As if the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t demoralizing enough, a smattering of D.C. bars have reported broken windows and attacks on their storefronts this week.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, H Street NE occupants Dio Wine Bar and Bar Bullfrog both said they sustained significant damage when rocks were used to break their glass facades. Representatives for Belga Cafe and Chat’s Liquors say an attempted robber used a chair from Caribbean-themed restaurant Tortuga to try and smash the front windows at both places Tuesday night. All four establishments have filed police reports.
No injuries were reported with any of the incidents, because no employees were present at any of the places involved. Only two of the restaurants were actually robbed.
Dio, a go-to natural wine bar that has flipped into a bottle shop during the pandemic, is missing $2,000 to $3,000 worth of wine, general manager Danielle Moreno says. That total spans about 70 bottles. The robber grabbed dozens of display bottles and inventory showcased behind its front window. Chat’s Liquor lost just a few bottles of single-malt scotch.
Bar Bullfrog didn’t report any items stolen, and Belga’s windows cracked but didn’t shatter.
Except for Bar Bullfrog, all the break-ins occurred at businesses that continue to operate carryout and delivery.
After reviewing camera footage, Bar Bullfrog manager Christian Rowe says, “We can safely assume they were clearly searching the bar area for alcohol. Besides the door issue, they just made a big mess.”
The bar’s sibling Bullfrog Bagel shops and a new food truck are helping it take some time off to plan for the future during the pandemic. “So in the meantime, fortunately, we have kept all of our valuables and product under lock and key,” Rowe says.
Dio had already endured setbacks before the break-in. Moreno, the GM, says she was diagnosed with COVID-19 in mid-March, and the wine bar shut down completely for two weeks. Operations resumed only after she received a clean bill of health on April 1.
“The first week I was in and out of consciousness, very tired. It was an intense time,” she says.
She says the health scare at least gave the bar time to regroup, transition to online sales, and “come up with a whole new marketing plan.”
Dio, which is operating with just four employees, will add a market component to its business this week with grocery goods like flour, yeast, spices, pickle packs, and vinegar. Moreno is also weaving her newfound love for meditation into the business, hosting a series of virtual yoga and mindfulness classes over wine.
“It’s not something I think about regularly, but when I got [coronavirus] I couldn’t breathe anymore, which was the scariest part,” she says. “Being able to meditate and have some kind of semblance of control over myself was comforting to me.”
Customers can call Dio’s new “wine hotline” (757-932-0002) from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. to talk to Moreno about wine preferences and suggested dinner pairings.
“[We] just bring some personalization to it because we know that is what people come to our bar for, to talk to us,” she says.
Moreno says refreshing orange wines and rose are the most-requested orders online right now. The bar is going through its inventory faster but is making less per bottle because it’s operating as a retail business.
“It’s a lot of work for half the amount of money,” Moreno says. “But we are able to keep paying employees who still want to work.”
Chat’s Liquors is also looking on the bright side, despite this week’s setback. Owner Burnie Williams says Barracks Row went through another series of break-ins last year, and he’s fortunate he didn’t lose much. “It’s just a clean-up process now,” he says.
Williams plans to circulate photos of the perpetrator on social media to help catch the criminal.
The robbery also didn’t result in a lapse of liquor sales. He reports Tito’s Vodka is the No. 1 seller during the pandemic.
“We’ve been doing okay,” he says. “Fortunately we’ve been able to come in and conduct business. We have no complaints.”