Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff stopped by Park View beer garden Hook Hall yesterday afternoon. No, he wasn’t enjoying a lager and turkey leg in one of the bar’s themed “Viking huts” (next time). Rather, he was checking out Hook Hall’s efforts to provide free meals and supply kits to struggling restaurant workers, and participating in a roundtable discussion about relief for small businesses and families hard hit by the pandemic.
Mayor Muriel Bowser participated in the discussion along with Hook Hall owner Anna Valero, Wellfound Food CEO Sarah Frimpong, and two former hospitality industry workers, according to a pool report.
“I worked so hard to get where I am, and I never thought I would be in this situation,” said Brooke Stonebanks, a former bar manager and event coordinator, who is currently only bringing in a few hundred dollars a week working part-time. She told Emhoff that Hook Hall has helped fill the gap. She also brought her five year-old-son Adam with her.
“How are you feeling, Adam?,” Emhoff asked. The kid gave two thumbs up. “I’m five years old,” he responded.
The Second Gentleman also said that he and the VP chat about his day over dinner, and asked the group what they’d like him to share with her. Valero talked about restaurants and bars as more than places to just get a drink, and how they can help make communities come back stronger. Meanwhile, Bowser highlighted unemployment assistance, the rescue package, and reopening schools.
“She already knows about DC statehood,” Bowser said.
Emhoff also toured the relief operation during his hour-long visit. Hook Hall Helps initially launched in March after bars and restaurants were forced to close, and huge numbers of industry employees found themselves suddenly out of work. Pre-Covid, the District’s hospitality industry employed more than 63,000 people. Valero and a small team of volunteers worked with restaurant supply companies to get toilet paper and cleaning products to workers, and coordinated with chefs to make meals and gather food donations. They teamed up with the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington to launch a citywide Worker Relief Fund, which has raised more than $850,000 to aid the effort.
Hook Hall’s team usually writes daily affirmations on the bags it gives out, and Emhoff joined in with some of his own messages. “Stay strong,” he wrote on one. “We will get through this,” he wrote on another.
“He came across as being genuinely interested in people’s experiences and he is definitely someone who is easy to talk to,” Valero tells Washingtonian. “If this was a different world, I would love to have [him] back and just sit down and have beer.”
Just in case, she did in fact invite him to bring Kamala Harris back with him. During the roundtable discussion, Emhoff said he wanted to be able to “come back here.”
“We want to go out and get around this town too,” he said.
Hook Hall transformed into a “Viking Village” for the winter, complete with wooden huts decked out in faux fur pelts. It made for an interesting backdrop to the conversations; the photo op included Viking helmets and animal skulls in the background. (In about two weeks, the bar will switch to a cherry blossom theme with flower-covered Japanese tea houses.)
“Nothing to see here, Secret Service,” Valero jokes. “In some ways it lent itself to a perfect opportunity to highlight how the industry has pivoted and how we’ve all had to think outside of the box to figure out what we were going to do to survive. I like to say Viking Village just had that primal survival feel to it.”