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Polly's Cafe, U Street - Closed


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Polly's Cafe is dead.

Shit.

I haven't been there much lately, ownership has changed, on the PoP Blog there's a general consensus that it went downhill badly. But it's hard to overstate the charm and significance of Polly's Cafe back when it first opened 20 years ago.

U Street was trench. The subway station was under construction. We used to hear the hookers clip-clopping down 13th Street at night in their FMers. I don't think there was a open commercial establishment between 18th and 10th street, certainly not a place to hang out in (sorry Ben's) or grab a beer. One night I was wandering down U Street and Pierre caught me peeking through the window and invited me in to say hi. He and Elizabeth rejected tradition: he was the gregarious front of the house guy, she cooked (and she became a very good one -- what was the name of their "high end" place on Connecticut Avenue?). He had a vision and a passion and a sense of humor, and together they had the cojones to drop their life savings on a bar in a wrecked neighborhood during the Barry years.

And what a great little spot it turned out to be! Cheap and casual enough for a young family to drop by for burgers on a Wednesday night, cool enough that you felt like you didn't have to get to Adams Morgan for a big night out. The staff was as friendly as the owners, the food was pretty decent and microbrews in pint glasses were hardly a given at the time. On cold nights and snowy days there was the fireplace to crowd next to. The Sunday it served brunch there was a line around the block -- that's how badly we needed Polly's. The crowd was as eclectic as the pre-hipster U Street was. The closest thing my daughter had to a birth announcement was the graffiti a friend of mine scrawled in the men's room: "Teeny Weeny Sweeney is coming." And not long after she arrived, her mom and I sat in Polly's until 4AM in our black tie best, the perfect spot to end a night that had already taken us to Jean-Louis and an Inaugural Ball.

Pierre and Elizabeth have gone onto other things, U Street will hardly miss one cafe and Teeny Weeny Sweeney is looking at colleges.

Nonetheless, if a bar can be important to a neighborhood, Polly's was, and it's a little sad to see it go.

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Not with a bang but a whimper and a sigh from me. ;) I really liked the fireplace. I really appreciate the chance they took. I have a lot of great memories and hope whatever occupies the space next does as much for the neighborhood now as Polly's did way back when.

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