News & Politics

The Blogger Beat: Silver Spring, Singular

This week, we head north on Georgia Avenue to explore the stomping grounds of the blog Silver Spring, Singular.

Silver Spring, Singular's Karl inside the Big Acorn, a quirky acorn-shaped gazebo in Silver Spring. Photograph by Chris Leaman

Karl would like you to know there’s no “s” at the end of Spring—that’s why he named his blog Silver Spring, Singular. “It references the fact that the name of my neighborhood is erroneously pluralized by nearly everyone outside of the Washington area—and many inside as well.”

Karl, who keeps his last name under wraps, grew up in Silver Spring and moved back after college in 2006. He started blogging several years later when he discovered that almost every Washington neighborhood had a blog except Silver Spring. Three years later, he’s hit his groove. Karl says he has a core group of readers who follow him week to week, but traffic spikes when his neighborhood makes headlines. He writes about anything and everything Silver Spring—from crime to development to entertainment. “Restaurants are always a very popular topic,” he says.

We caught up with Karl recently to explore his neck of the woods. Read on to find out everything you ever wanted to know about Silver Spring—including the time it rained money.

Five words to describe Silver Spring:
“Much better than you think.”

Three reasons to live there:
“(1) Silver Spring strikes an excellent balance between city and suburb. It has a central downtown area with all the urban amenities one would expect, and the downtown is directly bordered by older suburban neighborhoods with beautiful single-family homes. (2) Location. Silver Spring shares a border with the District, and it’s very easy to get downtown via Metro. At the same time, you can hit the Beltway in minutes. (3) Dining options. Despite the conventional wisdom that Silver Spring is ‘all chains,’ there are lots of restaurant choices, most of which aren’t chains. Within a three-block radius in downtown Silver Spring, you can choose from African, Burmese, Chinese, Cuban, Ethiopian, Greek, Indian, Iranian, Irish, Italian, Jamaican, Japanese, Lebanese, Mexican, Nepalese, Moroccan, pirate (!), Salvadoran, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants, among others.”

One thing people would be surprised to learn about Silver Spring:
“Beatlemania in the US originated here. In 1963, a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Silver Spring requested that a local DJ play a Beatles song after seeing a story about them on the evening news. Even though their first single in the States wasn’t scheduled to be released for another month, the DJ acquired and played a British copy of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’ The craze took off nationwide, and the rest is history.”

Best bar for drinking al fresco:
“There are a few restaurants on Ellsworth that have outdoor seating, but for a unique experience, try Piratz Tavern, Washington’s only pirate-themed bar. It has a nice patio out back where you can drink grog while being serenaded by buccaneers.”

Best dinner spot:
“There are scores of excellent, moderately priced restaurants in Silver Spring, but when I want to step out a bit, I hit either Nicaro, Ray’s the Classics, or Jackie’s.”

Three things to do on a date:
“Eat outside at Mi Rancho, see a classic film in the AFI Silver’s main theater, and then head to Ellsworth Drive—‘the Promenade’—to grab an ice-cream cone and people-watch.”

Shop or business you’d like to see move in:
“An Apple Store. Not that I’d necessarily shop there frequently, but having an Apple Store gives your neighborhood bragging rights.”

Favorite intersection:
“Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road. Driving near this intersection is fun and challenging—like playing Frogger with cars. There are so many jaywalkers crossing at all points in the street, you’ve got to be ready to brake or swerve at a moment’s notice.”

Best and worst condo buildings:

“The biggest design flaw in many of the condo buildings is the exclusion of street-level retail space. It was a lost opportunity to liven up the neighborhood by generating more pedestrian traffic. Certainly the most architecturally unique condominium building is the Silverton. Thanks to the efforts of local preservationists, the building incorporates the old façade of a 1946 Streamline Moderne Canada Dry bottling plant. It even retained the brand’s giant neon sign over the front entrance, which must be quite perplexing to those not familiar with the building’s history.”

Biggest architectural eyesore:

“According to a 2008 Washingtonian interview with architecture critic Ben Forgey, ‘There are so many bad buildings in Silver Spring, it’s a hard place to do good.’ While that may a bit harsh, Silver Spring certainly has its share of eyesores. My personal favorite is a boarded-up structure on Georgia Avenue just blocks from the center of Silver Spring. The roof had collapsed, and inside trees had sprouted. It was really embarrassing that a building in such a prominent location had been allowed to get to this point. Fortunately, after years and years of lying fallow, the building is finally in the process of being rehabbed and made available for use.”

Most bizarre crime you’ve heard of in your ’hood:
“In February 2008, a guy who referred to himself only as ‘Lee’ staged a weeklong protest in front of the Discovery headquarters, claiming that Discovery was not doing enough to save the planet. Eventually he started paying people to join his protest, pulling money from a bag that contained thousands of dollars in cash. At some point, his fellow protesters became overzealous in collecting their wages and the whole situation deteriorated, ending with a scrum of people moving down Ellsworth Drive while Lee tossed stacks of cash into the air. He was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and littering, of all things. The whole thing ended up on YouTube.”

Favorite local leader:
“I have to give credit to former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, who was a major force in bringing about the rebirth of downtown Silver Spring. Duncan, who famously claimed that he would ‘fix Silver Spring or die trying,’ was successful in attracting businesses into the downtown area. While many of these were the much-maligned chain stores and restaurants, the growth has spread outward from Ellsworth Drive and has brought lots of improvements to the downtown area.”

Local leader you most wish you could fire:
“I’d like to replace the folks on the county council who have thrown up roadblocks to certain county-sponsored development projects in Silver Spring. In particular, there have been plans to convert the old JC Penney building on Colesville Road into a music venue for years now, but due to a combination of political wrangling and county bureaucracy, work has yet to start. And this is despite the fact that an agreement was reached with Live Nation over a year ago. Oh, and I’d fire whoever insists on having 50 charrettes to discuss the design of every public development project. We’ve been waiting for a new downtown library for as long as I can remember, but as the county feels the need to get community input on every aspect of the design, they haven’t yet broken ground.

Finish this sentence: “If a movie was made about Silver Spring, it would be called . . .”
“. . . Silver Springs, of course.”

Where you’d live if you didn’t live in Silver Spring:
“Cleveland Park. I love the walkability of the neighborhood along with its shopping, restaurant, and entertainment options.”

Favorite local blog besides your own: Eric takes a sardonic approach toward addressing the goings-on in Silver Spring, and I think we share a similar sense of humor. We coordinated last year in planning Silver Spring’s first-ever zombie walk and hope to turn it into an annual event.”

Next week, we get accessorized with Dana Williams-Johnson from the Art of Accessories. She walks us through the ins and outs of makeup, shoes, handbags, and much more. Check back on Wednesday for the interview!

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