News & Politics

DC’s Bars Were Packed Despite Coronavirus. We Asked People Why They Went Out.

"I was a little nervous, but it was for a girl's birthday."

Photograph by Evy Mages
Coronavirus 2020

About Coronavirus 2020

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DC Mayor Muriel Bowser just announced new limitations on bars and restaurants and temporarily suspended operations for establishments licensed as nightclubs. This comes after a weekend where it seems many Washingtonians weren’t practicing social distancing, taking to bars and restaurants despite the risk of contracting or passing Covid-19. We talked to a few of those patrons to figure out what made them leave the house:

“I was at Agora and Wet Dog yesterday. I didn’t plan on going out originally, but most of my friends were, so I went along. I definitely felt strange being out and felt even stranger seeing how many people were out—not just at the bars, but also just out walking around. I figured it would be much less. Both Agora and Wet Dog were packed with people—there was a line around the block to get into Wet Dog. Honestly, after being out for a little bit and seeing everyone else out, I feel pretty irresponsible for being there and that will probably be the last time I do it until everything blows over. In a general vague sense, yes, [I was concerned about getting or passing the virus,] but didn’t really have acute feelings about it.” -Greg Hoff, 26, Shaw

“I went to Rose’s Luxury for dinner Friday night. A couple of friends said they were able to get reservations and asked us to join. We had wanted to try it and knew it would likely be our last chance to eat out for a long time, and figured the outbreak wasn’t yet pervasive enough in this area for it to be a big risk. We tried to take precautions: we drove instead of Uber or Metro, and we felt better because of the precautions Rose’s was taking. We didn’t bring any [cleaning materials], but they had hand sanitizer at the front. There were less tables than usual to increase spacing, but the restaurant was still fairly busy. The tables they did have and the bars were all full.

“We are stressed out about what’s to come, but were not particularly worried about about catching or spreading the virus on Friday. [However, we] know those odds are going up every day. [We plan to stay in now] except for groceries or CVS; we’re working from home and don’t plan to leave the house much except to walk around and get fresh air.” -Ryan Murphy, 32, Arlington 

“I was out at Acqua Al 2 for dinner Friday night. [I went to] Old Ebbitt the night before. I just moved here and don’t have pots or pans yet to cook anything, so I’ve been relying on going out or ordering in. I have not been scared about catching or passing it to anyone and I didn’t bring sanitizer or wipes. I’ve just been washing my hands every 30-to-60 minutes. Old Ebbitt was as busy as usual, although the bartender is a longtime friend and said it’s been slower and slower in there. Acqua Al 2 told me they were too busy to take reservations. Both places were lively and people continued to come in as I was leaving. Not a single one of them were handing out [hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes], although that may or may not have changed in the last few days.

“The virus is certainly a concern, but I think washing hands constantly and other basic tenets of personal hygiene (staying home if sick; coughing or sneezing in your sleeve; not touching your face, mouth, or nose with dirty hands) will suffice. Also, [going to] restaurants and bars is a bit less crammed than attending sporting events, larger gatherings, or traveling via plane or train, which made me less concerned. I believe [I’ll keep going out]. As long as businesses are open and the condition doesn’t worsen, I want to support those folks depending on patrons to make their living.” -Abdullah Amin, 29, Benning 

“I went to Osteria Morini for brunch yesterday at around 1 PM. There were two tables with people when we got there and maybe four when we left. The manager thanked us repeatedly for coming by and then let me know that today is the last brunch service for the foreseeable future. My wife and I sat on the patio and the entire Navy Yard area was a ghost town. I’ve read that Dacha and Salt Line were packed, but we didn’t walk that far down and didn’t see anything like that in our section of the neighborhood.

“We’re trying to toe the line between keeping our distance from people and supporting local businesses, so we’ve been going to places that aren’t crowded for a meal and a couple of drinks. Sticky Rice on Thursday night, Biergarten Haus on Friday, brunch yesterday. We didn’t bring any supplies with us, but they were provided at each restaurant. [I wasn’t really worried about passing or catching the virus] when I was out because I wasn’t really around too many people, but after seeing the pictures of people crowding yesterday, I’m starting to get more concerned that going out when I don’t have to, even when there aren’t many people around, might not be feasible anymore. I won’t be going to any more grocery stores until this dies down a bit. I was able to snag the last slot for Harris Teeter delivery this afternoon.” -Kevin Chenery, 40, H Street

“It was a friend’s birthday [on Saturday], and after a lot of debate, a change of venue (Fogo de Chao seemed like a bad choice, given the recommended precautions) and a few smart folks deciding not to join us, five of us went out to dinner last night. We took precautions. We went early (we were there when the restaurant opened), walked or drove there, asked for a table large enough to spread out, and limited touching and sharing plates or utensils. The restaurant, BLT Steak, was fantastic. The manager checked in with us, they had all tables of diners separated by empty tables, and brought extra utensils. We were all a bit anxious about going out, but if you were going out, this was the way to do it!

“Also, most of us at dinner work for places that are still requiring us to go in to the office for work (not because we couldn’t telecommute, but because our organizations or the federal government are still making us come in). That makes going out for dinner (while being quite careful) seem much safer than our daily commutes or workplaces. We all are, and should be, [worried about getting or spreading the virus], and we saw this as our last hurrah socially before fully embracing the self-quarantine.” -Megan Smith, 45, DC

“I was wary of the risk of being out, but I didn’t feel scared. I stayed in Friday and felt that this was maybe the last weekend to go out for a while, so I went to the Dabney Cellar on Saturday night. It was full, but there was no wait, which is atypical for them on a weekend. The bartenders said usually on a Saturday night, there’s 20 people waiting throughout the night. I did bring hand sanitizer with me. The bartenders wiped down the bar area with Lysol wipes after people got up to leave.” -Anonymous, 29, Logan Circle 

“I went out yesterday for a friend’s birthday. There were five of us. All of us were nervous and scared to go out, but decided since we’re going to, we would stick to a bar that had less than 20 people. We went to Sudhouse DC, which has three floors and had no more than 20-to-25 people spread between the three floors, so it left us much space to keep our distance from others. We used an entire mini bottle of hand sanitizer last night. Throughout the night, we avoided touching our mouths and nose with our hands to ensure we could be as safe as possible, but still have some fun. Now that the fun is out of our system, we’re working on social distancing as Covid-19 spreads.” -Anonymous, 25, Howard County 

“I was DJ’ing Friday night [at the BackRoom at Capo Deli] and Saturday during the day [at Brixton]. Honestly, I haven’t been as worried as a lot of people. Friday was definitely a weird night, as it seemed like no one really cared that this was going on, and Saturday felt exactly like a normal Saturday. I did minimize physical interaction both days, and kept my hand sanitizer by my side. Both locations I played made patrons use hand sanitizer before entering their buildings, which was nice.

“I have lost about five future DJ’ing gigs due to this though, and a lot of DJ friends and service industry people are getting hit hard as well. Fortunately I work for the FDA, so I have that to rely on income-wise, but those without a 9-to-5 are really going to go through it. I’m going to [keep DJ’ing while I can]. I have two gigs lined up for the coming week, but who knows if they will still happen. I know some people may think I’m anti- social distancing if I’m still DJ’ing parties and influencing people to come out, but these people are going to be in the bars and clubs whether there’s a DJ or not. Nothing stops this city from partying.” -Mathias Broohm, 38, Brightwood 

“I had no real concerns while out yesterday in DC. I took a Lyft to my destination because parking in DC can be a headache at times. My Lyft driver had Lysol and gloves for passengers to use to prevent germs from being passed. I went to a birthday dinner at Commissary on P Street NW and there was a good amount of people there. It really didn’t seem like most people were concerned. Some patrons were even dining outside. I had my hand sanitizer in my hand most of the time and even shared it with those around me, but they had some as well. After, I headed to Felicity Lounge on H Street and had drinks. The lounge was pretty crowded. I had a great time there like I usually do.

“I had no fear, but I was more aware of washing my hands more frequently and taking extra measures to prevent germs from being passed on to and from others. I, like most people I know, don’t want to be cooped up in the house while this pandemic is going on. We discuss and share information on how to stay safe even while we’re out.” -Anonymous, 36, Upper Marlboro 

“As a full time DJ, amongst the fear of impending venue shutdowns for weeks (possibly months), I wanted to keep my few available gigs at the places still open and populated. That being said, I did have to change my habits while being present in a room of 200 people dancing. I brought out my own DJ equipment (as to not be in contact with anyone else’s gear), antibacterial wipes that I used throughout the day for the bathroom, and I reapplied hand sanitizer every 30 minutes behind the booth. Looking around the room, I’d have to say that the patrons in there outside of myself didn’t seem as though they were bothered by any potential contact restrictions. They were sharing cigarettes, lighters, hugs, and drinks. But the other DJs I know have been very openly adamant about not even being cool with shaking hands.” -Nateya Pompeo, Northwest DC

“We went to Mission in Dupont. I was a little nervous, but it was for a girl’s birthday. She texted the whole group the night before saying if anyone was uncomfortable, they didn’t have to go, but everyone said they’d still be there. I brought Purell and said no hugs but some people still were very insistent that they would hug or shake hands, which was surprising. I figured I was interacting with a lot less people than I would normally because I’d been home all week, so a small brunch was still a lot less people than I see on a weekly basis. But now looking back, I feel like it was really selfish and I shouldn’t have even gone out at all. Who knows if someone else I saw just traveled or something? I’m definitely staying in [from now on].” -Anonymous, 25, Logan Circle 

These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Home & Features Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She’s written for The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Del Ray.