So, What is Busboys & Poets Anyway?
Set to open this Fall, a Busboys and Poets will be the flagship tenant at the new Merriweather District in Downtown Columbia.
Murals of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Barack Obama adorn the walls of Busboys and Poets locations throughout the greater Washington DC area. As does a rotating selection of artwork from local artists. Busboys and Poets describes itself as a community gathering place that serves as of a progressive and cultural hub for artists, activists, writers, thinkers, and dreamers. It’s a full-service restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a side of social justice. But its more than just a restaurant, it’s a coffee shop by day and a bar at night. The bookstore selection showcases books whose authors have contributed to conversations concerning great social struggles and the event space regularly hosts poetry slams, book readings, jazz and open mic nights. Busboys and Poets is named after American Poet Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel in the 1920s prior to gaining recognition as a poet. But visit on a Sunday at noon and it’s just like any other bustling restaurant buzzing with conversations serving pancakes or corn beef hash to tables full of young professionals, families with children, or retirees. The food is quite good, though nobody would describe it as a culinary destination, with a menu that will appeal to vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike featuring benedicts, omelets and other breakfast staples; sandwiches, soups, burgers, salads, a handful of entrees and interesting world cuisine items, and several kids choices. It’s not the food that draws you to Busboys; but the atmosphere, with a lively bar area and communal tables that encourage conversation.
Started by the Iraqi-American artist and entrepreneur, Andy Shallal, Busboys’ first location opened in 2005 at 14th and V St, NW in the historical U Street corridor during the beginning phases of that neighborhoods transformation into one of the most expensive and developed parts of the city. In the fifteen years since, Busboys’ has expanded to six other locations – Mt. Vernon Square, Shirlington VA, Hyattsville MD, Takoma, Brookland, and Anacostia. After the Columbia location opens, Baltimore is set to follow.
Busboys has become synonymous with gentrification as Washington DC has transformed from the square and swampish center of government and power to the cool and hip center of government and power. Busboy and Poets would open in one of the DC's up and coming neighborhoods and serve as the anchor of new development and a magnet drawing additional businesses to follow. Often, Shallal has partnered with developers who would financially support building a space to his vision knowing that the enthusiasm for Busboys would help draw people to the development. With new development, comes increased home prices, higher rents and property taxes, and a wave of new younger wealthier residents moving into neighborhoods with money to burn on $15 cocktails, boutique fitness, and swanky restaurants. And while it’s not fair or accurate to pin the gentrification of DC on a single restaurant, particularly one owned by an individual who has taken deliberate steps to work with neighborhoods and city leaders to mitigate the negative impacts of development, the question persists on how can Busboys pay homage to black history and culture without also leading to a wave of development that negatively impacts the very people it celebrates.
In Columbia, Busboys and Poets will not be pushing anybody out as it anchors the undeveloped land currently being transformed into the Merriweather District in the shadows of Merriweather Post Pavilion. Rather, it will be drawing in the diverse liberal-leaning residents of Howard County. At over 10,000 square feet, it will be the largest Busboys and Poets to date spreading across two floors in its own building as the flagship tenant at the new cultural hub of Columbia Maryland.
Personally, it feels a bit serendipity that a Busboy and Poets is opening within walking distance of my new home in the Sebring neighborhood of Clemens Crossing, because Busboys has been a staple of in my life over the past fifteen years as a resident of Washington DC. My wife and I had our very first date at the U St Busyboys in 2008, and it’s where we joined the masses to watch the election returns and celebrate Obama’s electoral victory later that year. We lived a short walk from the Busboys on 5th and K in the first home we rented together; and after moving to Petworth, we would regularly stop into the Busboys in Brookland or Takoma with our young family. And starting this Fall, Busboys will continue to be a go-to for us, along with the new go-to for 100,000 other Columbia Maryland residents who will get to experience all that the venue has to offer.
Further Reading: Busboys and Poets to open two-story restaurant in Columbia’s new Merriweather District: https://www.baltimoresun.com/…/bs-fo-busboys-poets-20190910…
Gentrification 2.0: The Busboys and Poets Effect: https://dc.urbanturf.com/…/gentrification_2_0_the_busboys_a…
A Look at Busboys and Poets role in Shaping Neighborhoods: https://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/…/as-busboys-and-poets-…