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Indoor Dining Returns to D.C. After a Month-Long Hiatus

Restaurants have the green light to reopen their dining rooms at 25 percent capacity

Sleek sports bar Proper 21 reopens its downtown dining room with limited capacity on Friday, January 22 (1319 F Street NW).
Proper 21/official photo
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

As of Friday, January 22, at 5 a.m., customers can return to D.C. dining rooms for the first time since the holidays.

The reopening of indoor dining — at 25 percent capacity — comes as D.C. has recorded its highest rate of new COVID-19 cases yet: 45.9 per 100,000 people, per DCist.

Last month, D.C. joined a growing list of cities that paused indoor dining as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rose throughout the country. On Friday, December 18, Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an executive order to shut down dining rooms from 10 p.m. Wednesday, December 23, through 5 a.m. Friday, January 15.

The last-minute ban was a big blow for D.C. restaurants counting on a seated sales boost from Christmas and New Year’s Eve reservations. The insurrection at the Capitol raised security concerns for inauguration week that led Bowser to extend the ban by another week. As a result of the delay, Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington shifted the start date of its bi-annual Restaurant Week to Monday, January 25.

Baltimore restaurants are also allowed to welcome back customers (25 percent capacity indoors, 50 percent outdoors) for the first time in six weeks.

Along with takeout and delivery, D.C. restaurants have relied on outdoor seating as the only on-site dining option during a bitter stretch of winter. A bundled up image of Bernie Sanders at inauguration encapsulated the mood of many diners braving the cold outdoors, and a stream of restaurants wasted no time posting the now-viral meme on their Instagram accounts.

On Friday, cocktail bar Truxton Inn announced its return to indoor dining with a photoshopped Sanders as its first customer:

With hopes of keeping its streetside tables, decks, and patios going, restaurants have added wind-shields, blankets, and heaters to warm up hardy diners. Hundreds of restaurants have taken advantage of D.C.’s “winter streatery” grant program for help.

Some establishments with patio dining opted to close entirely during a month that saw pro-Trump protesters storm the Capitol, followed by the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Friday, January 22, marks the return to service for White House-adjacent sports bar Proper 21 ahead of a weekend that includes a mega UFC matchup and the NFL playoffs.

Facing constantly changing restrictions and bitter temperatures, some bars shut down for winter and don’t plan to come out of hibernation until the spring.