Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sorry, We're Closed

In recent years Washington DC has become a far more cosmopolitan place to live than it was in the early 90's when I first moved here. I feel like it's become a true walking city (at least, if you don't mind sweating bullets in the summertime). Whereas in those days, the only real entertainment and dining destinations were Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, and Georgetown, the whole city has become connected. U Street, Logan Circle, Chinatown, "old" Downtown (e.g. K street), Metro Center, all have thriving restaurant and night lives. And the corridors between them, as well as the outskirts, have begun to sprout nighttime businesses as well, like 14th Street south of U street, not to mention my local favorite Red Rocks on 11th and Park and Red Derby at 14th and Quincy.

This has all been all great for those of us who enjoy good food and night life. It's also great for the neighborhoods. Gentrification issues notwithstanding, the changes have resulted in large stretches of the city becoming walkable which in years past would have been devoid of businesses. This has made them more appealing as places to live and safer places to walk. I've walked from L'enfant Plaza to my home in Columbia Heights. I frequently walk to U Street, Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, all within a mile or so of my home.

But this is not the point of my post. Last night, I was meeting a friend around U street for a drink. I was hungry and wanted to have a bite to eat. Our initial choice was Vinoteca, which is supposed to have good happy hour specials. Closed. So we went next door to Solly's. They were open, but their kitchen is closed on Mondays. Foiled again.

I then suggested The Saloon across the street, a cozy place I'd only been once before. I didn't eat that time but thought their menu looked like it was pretty good bar fare, so wanted to try it. Closed. We finally ended up at Ulah Bistro, which actually was open and serving food. Good wings there, by the way.

I realize that Mondays are the traditional day for restuarants to be closed. But in a thriving community like U Street, and in the summertime when it's light out until 9 and people love to get out of their little shoebox apartments and relax in an air conditioned bar or restaurant - or even sit outside if it's not intolerable - this tradition seems a little dated. DC has just about become a real city in the sense that many communities are becoming truly walkable and you can find about anything you need on foot.

I've never liked this Monday tradition, personally. In fact it's one of my favorite nights to eat out. Who wants to cook for themselves on the first day back at the grind after a weekend? The popular restaurants in town seem to be having no trouble getting people in their doors any night of the week, based on my anecdotal observations as a frequent diner, so I would think there's money to be made -- especially in summertime. So what is it? Maybe they can't get the help, maybe the owner just has to be there every day and needs a night off, or maybe I'm just wrong about how many people really want to eat out on a Monday.

Ulah seemed to be doing a decent business last night around 7 PM when I was in there; the bar was more than half full and most of the tables were occupied on the first floor. Maybe that's because they're the only place serving food in a two block radius.


belmontmedina said...

Having worked in a restaurant, and being a frequent diner/drinker at Vinoteca, Solly's and several other places along U, I have to say that while slightly inconvenient for me, Mondays off are a godsend for the people that work in those places. And as small, locally owned places, sometimes hiring the staff to stay open and serving at the level you'd like just isn't feasible. Besides, you get a day (or more) off a week...why shouldn't they?

Anonymous said...

I've been stuck on U Street on a Monday before. Totally sucks. I once convinced a whole group of friends to come to my 'hood for happy hour and dinner and we wandered up to U only to find a lot of places closed. I was embarrassed/annoyed. I guess the positive side is that it does give folks who work there a break. And it gives people in the neighborhood a break from the (almost) constant nightlife in their front yards.

What's weirder in DC is how our few independent coffee spots close so early, too. Back when Sparky's was open, I remember going there at like 9 or something on a Friday night and they were like, "Sorry, we're closing." What? I feel like these kinds of places are supposed to be spots to hang out at all hours. I think we ended up at 14U or something. *sigh*

Jamie said...

belmontmedina: I can understand the reasons, but it still surprises me that the potential revenue doesn't outweigh those reasons. And unless the place is operating on a shoestring, there should be no need for any given employee to be there every single day.

I know running a restaurant is a tough business. That's why I'm surprised anyone would give up one seventh of the nights they can be open, when there's money to be made.

So maybe I've got it backwards.. they're doing such gangbusters business they don't care about the extra money? Naah, nobody's that rich. I'm sure each place makes their own decision for their own reasons. It's really just surprising that more places don't choose to be open.

City Girl DC said...

Jamie, I agree. I've worked in restaurants too and there is a way to make sure every employee has days off without closing down. It is hard to believe that even on the weekends there are lots of kitchens closed by 10 in DC. It just makes sense for businesses to be open more often and later because there is a definitely a demand for it.