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One of Ward 8’s most popular restaurants recently learned that they’ve been approved by the D.C. Council’s Committee on Business & Economic Development to receive a real estate property tax exemption from the District.
On July 12, 2021, Ward 8 D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. sponsored a bill, The Players Lounge Tax Exemption Act of 2021, that would give the well-known restaurant, sometimes known as Georgene’s, an exemption from property taxes from October 2019 to September 2029.
While White had no co-sponsors or co-introducers on his legislation at the time, Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who chairs the Committee on Business & Economic Development, has since given his support for the measure.
“The Players Lounge is a sorely needed institution in Ward 8,” McDuffie said at the bill’s markup on July 14. “For many years, it was the only sit-down restaurant in the ward. We need to help it because it has to make it in the market.”
Steve and Georgene Thompson purchased The Players Lounge building in the 1980s in an era during which the District struggled to contain the crack cocaine epidemic. They converted it from a strip club into a soul food restaurant and bar. As time went on, it would evolve into a meeting place for political leaders representing every section of the District, particularly those with constituents who lived east of the river.
Every District mayor, with the exception of Walter A. Washington, reportedly ventured there for a meal, to enjoy a beverage and to engage in political discussions. At-large candidates for elected office also stopped by as did almost every candidate for Ward 8 position from council member to advisory neighborhood commissioner. Most scheduled events there not because it seemed to attract residents like a magnet but due to its reputation for being a place that served good food.
However, like many District businesses, The Players Lounge would be forced to suspend in-house dining and catering services when the coronavirus pandemic struck. Steve Thompson testified before McDuffie’s committee on June 16, pointing to the negative impact the pandemic has had on his business.
“In order to keep the business running after the pandemic set in, we have had to take out a reverse mortgage on our home, cash in our life insurance policy and deplete our savings,” he said. “We have no savings. When the pandemic came, our catering business came to a halt.”
Thompson said The Players Lounge paid its city taxes primarily through the cash obtained from the owners’ life insurance policy. And while the building comes under the ownership of a LLC which the couple controls, he said if they rented the facility, they would be unable to pay their taxes because it would be priced at market rate.
“We had to figure out a way to survive and this real estate tax exemption will help,” Thompson said.
Brenda Richardson, a Ward 8 political activist, also testified in support of White’s legislation to provide assistance to The Players Lounge.
“The Players Lounge is an unofficial historical landmark in Ward 8,” Richardson said. “It has had a tough time since COVID started. We in the community have weathered the storm with the Thompsons. The council can afford to provide them tax relief.”
Troy Prestwood, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner in Historic Anacostia and the president of the Ward 8 Democrats, agreed with Richardson.
“The Washington City Paper once said The Players Lounge is ‘Ward 8’s living room,’” Prestwood said. “It is pivotal to the Congress Heights neighborhood. It reminds me of the television show Cheers. It is the place where everybody knows your name.”