Big Bear Cafe has long been a pylon in the foundation on which Bloomingdale thrives. The inside/outside coffee shop and restaurant is the go-to spot for Bloomingdale’s neighbors and anyone looking for an outdoor space that’s open during office hours.
Open for over a decade now, Big Bear is also starting to become the perfect spot for chefs trying something new and, soon, artists wanting to exhibit their work.
This month, Big Bear hosted its second “The More the Merrier Oyster Shuck” event on its patio on one of the few truly beautiful days in April. One section hosted a grilling station for oysters and brats, the other was full of fun things like balloon animals to keep the kids busy.
The event is the brainchild of Isaiah Billington and Cai Lindeman. Billington, formerly of Woodbury Kitchen in Baltimore, and Big Bear owner Stu Davenport have a long history, so when Billington came up with the idea for the event two years ago, Davenport was happy to host.
The shuck is not a formalized annual event, and as with many things about Big Bear, it happened organically as a collaboration of creativity and the space to house it. That’s what Davenport is hoping to do with his Big Bear space: give chefs and other creatives the ability to thrive. “These guys love to do pop-ups and try new things. We have the space for them to try what they want,” explained Davenport.
As previously reported, Big Bear is also expanding its usable square footage to the second floor of the building. Currently under renovation, the space runs the whole length of the building and will be designed to house artwork installations as well as seating and multi-use areas. Davenport hopes they will also be able to set up a screening room section to view art in another medium. “Everybody needs a coffee house, and that’s why people started coming here.”
Events grew organically from people wanting to hold their special occasions on the patio. Those events have grown in scale but still tend to be produced through creative and organic collaboration.
As the flowers in DC struggled to bloom throughout April, the Bloomingdale community was determined to hold its annual Beautification Day. All the bigwigs came out to celebrate the rare and beautiful weather, and everyone was happy to roll up their sleeves and dig into the dirt to help bring to life the flowers of spring.
The event is held every year to prepare the grown plantings for the coming season, but it has expanded in conjunction with the growth of the neighborhood in general. Over the last decade, both participation and financial resources have increased to ensure that the necessary amount of funds and time are allocated to the project. The event is coordinated with the DC Department of Public Works in conjunction with Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 5E.
ANC 5E is committed to beautification and annually allocates $1,500 to each of its 10 commissioners for the beautification of public space. Three commissioners annually provide $3,750 to the Bloomingdale Civic Association’s (BCA) Beautification Day for the purchase of plants. Consequently, explains Commissioner Bertha Holliday, “neighbors have come to know each other, birds have returned to the neighborhood and Bloomingdale’s sense of place and unique character have been strengthened. I’d say the ANC in collaboration with BCA has made a modest but great public investment that is making a difference you can see!”
In turn this has spurred other block efforts, for example the collective buying of iron treeboxes and additional plants. “The neighborhood has really unified around these efforts,” says BCA President Teri Janine Quinn, who emphasized the inclusion of the local business community into the Beautification Day and other neighborhood events. The day ends with a pizza party hosted by Bacio Pizzeria, which donates all the food as a “thank you” for bringing beauty to the block.
Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) made an appearance at the event. “The annual Beautification Day is another fine example of the great community that exists in Bloomingdale,” he said. “It is a day when neighbors work collectively to make the community more attractive with fresh flowers and plants.”
This year’s special guest was Mayor Bowser, who helped bag debris before the planters started on a particular spot. A large portion of the mayor’s media presence outside of the campaign trail has centered around littering and green space beautification. BCA’s Quinn made it clear that the mayor knows that the Bloomingdale neighborhood is important because residents are invested in the community. That’s why the big players in DC spend a lot of time speaking with and listening to the Bloomingdalians.
The day was not only fun but a success that can seen by anyone driving through the streets of Bloomingdale. After months of willing it, spring has finally come to DC.
Taylor Barden Golden is a real estate agent with the Stokes Group at McEnearney Associates Inc. A former Hill staffer, Taylor lives in Brentwood with her husband, two dogs and a cat. She’s always on the lookout for new places to explore and ways to spend time outside. Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org; @rtaylorb.