For years the nightclub/restaurant at 3111 Columbia Pike was at the forefront of a myriad of controversies. But now, one local business owner is hoping to change all that.

Meet Layth Mansour – a former professional basketball player who owns several food trucks in DC and Legend Kicks & Apparel at 2609 Columbia Pike. Mansour plans to turn the former Purple Lounge into a family establishment that the neighborhood can be proud of.

“I want to create a celebration of Arabic culture,” says Mansour. “One entrance will go to the family restaurant and one entrance will lead to a hookah lounge, but neither will serve alcohol.”

At the center of much of the controversy for the Purple Lounge was late night drinking, even after hours in the parking lot where several shootings took place. The most recent violence last fall finally led to the Virginia ABC revoking the establishments liquor license followed by Arlington County revoking its live entertainment permit in December. Mansour admits that his decision to not sell alcohol is a risk, but felt it was necessary to provide an authentic Arabic experience as well as peace of mind for the neighborhood.

photo courtesy of ARLnow

“I had conversations with the landlord, neighbors, and Arlington County police before signing the lease. When I told them there wouldn’t be alcohol, I think it really gave them a sense of security that this new business won’t have the same problems as the Purple Lounge. Serving alcohol can be a big risk too with people driving drunk or starting fights. I don’t want that to happen.”

The new restaurant and lounge, named Eska (Arabic for “better” or “tastier”), will feature an authentic menu true to Mansour’s own roots.

“My mom and dad are from Jerusalem. When I got older I embraced my culture a little bit more because I just didn’t know much about it. I had to go back home to see the beauty and culture. Now I just want to share my culture with the people here.”

Mansour says everything that goes into creating Eska – from the furnishings and décor to the dining menu – will be an authentic celebration of Arabic culture. He’s even bringing a chef all the way from the West Bank.

“The Chef is well known in the village of Ramallah. He’ll be here for six months to help us build the menu.”

Mansour is planning for a robust dining menu serving lunch and dinner on weekdays plus a brunch menu on weekends. Instead of focusing on alcoholic beverages for brunch and late night menus as many local restaurants do, Mansour wants to focus of traditional Arabic teas and coffee alongside delicious desserts.

“There are a lot of Middle Eastern business owners on Columbia Pike and some great restaurants that do successfully serve alcohol, but I want mine to be more family-friendly. I want it to be a place you come for your kids birthday party or that teens can bring their date to hang out after prom.”

At the heart of Mansour’s other business, Legend, youth is a strong focus as well. The Buy/Sell/Trade shoe store focuses on reselling used high-end athletic wear whose target audience is teens and young adults. But Mansour takes it a bit further and uses the store as an opportunity to be a mentor.

“I just want to be a positive role model to these kids. Sometimes I’ll do a giveaway to kids who bring in their report cards. Or I’ll give them a free pair of shoes and teach them how to clean them up and resell them. I want to show them what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.”

Nearly all of Legend’s staff members are under the age of 23. Mansour also provides several internships throughout the year. He hopes to continue the mentorship tradition with the new restaurant.

“It’s a little different because on the hookah side, staff will have to be over 18 and I want experienced staff in the kitchen, but I do plan to invite young people to take a look at the operation. I’ll invite the guys from Legend over and will be able to show them how things work. And we’ll hire as many young people as we can.”

Mansour has received positive feedback from Arlington County so far and renovations are already underway inside. One of the first things to go as they move to the outside of the building will be the paint. He hasn’t revealed exactly what color Eska will be, but it certainly won’t be purple.

Eska is anticipated to open in early summer 2021.