Food

Drafting Table Owner Cites Competition and NIMBY Neighbors for Closure

The 14th Street restaurant is done with declining sales and feuding with upstairs residents
Drafting Table will close after this weekend. Photograph by Jeff Martin.

As the 14th Street corridor has boomed in recent years, so did business at Drafting Table, one of the corridor’s more casual restaurants. At least that was the case until two years ago when the gastropub “fell off a cliff kind of out of nowhere,” says owner Aaron Gordon. He estimates sales have since dropped off as much as 30 percent.

Drafting Table’s landlord filed an eviction lawsuit for more than $57,000 in unpaid rent and fees in March, but the the case was dismissed less than a month later. Gordon says he’s been negotiating a way out of the lease since January and was late on rent, but he was able to resolve the issue and never actually saw the complaint. Now, Drafting Table is closing for good on June 9. Bisnow reports that a New York wine bar called Vin Sur Vingt will take its place.

Like many other restaurateurs struggling lately, Gordon says the increase in restaurants vying for diners’ attention has been a big factor in his business’ demise. “Three years ago, [14th Street] was the one and only place to be, and now there’s just so much competition,” Gordon says. “It’s the whole city. People that would have come to 14th Street from Virginia and Maryland now are splitting up their time. They’re going to Shaw. They’re going to the waterfront.” At the same time, Gordon says his neighboring bar, Red Light, hasn’t seen a downturn. He credits the prominent corner location and large patio. (Gordon also operates Little Beast in Chevy Chase and Bakers & Baristas in Penn Quarter.)

Underlying Drafting Table’s financial troubles is a longstanding feud with the condo neighbors upstairs. The residents have complained about everything from noise to pests; Gordon claims neither was a real issue.

“They would call the police, and [the officers] never did a single thing because there was never a problem,” he says. “They would call pest control even there were no pest problems. They would call the city, the [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] constantly.”

One resident climbed on the roof and damaged the wires to the establishment’s satellite dish at least six times, cutting off sports-watching gatherings downstairs. In October 2014, the resident pulled the plug in the fourth quarter of a football game, causing customers to quickly leave—an incident witnessed by  a reporter for CityLab. In 2016, Drafting Table sued the neighbor for $1 million in lost income, property repairs, and reputation damage. Gordon says he ended up recouping “a little bit of money.”

“We have had seven years of what I would consider craziness,” Gordon says. “We were tired of losing money, but we were also tired of dealing with our condo board above us… It has been a humorous but slightly exasperating journey.”

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.