On Friday afternoon, an email blast went out stating that Boundary Stone, the beloved Bloomingdale neighborhood bar, would close for the foreseeable future. A few hours later came more bad news, this time on Facebook: Johnny’s Half Shell, the Adams Morgan seafood dining room that had been closed since March, would never reopen.
A few days earlier, Sundevich in Georgetown had announced that it would serve its last sandwich on Halloween. Free State, the Penn Quarter bar, tweeted that it would close for the winter on November 7. Republic Kolache said that its Texan/Czech pastries would no longer be available after November 8. Hazel and Declaration, both within a block of the shuttered 9:30 Club, would also be taking a winter break. Oh, and Halloween was the last day, at least for awhile, for many Ian and Eric Hilton bars, including American Ice Co., the Gibson, Marvin, and the Brixton.
The reasons for these closures are many and varied. Some faced steep drops in foot traffic typically brought in from offices or entertainment venues. But generally, staring down a winter of dropping temperatures and dwindling customer numbers—alongside spiking Covid numbers and hefty winterization costs—made an already dire financial situation untenable. Some hibernators are choosing to conserve resources in the hopes of reopening down the road.
As Ian Hilton told Washingtonian last week, “the handwriting is very much on the wall—no matter how hard anyone works in the winter to create an outdoor space that’s comfortable, I don’t think people’s threshold for cold is anywhere what it is for hot.”
All of these restaurants will feel like a deep loss to someone. Whether it was a local bar—always there, always reliable—or a pastry that made you nostalgic for your home state, or the office lunch standby you’ve suddenly become nostalgic for.
For me, the toughest heartbreak is the closure of Johnny’s, which has been around in various guises since 1999, when it debuted in a slim Dupont Circle dining space. I remember having lunch there with my dad right when it opened, and falling in love instantly with Ann Cashion’s shrimp with asiago grits and wings with green goddess dressing (on the menu from the very beginning til the very end). I followed its fantastic hotdogs, still the best I’ve ever had, to its incongruous second space—a much, much larger room on the Hill, where it morphed into a staffer happy hour destination. The contours remained familiar, but the suit didn’t quite fit. Finally, when Johnny’s shifted its operations to Adams Morgan—to the snugger, homier space that once housed Cashion’s and co-owner John Fulchino’s earlier restaurant, Cashion’s Eat Place—the restaurant felt right again. It also felt like it would always be there. Probably, amid the breakneck-fast evolution of DC’s food scene, I took it for granted.
I was never a regular—a food critic doesn’t really get to be that anywhere—but co-owner John Fulchino’s welcome greeting was always easy and warm to this stranger. “Goodbye lovelies!” he called as a friend and I left one frigid evening. Meanwhile, Cashion remixed Southern and Mid-Atlantic flavors in ways that made perfect sense, like they’d both existed in a cookbook for decades, but also felt 100 percent her own. And she was faithful to tradition when a dish called for it (name a better crab imperial).
An ambitious neighborhood spot doesn’t seem so revolutionary now. But back in 1999—when DC’s food scene pretty closely resembled the expense account caricature that is somehow still drawn around it—it really was. Happily, the pair still operate the more-casual Taqueria Nacional off 14th Street and in Mount Pleasant.
When Johnny’s moved to Adams Morgan in 2016, Cashion told Washingtonian: “The fact we’re not going to do something entirely different—or even radically change what Johnny’s is meant to be—is a statement. It’s true that people are more interested in food than ever in this market, but that interest is often fueled by constant information that tells them, ‘This place is new, this place is hot.’ Frankly, I don’t want to play on that field. We have new restaurants that are great restaurants. But we also have a lot of stuff that will come and go, and not be memorable in any sense. It’s really my nature to want to create something that’s permanent.”
Johnny’s, you will always be a part of this city. And I’ll never stop hoping for version 4.0.