The Ben Bow, explained Marlene Kaletta to someone who set foot inside the dimly lit, narrow pub for the first time last weekend, is the "crossroads" of the Dupont Circle neighborhood, the "front parlor for the Greenwich Village of D.C."
And, she added, "We want it to stay that way. We just don't want another office building here."
The Ben Bow restaurant and bar, for years a popular connecticut Avenue hangout for poets and rednecks, gay liberationists and Pagan motorcyclists, students and businessmen and artists and the famous, now finds itself with a new purpose in life to tout. Scheduled for demolition, the pub now is serving as a cause celebre in Dupont Circle among the set that views with dread the office building encroachment into their community and the loss of their familiar haunts.
Located at 1636 Connecticut Avenue next to the janus Theater and also known as Ellen's Irish Pub because of the very Irish Ellen Donlan who has operated it for 15 years, the Ben Bow is to be demolished and replaced with a high-rise office building, according to an official of the American Psychiatriric Assocation, the new owners of the property.
Donaln, who had been renting the building at $1,200 a month and renting out four apartments aboye the restaurant, has received notice that she is to move out by the first of November.
"First they told the landromat (at Connecticut and R Streets NW) they had to leave. Then the drugstore (Schwartz's) got rid of the fountain. Now they tell me I have to go," complained Donlan.
"My poor pub. The whole neighborhood is furious. They don't want a high rise. And its entrance (to underground parking) will be on Hillyer Place, which is just awful.
"What will we do? We haven't any idea. We're just sitting here hoping a miracle will happen."
Already, petitions are circulating in an effort to stop the planned demolition: "We the undersigned object to the steady ruin of the neighborhood, its buildings, and institutions, and do not want the Ben Bow and the landmark at 1636 Connecticut Avenue NW to be taken away from us," they read.
Kaletta, who lives on Hillyer Place around the corner from the pub, said that she has hundreds of signatures, including some from people who used to live in the area but since have moved as far away as California or Texas. Having once frequented the Ben Bow, she said, they always stop by when they return to Washington for a visit.
Dr. jack W. White deputy director for business administration for the psychiatric association, said his organization, located in Dupont Circle since 1948, is a "good community citizen" that has outgrown its current office space. The organization bought 1630, 1634 and 1636 Connecticut Ave. NW in August for $886,000, and plans to construct a seven or eight-story $5.1 million office building there, White said.