Courtesy of
Courtesy of

Pop Social, a Black-owned restaurant and bar, is reopening after a temporary COVID-induced closure. This Cheers-like establishment revives a creative and community-centered concept in the heart of downtown D.C. After an invitation-only preview, Pop Social officially opened its doors for the full public unveiling Thursday, June 15. 

The restaurant, with a nearly 100-seat capacity split between the indoor and patio areas, occupies a space carefully curated by  D.C.-based artist Tendani Mpulubusi El. A D.C. native, Mpulubusi El meticulously crafted the space while adding personal touches, such as hand-hung lights and benches he built himself.

His approach to the project was unique. “I’m an artist of many disciplines and really like 3D space, in terms of design and architecture,” Mpulubusi El shared. “This project provided an opportunity to showcase my abilities in this way.” 

In the design process, Mpulubusi El found himself grappling with a layout that incorporates a split foyer. A friend’s suggestion inspired him to approach each level with its own concept, while still maintaining a visually cohesive space. 

“The space has taken three concepts and merged them into one,” he elaborated. “Many clean, simple features [are here] but [the restaurant] still has areas with sophisticated grunge. Even a graffiti-like feel.”

Culturally, Mpulubusi El understands the barriers to accessing capital and bringing concepts like this into the community. 

“Having friends and investors support ventures is how people get stuff off the ground,” he acknowledged. 

He has seen firsthand the inequities within his community, and the hard-fought battles to overcome systemic obstacles to achieve results like Pop Social. 

“It’s important to have a Black-owned business in Class A space downtown,” he stressed, “This is significant. Particularly as an owner who has personally experienced overt racism in commercial spaces as a tenant.”

Pop Social’s Resilience and Community Focus

The story of Pop Social began in the L’Enfant area, where the original iteration of the concept was born out of a need for a casual after-work gathering space. The first Pop Social opened its doors, rapidly becoming a hub of community activities such as live music, karaoke and even board games.

Despite the community-centric vibe, and the popularity of Pop Social, the pandemic hit hard. By March 2020, the concept temporarily closed. The passion, however, never faded, and the spirit of the community kept the dream alive.

The reimagining of Pop Social was fueled by the collective effort of Mpulubusi El and a silent investor. The investor, who has a history of supporting community projects, including housing initiatives for formerly homeless veterans, was ready to invest not just money, but operational expertise, to help bring the concept to fruition.

The mission of Pop Social is not just to provide an excellent dining and drinking experience but to create a sense of community. This is not merely a place to grab a drink; it’s a space for fostering connections, creating memories, and experiencing life’s vibrant tapestry.

The new Pop Social offers a relaxed yet lively atmosphere. The design is inspired by a blend of Wakandan and pan-African aesthetics, providing a unique backdrop for its patrons. 

Mpulubusi El artistic freedom is evident. “Almost like a Wakanda-like design. I really freestyled in the design frequently, but merged a restaurant project while retaining artistic integrity,” he said.

In line with the restaurant’s ethos of creativity, the menu at Pop Social also promises to be a standout. Offering both an executive lunch and weekend brunch in an open-kitchen setting, the culinary creations promise to cater to diverse taste buds.

For many attendees at Pop Social’s soft opening, it became evident that this is not just a downtown restaurant; it’s a testament to the resilient spirit of the community. 

Some guests noted that Pop Social symbolizes the ability to rise again, innovate, and rebuild, even in the face of adversity. 

It is a space that celebrates creativity, community and shared experiences, a beacon of light for the downtown crowd, and an establishment that truly lives up to its name, as it is set to ‘pop’ into the social scene once again.

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