Food  |  News & Politics

A Bunch of Anti-Vaccine Protesters Clashed With DC Restaurant Workers Over the Weekend

At multiple businesses, protesters harassed employees, heckled patrons, and refused to leave.

A protester at the anti-vaccine rally on Sunday. Photograph by Evy Mages

A group of anti-vaxxers walk into a bar…and clashes ensue. That was the punchline in DC over the weekend, as anti-vaccine protesters descended on the National Mall for Sunday’s “Defeat the Mandates” rally. 

The District’s vaccine mandate for bars, restaurants, and other indoor venues went into effect on January 15. It requires patrons age 12 and over to show proof of at least one dose of the Covid vaccine. 

At Union Pub, right-wing monitoring organization Patriot Takes shared a video of anti-vaccine protesters doing an alleged “MLK-style sit-in” at the Capitol Hill bar. In the footage, a small group of unmasked protesters heckle patrons and a doorman, calling him a “fascist Nazi” as nearby patrons rush to put on their masks.

Employees at Old Ebbitt Grill by the National Mall were forced to call DC police for assistance after two women entered, refused to wear masks or show proof of vaccination, and declined to leave after being repeatedly asked. 

“They [the police] quickly came and handled it from there. On their way out, all of the people at the bar were clapping, which angered them more,” says spokesperson Molly Quigley. She says police also dispersed a crowd of protesters later that day who were blocking the entrance. “We did get a phone call later that day from someone in the mayor’s office who saw [the incident] on social media, and wanted to reach out and thank the staff for being diligent and responsible.”

On H Street, Northeast, a group of protesters also confronted workers at vegan diner Fare Well. Owner Doron Petersan says a crowd of about 15 people blocked the entrance to the restaurant, which has required proof of vaccination for patrons since September (they also offer outdoor heated seating for all). 

“They clearly didn’t want to come in, they wanted to argue,” says Petersan, who says they called her employees names such as “Nazis” and “dictators.” “They’re not protesting, they’re just harassing.”

Petersan says the incident was especially difficult for her staff. One Fare Well front-of-house employee recently lost three family members to Covid-19. Petersan has since launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover funeral costs—currently it’s raised $3,265—and is opening the restaurant for memorial events. 

“For lack of a better term, it’s triggering,” says Petersan. Tensions have been rising in the neighborhood. Her business is located across the street from the Big Board, which has been vocal about refusing to comply to the vaccine mandate. The bar has received warnings and fines for failure to enforce DC’s mask and proof of vaccination requirements. A GoFundMe page for The Big Board, launched by Daily Caller senior congressional correspondent Henry Rodgers, has raised $12,420 in just four days. 

“They get [over] $12,000 for violating the mandate. Meanwhile we’re struggling to help people pay for funerals,” says Petersan. “Just the fact that other human beings feel it’s okay to harass front-line workers during the pandemic is infuriating.” 

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.

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