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2019’s Saddest Bar and Restaurant Closings

These memory makers will be dearly missed

Owner Dean Gold sits inside Dino’s Grotto
Dean Gold closed Dino’s Grotto in Shaw so he could retire and focus on his health.
J. Lawler Duggan/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Closing a restaurant is almost always a sad occasion — and, unfortunately, D.C. saw plenty of places disappear from the dining scene over the past 12 months. But the following closures (ordered alphabetically) made a particularly large impact by drawing dedicated regulars or bringing the area something essential.

Alba Osteria

Restaurateur Hakan Ilhan pulled the plug on his 6-year-old Italian eatery in Mt. Vernon Triangle this spring, citing the inability to strike a rent deal with the landlord. Despite its cheap happy hour, Alba must have already been struggling because Ilhan had a plan to flip it into a Mexican restaurant. The Piedmont town of Alba inspired dishes like fresh pastas, antipasti, and pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven. It opened under star Italian chef Roberto Donna, and Amy Brandwein also cooked inside before she opened her critically acclaimed Centrolina. The ambiance was pretty unique, featuring 1900s-era windows and wood paneling salvaged from the old American Crayon Company factory in Sandusky, Ohio. Nicoletta Italian Kitchen opened nearby shortly before Alba went dark.

Buffalo Billiards and the Front Page

The big bars occupied two levels of the same Dupont space, and each became an affordable staple for students, interns, and sports fans. They shut down in August because the owners were unable to renew their lease with new ownership. A liquor license application has been filed in the space for a mini-golf venue called Swingers. Over a 25-year run, Buffalo Billiards claimed some impressive statistics: over 10 million beers sold, 1.7 million games of pool recorded, 72,500 burgers consumed, 78,213 kegs emptied, and 3,091 college football games watched. Next-door fixture Front Page served its last beer this year too.

Cobalt

Dupont Circle’s vital gay bar abruptly closed this spring. Owner Eric Little cited the sale of the building to developers, the rise of dating apps, and “a slow decline in sales” as factors in the decision to shut down the multi-part business that housed a dance floor, the Level One restaurant, and the 30degrees lounge at 1639 R Street NW. Meanwhile, Capitol Hill lost its sole gay bar this spring with the shutter of short-lived Orchid.

Commodore Public House and Kitchen

Logan Circle’s cozy neighborhood bar drew regulars in with creative burgers, Southern barbecue, and $10 cocktails. It closed last month because its owners could not reach a new lease agreement with the landlord. Along with interesting beers, pulled pork totchos, and pimento cheese-topped fried chicken sandwiches, its 3-year run was filled with “baby showers, engagements, thousands of Tinder dates,” culinary director Travis Weiss noted. There was even a visit from the Stanley Cup after the Washington Capitals won the NHL championship in 2018.

Dino’s Grotto

After relocating from its original home in Cleveland Park in 2014, Dino’s lasted about five years on a stretch of Ninth Street NW known for its Ethiopian options. Owner Dean Gold — a big, bearded presence responsible for sourcing farm-fresh products and a variety of wines at exceptional price points — closed the restaurant this fall so he could retire and focus on his health.

Hula Girl

A sliver of island life in Shirlington, Hula Girl served its last order of root beer sticky ribs this fall after nearly four years of business. “All I really wanted to do was to bring Hawaiian food to this area. And I did, for close to 10 years, from the food truck to restaurant,” chef-owner Mikala Brennan said in a sad closing statement. Her colorful eatery can be credited with bringing Spam musubi and poke bowls to the area before they were cool. Bottomless Saturday brunch with $4 guava and passion fruit mimosas was also a hit. The expansive 3,600-square-foot restaurant space will get a new life as Indian restaurant Aroma.

Hunan Number One

This Chinese and sushi restaurant in Clarendon, best known for daily deals and liter mugs of beer, called it quits late this summer after a 33-year run.

Mad Fox

The pioneering Falls Church brewpub poured its last beer this summer after nearly a decade. CEO Bill Madden blamed its demise on rising competition and slower sales. Falls Church got two brand new options for beer tasting last year alone: Audacious Aleworks and “nano-brewery” Settle Down Easy Brewing Co. Madden’s long-standing brewery complete with a 60-foot bar, offered around a dozen beers of its own, including seasonally inspired brews, barrel-aged creations, and straight-from-the-cask selections. Its tavern-style menu includes calamari, burgers, pizza, and wings.

Meiwah (West End)

Over the past two decades on New Hampshire Avenue NW, Meiwah’s crispy shredded beef, roasted pork, and Chinese takeout go-tos fueled all-nighters for a bipartisan audience of Hill staffers. Charismatic owner and news junkie Larry La developed friendships with repeat customers that included a host of political celebrities (like Bill Clinton). Although the flagship closed in the spring — La said the restaurant got priced out of the space — Meiwah still has a large, second-story presence in Chevy Chase (the dining room was packed on Christmas Day).

Proof

The wine-driven American restaurant that became a fixture on “best of” lists from D.C. critics over the past decade, poured its last glass in February. Owner Jason Kuller could not re-negotiate a lease to keep the Penn Quarter stalwart in its current location. Proof was the first restaurant founded by Kuller’s brother, Mark Kuller, a former tax attorney who opened a string of hits on the D.C. dining scene before he died in 2014. After Mark Kuller opened Proof in 2007, the family’s restaurant group grew to include Estadio, Doi Moi, and the former 2 Birds 1 Stone cocktail bar on 14th Street NW. Max Kuller, Mark Kuller’s son, split from the group last September, taking Estadio with him.

PX

This Old Town cocktail bar with dim lighting, a dress code, and reserved seating was a forerunner to the national speakeasy trend, opening ahead of New York institutions Please Don’t Tell (PDT) and Death & Co. Owner Todd Thrasher closed it in July after 13 years of business, citing creeping rent and a narrow customer base. Thrasher can now be found overseeing production of his eponymous rum at a distillery attached to a multi-level tiki bar on the Southwest Waterfront.

Ray’s the Steaks

The Arlington-based brand became an area staple over nearly two decades by cultivating a reputation as the workingman’s steakhouse. Owner Michael Landrum’s place was popular for “butcher cuts” like a $22 hanger steak. Jumbo lump crab bisque full of sherry and a wedge salad with horseradish running amok in the blue cheese dressing were two other popular orders at the original Ray’s near Court House. Over the years Ray’s opened (and closed) other steakhouse locations and burger joints. The original shut down in June and was soon followed by the last Ray’s Hell Burger, marking the end of an era.

Sally’s Middle Name

The food at this H Street NE restaurant was as eclectic as its name, with chef-owner Sam Adkins serving small plates that put bright Southeast Asian salads and French pate side-by-side. After about four years of producing food that made it a local favorite, Sally’s closed with a humongous silver lining. The venue became a permanent home for Thamee, a one-time Burmese pop-up at Sally’s that’s now Eater D.C.’s reigning Restaurant of the Year.

Whaley’s

The Navy Yard raw bar shucked its last oyster last month, closing after less than four years of business on the banks of the Anacostia River. The closure comes as co-owners (and cousins) Nick and David Wiseman shift gears to focus on the growth of their cult-favorite hummus chain Little Sesame. Whaley’s chef Daniel Perron’s menu was big on shellfish, crudos, crab salad, and soft-shell crab across the seafood spot that flipped its outdoor patio into a palm-filled Rosé Garden during warmer months. There is, however, an exciting replacement restaurant to look forward to. Chefs Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan, formerly of Maydan, will devote the 1,800-square-foot space to a new joint project.

Woodward Table

The Southern-leaning American kitchen closed this summer after seven years of business, leaving James Beard award winner chef Jeff Buben with one last D.C. restaurant (Bistro Bis). Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema, a fan from day one, mourned the loss of “one of my favorite downtown restaurants,” upon breaking the news. Popular orders over its run included wood-fired flatbreads, Parker House rolls, she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, and crab cake BLTs. Busy lunch crowds made use of its adjoining takeout operation, dubbed Woodward Takeout Food, or WTF. For some, the saddest part about the corner closure is that it’s being replaced by a Cheesecake Factory.

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