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Public Spaces

Shake Shack should consider a park location

Shake Shack recently made the news when they announced they'd be opening a location in Dupont Circle, at the corner of 18th Street and Jefferson Place, NW.

Shake Shack in Madison Square Park

Shake Shack has received many accolades for its food. But what makes Shake Shack's original location in New York City so iconic is not its hamburgers and milk shakes, but its relationship with the park in which it's located.

Shake Shack opened in Madison Square Park in 2004, in a small structure surrounded by trees, with casual seating scattered outside. The park, located in the highly urban Flatiron District, is 6.2 acres in size—about the size of Dupont Circle. Why can't Shake Shack try to replicate that environment in DC? To me, the appeal of the restaurant lies more in the charming location than in its nostalgic menu.

What would it take to duplicate the success of a Shake Shack inside a park in DC? Where would a good location be?

Refreshments kiosk by Arts & Industries building.
The National Mall is certainly lacking for good food options.

There are a few existing refreshments kiosks on the Mall, roughly the same size as the original Shake Shack. None of them sell anything beyond heated-up burgers and hot dogs. The food is clearly designed for desperate tourists, and there is no reason for anyone to make a trip to the Mall for lunch or dinner with friends. (Nevertheless, the Mitsitam cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian has garnered good reviews, and the National Gallery of Art has a nice gelato bar in the concourse.)

Can you imagine if Shake Shack could replace one of the kiosks on the Mall? The one closest to the Castle would be my pick, and I can imagine customers going for a ride on the carousel before or after their meals. This location gets heavy tourist traffic, and I bet an exciting cafe would lure locals as well.

Lonely kiosk in Constitution Gardens
Constitution Gardens is severely underutilized, and the kiosk there is rarely visited, yet it has a beautiful setting by the artificial lake, with a view of the Washington Monument, and is steps from the reflecting pool. These facilities are controlled by the National Park Service, with a contracted vendor operating the facilities. Whatever method the Park Service uses to award contracts, this process needs to be re-evaluated in order to attract higher quality services.

Off the Mall, the trio of K Street parks could also use a commercial boost. Farragut Square, McPherson Square, and Franklin Square are all underutilized, and would benefit from a small structure. Realistically, only Franklin park would be large enough to not be overwhelmed by something the size of Shake Shack.

Reservation 59 and Dupont Circle
A better option is further north. Dupont Circle is the most vibrant park in the city, surrounded by an ideal mix of businesses, hotels, offices, residential, and more. The circle itself may not be the best location for a commercial structure, but just west of the circle in reservation 59 is the old Dupont Circle Comfort Station.

This building was built in 1930 at a cost of $7,841. Originally referred to as a "lodge," it contained toilet facilities and accommodations for park police (then known as park watchmen), and was electrically lighted and heated.

In 1936, a memo within the Park Police complained that the comfort station "has become the favored nightly meeting place for all the homosexuals in the city. They are here in great numbers every night, filing in and out of the comfort station in a steady stream until it is closed at midnight." In 1950, the District Commissioners requested the Park Service to close the comfort station in the hope that it would "reduce sex perversion." By the late 80s, if not earlier, the building was abandoned and locked up.

Dupont Circle Community Resource Center
In the late 90s, the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) raised funds (about $100,000) to convert it into their community resource center. It is now used as office space for Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets, as well as the Metropolitan Police Department and DCCA. There is a small bathroom in the corner.

In the east end of the triangular park is the primary entrance to the old underground trolley station. In 1995 this led to the doomed food court dubbed Dupont Down Under, and a metal structure was added to promote the entrance. The project failed within a year, and eventually the metal structure was torn down. The stairs now are covered up and inaccessible, awaiting new development in the underground space. Nowadays you might see people lining up to board a bus to New York on the Massachusetts Ave side. The DC2NY bus makes 2 to 8 pickups per day there.

The old lodge deserves a more public use, being in such a perfect location. I would consider this the best potential spot for DC's Shake Shack, or equivalent thereof. Could DCCA be reimbursed for their renovation efforts, and suitable spaces could be found for the hosted organizations? Could the small park be landscaped to provide outdoor tables? What would it take to make this happen?

We need to work harder to find the best uses for our public spaces. There should be some way to duplicate in D.C. the success that Shake Shack has had in Madison Square Park.

M.V. Jantzen is a resident of DC who bikes the region with his camera, documenting streetscapes, events, parks, and people. He posts his photos primarily to


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Yes. I agree whole-heartedly. When I went to the Solar Decathalon a few years ago, one of the team leaders talked about having the judges "over for dinner". They ate on the rooftop deck of their little house on the Mall and the guy said "Where else can you eat and see the Washington Monument and the Capitol building?" No where I thought, and that is a crime.

I had really hoped the African-American Museum would throw off the stuffyness of the other museums and have a rooftop restaurant that would stay open until the wee hours with live music (celebrating the many contributions to American music by black artists) and good food. Sadly, It doesn't seem that will happen.

by David C on Aug 23, 2010 3:30 pm • linkreport

Take down that stupid fountain and put it right in the middle of Dupont Circle.

by Ron on Aug 23, 2010 4:13 pm • linkreport

Franklin Square is the clear winner to me. That's where a Shake Shack can make the most impact and make an ignored downtown DC park begin to rise to relevancy. Dupont doesn't need the injection in the arm the way Franklin does. Franklin could become something alot more like Madison or Bryant Parks if were brought a high quality food anchor in and programmed some spaces in the park.

The National Mall? I don't really care what the tourists eat...

by Jason on Aug 23, 2010 4:47 pm • linkreport

The problem, as you allude to, is that all of these locations are under the control of the National Parks Service. There is one single contract for all the parks in the National Capital Parks-Central area (DC). (Food served at the East Potomac Park Golf Course is part of a golf course concession.) Shake Shack could try to win the contract for the Smithsonian Mall kiosk the next time it is up for bid, but the contract would include the kiosks at Constitution Gardens, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Lincoln Memorial, Pershing Park, the Pavilion, and the other three Mall kiosks (American History, Natural History, and Air & Space). Much like the Tourmobile concession, it seems to be designed to keep the incumbent contractor in place rather than provide real service to the visitor.

by Stanton Park on Aug 23, 2010 4:48 pm • linkreport

I would much rather have them in Dupont, a quick hop skip and jump from my house,,, Than on the mall catering to Tourists. (who's asses are plenty fat without shake shack). Besides the mall is dead in the winter. But a park location would be cool. How bout one in a neighborhood though. K Street is inundated with food trucks and has plenty of food options. How Bout Malcom X Park?

by Anon on Aug 23, 2010 5:01 pm • linkreport

I think Franklin Square would be the ideal choice as well, but where would that push all the - and I mean ALL THE - homeless people to?

by Shipsa01 on Aug 23, 2010 5:08 pm • linkreport

"where would that push all the - and I mean ALL THE - homeless people to?"

Let the people who service the homeless worry about that. That concern should not be something agents of economic development or parks and recreations have to restrain their plans because of...

by Jason on Aug 23, 2010 5:26 pm • linkreport

Franklin Square has gotten a lot better since the homeless shelter inhabitants were given options to re-locate elsewhere in the city. But the Square's water fountains are still a default shower and toilet facility for a couple dozen residents each day. A place like the Shake Shack would be a godsend for the place. However, I agree that the NPS' habit of maintaining t
he status quo at all cost means there is little hope for change.

by aaa on Aug 23, 2010 5:47 pm • linkreport

NPS is a horrible manager of urban parkland, and it is a tragedy that they manage the majority of parkland in DC. Case in point, Pershing Park at E and 15th. There is a really interesting kiosk there already, but no vendor. Whoever was there last left in a hurry, their Espresso machine is still there, with a hopper full of beans. Now the park is full of rats and detritus, and the garbage gets emptied about once a week.

Shake Shack could really invigorate the space, it's right on the border of the business district and the more touristy attractions, thus could serve both communities.

I wouldn't hold your breath, though, NPS doesn't know how to do good urban policy. They'd just as soon take the path of least resistance and do a huge contract with Aramark or Sodexho than take the time and energy to find smaller vendors who would actually benefit both the visitors and the parks with a unique presence and menu.

by wil on Aug 23, 2010 6:07 pm • linkreport

DCCA doesn't have space in the Resource Center but the ANC does. That renovation is starting to look a bit tattered. Perhaps a new use should be considered.

And no mention of Michael's terrific idea of building kiosks over some of the steps down into the old trolley station tunnels?

by Rob Halligan on Aug 23, 2010 6:12 pm • linkreport

While Shake Shack certainly has tasty food, I'd absolutely agree that it's their location which really helps it shine in NYC.

However, I'd hesitate to frame this issue as a "How to locate Shake Shack within a park" issue, instead more of a general "How can we attract higher-quality vendors to our parks" issue.

Though to your credit, Mike- I think this article is tends to stay neutral in that sense, only using Shake Shack to highlight the issue rather than focus it; so my comment is really geared more toward others.

I'd certainly nominate those kiosks on the Mall as prime candidates for something -- anything -- better than the overpriced microwavable fare currently proferred.

While higher quality options could help to pull some more locals down to the Mall, it'd definitely take something *really* special to pull them down in great quantity; or at least something located nearer to the Metro stations than some of the kiosks.

I think many can agree that the Mall is nice to visit here and there, but for more regular visiting it's just too big to go from point A to point B in the timeframe that many would generally prefer when chasing down food options.

Also, a 5 minute walk on the Mall seems to feel longer than 5 minute walk anywhere else (to me at least), and I personally think that's a psychological effect from the scale of the Mall and perhaps also the crowds.

Now to turn this back to Shake Shack: I have to admit that if they were in a Mall kiosk- if I'm down there, I'd probably eat there; but I wouldn't make any more trips than I already do. They're not bad, but they're on the same level (in my opinion) as many of the options already in the Dupont/U St areas... so on an equal taste/cost level it'd be the ease of access to Dupont/U which win.

...Also, I cast my vote for Fojol in a kiosk.

by Bossi on Aug 23, 2010 6:35 pm • linkreport

Stanton Park nails it.

There are tons of people who would love to operate services like this in DC's parks. NPS contracting does not allow it.

by Ahem. on Aug 23, 2010 6:39 pm • linkreport

Having just come from Shake Shack, I have to disagree about what makes it so great. The park makes it iconic, but delicious, delicious food is what makes it worth returning to.

by Neil Flanagan on Aug 23, 2010 9:02 pm • linkreport

"Much like the Tourmobile concession, it seems to be designed to keep the incumbent contractor in place rather than provide real service to the visitor." - I couldn't agree more. It's baffling to see the NPS continue to provide such horrible dining options to both visitors and locals alike.

I know we're here to discuss issues, but lets make sure we channel our energy in the right direction and do something about it.

by The Internationalist on Aug 23, 2010 10:24 pm • linkreport

The guy who owns the Shake Shack comes across as a bit of an arrogant jerk.

No, Danny. No matter how much you like the ambiance of your store, your customers assuredly do not enjoy waiting in a huge line.

The guys at Taylor Gourmet make killer sandwiches with fresh ingredients at awe-inspiring speed. I've never felt "dehumanized" by the promptness of their service.

by andrew on Aug 24, 2010 12:47 am • linkreport

Wow, I completely, vehemently, 100% disagree. I used to live in New York, and the WORST thing about Shake Shack was that it was located in the middle of a small park. Rainy evening in January? Sweltering hot day in July? Doesn't matter -- if you want a burger, you have to stand in line for a half-hour. Even if you don't want to eat at all, if you just want to walk across the park, you have to go out of your way to avoid the Shake Shack line. Maybe in a huge, huge park like the Mall or Rock Creek it would work. Putting it in a small city park like Dupont or Franklin, though, would ruin the park.

by tom veil on Aug 24, 2010 11:38 am • linkreport

what it would take is a change in NPS rules. The parks where Shake Shack operates in NYC are city owned and often managed through public-private partnerships.

The Downtown BID has tried to get NPS to take up a PPP approach for years, unsuccessfully. Cy Paumier, author of _Creating Vibrant City Centers_, worked with the BID on that effort.

Many activists, including people like myself and Michael Berman, have hammered at this point for years.

There needs to be a serious revision of how DC and the NPS interact, and sadly the Capital Space plan pretty much glossed over the fundamental issues about how to better activate NPS spaces and deal with the fundamental process, oversight, and regulatory requirements.

by Richard Layman on Aug 24, 2010 12:55 pm • linkreport

You're right, a restaurant like Shake Shack would be a much better use of the Comfort Station at Dupont Circle. Very excited DC is getting a Shake Shack!

by FSheehan on Aug 24, 2010 2:49 pm • linkreport

If they won't play ball why don't we just take Franklin Park park from NPS by force.

by Gray on Aug 24, 2010 10:01 pm • linkreport

I agree that Franklin Park would be the ideal location, but as commenters have pointed out, the NPS contract rules do not allow this sort of thing.

One might consider looking at the properties owned by DC -- one of which is the Eastern Market Plaza.

On a side note, I think one way for the city to address issues at Franklin Square would be to encourage -- either through changes in regulation or just organization -- food trucks for the permiter of Franklin Park. Ironically, this seems to work pretty well for encouraging park use among the homeless popualtion, as they are often fed right out of trucks on the park. Put a couple of taco trucks on the park's perimeter, and work with NPS to at least provide seating within the park -- bistro tables and chairs -- and you might be able to activate this space even more.

The downside to this is that, unlike with the shake shack in madison square, the city or NPS would not be able to make as much money from the concessiion as if it were literally located within the park.

by norb on Aug 25, 2010 9:31 am • linkreport

@David C: Wow - a rooftop restaurant at the African-American Museum would be awesome!!

@Stanton Park: Yes, the food concession management is way too much like the Tourmobile contract - sadly. Designed for the favored vendor rather than guests. Ugh.

@Rob Halligan: Ah yes, ! I would love to see that happen.

And I should also point out there are smaller kiosks that could work in smaller parks. From NYC: and

by M.V. Jantzen on Sep 7, 2010 9:39 pm • linkreport

While mentioning rooftop restaurants, oh what I would give for Room & Board to convert their rooftop to just that.

by Bossi on Sep 7, 2010 10:45 pm • linkreport

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