A Place Called Uniontown

8/17/2011, 9:01 a.m.

On a cold-ish early spring evening, the sound of people's voices, laughter, sports on the television and a warm glow emanated from a plate glass window opposite the Big Chair on MLK Avenue. Inside, the tables were packed with couples, groups, singles and bar hangers. There were locals, obvious visitors, young people, seniors and somewhere in-between-ers. Everyone was laughing, or at least smiling if they weren't totally engrossed in the food.

It was a place called Uniontown, and in those nascent days after opening at the end of January, the small but well appointed eatery already had a following. The seasons have changed from spring to summer, now heading into fall and Uniontown has become an integral part of the neighborhood, a comfortable gathering spot for the worker coming home after a long day at the office, a convenient meeting place for the newer residents of Ward 8--the young, professional homeowners who have been snatching up what seems to be the last affordable housing in the city, and those who have heard about this spot via "word-of mouth" and just wanted to check it out.

The warm butter-yellow interior with artfully placed black-and-white photos of old Anacostia (which used to be called "Uniontown,") has a homey familiarity to it.

The area now known as the Anacostia historic district was once among the first suburbs in the District of Columbia. In 1854, it was incorporated as Uniontown and was designated mainly for Washington's working class, many of whom were employed across the river at the Navy Yard. Because of its once isolated location outside of the real city, property was both inexpensive and attractive. But the initial subdivision of 1854 carried a caveat; it prohibited the sale, rental or lease of property to anyone of African or Irish descent. The "sage of Anacostia" abolitionist Frederick Douglass changed all that when he purchased Cedar Hill, the estate once owned by the developer of Uniontown, in 1877 and lived there until he died in 1895. The home is still maintained as a historical site in Anacostia, and other turn-of-the century Victorian style houses in the area has made the neighborhood attractive to new homeowners who then patronize Uniontown Bar and Grill, turning it into the local watering hole.

Eisha and Lawrence weren't locals from around the block, but had heard about Uniontown through friends, so the newlyweds from Fort Washington dropped in for a pre-theater bite. Thirty-three-year-old Eisha sipped on her Blue Monkey, commenting that the eatery was "nice, small and quiet," despite the crowd gathered in front of one of the large plasma televisions broadcasting a basketball game. "We've seen louder." But the couple, who are parents of five children, were both originally from Southeast, so coming back was a nostalgic return to the place of their childhoods. "I adapted to where my wife was living," said 38-year-old Lawrence. "We are socially compromised living in the 'burbs," he commented while noshing on some Louisiana wings and Crab Dip. "We like living in Fort Washington, but it's good to come to DC to socialize."