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Posted at 6:16 PM ET, 10/19/2005

Big Boy on the Block

By Rhome Anderson

Although the liberal and artsy leanings of the space don't suggest competitive conflict, Busboys and Poets seems like it's trying to knock Tryst and Kramerbooks out the box. Tom Sietsema recently weighed in on the food but really, it's not about the food. Well, it's kinda about the food because it's cheap and good, and that counts for a lot with singles stretching their date budgets. More on that shortly.

Owner Andy Shallal is positioning his new venture as a depot for intellectuals and activists to work, share and socialize. Hefty luminaries like Harry Belafonte and Amiri Baraka have already appeared on the packed schedule of events. But this blog isn't about that stuff either, as welcome as it is.

I'm just here to predict that Busboys and Poets is about to be a serious social scene. The location is great, the look is appealing, the prices are right and the vibe is gelling nicely.

This past Saturday I made my maiden voyage and was pleasantly surprised to find a mixed crowd varying widely across age, race and social spectra. Some were on dates, others were on group outings or just browsing and chatting in the bookstore and a few were just trying to get some new numbers in their cell phones. People-watching opportunities abounded. A pair of DJs dropped dub, Afro and Brazilian plates;being a DJ and live-music junkie myself, I immediately took note of the array of high-end powered speakers optimally installed throughout the sizable room. This is one of the few establishments where the sound system is set up to strike the prime balance between allowing conversation and creating a mood.

A second visit on a weeknight presented a different side, with some folks nestled up with their laptops, a few large groups of friends having dinner and an after work crowd just wrapping up for the evening.

The decor takes the best elements of chic lounge and coffeehouse and marries them nicely. It's comfortable but sleek, a combination not easily achieved. It's also a non-smoking establishment. Forgive me if I sound partisan in light of the local smoking wars, but the absence of an acrid haze just makes everything sexier. Busboys and Poets is the new crucial date spot, especially when you can get a decent-sized personal pizza and a Delirium on tap and still kick in for dessert with little more than a twenty. And you can do that before or after you take in some poetry, an indie film screening or an emerging theater piece. The way they're making good on tons of potential is exciting and leads one to think, "If only they had a dancefloor." That might be too much to ask based on hawkish ABC and ANC policy. But in the meantime, Busboys and Poets is making its presence known in a big way.

--Rhome

By Rhome Anderson  | October 19, 2005; 6:16 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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Comments

Thanks for posting this, I have been longing for this type of establishment in DC for some time now. I will definitely check this out. I will also start reading this blog regularly.

Posted by: Jason Bradfield | October 20, 2005 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I live right around the corner from BB&P and I frequently peeked under the brown paper window covering that shielded its interior during its construction. There was quite a buzz in the neighborhood about the incognito joint being built and let me say that it ABSOLUTELY lived up to the hype. I've been there many different days of the week and every night has brought something excellent. This is the kind of place DC is dying for - you'll love it.

Posted by: Steve Goldenberg | October 20, 2005 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I live right around the corner from BB&P and I frequently peeked under the brown paper window covering that shielded its interior during its construction. There was quite a buzz in the neighborhood about the incognito joint being built and let me say that it ABSOLUTELY lived up to the hype. I've been there many different days of the week and every night has brought something excellent. This is the kind of place DC is dying for - you'll love it.

Posted by: Steve Goldenberg | October 20, 2005 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Please no dance floor. It will be nice to be able to go somewhere hip that I can chill and not feel the pressure to dance! dance! dance!

Posted by: Nick | October 21, 2005 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I agree - no dancing (!). How would any converstation go on after that? It is just nice to be able to go somewhere and hang out that has books, couches, drinks, food, atmosphere, music and is NOT jampacked and a meat market (yet). May it stay the same.....

Posted by: Ogei | October 21, 2005 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I guess my own personal pro-dancing bias is apparent. The feedback from the anti-dance lobby is much appreciated! Sometimes chilling and conversing is its own reward.

Posted by: Rhome | October 21, 2005 12:34 PM | Report abuse

I love this place. Have gone eat twice and saw a very interesting performance of readings on the Iraqi War. It's warm, the food is great, everyone has a smile. Just love it.

Posted by: dgm | October 21, 2005 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I like the space, the food, the ambience, the hosts. The only thing that is lacking is the waitstaff. I've been twice already and each time I've had the least attentive waitstaff. This place would be incredible if it had better wait service.

Posted by: srm | October 21, 2005 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Had brunch here last Sunday and food was great but service was shaky (not unexpected and easier to excuse in a relatively new place with young, inexperienced wait staff). For the portions and the environment, I'd have been ready to pay more for my meal and think the manageable prices make it easier to overlook the less-than polished service. Bonus, we didn't get hassled to hurry up and leave as can happen in some other brunch spots! Applaud Shallal's social consciousness, the non-smoking environs, thoughtful mix of books in bookstore, and brunch/lunch options on the menu. Glad to have this type of place in town! Check out the Web site (http://www.busboysandpoets.com/) for a list of upcoming events and for how to reserve the space for nonprofit or other programs.

Posted by: Filthy Lucre | October 22, 2005 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Gotta say that I went today and our waiter was VERY attentive. The kid knows he is good looking (in that skinny tattooed hipster way) and that his pay is based on tips and uses that knowledge to his advantage. Can't wait to try it out at night sometime.

Posted by: Jessica | October 22, 2005 5:32 PM | Report abuse

what's the crowd typically like at BB&P on the weekdays?

Posted by: ellington | October 24, 2005 5:01 PM | Report abuse

I went to BB&P on a Saturday and it was a very nice place to decompress from a hard week. I also went on a weekday and it was such a nice place to take a date on a weekday. Mind you I live 75 miles away in St. Mary's County; I could waste time at home. This is my new spot.

Posted by: Joe | November 24, 2005 4:00 AM | Report abuse

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