Arlington, VA

The restaurant business is hurting nationwide.

The pandemic has kept diners at home and contributed to the closure of thousands of restaurants. It has also prompted temporary restrictions on how restaurants operate, which in Virginia means no bar seating, reduced capacities, and increased cleaning expenses, among other things.

Here in Arlington, at least 17 restaurants have closed since the start of the pandemic; the most recent closures include Spirits of ’76 and Riverside Hot Pot in Clarendon, and Summers in Courthouse. Owners of restaurants that have closed, who have talked to ARLnow, have said that business — particularly indoor business — was greatly reduced, while the already-high rent stayed the same.

(There have been restaurant openings amid the carnage, however, including Colony Grill in Clarendon, Lee’s Sandwiches in Ballston, and Ruthie’s All-Day in Arlington Heights.)

What’s keeping diners away is pretty simple: it’s risky to dine out during a pandemic. Doing anything in an indoor, confined space without a mask, including eating, elevates one’s risk of contracting COVID-19.

Outdoor dining is safer — a new contact tracing report from the City of Alexandria saw only about 2% of new COVID patients report recently dining outside — but, of course, the weather is now getting colder, making it a less attractive option, even with the mass deployment of heaters.

In the meantime, coronavirus cases nationwide are increasing, though for now new cases locally are holding relatively steady.

Given all that, how do currently feel about dining out? Are you willing to dine inside a restaurant at this point?

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The Spirits of ’76, a bar in Clarendon that opened just before the 2016 election, is closing just before the 2020 election.

The bar at 3211 Washington Blvd is just off the main drag of Clarendon, on a block in which restaurants have struggled. It opened in October 2016 with Americana decor, a robust whiskey list, and a menu of American comfort food.

Spirits of ’76 was unpretentious from the outset, seeking to be little more than a good local bar, comfortable neighborhood hangout, and occasional small event venue.

The business announced today that it will be closing in less than two weeks, after deciding against renewing its lease.

“It is a sad day at 76 to announce on our anniversary that we will be closing for good at the end of business on Sunday, November 1,” the restaurant said on social media. “Our lease is up at the end of November and it has become unsustainable to continue during these times. I have made numerous attempts to contact the landlords but they will not return our calls or letters to try to keep us going.”

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Zinga! Frozen Yogurt has closed in Arlington’s Williamsburg Shopping Center, though it’s not immediately clear if the closure is permanent.

The froyo shop closed last week, and a “for lease” sign was placed in the window. As of Friday, the leasing sign was down, but the store remained closed and many of the furnishings appear to have been cleared out.

No information about the closure was posted on the Zinga Facebook page, which less than two weeks ago was happily posting about new fall flavors and job openings.

Zinga first opened in the shopping center, at 2914 N. Sycamore Street, in 2013. Another nearby location of the small froyo chain, in Falls Church, closed in 2018.

Hat tip to Buzz McClain

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What was once beloved family dining spot Joe’s Place Pizza and Pasta will soon be A Modo Mio.

The restaurant at 5555 Lee Highway says it’s planning to reopen in “a few weeks” with “a new look, chef and menu.”

New signs are already up, touting the new name and its focus on Neapolitan pizza, as well as the fact that the restaurant is now hiring. The renovated and repainted interior, sans the old Joe’s buffet, can now be seen through the windows.

The new menu, as posted online, includes higher-end Italian dishes at reasonable prices — nothing above $24. Wood-fired pizza appears to be the main attraction, alongside pasta dishes, meat and fish entrees, and appetizer-sized flatbreads.

After temporarily closing in April due to oven trouble, Joe’s reopened in May for takeout and delivery, as well as indoor and outdoor dining. It closed for renovations on Aug. 23. The long-time local restaurant celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2018.

On Tuesday, the restaurant’s Facebook account posted a photo taken prior to the August closing, saying it was a celebration of “a new exciting beginning.” An exact reopening date was not given and the restaurant’s manager could not be reached for comment.

When our family gathered outside our beloved Joe's Place before we closed, it was not to say goodbye. We were…

Posted by Joe's Place Pizza and Pasta on Tuesday, October 13, 2020

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A proposal for a large outdoor café in Clarendon is set to be considered by the Arlington County Board this weekend.

The owner of the Clarendon Square office building at 3033 Wilson Blvd is requesting permits to operate an outdoor café and kiosk in an open area of the property, catty-corner from the Clarendon Metro station.

The proposed café would have 125 seats outside and 59 seats inside, according to a county staff report.

“The outdoor café will occupy the majority of the existing plaza and be enclosed by moveable planters,” the staff report notes. “Although all existing trees will be maintained, the existing raised planter walls will be redesigned to accommodate the outdoor seating.”

The kiosk will serve “grab-and-go beverages” to both passersby as well as those dining at the outdoor café. It’s being considered by the County Board separately from the café.

“The kiosk will operate the same hours as the restaurant and outdoor café and will be located on private property at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and North Highland Street,” the staff report says.

The County Manager recommends approving both the outdoor seating and the kiosk, with a County Board review in one year.

Clarendon Square is a 7-story office building constructed in 1987 and managed by Carr Properties, a real estate investment trust with two properties in Clarendon and one in Courthouse. The agenda item was deferred one month because when it came up in September, county staffers were still working with Carr on café furnishings, design and sidewalk width concerns.

The building contains ground-floor retail including a bank, a UPS Store, and a café called Waterhouse Coffee & Juice Bar. The existing plaza is publicly accessible and has raised planter beds with trees, shrubs and flowers.

The proposed café will serve restaurant-goers late into the night, according to the county documents. The building owner is asking for permission to pipe music in until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. Music will end at 10 p.m. on weeknights.

In August, the Lyon Village Citizens Association asked that the building owner keep noise to a minimum after midnight, manage crowds and have overnight security of the outdoor seating area. The Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association voted to support the proposal during its August meeting, provided that the 8-foot clear walkway is maintained on Wilson Blvd.

The café proposal comes amid a shift towards outdoor dining during the pandemic, and a spate of redevelopment in parts of Clarendon.

The County Board will meet virtually this Saturday, Oct. 17, starting at 8:30 a.m.

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Morning Notes

Shooting Near Arlington Border — An early Sunday morning shooting that could be heard in parts of south Arlington “happened along the 3800 block of South George Mason Drive at approximately 1:19 a.m., according to Fairfax County police. Police said when they arrived at the scene, they discovered bullet casings but no victims. Shortly after, Arlington County police stopped a vehicle along I-395 and found a victim who had been shot in the abdomen and was trying to drive to a hospital.” [WTOP]

Purple Lounge Loses Liquor License Again — “The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority has temporarily suspended the alcohol licenses of the Purple Ethiopian Restaurant and Lounge, LLC after finding the establishment in violation of the terms imposed… on September 16, 2020. As a result of this action, the alcohol licenses of the Purple Lounge will remain suspended for a minimum of 10 days with reinstatement dependent upon approval by Virginia ABC.” [Arlington County]

Local Tourism Boomed in 2019 — “After a record-breaking 2018, tourism spending in Arlington rose to $3.6 billion in 2019, according to data released today by the Virginia Tourism Corporation. Arlington has led Virginia counties in visitor spending for 12 consecutive years, with local tourism in 2019 generating $97.8 million in local tax receipts… [but] early numbers for 2020 project a sharp decrease in tourism spending.” [Arlington County]

Those Darn Kids Are At It Again — “Certain mountain bikers have blazed new unauthorized trails down the historic hillock known for 300 years as Brandymore Castle. They’ve angered tree stewards and parks protectors who bemoan damage to plant life on that secluded tree-lined formation in Madison Manor Park… The problem, Allen said, is not that mountain biking is inherently bad, but that a few practitioners lack education in the environmental impact of their behavior.” [Falls Church News-Press]

National Landing = Copenhagen on the Potomac? — From a local cycling advocate, regarding the possibility of adding more cycling infrastructure around Crystal City and Pentagon City: “We can turn @NationalLanding into Copenhagen in one fell swoop if we want to.” [@CarFreeHQ2/Twitter]

Today’s a Holiday — As a reminder, ARLnow is on a limited publishing schedule today due to the federal holiday. Arlington County offices and facilities, however, are open. Trash and recycling are being collected, though metered parking is not being enforced.

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Campbell Avenue is turning into a mini Bourbon Street — in one respect, at least.

The main Shirlington drag is one of the places you can now take an alcoholic beverage to go from a local restaurant and consume it while walking around or lounging on a park bench.

The Village at Shirlington announced today that it has been approved for a “Commercial Lifestyle Center” permit from Virginia ABC, a new designation that went into effect July 1 after being approved by the state legislature. The permit allows consumption of beer, wine and mixed drinks in certain common areas of shopping centers and commercial districts.

Pentagon Row, which like the Village at Shirlington is owned by Bethesda-based Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT), has also applied for a sip and stroll permit, as has a portion of “National Landing” near Amazon’s new HQ2. This is the first publicly-announced instance of a Commercial Lifestyle Center permit being approved in Arlington.

“The COVID-19 epidemic has been hard on retailers and restaurants,” a FRIT spokeswoman said today. “The approval of the lifestyle permit helps to boost business in neighborhoods such as Village of Shirlington.”

The restaurants from which you can now take drinks to go are Aroma, Busboys & Poets, Cheesetique, Guapo’s, Palette 22, Samuel Beckett’s, and Taco & Piña, the spokeswoman said. In addition to alcohol consumption being allowed in common areas, two Shirlington stores are also allowing patrons to walk in with drinks in hand: Illusions of Shirlington and Dogma Bakery.

FRIT released the following Q&A with more information on how the new rules work.

Can I carry an alcoholic beverage around The Village at Shirlington?
Enjoy alcoholic beverages to go from Aroma, Busboys & Poets, Cheesetique, Guapo’s, Palette 22, Samuel Beckett’s, or Taco & Piña and stroll throughout the designated common areas and participating stores at The Village. (You must be 21+). Please keep the beverage in a disposable cup provided by the restaurant where the drink was purchased.

Where to Sip & Stroll?
You can now roam with your cocktail on Campbell Avenue, S. Randolph Street and the other pedestrian walkways throughout The Village. Click here for a map of the specific designated areas. Alcohol not permitted in any parking lot or garage.

Can you bring your own alcohol to The Village at Shirlington?
No. Only alcoholic beverages purchased from Aroma, Busboys & Poets, Cheesetique, Guapo’s, Palette 22, Samuel Beckett’s, or Taco & Piña may be taken outside the restaurant and into the neighborhood. No outside alcohol is permitted.

Can I take my drink into a store while shopping?
Yes, with the exception of the stores that prohibit alcoholic beverages inside. If you see a sign on the store that reads “Sip & Shop”, you may enter that store with your alcoholic beverage. The shops you are allowed to drink and shop are Illusions of Shirlington and Dogma Bakery.

Can you take a drink purchased from Aroma, Busboys & Poets, Cheesetique, Guapo’s, Palette 22, Samuel Beckett’s, or Taco & Piña into another restaurant?
No. You are welcome to Sip & Stroll to your heart’s content, but if you want to stop for a snack or a second beverage, you cannot take that same cup back into the restaurant where it was purchased or into any other restaurants. If you order a second beverage, the restaurant will provide you with a new cup.

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A pandemic is perhaps not the best business environment for an eatery that sends food on a conveyor belt throughout the restaurant.

Riverside Hot Pot, a Chinese restaurant in Clarendon that did just that, closed recently after just a year or so in business.

The closure was first spotted by a local Twitter user.

As of last night there was no signage outside the storefront at 1028 N. Garfield Street, and nothing inside but cleaning supplies and a lockbox on the door.

Another Riverside Hot Pot location in Gaithersburg closed shortly after the Clarendon location opened, while a Riverside Hot Pot location in Fairfax is also closed, according to Yelp.

By ARLnow’s tally, this is at least the seventeenth restaurant to have closed in Arlington since the beginning of the pandemic in March.

Jay Westcott contributed to this report

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It only exists online, but a new fried chicken restaurant has launched in Arlington.

Smokecraft Modern Barbecue, which opened in July at 1051 N. Highland Street in Clarendon, announced this week that it has also opened “Etta Faye’s Chicken Shack.”

The Southern-style eatery is a “ghost kitchen” — you can’t go there, sit down, and order food. Instead, you can only order it for delivery on Uber Eats or DoorDash, or for pickup on the Smokecraft online ordering page.

Etta Faye’s started taking its first orders Wednesday evening.

Ghost kitchens are a hot concept, attracting investors and media buzz. Last week ARLnow reported that a trailer in a Clarendon parking lot was operating as a ghost kitchen; Etta Faye’s, however, appears to operate out of the Smokecraft space.

Among the items offered are several varieties of fried chicken sandwich, as well as sides like a pimento cheese and biscuit crostini.

More from a press release:

The award-winning Smokecraft Modern Barbecue team is excited to announce Etta Faye’s Chicken Shack, a ghost kitchen concept now available for Arlington residents and visitors to enjoy via carryout and delivery.

Etta Faye’s Chicken Shack is an homage to Executive Sous Chef William Burke’s grandmother, a no-nonsense woman who was unapologetically herself. Crafted around two of Burke’s favorite childhood comfort foods, fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits, the concept is inspired by Burke’s southern roots, growing up cooking with his granny.

“During tough times like these, I always find comfort thinking of my grandmother’s food as a kid,” said Burke. “This menu is an ode to her and I’m hoping to share that same comfort with others.”

The menu boasts seven different sandwiches as well as salads, sides, and a ‘chuck it bucket’ for four. Enjoy offerings like a pimento cheese and biscuit crostini with pickled onions and hatch peppers, a fried green tomato BLT, a fried chicken sandwich with harissa hot sauce on a potato bun, a sweet BBQ fried chicken sandwich, and more. The ‘chuck it bucket’ feeds four for $24, complete with fried chicken, two sides, slaw, biscuits and fries. Sides include everything spiced tater tots with smoked garlic sauce, mac and cheese, and baked beans, among others.

For more information on Etta Faye’s Chicken Shack, follow the concept on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Orders will be available for delivery on UberEats and DoorDash, or for pickup at www.smokecraftbbq.com. Check out the Smokecraft Modern Barbecue website for the full menu of offerings.

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A local watering hole and entertainment spot is reopening, despite the pandemic.

Punch Bowl Social had been open for just over a year at Ballston Quarter when the pandemic struck and the business — which is premised on large groups of people drinking, dining and playing games — was shuttered.

The situation for Punch Bowl Social looked bleak as Cracker Barrel, a major corporate backer, pulled its support and the Denver-based “eatertainment” company was forced to lay off a majority of its restaurant and corporate employees.

But the national chain, which had 19 locations at the outset of the pandemic, has been slowly reopening locations since July, and the Ballston location is one of the next in line.

A spokeswoman for the company confirmed to ARLnow what a newly-posted sign on the door tells passersby: Punch Bowl Social is planning to reopen on Monday, Oct. 12.

Though the appeal of a business with “social” in its name during a time of social distancing seems dubious — and that’s not to mention the shared punch bowls that constitute the other part of the brand’s identity — there is some reason for optimism.

Punch Bowl Social’s space in Ballston is massive, providing plenty of room for people to spread out, and there’s also a sizable outdoor patio. It might just be the next best cold-weather option to the outdoor beer gardens that proved very popular with young bar-goers this summer.

“This brand has always been about bringing people together and creating social connections,” CEO Robert Thompson told Restaurant Dive in June. “We need that now more than ever, and with our expansive, open floorplans we can do that in a way that will make people feel, for a moment, a renormalization of life.”

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The pandemic has claimed yet another local restaurant — and this time, it’s one of the oldest bars in Arlington.

Summers, the soccer bar at 1520 N. Courthouse Road, will not reopen, owner Joe Javidara confirmed to ARLnow today. The restaurant’s furnishings — from kitchen equipment to framed soccer memorabilia to the Tiffany-style stained glass lamps — are now being offered for auction through Oct. 13.

Summers temporarily closed at the end of August, warning that the closure could be permanent if it was unable to obtain a permit for an expanded outdoor seating area. Javidara said he was not able to get the county permit and instead made the tough decision to close permanently.

A staple of the Courthouse neighborhood, Summers first opened in December 1982. It showed soccer matches from around the world at a time “when no one else in the U.S. watched soccer,” Javidara said, but went on to serve millions of customers over its 38 years.

It has remained in business through big changes to Arlington, but rent increases have made it difficult to make ends meet, said Javidara. It was set to close eventually due to a planned redevelopment of the block, but COVID-19 hastened the inevitable.

Javidara says he has been losing money every month since the start of the pandemic. The main dining used to hold 150 cheering soccer fans, but social distancing restrictions reduced that to 16. Only a handful actually would show up to watch the games, making it hard to retain employees who rely on tips.

Sales were off 95%, Javidara said, but the rent remained $20,000 per month. He said he was also unable to obtain a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan as a potential lifeline.

“It’s disappointing we have to go like this after 38 years,” Javidara told ARLnow.

Still, there’s some hope for the future. After taking some time off, something he hasn’t been able to do for decades, Javidra said he’ll test the waters to see if any investors might want to help Summers reopen elsewhere, perhaps as soon as next year.

Any new location would have to have more outdoor seating and, potentially, a rooftop. A German beer garden with sports could be a new format worth exploring, he said.

“We’ll look for another place,” he said.

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