Hundreds of revelers gathered outside the White House early Monday morning as news of the death of Osama Bin Laden reached critical mass. Washingtonian contributors Melissa McCart and Joshua Yospyn captured the mayhem.
"It honestly felt like a gigantic frat party," says Yospyn, noting the the large number of college students, cans of beer in hand, who appeared to make up the bulk of the crowd. "What struck me as most odd was how long it was allowed to go on right up onto the White House fence. It took a few hours after Obama's announcement for police to erect a barrier and get people off the sidewalk, plus beef up security around the perimeter," Yospyn says.
McCart eventually took refuge inside Old Ebbitt Grill, but not before squeezing into the middle of it all. "The crowd was tight enough that from inside it you couldn't see the end, and as a short person I was lifted off my feet a couple times," she says. "It was mostly students, though there were some tourists/Caps fans/and veterans in the crowd."
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Old Ebbitt bartender Joe Varallo, a Capitol Hill resident and an employee of the restaurant for 14 years, had been expecting a quiet Sunday night, not the mob scene that eventually clogged the aisles of the famous eatery. For most of the last two hours the bar was open, the entire staff was in the weeds.
College kids leaned over the counter, begging for Varallo's attention at the bar farthest from the entrance. Despite the crowd being three-deep, amateurs ordered the labor-intensive Long Island Iced Tea, followed by a collective groan among the impatient waiting to order a draft and a shot.
There were plenty of US flag bandannas, shorts, and shawls as well as folks dressed in Caps gear following the hockey team's loss to Tampa Bay Lightning in overtime. The oyster shucker worked double time, prepping an inordinate number of trays and seafood towers. Bussers hustled through the crowd and the very tall and lanky server, Abdoulie Njie, kept the crowd in check, calling out the few kids on the brink of taking their celebration too far. Meanwhile, one gentleman, still wearing his Windsor-knotted tie, sat at the far corner in sober reflection.
"We appreciate your patronage," said restaurant manager Chris Godown, standing atop a table in the bar. "But if you don't leave soon, we're going to get fined for a fire code. We need you to leave."
At 2 AM, the lights turned on. While the night wrapped up in the bar, the city had no curfew, as horns blared and people danced in blockaded streets. Varallo undid his bowtie and wiped his brow. "It had been quiet until 12:30," he says. It was quite a night.