him Under Armour stock. That was a smart move. As a member of the Tewaaraton Foundation board of directors, I heard a lot about Under Armour founder Kevin Plank. All of it good.
If you were a regular at Nathans you may recall that in its last years I converted the bar decor from sailing to lacrosse. Part of the reason was financial. I sold the valuable marine art to raise needed funds, but part of it was because lacrosse, like sailing, is a popular sport in our region and has its own art, too. I found antique lacrosse prints. Jesse Hubbard, the lacrosse superstar, helped me collect helmets from all the major league lacrosse teams. I also found antique sticks and gloves. All of this went up on the walls.
I've joked with friends -- such as Topher -- that wouldn't it be fun if Under Armour included a little Nathans tribute bar in the new retail operation. It is unrealistic, but they do have a liquor license (or they should have, if it conveyed with the purchase of the building).
Everybody asks me, and often, if I miss Nathans. I miss having a bar at the corner of Wisconsin and M. I miss Nathans as a customer, but not as the owner, at least not in its bankrupt form. That is not a fun way in which to be a small business owner. If you want to know the details, please just read Innocent Spouse.