After a reporter posted a video to Twitter last night that showed Capitol-adjacent pub the Alibi flooded with Trump supporters who appeared to be flouting several public health restrictions, a co-owner of the bar insists he did not open for illegal indoor dining but says he was overwhelmed by maskless customers waiting for takeout orders.
Martin Scahill says he was not anticipating the size of the crowd that arrived at the Alibi when he decided to open on a day that began with rallies decrying debunked claims of election fraud and devolved into utter chaos when an extremist mob broke into the U.S. Capitol building as legislators were certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory at the polls.
CityLab writer Kriston Capps captured the scene inside, filming clusters of customers in MAGA hats who appear to be watching an address from Trump in which the president reiterated false assertions that he won the election while telling the rioters they were “special” and “we love you” but they had to remain peaceful. One person watching the video at the Alibi can be heard shouting “God bless Donald Trump” while others cheer. D.C.’s liquor authority would later issue a written warning to the Alibi because it observed patrons breaking mandates to wear masks and keep their distance.
Trump supporters packed into The Alibi, a bar near Union Station, respond to Trump’s address pic.twitter.com/9JVn7ynJCH— ◥◤@kristoncapps (@kristoncapps) January 6, 2021
After keeping the Alibi closed since the week before Christmas, Scahill says he reopened the bar for takeout and outdoor seating on Wednesday with hanging ornaments and garland still intact.
“[Tuesday] night we said, ‘okay, maybe we’ll open and see what happens.’ They said there was going to be 5,000 people and 30,000 people showed up — at one point it did get overwhelming,” he says, admitting “waiting for food, there were too many people in there.”
The bar was so busy, Scahill says, that he was unaware of the historic breach at the Capitol, where police deployed tear gas and fatally shot a woman in the insurrectionist group.
“There was a sign clearly on the door to wear a mask to enter but it did get to a point at the Capitol where it got overrun,” he says. “I didn’t even know what the hell was going on — there was no chance to look at the TV or answer the phone.”
Scahill says it costs him a minimum of $20,000 a month to keep the doors open, “even at that point I’m losing $1,000 a day. I don’t know what else to do — that’s the hard reality of it. It’s the reason why so many more restaurants are going to go under.”
According to the bar owner, the pro-Trump crowd was “well-behaved” at the Alibi, despite clear evidence they were not obeying social distancing orders and kept asking to be served inside. “We had a lot of people asking us and we said there was no indoor dining,” Scahill says. “They said, ‘Well the hotel does it,’ so I suggested they go to a hotel that doesn’t do it legally.”
When reached last night, Scahill said he hadn’t seen the video of the bar. He says he “lost 5 pounds” while running up and down the stairs to tend to orders in the kitchen and replenish toilet paper in the lower-level bathrooms. Tables were moved out of the way indoors to accommodate to-go orders at the bar, and the bar served everything in takeout containers , he says. A patio out front was also open for service. There’s also a see-through guard lining the bar.
In addition to the pro-Trump crowd, Scahill says “at least 10” Capitol police members came in for a late lunch around 3 p.m. to order 50 takeout entrees off a condensed menu that included a burger, wings, and chicken pot pie.
“They’ve gotta eat — they’re doing a job there [and] had a nightmare of a day,” he says, adding those police are some of his regular customers. Alibi completely ran out of coffee and hot chocolate, he adds.
By 4:30 p.m., Scahill started closing and sending employees home so he could abide by the 6 p.m. curfew Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered. The pub plans to close again until Monday, January 11.
Before its recent holiday break, the 5-year-old bar stayed open throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic. Former Charlie Palmer Steak chef Mike Ellis had a months-long stint at Alibi starting in March, quickly adding a gourmet grocery service before it became a pandemic-era trend for D.C. restaurants. Alibi also provided 500 free meals a week to area hospitals early on, Scahill says.
This story has been updated to include ABRA’s response to public health violations at the Alibi