Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rock the Red in South Silver Spring This Saturday


After years of my bitching and moaning, Silver Spring finally has a proper sports bar, and we better support it wholeheartedly lest we be left with nowhere worthwhile to view sports. With that in mind, I hereby declare Babe's Sports Bar, located at 1115 East West Highway, the official unofficial venue in Silver Spring at which to watch this Saturday's NHL Winter Classic. This year's match-up pits our heroic Washington Capitals vs. the nefarious Penguins of Pittsburgh.

Babe's is presently living off the grid, not having established a website, Twitter feed or Facebook page (update: it's here), at least to my knowledge. However, it does already have a few positive reviews on Yelp! along with a couple (suspiciously?) glowing reviews posted on this blog. Also, Thayer Avenue will vouch for the dry rub ribs. If there's anyone from the bar reading this who wants to offer specials for Caps fans, shoot me an email and I'll let everyone know.

Provided the weather in Pittsburgh permits, TV coverage will start at 1PM, with the puck dropping shortly thereafter. The wearing of Capitals jerseys is encouraged, but even if you don't own a jersey be sure to Rock the Red.

In addition to the Winter Classic, there will also be the usual lineup of New Year's Day college bowl games to watch that afternoon.


P.S. -  Penguins fans not allowed. Just kidding, they are perfectly welcome to watch through the window from the street. Viewing from a distance in the cold - it will be just like being at the Winter Classic itself!

A Fake Meter Does Not a Real Parking Spot Make

Now why would anyone be confused here? This car sat unmolested in the middle of Ellsworth for a fair amount time today while parked next to a parking meter that is not a parking meter.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

From the Archives: Silver Spring's Goldie Hawn

Apropos of nothing, here's the 1963 Montgomery Blair senior yearbook photo of Goldie Hawn, one of a handful of celebrities from Silver Spring.

And here's her in action, "expressing... creating... drama".

Bonus: Junior Connie Chung, from the same yearbook.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Now, Witness the Power of This Fully Operational Ice Rink

While it's been open all week, I didn't get the opportunity to go check out our brand new ice skating rink on Veterans Plaza until this afternoon. There weren't as many people out on the ice on this sunny day as I would have expected, perhaps a dozen or so in total. To be fair, today is a school/work day for most. It will be interesting to see how busy it gets this weekend.

This week's grand opening is the culmination of a plan that has been on (and off) the books since at least 2003. In true Mongtomery County tradition, plans for the rink took the better part of decade to come to fruition. (While we waited for our little seasonal rink to open, the The-State-That-Must-Not-Be-Named constructed an entire ice skating complex where their residents can skate year-round on two professional-sized rinks as well as watch the Capitals practice for free. But I digress.)

Montgomery County has its share of public ice skating complexes, but there are few 'city center' type rinks like the one we are now enjoying. Some may recall that downtown Bethesda once had an outdoor ice rink, but it closed in 2002. Rockville would like an ice rink for their Town Center, but won't have one until at least next winter. Apparently they have had a rink with some sort of plastic (?) surface in place of ice the past couple years. The only active rink that comes to mind is the one at Kentlands. Bottom line: kneel before Zod, rest of county.

Those wanting to get their skate on should expect to pay $8 for two hours of ice time, with kids (12) and seniors (55) getting a buck knocked off that price. If needed, you can also rent a pair of skates for $4 $3. These prices are slightly higher than what you would pay at a county rink, where admission is $6.25 and skate rentals are $3.25. At those rinks, however, free skate is only during certain times and you will will get kicked off the ice after an hour or two at most.

Admittedly, I can't ice skate worth a lick, but the existence of a rink within walking distance provides me with the motivation to reach a basic level of competency. If you see a guy repeatedly falling on his ass or inadvertently barreling over small children, that would be me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

They Mostly Come at Night... Mostly.

And now, The Ripley District.

Mr. Leggett, Close Down This Road

Photo by Flickr user dcmandrill.
Despite the DTSS stretch of Ellsworth Drive (aka "The Promenade") being closed to vehicular traffic on weekends, I often find myself psychologically constrained during these times to walking on the sidewalks. The Ellsworth sidewalks can get a bit congested at times, and there are a couple bottlenecks on the north side of the street where the path is squeezed between restaurants’ outdoor seating areas and tree pits, making it worse. This past Saturday afternoon, as I found myself stuck behind two slow-moving, chatty women, I started to question why I was using the sidewalk in the first place, seeing as I had the entire width of the street at my disposal.

After I reached the other end of DTSS, I turned around to observe the behavior of other pedestrians and found that nearly all of them were restricting themselves to the sidewalks. No one seemed to be taking advantage of the closed-off street, only crossing it quickly to reach the opposite sidewalk.

The problem, I think, is that if the street is only sometimes closed, pedestrians may unconsciously avoid walking in it unless there are some physical signs that it is safely car-free, such as stands at a farmers market or a performance stage. (Of course, at peak times there is such a crowd downtown that people will naturally spill into the street.)

My question is why, exactly, is this block ever open to vehicular traffic, when it could be so much better utilized by those on foot?

I don’t believe the shops and restaurants along it need the road for re-supply by truck, as the structures on each side of the road have rear access. Even if truck access was necessary, the road could be temporarily opened to commercial traffic in the off-hours. Unlike the streets that pass through some other regional ‘town center’ developments, the road doesn’t have street parking and it isn’t necessary to access a parking garage.

Furthermore, the stretch of Ellsworth between Georgia and Fenton doesn’t seem to be a particularly convenient driving route to anywhere. Even when it is open, there doesn’t appear to be too much traffic passing through. Ellsworth is closed to through traffic in one direction at the library a block away from DTSS, and at the Georgia Avenue end you can only turn right. To my knowledge, there are very few destinations you can’t just as easily reach by taking either Wayne or Colesville instead.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions as to how the county and the developer might better utilize the street space in DTSS:

- During the warmer months, fill the street space with tables and chairs for use by the general public, as they now do to a limited extent in the existing public space. When the weather is pleasant, there's a severe shortage of al fresco dining space in DTSS, and it'd be great to have a lot more tables and chairs outside at which to enjoy lunch, a coffee or and ice cream. A similar strategy has proven to be a huge success in New York, where portions of Broadway have been permanently closed off to traffic.

- In the colder months, large potted trees or something similar could be situated in the street to make the space more welcoming to pedestrians. Even better, sculptures or other forms of public art could be displayed there on a rotating basis. 

- Remove some or all of the metered parking at the Georgia Ave. end of Ellsworth and designate this area the pickup/drop-off area for DTSS, allowing only brief stops for the loading and unloading of passengers. This would create a one-way loop where cars would enter at Georgia and exit on Wayne.

- Install retractable or removable traffic bollards (pictured below) at both ends of the block to prevent any potentials tragedies resulting from a crackhead or confused octogenarian crashing through wooden sawhorses and plowing through a pedestrian-filled Ellsworth Drive. If work or emergency personnel require access, these barriers can be removed/lowered as needed. It’s not as if there aren't plenty of roadblocks around the Washington area already.

I'm not sure what the original rationale was for keeping this street open on weekdays, but I think that the last seven years have shown us that there’s a lot more demand for public space in downtown Silver Spring than there is for a single block of road.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday News 'N Notes

While travel and a general dearth of time has limited my posting frequency of late, I did want to provide a quick roundup of Silver Spring news for this past week or so. Apologies for all the recycled stuff - I will try and generate some actual original content in the upcoming weeks.

- The final (?) designs for the Silver Spring library have been released. Note the lack of a bridge over Wayne Avenue - for now.

It looks as if someone took the original design and stepped on it:

You can view a detailed presentation of the new design here (PDF).

- After the requisite Montgomery County bureaucratic delays, Silver Spring's ice rink finally has an operator, and will hopefully open before Christmas, a month late. has more information on the rink. The ice would certainly be in no danger of melting this week.

- The County has finally released more details on the Discovery hostage situation back in August. I had always desired more information on what actually transpired, but the news cycle is so short these days the story disappeared after a day or two. It turns out Lee's explosive device, constructed from propane and oxygen, may have indeed been lethal (unlike his starter pistol). It's hard to empathize with a hostage taker, but the fact that he had his impending death scheduled in his Outlook calendar is pretty sad.

- Apparently there's a beaver operating along Sligo Creek. New Silver Spring mascot? (Though my vote is for albino squirrels. Anything but penguins.)

- The Post's Tom Sietsema has posted a fresh review of Jackie's Restaurant today.

- Should you be tipping at Nando's? Apparently yes. (I had wondered what the protocol was.)

- Someone jacked The Shack on Georgia Ave. for a PS3 Monday evening, delivering a couple left jabs to the face of the clerk in the process. I suppose that's one way to do your Christmas shopping. The good news is that the store's surveillance camera provided clear pictures of the perp, so hopefully it's just a matter of time before he's apprehended.

- Nicaro (or "Newcaro") has reportedly closed. Admittedly, I never tried this second incarnation. This development doesn't surprise me too much - the establishment didn't have much that distinguished it among Silver Spring's dining options.

- Babe's Sports Bar, originally scheduled to open prior to Thanksgiving, has a new target of the week before Christmas. Provided it is operating by the end of the year, would any non-Penguins fans be up for a Winter Classic viewing party there on New Year's Day? Perhaps we can arrange some specials.

- Random Silver Spring Factoid of the Day : Silver Spring used to have a jazz club called the Byrd's Nest, named after guitarist Charlie Byrd, who frequently performed there. It was located in the Villa Rosa Restaurant, which stood in the spot now occupied by the Ellsworth Dr. garage.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Is the Majestic's IMAX "Experience" Worth the Money? It depends.

If you’ve been to the Majestic 20 lately, you’ve certainly seen how heavily they’ve been promoting the recent addition of an IMAX theater. I finally had occasion this past weekend to check out the new theater for a 9AM (!) showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: An IMAX Experience. The following are my totally non-technical-expert impressions of Majestic’s IMAX.

Screen: It’s about as large a screen as you can jam in a multiplex theater that wasn’t constructed to house a ‘regular’ IMAX (what you’d see down at the Smithsonian). I can’t say what the exact measurements are, but the height is pretty much floor to ceiling. There are fewer seats than in the Majestic’s other large theaters, as presumably many were removed to accommodate the larger screen.

Picture: IMAX’s digital projection system definitely has brighter and richer colors than what you would see on the Majestic’s standard screens, though if you aren’t picky about this sort of thing, you may not notice the difference. The resolution is definitely nowhere close to that of the original IMAX film format, but it’s still an upgrade.

Sound: It’s loud. Very loud. You won’t have to worry about people chatting on their mobile phones because there’s no way they could carry on a conversation. For me, the enhanced sound is IMAX’s biggest draw. Along with being louder, it’s noticeably clearer. I have had serious issues in the past at the Majestic when a theater’s sound was so poor I could barely hear the dialogue. This won’t be ever be a concern in the IMAX theater.

Price: I realize capital improvements were required to install the system, and that the theater needs to recoup those costs, but the ticket prices seem particularly sleep. The tickets for IMAX movies at the Majestic are $17.50 each for adults, compared to $11 for films on standard screens. This $6.50 premium is notably higher than what other theaters in the region charge for IMAX films. For example, the IMAX theaters in Tyson’s Corner and Columbia only charge an additional $5. This seems to be the usual surcharge nationwide. Why are we getting gouged so badly, Majestic? (Though this seems to be the same premium Regal Cinemas charges at its other IMAX theaters.)

Unlike standard movies, there is no matinee price offered for IMAX shows. A 9AM ticket will cost you the same as one for a 9PM showing. Granted, going to a matinee usually only saves you a couple bucks, but hey, it’s something. It should also be noted that the Tyson’s Corner IMAX does have matinee prices.

The “convenience fee” for purchasing IMAX tickets online is $2 per ticket. I can accept the normal $1.25 convenience fee at the Majestic, as it allows me to print my ticket at home and bypass the snaking weekend lines, but there’s absolutely no justifiable reason why this fee should be 60% higher for an IMAX movie.

So before any soda and popcorn purchased, it will cost a minimum of $35 for two people to go an IMAX show, $39 if you buy the tickets in advance.

So, is it worth it? I suppose that depends on the circumstances. If you’re very particular about picture and sound quality, the extra $6.50 might be justified. Maybe you don’t go to the pictures that often, so you can rationalize the extra expense once in a while. Or perhaps you are just rich as hell and don’t give a damn. I think for the select big movies, I’d consider coughing up the extra dough, though for most films I’ll probably stick to the standard screens. Since there’s only one screen, who knows how often it will have the movie I want to see, anyway.