Along the increasingly polished storefronts and restaurants of 14th Street NW, one shop particularly stands out: Barrel House Liquors, a Logan Circle liquor store with a distinctively gaudy barrel as part of its facade.
But the fate of that iconic barrel is uncertain. The 10-year lease at Barrel House Liquors’s longtime home at 1341 14th St. NW is expiring, and the liquor store is scheduled to move in a few months to a smaller space next door.
Now the liquor store’s owner, Mesfun Ghebrelul, and some local officials are working to ensure the barrel, which was built around 1945, stays intact. There’s even a possibility that the 70-year-old structure attached to the liquor store could become a D.C. historic landmark.
“It would hurt the inside of me to see this 14th Street corridor without the barrel,” said Ghebrelul, who purchased the store in 1995.
Pepin Andrew Tuma, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative whose district covers Barrel House Liquors, is exploring the possibility of designating the barrel as a historic landmark, so no matter what happens to the property, the barrel would remain. He wants architects to study the history and unique characteristics of it, and then have the ANC vote on whether it wants to nominate it for such a designation.
If the nomination meets the basic criteria, the city’s Historic Preservation Review Board would hold a public hearing and vote on whether to designate it a historic landmark, rendering it unable to demolished.
Ghebrelul, however, says his first choice would be to move the barrel to the store’s new location, but is unsure of the feasibility of moving the hulking concrete structure. His new space is also much smaller, so it’s unclear if it would even fit.
“That’s my soul,” said Ghebrelul. “I would like to do whatever needs to be done to get it moved.”
Eric Meyers, who, with his wife, has owned the property since 1979, said he’d like to negotiate with the liquor store so it can stay in the property. If it doesn’t work out — Ghebrelul says rent would skyrocket under the new proposed lease, although Meyers says that’s not the case — Meyers said he has no plans to demolish the barrel, even if he redevelops the property.
The Barrel House property near the corner of 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW also has a parking lot behind it, and appears prime for development along one of the city’s priciest strips. Meyers added that he has considered redeveloping the property into apartments, with retail space on the ground floor and would incorporate the barrel into any new designs.
“The bottom line is that barrel has so much of my personal history in it, and I am so connected to it. I don’t think there is any way I can conceive of razing the barrel,” Meyers said. “That might not be the most economical decision … but there’s a lot more in this world than this almighty dollar.”
As Borderstan, a local blog, noted, there is fear that if the barrel were to remain in its current spot, it could be confusing if a large barrel is located next to a place called Barrel House Liquors. It could also be hard to attract desirable tenants to a building with a large barrel outside of it.
“My opinion is that it would be a little confusing if they preserved the barrel because the liquor store is moving right next door,” said John Fanning, chairman of the ANC that oversees Logan Circle. “My recommendation is to work with the property and business owner to move the barrel to the new location.”
Tuma says that’s no reason not to protect the barrel, adding that it could be integrated into a new design of the building. Designation as a historical landmark would protect the barrel for the long term, regardless of the desires of the building’s current or future owners.
“If it were to be turned into residencies, I would love to live in a barrel house residency. It’s a great entrance no matter what,” Tuma said. “We shouldn’t refuse to protect it because we are being narrow in how we envision it might be used.”
The next Logan Circle ANC 2F public meeting is 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Washington Plaza Hotel, off Thomas Circle. The barrel, and the possibility of nominating it for a historical designation, will be discussed.