On Monday, Mayor Bowser took the city by surprise with the news that DC would end its vaccine mandate for indoor venues like restaurants, bars, gyms, and entertainment venues just a month after it began. Meanwhile, the city’s long-standing indoor mask mandate will lift on March 1. The decision leaves it up to businesses to decide whether they want to continue enforcing masking, vaccinations, or both—and we’ve found a wide range of responses across the dining, entertainment, and fitness worlds.
Long story short—if you’re venturing out in DC, it’s a good idea to take a mask and your vaccine card with you, especially if you plan on hopping around to different businesses.
For sports fans, it looks like vaccination card checks are on their way out. Capital One Arena (home to the Wizards and Capitals) will stop requiring proof of vaccination, except for some seats closest to the floor—the NBA still wants anyone with “player-proximate” tickets to be vaccinated or have a negative test. The arena plans to drop mask enforcement when that mandate expires on March 1, too. If you’re heading to a Mystic’s game, or any other event at Entertainment & Sports Arena, you’ll still need your mask, but you can leave your vaccine card at home.
Concerts, where people are often crowded together, singing, drinking, and dancing have been deemed particularly risky in the pandemic. So it’s no surprise that many music halls are reluctant to give up on vax passports. All of IMP’s DC venues—the 9:30 Club, the Anthem, and Lincoln Theater—began requiring proof of vaccination before the mandate, and will continue to do so. The same is true for Union Stage, a small Wharf venue known for intimate shows, and The Hamilton Live, a supper club-style venue near the White House. Constitution Hall is leaving the decision about vaccine checks up to events sponsors, though it plans to keep mask requirements in place. Other popular concert venues, like Black Cat on 14th Street, say they are “still evaluating” the situation given the short notice from the Mayor’s office.
When it comes to live theater, a lot of venues are still deciding on protocols moving forward. GALA Hispanic Theatre in Columbia Heights is waiting until March, when its current show ends, to reevaluate its policies—so mask up and bring your vaccine card if you plan to see La Casa de la Laguna (The House on the Lagoon). Ford’s Theatre in downtown DC canceled its January and February shows during the Omicron spike. When performances come back in mid-March, they plan to leave their Covid safety protocols in place, with masks required at all times and vaccination checks for performances (though not daytime tour visits). The Kennedy Center, like Ford’s Theatre, is a federal property and follows federal guidelines—their vaccine and mask requirements will remain in place for all indoor performances.
Movie theaters are a different story. AMC Georgetown 14—the only AMC theater technically within the District’s borders—has ended its vaccine checks, and will lift mask requirements March 1. Landmark Theatres has also stopped checking vaccine cards, but a manager at the E Street location said she hadn’t yet heard from the company’s headquarters about a plan for mask enforcement after March 1. Meanwhile the indie- and foreign-film focused Avalon Theatre in Chevy Chase is keeping up its vaccination and masking rules.
Local gyms seem to be split on the issue. VIDA Fitness, which started checking vaccination status at its boutique gyms and salons (Aura Spa, Bang Salon) back in August, is still requiring patrons be vaccinated and boosted. On the other hand, the prolific Sport & Health chain said it’s following local guidelines—so its DC locations will not be checking vaccination status going forward.
Bars and Restaurants
Hospitality venues have been some of the most vocal when it comes to backing vaccine mandates (or bucking them, like the Big Board). Some big restaurant groups with locations in and outside DC, such as Clyde’s Restaurant Group, say they’re ending vaccine checks for customers. But other independent restaurants, particularly places that started requiring vaccines before the city required it, have taken to social media to let customers know that they will keep up their vaxx and mask rules. The same is true with popular bars like AllSouls, Boundary Stone, and City-State Brewing. (For a running list of DC bars and restaurants that still require vax cards, look here.)
That being said, a number of places that are pro-vax passport are looking forward to dropping masks for patrons, who were mandated to wear them “when not eating and drinking” (and you’re frequently eating and drinking in a restaurant). Adams Morgan blues favorite Madam’s Organ, an early supporter of vaccine checks, will continue requiring vaccination but not masks.
Madam’s Organ owner Bill Duggan commented in an email that he didn’t think lifting the vaccine mandate now made much sense: “I don’t know where the mayor is getting her advice, from the CDC or from a CBD store.”