It’s no secret that DC’s restaurant and bar scene has taken a beating since the pandemic began. But this may be the biggest gut punch yet: nightlife gurus Ian and Eric Hilton will close at least seven of their establishments—American Ice Company, The Brixton, Echo Park, El Rey, The Gibson, Marvin, and Players Club—for the “foreseeable future” after Oct. 31. City Paper first reported the news.
“After 6 months of constantly restructuring our operations to comply with the mayor’s orders, we have depleted our resources while fighting a great, yet unsustainable battle to save the jobs of our employees and our businesses,” the Hilton brothers wrote in a statement published by City Paper. They conclude with a message to the rest of the industry: “We encourage you to take a realistic look at the current and foreseeable future and determine how sustainable this fight is without meaningful support. We know the toll this has taken on you financially and personally. Sometimes, taking a step back is the only way to move forward.”
The Hiltons’ bars were destinations for many first dates and late nights, but they also helped shape the U Street corridor and the broader nightlife scene. Cocktail haven the Gibson helped introduce DC to the “speakeasy” style bar, while newer ’70s-inspired Players Club championed the arcade bar trend with games like Skee-Ball and PacMan. Marvin was a go-to for dancing, DJs, and live music. Hilton brothers bars were places you’d bring friends for loud nights (The Brixton) and intimate gabfests (Echo Park)… or at least pre- and post-drinking tacos (El Rey).
In other words, they each encapsulate some aspect of nightlife scene that’s been lost, or at least diminished, during the pandemic. We can still technically eat in restaurants—the Hiltons’ more food-centric businesses such as Chez Billy Sud in Georgetown and The Brighton at the Wharf remain open for now—but we miss the games, the music, the crowds. Who knows when we’ll chat up the bartender again, or befriend a stranger at a bar. These closures hit hard because they are seven reminders of that, all at once. And they’re an ominous warning of what’s yet to come.