Geoff Dawson believes in neighborhood bars. Though he's opened some pretty big game rooms, including the sprawling Buffalo Billiards and the cavernous Penn Social, "the ones I love – Bedrock [Billiards], Jackpot – are the ones that really become neighborhood favorites," he says.
Dawson is hoping lightning will strike again with Lost & Found, which opens today at 5 p.m. The two-room bar is Dawson's first collaboration with Brian Leonard, formerly general manager of Nanny O'Brien's Irish Pub, one of those neighborhood spots that Dawson loves. Set on historic Blagden Alley, with new condo and apartment buildings sprouting all around, "We want to be the place [the new residents] go," Dawson says. "Neighbors want a place that serves them first. … It's essentially Nanny O'Brien's on Ninth Street."
Dawson is already familiar with the neighborhood: His in-laws purchased Lost & Found's building, a former tin shop, "back in the '80s," he says. His uncle purchased a building on Blagden Alley back in 1983, and "lived there for many years." His wife's sister, an artist, worked in a studio on Blagden Alley, and Dawson went to shows at the legendary underground skate park Fight Club, which was located in a warehouse down the block.
"All the regular alley denizens are hanging in there, but it's really changing fast," Dawson says.
Unlike Blagden Alley denizens Rogue 24 or the forthcoming the Dabney, Lost & Found probably won't be a place that people drive across town for. The setup is similar to other bars Dawson has a stake it: Two dozen draft beers, with a selection he calls "great, but not too precious." There's no kitchen, though he promises "a really robust snack selection," and has floated the idea that customers could order sandwiches from Sundevich or other nearby restaurants and have their meals delivered.
The bar's name is a reference to the "found items" that cover the beat-up brick walls: vintage signs from bars and gas stations, sepia-toned photos, license plates, old record sleeves. "My wife goes to yard sales and finds all these old photos," Dawson says. The massive back bar, which Dawson believes "has to be 100 years old," came from a warehouse in Baltimore. Even the barstools are recycled: "They're from Velocity Grill," the shuttered sports bar Dawson ran at the MCI Center, "and then we used them at Ripple." (The coolest section of the wall, though, is designated as a growing tribute to Fight Club.)
While the bric-a-brac has come from Dawson and Leonard's collections thus far, they want customers to join them in putting objects to creative reuse: "We'll be trading items for beer," Dawson says. "Right now, we're collecting yard sticks," especially ones with logos from local hardware stores, such as Hechinger, which will be used for wainscoting and other decorative purposes. "Bring in a yardstick and we'll give you a beer for it. … Maybe next it will be beer trays or matchbooks."
One of Dawson's more unusual ideas is what he calls "the analog blog." He'll set out some of his collection of antique typewriters for customers to use, and allow them to write about any subject they want. These musings will be posted on a section of the wall, "and eventually they'll be covered up, like on a blog," Dawson explains. He also wants to encourage patrons to use the typewriters to write letters to their parents, because, as he puts it, "When's the last time you sent an actual letter to your Mom?"
Between swapping memorabilia for beers and encouraging tipsy people to reconnect with their parents, Lost and Found has its quirks. But that's cool with Dawson: "It's fun not being under pressure. We're going to let the neighborhood decide the direction we go. "
Lost & Found has two entrances: One on Ninth Street, facing the Convention Center, and a giant roll-up garage door facing Blagden Alley. "In the future, I really hope Blagden Alley becomes our patio," Dawson says. With the number of businesses moving in, he thinks the area would benefit from pedestrianizing the roads, at least in the evening. "I hope there's collective pressure from residences and businesses to do that."
In the meantime, Lost & Found has become Dawson's home base. The offices for his bar management company, Tin Shop, are on the second floor, and his son Zack runs a recording studio called Districo on the building's top level. (Local harmonica ace Frédéric Yonnet is among the musicians recording there.)
"Bedrock will always be my sentimental favorite, but this will be my proudest moment," Dawson says. "It's the convergence of the neighborhood, the people, having the office here, and having my son working upstairs in the same building. That's the dream, you know?"
Lost & Found, 1240 Ninth St. NW (Metro: Mt. Vernon Square-Convention Center). www.lostandfounddc.com.