Hundreds of revelers, including many of D.C.’s political and cultural elite, celebrated the grand opening of the region’s seventh Busboys and Poets on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE during a red-carpet extravaganza.
The star-studded event took place March 6, what would have been the 83rd birthday of late D.C. icon Marion S. Barry, a staunch advocate for and key player in the expansion of Busboys franchise to Southeast.
That night, guests filled all corners of the new Busboys, including a room named in honor of the “Mayor for Life.”
“Marion asked [Busboys and Poets owner] Andy Shallal about doing this in 2013. For that to be in the initial conversation is a testament to Marion’s vision for Ward 8,” said Barry’s widow, Cora Masters Barry, as she and several others sat in the room, decked out with a mural filled with pictures of the late Barry, “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown and others.
Throughout much of the evening, Barry and a hodgepodge of local and national figures, including Rock Newman, Ayanna Gregory, Julianne Malveaux, Roach Brown, and a slew of Ward 8 elected officials enjoyed a bevy of hor d’oeuvres and the rhythmic drummings of the KanKouran West African Dance Company.
Long before that performance, DJ F.L.O.T.U.S., accompanied by a guitarist and keyboardist, kept guests grooving to neo-soul hits.
The event preceded a March 12 ribbon-cutting for a Ward 8 staple that will provide 80 jobs and hospitality training opportunities for Southeast residents within the confines of a building owned by the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative (FSFSC).
The Bowser administration provided $14.6 million in gap funding for the 20,000-square-foot facility that houses Busboys and Poets on the first floor and FSFSC right above it. Part of that included the DC Property Assessed Clean Energy financing program administered by the DC Department of Energy and Environment and Urban Ingenuity, a clean-energy firm.
“I hope that it will spur economic development, Barry said. “I think Andy understands the adjustments and concessions you make when you enter the community. He wants a significant portion of his patronage to come from Ward 8.”
Busboys and Poets’ new location at 2004 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue joins Turning Natural, Cheers at the Big Chair, Mama’s Kitchen and Pizza and other establishments on a corridor that has caught the eye of developers in recent years and compelled questions about the future of generations of African Americans who call Anacostia home.
Since 2005, Busboys and Poets, which includes a full-service bar, bookstore, coffee shop and event space, has attracted a slew of progressive-minded people.
With the newest location’s opening comes an opportunity for Ward 8 residents to enjoy amenities in proximity to their homes, a revolutionary idea in itself, Shallal said.
“We want to demystify and honor this part of town that’s been neglected for far too long,” he said. “We know that hospitality is one of the fastest growing opportunities. Some of our professional staff started as waiters. I worked with Cora Masters Barry to honor someone who was respected in this community. We were close enough to his birthday so it made perfect sense.”