Food

It’s Sleeting, Snowing, and Gross. Al Fresco Dining Continues.

Some restaurants are keeping their outdoor spaces open tonight.

Hook Hall's Viking Village. Photography by Fredde Lieberman

It’s official: winter is really here. On a normal cold, wet, miserable day like today, diners would be cozying up inside their favorite restaurant and bars. But with indoor dining capacity cut back this week and businesses struggling to get by, you’ll still find places firing up the heaters and opening their outdoor patios.

“I really want to keep our servers working. We need to make sure they have income,” says Medium Rare owner Mark Bucher. So, he’s opening the tented areas at his Arlington, Bethesda, and Cleveland Park locations. He’s got heaters, blankets, and hats to keep everyone comfortable.

And as of early afternoon, diners weren’t cancelling. In fact, the steak frites restaurants had actually added new reservations today. “I think because a lot of people are closed,” Bucher suggests. “We’ll see who actually shows up.”

Over in Park View, Hook Hall is opening its beer garden, which has been converted into a “viking village” this winter, complete with covered “huts” and fire pits.

“The outdoor space—not just on a day like today, but every day—is absolutely crucial to us getting through the pandemic and still be standing on the other side,” says owner Anna Valero. She makes the case the bar’s theme is actually perfectly suited to inclement weather.

“It’s magical. It’s kind of what you think a viking village would be like in the show. Sitting around a fire pit with some flurries coming down and a glass of hot mulled wine, it’s actually kind of an awesome place to be, if I do say so myself,” Valero says. (We spoke when snow was coming down, not cold rain.)

The handful of people who rescheduled their reservations mostly did so because of the roads, Valero says.

DC restaurants aren’t allowed to operate streateries or parklets during a snow emergency or when outdoor temperatures reach below 32 degrees. (Licensed sidewalk cafes and other private outdoor space are exempt from the rules.) However, it’s looking like temperatures will hover just above freezing this evening.

For Martin’s Tavern owner Billy Martin, the issue isn’t the rain, snow, or cold. It’s the road treatments using a brine-beet juice mixture to melt snow.

“I don’t want beet juice splattered all over [our tents], making it look like a disgusting mess,” Martin says. “The tents we have at Martin’s aren’t just your little tailgate tents for football games. These are pretty substantial. You just don’t put them up and take them down at a moment’s notice. ”

DC’s Office of Nightlife and Culture sent businesses an email just before 4:30 PM yesterday alerting them that they had to clear patrons by 6 PM so that the city could pre-treat the roads.

“I jumped on the phone immediately and went, ‘I’ve got 90 plus reservations for tonight, mostly outdoors. I will not be clearing out my steatery by 6 PM,'” Martin says. “We need more of a notice than an hour and a half.” Office of Nightlife and Culture Director Shawn Townsend told him trucks wouldn’t be coming his way until later in the evening anyway.

As long as the city allows it, Martin’s outdoor space will be open.

“No matter how cold it is right now, people don’t want to be at home. They want to get out, but they’re fearful of eating indoors,” he says. “They will sit outside if you’ve got heat.”

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.