Smoke & Barrel, the barbecue joint and bourbon bar that has been a staple of D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood for the past nine years, announced this week that it can’t afford to keep operating. It joins a growing number of local bars, including neighborhood institutions such as Boundary Stone in Bloomingdale and Room 11 in Columbia Heights, to decide that halting operations already strained by the novel coronavirus crisis makes more sense than battling a grim business climate through the winter.
Owner John Andrade published a statement on Smoke & Barrel’s website that says management elected to keep the bar closed following a Thanksgiving break and “work towards finding a more functional and financially viable way to move forward.”
Andrade tells Eater he and the landlord are on good terms, and he’s hoping to renegotiate a lease with terms that cut the space in half to reflect the dramatic drop in dine-in customers during the extended public health crisis.
While Andrade hopes to bring Smoke & Barrel back, he recognized the restaurant’s future is in doubt.
“I have personally been in that space for 24 years,” Andrade says, referring to the basement level’s previous life as bar Asylum. “Heartbreak, devastation, disbelief, just absolute sadness that this is how the end of my tenure in that space comes.”
Smoke & Barrel added outdoor seating with the help of the Adams Morgan Business Improvement District, but Andrade says the cost of additional insurance outweighed the benefits. The bar has had more success with its virtual kitchen, District Wings, in the past six weeks or so since it launched. Sibling bar Brookland Pint will continue to operate the ghost kitchen, which offers seitan-based vegan wings in addition to the main attraction.
Andrade says Brookland Pint and Meridian Pint, which relocated from Columbia Heights to Arlington in 2019, will continue to operate, but making plans too far in advance is a futile exercise right now.
“The unfortunate impact of this pandemic forces us — and I suspect I speak on behalf of many restaurateurs in the area — forces us to not be able to think long term, and instead think, ‘How do I get to next month? How do I get to the month after that?’ That’s really the game right now,” Andrade says.
The indefinite closure lumps Smoke & Barrel in with a number of bars that are entering a hibernation period while D.C. tightens restrictions on bars and restaurants amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. Last week, D.C. implemented a 10 p.m. cutoff for alcohol sales and consumption in bars and restaurants, meaning businesses have to announce a last call even earlier to ensure no one is drinking on-site past that time. Starting December 14, indoor dining capacity will be reduced from 50 percent to 25 percent.
Last Call, an affordable cocktail bar in the Union Market district, also halted service following the holiday weekend. Owner Gina Chersevani tells Eater that the upcoming 25 percent capacity limits made her business untenable there, even though the bar added seating in a storage hallway. She says Last Call plans to reopen whenever 50 percent capacity returns, and she’s focusing her efforts on nearby Airstream trailer bar Suburbia, with plans to use funds from a D.C. grant program that supports winterizing outdoor spaces to add a couple fire pits surrounded by appropriately distanced sets of Adirondack chairs.
Even Electric Cool-Aid, a popular new outdoor bar in Shaw that has attracted customers with a large lot full of picnic tables and a menu of frozen cocktails, is weighing the merits of staying in business. Co-owner Angela DelBrocco says the bar has added hot toddies and festive decorations ahead of winter holidays, but she’ll be keeping an eye on thermometers throughout the season, because D.C.’s outdoor seating program directs bars and restaurants to close exposed tables when temperatures dip below 33 degrees.
“We haven’t reached that yet,” DelBrocco says. “If we start seeing [those temperatures] that would effectively make us have to close at 5 or 6 o’clock at night, that would be the impetus for us to close.”
Boundary Stone, a beloved neighborhood bar in Bloomingdale, went into hibernation mode November 25. In Columbia Heights, dependable cocktail bar Room 11 temporarily shut down its patio at the end of October. In hard-hit downtown district Penn Quarter, sports bar Penn Social announced on the day after Thanksgiving that it’s shutting down, too.
“Sadly, we have no option left but to close our doors for the foreseeable future,” a statement on the bar’s Twitter account says. “PLEASE support local independent businesses in DC. Hospitality IS the working class. They need our help now more than ever.”