New hotel on N Street NW could put Tabard Inn in the dark

Jeremiah Cohen, owner of the Tabard Inn, worries his patio could be cast in shadow.
Jeremiah Cohen, owner of the Tabard Inn, worries his patio could be cast in shadow. (John Kelly/the Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Thursday, May 27, 2010

N Street between 17th and 18th streets NW is one of my favorite one-block stretches in Washington. It has some architectural mediocrities -- the National Association of Broadcasters building looks like something from East Berlin; the 10-floor Topaz Hotel is a big, beige brick -- but they're outweighed by the delightful townhouses. When I win the lottery, I'm buying 1752 N St., throwing out its current tenant, the American Society for Microbiology, steam-cleaning it (all those microbes . . . ) and turning it back into a private home. I've always loved the arched, stone entrance to that building.

And I love the vibe in the patios of the Iron Gate Inn and the Tabard Inn, the feeling you get as you sip your intoxicating beverage that you're nestled in a secret garden, far removed from the city.

But all is not quiet on N Street. As he stood on his patio earlier this week, the late-afternoon sun filtering through a parachute stretched out overhead, Tabard Inn owner Jeremiah Cohen fretted. A developer wants to construct a hotel next door, an act that Jeremiah says would plunge his patio into shadow.

"This is just too much to lose," he said.

It's a process that's been dragging on for 20 years, ever since developer Morton Bender bought six handsome buildings just to the west of the Tabard. They can't be torn down -- they're within the Dupont Circle Historic District -- but they can, in fine Washington fashion, be added on to. A proposal five years ago to build a seven-story hotel was shot down by the city. The current plan calls for construction of an addition that extends back to the alley, covers up the existing gardens and goes up five stories.

That, Jeremiah says, would snuff out too much of the Tabard's sunlight.

Of course, no one owns the sunlight, and although many in the community are against it, a historic preservation officer has recommended that the design be accepted. The Historic Preservation Review Board meets Thursday afternoon and is expected to make its decision then. The Board of Zoning Adjustment also has to sign off on the design. It meets next month.

"Our building will have some effect," said Anton Janezich of Andrulis Janezich Architects, designers of the proposed hotel. "The effect is minimal in our mind. The site can't be developed unless something is built there."

The company Bender formed to develop the property is called N Street Follies. It seems an unintentionally apt name, since there's been so much back-and-forthing. It reminded me of the so-called Five O'Clock Follies in Vietnam or "Titicut Follies," Frederick Wiseman's 1967 documentary about a Massachusetts hospital for the insane. But architect Anton pointed out that a folly is an architectural term. It's something built with no aim in mind but to give pleasure.

Sort of like a quiet, sun-filled patio deep in the city.

An adhesive thank-you

When I last wrote about Scott Kreger, it was about how the Germantown man had printed up thousands of oval bumper stickers that say "IRQ" and "AFG," along with "I served." Modeled on those "OBX" stickers, they were (and are) free for veterans, his way of thanking service members who fought in our two current wars.

Something nagged at Scott, though, and that was unfinished business from a previous war. "I got a lot of e-mails from Vietnam vets," he told me. Their message: Nobody ever did this for us.

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