Image: Couple walking in London (1954).
During the past eight months there has been a strange tone in the local press covering the dining scene. While not ignoring the catastrophic impact on the industry, there has been a breezy veneer to the piece. “Check out this cool pop-up!” “The best places for takeout!” “Dr. Fauci’s day job is to prevent another 100,000 deaths – but where does he order out from?” (The one big exception is the WCP, which starts from a questioning position on capitalism.) The restaurant business is one that always has a churn and is always forward-looking. When food writers see a wreck on the other side of the highway they don’t slow down to gaze, the turn away and speed up.
In the past couple weeks, even the food press seems to be acknowledging the reality: indoor dining is one of the worst places for spread of COVID. Without indoor dining, many restaurants will fail. This is the fundamental fact of the industry. Restaurants are dying off. Staff are being exposed. Now that we have the possibility of an effective vaccine there is hope for an end date. If you care about this industry, if you care about the people who work in it, then that is the story.
Room 11 is having a clearance sale. Today from 10 – 2.
Another pizza spot, the legendary Ledo’s in Maryland is closing. (When the water starts to boil, remove the frog to keep it alive. Frog legs could be all over the menu next year.)
WCP’s Laura Hayes did the kind of story that the Washington Post should have been all over: Winterization grants are too restrictive. It includes the tidbit that there is a run on propane to feed the heatlamps.
She also did one on the fact D.C. government does not distinguish between indoor and outdoor dining when tracking.
The delayed opening of the St. Vincent wine bar in Park View will be this Friday. Or as Eater put it in the sub-headline: “The sprawling outdoor setup will host its first customers on Black Friday.” That is almost as ominous as opening a bar called Death Punch. The place does look gorgeous, but the story does not explain why they chose to open in the teeth of the pandemic and how they will make it work. It does have one of the co-owners saying: “’I’ve got a lot of local musician friends dying to come play here,’ says Sherwood, whose beer garden down the street also had to press pause on its live music rotation during the pandemic.” Dying indeed.
EaterDC did do its monthly restaurant guide for the first time in months. They changed the name from “Essential” restaurants to “Standout.” In the intro they say: “Let’s dispense with any pretense that these are normal times. COVID-19 has foisted a grim calculus upon restaurants and diners. Every visit comes with the risk of being exposed to a virus that has killed more than 250,000 people in the U.S. But, without supplying more stimulus aid, governments have left professional kitchens to fend for themselves. Hospitality workers need to make a living. We all need to eat. With the proper safety protocols in place, food can still be an escape.”
The Washingtonian is the laggard. They did do a nice piece on the opening of Pennroyal Station in Mt. Ranier. A place we have been looking forward to because it will feature former Pilar chef Jesse Miller. According to the piece, “Now, with new Covid restrictions in Maryland that limit dining rooms to 25 percent capacity, the team says they’re forging ahead with a full dine-in evening menu and takeaway options, plus brunch in early December.” This feels like after three years they could not wait any longer, but the story does not address that. We wish them the best and look forward to making the trip out there to throw them some money.
Washingtonian did a piece on the outdoor dining structures that restaurants are building. They note: “Air flow varies by structure; for fully enclosed setups like plastic bubbles, it’s probably a good idea to only dine with members of your immediate household.” This is bad advice. Outdoor contained spaces, without air flow are essentially indoor spaces and present the same risks, albeit at a lower percentage.
One place that does make us happy about is the converted Casolare. Now called Glover Park Grill, it will feature comfort food from Chef Hamilton Johnson. Slated to open later this month.
Apologies for our Howard Beale take this week. The bottom line is that many places are struggling. Without massive aid many will fail. If you want to return to a place in the spring, then spend money on them now. About one-sixth of our recommended list has closed or closed for good. That could creep up fast to twenty or thirty percent.
Tip big. Wear a mask.