ANC approves new Western Market restaurant

Media Credit: Danielle Towers | Assistant Photo Editor

Hippo Taco will feature an outdoor patio and deck for patrons to enjoy warm weather and enjoy live music and corn hole.

A local governing body approved plans to introduce a GW-themed taco restaurant to Western Market during its monthly meeting Tuesday.

The Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission unanimously voted to install Hippo Taco, a new dining option that its owners say will offer GW students an on-campus spot to gather and foster school spirit. National Park Service officials delivered updates about the potential clean-up of homeless encampments near K Street and Ward 2 D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto presented updates on budget proposals currently being negotiated with Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Here are a few of the meeting’s highlights:

ANC approves new Western Market dining location
The ANC unanimously approved the establishment of Hippo Taco in Western Market, planned to occupy a space opposite Chipotle.

Ben Sislen – founder of Hippo Taco and owner of D.C. bars Kingfisher and The Crown & Crow – said the dining spot will feature an outdoor patio and deck for patrons to enjoy warm weather and engage in outdoor activities like listening to live music and playing cornhole. He said the restaurant has been in contact with students, discussing the need for an on-campus space for them to connect and enjoy themselves.

“The reason why we wanted this space is because in our conversations with GW students, they said over and over again that there really isn’t a school spirit because there’s no central gathering spot that they can just go and do what college-age kids do, which is have fun,” Sislen said.

Hippo Taco, named as a nod to GW’s hippo statue on 21st and H streets and the unofficial mascot, is planned to open at 8 a.m. each morning, serving breakfast tacos to early patrons. The restaurant would close at 2 a.m. from Sunday to Thursday and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

“We can have an outdoor place where GW students and old people like me can gather and have some fun,” Sislen said. “So, I’m really excited for Hippo Taco.”

Sislen also asked commissioners to approve permits for ExPat, a bar and restaurant offering a spot for sports betting that would be located in Western Market. He said ExPat would host a karaoke stage, arcade games and a podcast studio open free of charge to students and patrons.

Sislen said he plans to include five sports betting kiosks in the restaurant, which some community members raised issues with.

The ANC voted to hold a special meeting Wednesday to further discuss settlement agreements for ExPat after commissioners and community members voiced concerns surrounding the potential hazards of giving cash payouts to winning gamblers and the issues of bringing sports betting onto a college campus.

GW Director of Community Relations Kevin Days said Sislen has reached out to GW to discuss the best way to bring ExPat to campus but has not yet spoken with officials. He said the University is “very comfortable” with the possible new restaurant.

“GW understands that the students primarily are adults and should be treated as such,” Days said. “We expect that we will provide the kinds of support that are needed if students run into issues.”

Council member Pinto updates budget status
Pinto, who represents Foggy Bottom on the D.C. Council, told commissioners that decreasing homelessness and reinforcing public safety are among her top concerns in the upcoming development of the city’s budget.

Pinto said she wants the budget to include funds for additional traffic cameras to address traffic safety concerns in D.C.

She said she wants the city to invest at least $15 million into clean and safe long-term transitional housing for unhoused people trying to escape homelessness. Pinto also said she wants the city to expand a pilot program that offers unhoused people living in certain encampments a voucher for housing.

“I’m really hoping that we can expand this program so that more folks can move inside into housing as soon as possible,” she said during the meeting.

National Park Service encampment cleanup update
National Park Service officials said District officials have reached out to encampment residents to offer support in cleaning up their space.

Rock Creek Park Superintendent Brian Joyner said the NPS is working with D.C. officials to lead a trash-only cleanup of encampments near the K Street exit off of Rock Creek Parkway. He said officials have been in contact with two residents in encampments in the area, offering support in clearing out unneeded belongings.

“We spent probably the business end of three weeks between services and our folks going over there just talking with them about reducing their footprint and cleaning it up a little,” Joyner said.

Joyner said the District Department of Public Works left trash bags and garbage receptacles with the residents, which are to be periodically collected and emptied in coming weeks. He said homeless outreach groups will stay in contact with the individuals weekly.

He said the cleanup process may soon be back on track after months of delay due to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines prohibiting clearing encampments to decrease the spread of COVID-19.

“Recognizing our current state of affairs, I think we’re all optimistic that we are moving towards a situation where the vestiges of the pandemic restrictions will be lifted at some point relatively soon,” Joyner said. “And that when that happens, that we’re in a position that we can assist the city in moving back to a normal speed of operation.”

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