Around Town

Alcohol-free restaurant replacing Purple Lounge finally set to open early next year

Eska, a family-friendly eatery and hookah lounge that is replacing the troubled Purple Lounge on Columbia Pike, is finally set to open around Feb. 1, the owner tells ARLnow.

The alcohol-free restaurant will highlight Arabic culture, owner Layth Mansour says. But its opening has been delayed by months, due in part to permitting issues and Mansour’s health.

While the restaurant received a county permit in September, a “stop work” order was issued a month later because of zoning ordinances and building code violations. As of Tuesday afternoon, the notice remained on the window of the building.

But all of that is in the midst of being resolved, Mansour assured ARLnow.

The “stop work” order was related to him not knowing that a permit was needed to throw out furniture and other trash left by the previous tenants, he says.

“The place was a complete dump when we got it,” Mansour says. “It’s also 9,000 square feet and huge… so, there was a lot of stuff.”

A county inspector, however, told ARLnow prior to the conversation with Mansour that the “stop work” order was actually due to work and construction being done without a permit that was potentially impacting the building’s structure and egress.

Mansour says that isn’t exactly what he understood it to be about, but says updated documents, plans, and blueprints are now with the county. He’s hoping to hear back soon about the needed permits so that he can continue necessary work in order to open the restaurant within the next six weeks.

Mansour understands the history of this property and why Arlington is being careful

“They told me before I did anything that this place had a lot of issues,” he says. “The permitting process is just slow because of Covid. Arlington is great and doing everything the right way. I can’t blame them [for being careful].”

Purple Ethiopian Restaurant & Lounge was the site of a number of incidents, including multiple shootings, fights, narcotics offenses, noise complaints, and destruction of property. All of this resulted in a bill being passed by the Virginia General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam that gave communities greater say over the issuance and revocation of liquor licenses.

The Purple Lounge finally closed and the former tenants vacated the property a year ago.

Shortly after, it was announced that Mansour would take over the lease and open a new business that the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (now, the Columbia Pike Partnership) said “embodies the spirit of Columbia Pike.”

Eska will be an “authentic celebration of Arabic culture,” Mansour told ARLnow back in April, with decor and a menu that reflect his Jerusalem roots.

Those plans haven’t changed, he says today, with more details coming in a few weeks.

Mansour is a former professional basketball player who recently had back surgery, part of the reason that Eska wasn’t able to open in June as originally intended.

He also owns Legend Kicks & Apparel, a store that resells high-end athletic shoes and gear, at 2609 Columbia Pike, and just a few blocks from Eska.

Initially, Legend’s lease was supposed to run out next month, but it has been extended until at least May. In the meantime, Mansour is continuing to look for a new location for the business since a new development is eventually coming to that block. He says he hopes the store can stay on Columbia Pike.

Hat tip to SRtwofourfour