Uniontown Rises Again

With a newly signed lease, a new restaurant could soon occupy Uniontown Bar and Grill's former space.

Located at 2200 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, Uniontown Bar and Grill stood shuttered after being evicted in August 2012. Photo by Charnice A. Milton

Since August 2012, Uniontown Bar and Grill has stood shuttered on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue. Once considered an example of Anacostia's economic renewal, Uniontown was a popular hangout for community members and visitors until unpaid rent and legal troubles forced it to close. The closing was a major setback for a community in transition, but news of potential bidders gave community members hope. Now that Gabriel Tripodo has signed Uniontown's lease and has begun the process of obtaining a liquor license, Anacostia residents could soon return to their neighborhood-friendly restaurant.

The Beginning and the End

Opening in February 2011, the name of the restaurant was inspired by the former name of the Anacostia community, which was Uniontown. The Washington Post called it a labor of love for then-owner Natasha Dasher. “I guess when I think about it, I want this place to be a hub in the community,” she said. “You can already see that people are moving here, coming here and want to be here, and what we'd like to do is be a service for them.” Many praised the service and the Cajun-inspired menu, seeing Uniontown as proof of Anacostia's economic resurgence.

However, in April 2012, it was revealed that Uniontown owed $18,000 in back rent. After failing to adhere to a payment plan and appear for an appointed court date, the city issued an eviction notice in July. Meanwhile, Dasher was implicated in a drug trafficking scheme; she later pled guilty on two federal charges. By August, Uniontown was closed. “I applaud Natasha Dasher for taking a risk,” said Charles Wilson, president and co-founder of the Anacostia Historic Block Association (AHBA). “It showed that it was possible to open a thriving sit-down restaurant in Anacostia.”

The Search for a New Tenant 

A month later, landlord Stan Voudrie announced during an AHBA meeting that he was considering five potential tenants. Although he did not say who they were, Voudrie dispelled rumors that Busboys and Poets was one of them. 

During January's AHBA meeting, Voudrie announced that someone had signed Uniontown's lease, but did not reveal the identity. On February 11, a tweet named Gabriel Tripodo, former owner of Port City Java and current owner of Union Liquors, as the new tenant; later, Voudrie and representatives from ARCH Development Corporation confirmed the news. 

What to Expect

According to their February 6 submission to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), Tripodo and his start-up, Gebtri, Inc., plan to open “a new grill with tavern-style menu,” similar to that of its former tenant. The new restaurant will still offer periodic live entertainment as well as a television for major events. However, Tripado plans to utilize both floors in the establishment, giving customers more space to congregate. “The establishment will have a positive effect on the community,” the submission read. “Once open, it will offer residents another option for eating and gathering, which the community lacks.” Since the lease is contingent on Gebtri receiving the liquor license, the new restaurant will not open until the application is approved.

Neighborhood Partnerships

“Uniontown has always felt like it was a neighborhood-owned restaurant,” Wilson said. With this in mind, Tripodo has enlisted Michael Sterling, who owns and manages neighboring restaurant Big Chair Cafe Bar and Grill, as a silent partner. “I talk to him every day,” Sterling says of Tripodo. “In fact, he often comes to visit and that's how we come up with ideas.” 

Even with the possibility of a new restaurant opening nearby, Sterling insists that he does not see competition, but partnership: “When Uniontown was still open, we wanted them to succeed.” As a fairly new business owner in Anacostia (he reopened Big Chair last year), Sterling says that he is learning from someone with more experience. Also, it gives both business owners a chance to discuss matters with present and future customers and implement suggestions at both locations. “For me, to start a business, I feel blessed,” Sterling said. “The big picture isn't about making money; it's about improving the community.”

Something to Look Forward to

With Uniontown's possible return, community members and leaders alike expressed their excitement. “I think it's wonderful and it goes to show that Anacostia is a viable, sought after place to do business,” Phil Hutinet, the chief operating officer of ARCH said in a statement. “Uniontown was always packed for lunch, happy hour and dinner and it would be wonderful to see that energy again.” Wilson says that he cannot wait to meet with Tripodo at a future HABA meeting. “I'm excited to hear more about the details,” he said, noting that it was only a matter of time before someone signed Uniontown's lease. Sterling hopes that the new restaurant will help some still negative perceptions about Anacostia: “Just come and give us a chance to prove that we're doing things right.”