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Island oasis

NE restaurateur creates paradise in the city

(Published July 17, 2000)


Staff Writer

For anyone yearning to escape the urban jungle of the District for something with more tropical color and charm, the transportation costs could be much lower than one might expect.

Island Jimís Crab Shack and Tiki Bar, located across the street from the Brookland/Catholic University Metro station, offers a touch of paradise in the heart of the city.

Walled by a fence of live bamboo, 30-foot palm trees and climbing hibiscus, Island Jimís features outdoor garden dining during the Districtís own tropical season.

"I wanted to recreate the essence of the tropics ó the wind, the waves, the friendly folks ó that are part of the garden restaurants and beach bars (of the tropics) and take advantage of our summer tropical weather," said Jim Steigman, managing partner of Island Jimís and Colonel Brooksí Tavern, the Brookland institution that celebrated its 20-year anniversary this spring.

To manufacture that environment, Steigman worked with two local landscape architects and theater-set designers from Catholic University, who installed tropics-inspired street scenes to enhance the flavor.

The challenge for landscape architects Laurie Fields and Cynthia Ferranto was to create a temporary tropical world with enough structure that it can regrow every year.

"We wanted to create this wild vision (of Steigmanís) but we tried hard not make it be like Disneyland. We wanted you to know that it was designed, created," said Fields, who along with Ferranto, teaches in the landscape design program at George Washington University.

To plant the full-grown, live palm trees, the crew used a crane to hoist the trees, shipped from Florida, over the bamboo fence. When the autumn chill set in, those trees were donated to the Smithsonian Institutionís orchid exhibit and replaced in the spring for the current season.

While the restaurant is open year-round, the garden is a seasonal affair, requiring much of the fauna ó 75 percent of which is tropical and cannot survive the winter ó to be replanted each spring. The seasonality presents an opportunity to shape the garden differently each year, to choose whatever will best enhance the atmosphere, Steigman said.

The vision for next year ó a waterfall to complement the beach.

The restaurant is in its second full season and attracting new customers to the neighborhood, said John Lewis, president of the Brookland Business and Professionals Association and owner of BookMarkIt on 12th Street.

In addition to an eclectic menu of seafood and typical American fare, Island Jimís offers music in the garden every Wednesday evening, weather permitting.

Customers who were enjoying the restaurant recently despite the constant drizzle outside spoke to its uncommon atmosphere.

"It feels like I am in the islands but not in the islands. It is like a cheap trip," said Sandra Marshall, a Mount Pleasant resident who was dining.

One Brookland resident and father observed that his 8-year-old daughter was particularly drawn to the sand and water. "Itís like a big sand box. A good place to get dirty," he said.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator