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…

6 Comments so far

  1. Joseph LeBlanc (unregistered) on November 27th, 2005 @ 5:50 pm

    “chatting about property values and housing bubbles”

    Oh no. No, you’re not one of those people who carry on vacuous real estate bubble conversations in coffee shops. Please stop.

  2. Jenn L (unregistered) on November 27th, 2005 @ 7:12 pm

    That’s precisely why I couldn’t stop laughing at myself while writing that sentence.

    But now I’m curious about your reaction.

    Do you think people who have conversations about real estate are vacuous – because of what they are discussing? Or do you think they are vacuous because they are having the conversation in a coffeeshop? Or have you simply heard too many conversations about “is there or isn’t there a bubble?” lately when you’d rather hear something else?

  3. Joseph LeBlanc (unregistered) on November 27th, 2005 @ 10:52 pm

    I meant to imply that the conversations were vacuous, not the people themselves. Sorry if I didn’t make myself clear.

    As I think about it, it’s a little hard to pin down exactly what bothers me about these conversations. Possibly that I’m still renting while seeing condos in my neighborhood go for $800k+, wondering if I’ll ever be able to buy anything. But more likely that they just seem to be rather pretentious substitutes for “how about that weather we’ve been having?”

    We’re home to fantastic cultural institutions, powerful officials, and people representing every culture on the planet. Yet we can’t think of anything to discuss but how we’re amassing wealth through real estate appreciation. That’s sad.

    Sorry if I went off-topic on something you already found a tad little ironic.

  4. Joseph LeBlanc (unregistered) on November 27th, 2005 @ 10:53 pm

    *strike “little” in the last sentence

  5. Jenn L (unregistered) on November 28th, 2005 @ 11:01 am

    Thanks for the clarification, Joseph. I really was just poking fun at myself so no worries.

    I think you’re right that a lot of times you hear people having those conversations as if they are robber barons in the Gilded Age, and it can be very off-putting. I personally hate talking about $$ – and in this case it isn’t even real $$ it’s all conjecture.

    However, I’ve also heard people having very serious conversations about the topic as well, along the lines of how insane the rapid rise of value is (and how scarily empty that “value” really may be). So it depends, I suppose.

  6. Joseph LeBlanc (unregistered) on November 29th, 2005 @ 8:12 pm

    Ok, I’m a hypocrite…

    This morning, while riding the bus, I struck up a conversation with someone I see every day and we suddenly started talking about roommates, then rent, then the price of condos. We both rent, so it wasn’t about condos we owned, but still…

    I apologize.

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