Le Provencal, one of Washington's ritziest French restaurants, served its last bouillabaisse and coq au vin last November. The new owner of the establishment at 20th and N streets NW hopes to use other means to attract customers, including scantily clad waitresses dancing on tables for tips.
This has angered some residents of the Dupont Circle area, who say such an adult establishment would be inappropriate for the largely residential neighborhood. The new owner, in turn, says the residents misunderstand the kind of restaurant he wants to run.
The issue has landed in the lap of the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control board, which walked through the neighborhood Tuesday night with area citizens and the restaurant's new owner to gauge the citizens' complaint that the establishment is too close to residences. The new owner, Leonard Lowenstein, has applied for a liquor license transfer at the restaurant, which would be known as The Board Room II, at 1234 20th St.
The antagonists were cordial as they strolled several blocks for the hour-long walking ABC session, but their differences remain.
"You're in a business that depends on exciting the sexual interest of your customers, and I don't want you doing that here," said George Wheeler, a lawyer who lives with his wife and two children in a Victorian town house a block away on N Street.
"You're making assumptions about me that have no bearing on my operation," Lowenstein answered. "These girls will be wearing the same costumes as in the Ice Capades."
The women's dress would resemble a one-piece bathing suit with sequins, showing some leg and decolletage, according to residents and Lowenstein's presentation to the ABC.
Lowenstein and his lawyer have told neighborhood residents that they won't have strippers in the restaurant. "We have girls with master's degrees ," Lowenstein said. "It's not a sensuous, arousing thing. We're a fun place for executives."
But residents say Lowenstein's plans are out of character with their neighborhood. The surrounding Dupont Circle neighborhood has undergone considerable redevelopment in the last decade, including the construction of new apartment houses and condominium units.
"They just don't belong here," said Joe Grano of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association. He said the Dupont Circle area has been "inundated" with sexually oriented businesses in the last year, including two businesses nearby on Connecticut Avenue. "It's an invasion of our territory," Grano said.
Lowenstein said entertainment at The Board Room II would resemble that at The Board Room, a restaurant he owned for years on Vermont Avenue near K Street that also featured half-dressed waitresses. When a new company bought the building, it paid Lowenstein to take out the dancing women and renovate the restaurant, which was opened in October 1981 as Lenny's.
ABC staff members say the board is expected to decide on The Board Room II in the next three weeks. A sign on the front door says its opening is "Not Yet! But Soon!" and advertises "VIP Special Privileges."