No Bar Seating, No Standing: DC Mayor Announces New Coronavirus Rules for Bars and Restaurants

The actions come in response to growing concerns over a health crisis.

Photo by Flickr user Sam Howzit.
Coronavirus 2020

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On Sunday, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a series of actions and restrictions for DC bars, restaurants, and nightlife venues to combat the spread of Covid-19. Among the measures are limits on seating capacity, a suspension of  bar seating, and eliminating standing room in drinking establishments.

Bowser also announced that venues licensed as nightclubs and multi-purpose event facilities must temporarily suspend operations. For bars and restaurants, capacity is limited to 250 patrons or less. Tables must be spaced at least six feet apart, and can only accommodate six or fewer patrons. 

The new public health regulations come amid growing calls—including from those within the industry—to shut down non-essential businesses and restrict public gatherings, similar to measures taken in France and Italy. Despite calls from the Center for Disease Control for social distancing, certain DC bars and restaurants were busy on Saturday.

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"A pandemic, terrible though it is, highlights our mutual interdependence in a way that only tragedy can." The restaurant industry is uniquely vulnerable to this kind of crisis, because we rely on so many different actors to converge each day and night: farmers with produce, merchants with wine, guests with healthy appetites. We are proud to provide a sense of community for all the disparate actors who come through our doors. As we monitor the spread of this global pandemic, it has become clear to us that the most responsible thing we can serve the best interest of this community is to close our doors. We do not take this decision lightly or impulsively. We have monitored the spread of this disease in other countries and other markets, and we know that it respects no boundaries and has no creed. To stay open any longer would further jeopardize the health of our staff and our guests. We need strong governmental action to survive this pandemic with our businesses intact. That is why we are urging the mayor to #shutusdown. Doing so properly acknowledges the scale of the current crisis and begins to make available the kind of resources our employees and businesses will require to endure this financial storm. Today's measures make it impossible for us to profitably operate our businesses while failing to properly enforce social distancing. For the time being, we will be offering carry out to ensure that we qualify for any public assistance made available to restaurants forced to close. But we believe that given the scale of this pandemic, that is only a temporary fix. We know that early intervention saves lives, and we've already waited too long. We urge our elected leaders to act decisively so that once this historic crisis passes – as it will – we can resume our rightful role at the heart of our communities.

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A growing number of business owners have decided to temporarily close their restaurants during the health crisis—most notably José Andrés, who announced on Sunday that’ll he’ll shutter at all of his restaurants and transform some into “community kitchens” offering free or affordable meals.

We’ll update this story as more information becomes available. 

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.