Republic to pay homage to Takoma Park’s DIY eclecticism

If nothing else, Jeff Black wants to make sure I pass along one comment, straight-up and unequivocal: The city of Takoma Park has had nothing to do with the delays that have plagued Republic, his forthcoming restaurant in the progressive, neo-hippie suburb on the northeast border of the District.

Jeff Black's next restaurant will be a nod to location's progressive nickname, the People's Republic of Takoma Park. Black is standing right, with chef/partner Danny Wells. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Jeff Black's next restaurant will be a nod to the suburb's progressive nickname, the People's Republic of Takoma Park. Black, right, with chef/partner Danny Wells, says he's also adding a torch built by "the guy who services the Statue of Liberty." (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

"I'd like to go on the record as saying this: Everybody blames Takoma Park for our delays. Takoma Park has been nothing but stellar, A-plus all the way," said Black, the restaurateur behind BlackSalt, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black's Bar & Kitchen.

"Every time we're behind, people go, 'Ahh, that's Takoma Park.' It's not Takoma Park," Black continued. "It's me. It's my contractor. It's my architects. It's my building."

Built inside the shell of two former Takoma Park businesses — the Summer Delights ice cream parlor and the Video Americain store — Republic is a joint project by Black and his longtime chef, Danny Wells, who's a partner in the restaurant. Wells, a native of Takoma Park, and Black got a quick lesson on why some restaurateurs have likely shied away from this section of the city.

Hint: It has nothing to do with the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its once-iron grip on the flow of alcohol in the 'burb.

Wells, left, and Black will pay homage to Video Americain by displaying the former video store's sign on the patio and by the Republic signage out front, patterned after old theater marquees. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Wells and Black will pay homage to Video Americain by hanging the video store's sign on the patio and by Republic's own signage out front, which is patterned after old theater marquees. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

No, it's the building that the 100-plus seat Republic will call home. It's old. It's outdated. It's partly built with what Black calls "soft blocks," which were apparently used by builders on the cheap in the 1930s and 1940s. "The building's not strong enough to take all the air conditioning on the roof, so we had to build this steel frame out here and put all the units on it," Black said. "The whole second floor is soft blocks, so you can't have any weight on the roof."

Those units include not just air conditioners, but also compressors for various pieces of kitchen equipment. Black even had to build a rail around the outdoor platform to conform to local codes.

"This is my own little money pit," Black said. "This is where a lot of time and money" have been spent.

Another delay came courtesy of the building itself, which was too structurally weak to hold the HVAC equipment. So Black had to construct a separate platform behind the restaurant to do the job. (Tim Carman/The Washington)
The largest hurdle to Republic's opening came courtesy of the building itself, which was too structurally weak to hold the HVAC equipment. Black had to construct a platform behind the restaurant to hold the units. (Tim Carman/The Washington)

So how much did Black spend on the whole platform and equipment?

The restaurateur takes a long pause.

"A lot," he responded. "Think of a big number, double it and you're still too low."

These delays, among others, have pushed Republic's opening past its projected debut in September or October.

One delay for the Republic occurred when the contractor built a vent that differed from Jeff Black's original plans -- then rebuilt it. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
One delay occurred when the contractor built a horizontal vent shaft that differed from the vertical one that Black wanted to prevent fires. "What part of straight don't you understand?" Black said he told the contractor, who had to rebuild the entire shaft. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

Once completed, Republic should become Takoma Park's lone destination restaurant. To cater to the community, Black and Wells have planned a menu that will be heavy on seafood, but with enough vegetarian and vegan options to appease the granola eaters. Brett Robison, a former Wall Street analyst-turned beer geek (last seen at Tryst), will oversee the beverage program. A few cocktails have apparently been concocted already, including ones with names such as Fascist Killer and Free & Sovereign.

Robison is also planning, according to a spokeswoman, a "robust coffee program."

So when will Republic open after all these delays? That's still up in the air. Apparently Black, Wells and company have encountered another potential delay: Washington Gas needs to visit the site and determine if there is enough gas to support the operation. A determination should come this week. As for now, the owners are aiming for a late fall opening.

That's the best time frame they can offer for now.

Republic, 6939 Laurel Ave., Takoma Park, should open in late fall.

The Republic is repurposing jet engine parts as lamp shades, complete with beads bought at a store in Takoma Park. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Molly Allen is the owner of Atreus, a mill work company in Kalamazoo, Mich. She's working with Black and Wells on repurposing old materials, such as these used jet-engine cones. Allen has adorned the cones with beads from a nearby store in Takoma Park and turned the old parts into bar lights. "Those are kind of cool. What the hell are we going to do with them?" Black said when he spotted the cones from a supplier in New Jersey. "We're like, 'Hey, it looks like a lamp shade. Let's make it a lamp shade.'" (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
The long zinc bar features a built-in oyster cooler, complete with custom-made dividers to keep the stocks separate. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
The zinc bar features a built-in oyster cooler, complete with custom-made dividers to separate the bivalves from different waters around the country. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Black and Wells plan to turn the back patio into a spot with live music.One trick? They have to seal off the back end of the patio, which currently opens onto an open lot. Black said he was considering buying a food truck or double decker bus to seal off the space and use as a secondary kitchen or dining space. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Black and Wells will offer live music on the back patio, weather permitting, with the help of Takoma Park's House of Musical Traditions. One trick? The owners will have to seal off the back end of the patio, which currently opens onto a parking lot. Black said he was considering buying a food truck or double-decker bus to seal off the space and then use the vehicle as a secondary kitchen or dining space. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Designers have pieced together old Victorian couches to create a DIY banquette for the Republic. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Allen disassembled old Victorian sofas and used the backs to improvise a DIY crushed-red-velour banquette. This is the prototype design on her tablet. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Jeff Black pulled this custom-made glass hangings from storage to install at the Republic. They used to hang in the original Black's Bar & Kitchen before the renovation. (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
Black pulled these custom-made glass transom pieces from storage to install at Republic. They used to hang in the original Black's Bar & Kitchen before the 2006 renovation. "They're really nice when the light comes through them," Black said. "They throw that broken light during certain times of the day." (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)

 

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Entertainment
Next Story
Maura Judkis · October 29, 2013