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D.C. Restaurants Can Begin Seating Customers Outside This Week

The city will enter the first phase of reopening on Friday, May 29

The patio at Present Company
The patio outside the Present Company bar by Mt. Vernon Triangle
Rey Lopez/Eater D.C.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced today the city’s “stay-at-home” order will be lifted Friday, May 29, moving the District into its first phase of reopening by easing restrictions first implemented in mid-March to suppress the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Restaurants that have been limited to takeout and delivery will be able to resume hosting customers for outdoor seating only. According to the mayor’s presentation on Wednesday, customers will not be allowed to stand at bars, tables will have a six-person maximum, and outdoor tables must be spaced at least 6 feet apart. The mayor’s office tells Eater that those guidelines extend to rooftops and beer gardens that are already licensed to operate.

Last week, the city released a report with reopening guidelines for restaurants and other businesses. But at the same time, Bowser’s spokespeople said the report was full of recommendations from industry experts, not mandates, leading to confusion on what reopening will look like. That report delayed reopening for bars and nightclubs until the third phase of the city’s reopening plan, leading bar owners to express their concern.

Kathy Hollinger, the president of the local restaurant association who worked on the ReOpen DC advisory group, told Eater D.C. last week that the restrictions will likely be “activity driven and not license driven,” meaning that businesses that can follow the city’s guidelines will be encouraged to reopen no matter what type of business license they have. The mayor’s official order lists “taverns, nightclubs, and mixed-use facilities that serve food” among those eligible to begin reopening.

Bowser said she’ll be working with restaurants who don’t have outside seating to expand their service areas to other outdoor spaces, but she was not ready to announce an official policy.

Eating and drinking establishments such as Shaw wine bar Maxwell Park and Duffy’s Irish Pub on H Street NE had already announced plans to open their patios Friday.

Nonessential retail businesses will not be allowed to let shoppers inside, but they’re encouraged to implement curbside or front door pickup and delivery. Barbershops and hair salons are open by appointment only with distancing restrictions in place.

Playgrounds, public pools, and recreation centers are all still ordered closed. Bowser called the policy “stay-at-home light.”

Wednesday, May 27, marked the city’s targeted 14th day of sustained decrease in its “community spread” metric, which accounts for the lag between positive tests and onset of symptoms and weights statistics differently to account for spikes in concentrated populations like nursing homes and jails. Following this metric allowed the city to weather a setback in its reported numbers over the weekend, forcing Bowser to assert that “we have no interest in cooking the books.”

On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said the Northern Virginia region could begin reopening as planned Friday. Northam also ordered that anyone inside a public space has to wear a protective face mask, but exceptions are in place for eating and drinking. Virginia restaurants are limited to outdoor seating and half capacity under the first phase of the state’s reopening plan. COVID-19 numbers were concentrated in D.C. suburbs across Northern Virginia, and the rest of the state began reopening May 15. In Arlington County, restaurants are about to begin applying for expedited licenses to expand outdoor seating.

As of early Tuesday afternoon, Maryland jurisdictions surrounding D.C. such as Montgomery County and Prince George’s County had not announced official reopening plans, but both are expected to begin easing restrictions by early June. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan began reopening parts of the state May 15.