A number of restaurants in downtown DC are closing their doors on Tuesday and Wednesday because of extensive road restrictions and safety concerns prompted by pro-Trump rallies. The impassibility of downtown combined with the mayor’s recommendation to avoid the area is a hard hit for restaurants already struggling in the depths of an indoor dining ban.
Safety from potential chaos plays a starring role in the list of reasons to shutter. Amy Brandwein, owner of Centrolina and Piccolina, will close her restaurants on January 6 out of concern for staff well-being. Shutting down to protect bodies and boarding up to preserve buildings can mean losses of over $10,000 a day, but Brandwein sees no way to safely open after witnessing violence that has occurred around CityCenter.
“Are we really being given a choice? We’re not, because we have to protect our employees,” says Brandwein. “There’s no choice being given, but there’s the implication that we can stay open if we want, which is a falsity.”
While the mayor’s office has been head-on in telling patrons to avoid downtown, Brandwein believes businesses should receive similarly direct instruction to close, with compensation for lost revenues. Insurance is a bust—coverage doesn’t even kick in until after three days of rioting.
Brandwein isn’t the only business owner closing temporarily as a safety precaution. Perhaps the highest-profile closure has been Hotel Harrington and adjoining Harry’s Bar, the watering hole of choice for the Proud Boys. (The bar and hotel are separately owned and operated). The surrounding blocks were a backdrop for chaos and violence during the most recent pro-Trump demonstrations in December.
“While we cannot control what happens outside of the hotel,” the Harrington wrote in a statement, “we are taking additional steps to protect the safety of our visitors, guests and employees.”
Safety concerns also extend to public health precautions—we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, after all. Teaism in Penn Quarter will shutter for two days due to Covid anxiety, coupled with the mayor’s instructions to avoid downtown. Co-owner Michelle Brown says that pro-Trump protesters have been polite customers during past demonstrations, but the flock of out-of-town guests is worrisome as coronavirus cases continue to rise.
Even if restaurants remain open, blocked roadways present an impediment for potential customers and vendors. Street closures prompted Mt. Vernon Triangle’s Baan Siam to turn off the lights for two days, and Dupont Circle sandwich shop Bub and Pop’s sent an email citing supply-chain challenges as one of multiple reasons to close until January 7.
“Our baker reached out yesterday to say we should anticipate problems with deliveries due to road closures,” wrote co-owner Arlene Taub, who witnessed similar struggles during past protests. The restaurant also cited hindered pathways for delivery partners, an issue that helped seal the decision for Teaism.
“It’s going to be so quiet down here — what’s the point?” says Brown.