Starting next month, restaurants can apply to keep their Covid-era temporary outdoor seating areas, or TOSAs, for good.
On Saturday, the Arlington County Board approved a framework for restaurant operators to follow if they want to make their outdoor dining areas permanent. Some restaurant operators viewed these as a lifeline when indoor dining was restricted and, later, they became an attractive feature and source of extra revenue.
The changes are nearly two years in the making but are right in the nick of time for restaurants, as their TOSAs — approved via a streamlined Covid-era process — expire next month. Now, they have from when applications open on Sept. 1 until Oct. 16 to apply for new permits.
“I think the pandemic has been an eye-opening moment for Arlington,” Board member Takis Karantonis said. “We now have a new relationship to our outside space. We see our urbanism with different eyes.”
The new ordinances create an administrative review process for restaurant operators looking to expand on private property and public sidewalks, provided they leave six feet for pedestrians. County Board permission is needed for using privately owned public spaces. The County Board can modify parking requirements so private spots can be repurposed.
Over the next month, the county says it will be communicating the changes to restaurant operators and publishing guides for applying.
The Board approved the new ordinances despite concerns from some residents, plus the Transportation Commission and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, which both said the Board should defer its vote.
These groups and individuals said they generally support outdoor dining but predicted these amendments will take up sidewalks and leave enforcement up to individuals who complain.
Pedestrian Advisory Committee member Pamela Van Hine told the Board that TOSAs overtook the sidewalk in a neighborhood she and a friend used to frequent for lunch and forced them to walk in the gutter.
“My friend is disabled. She typically uses a walker or wheelchair. Do you know how hard it is to walk in the street?” she said on Saturday, choking back tears. “We realized that we can’t go back there until the TOSAs are gone.”
In a letter to the county, Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt noted that some staff were unable to answer questions about the plan and that the county should take time to improve it:
We understand that a deadline is approaching that makes implementation of final rules for sidewalk cafes feel urgent, but careful questioning of staff at the Commission made it clear that staff will already be unable to process these new sidewalk café applications before the deadline arrives and will simply not pursue enforcement action against the old “TOSA” cafes until they can be handled. As such the deadline seems largely symbolic and taking another month or two to get these implementation details correct would be wise.
The Pinemoor has reached the end of the dusty trail.
The vaguely Western-themed restaurant and bar in Clarendon, which replaced the former Clarendon Grill, is closing today, owner Reese Gardner tells ARLnow.
It opened at 1101 N. Highland Street three years ago, just a few months into the pandemic, after initially planning an ill-fated March 2020 opening.
“After opening during Covid we couldn’t find our footing with the concept or come to better terms with the landlord to continue to operate,” Gardner said. “We will be honoring all gift cards at Brass Rabbit and will be moving our popular $5 champagne brunch to Brass Rabbit and Quinn’s.”
The Pinemoor’s menu, originally described as “protein-heavy” with “family-style sides,” includes appetizers, flatbreads, wings, tacos and sandwiches, in addition to craft cocktails and special brunch offerings.
Gardner’s Wooden Nickel Bar Company owns Copperwood Tavern and Dudley’s Sport and Ale in Shirlington, Quinn’s on the Corner in Rosslyn, and Brass Rabbit Pub in Clarendon. He’s also planning to open a large new restaurant concept in Tysons this winter, as well as at least two Arlington locations of Greenheart Juice Shop.
There’s no word yet as to what might replace The Pinemoor. The large restaurant space features both an inside bar and an outside patio bar.
Photo (1) via Google Maps
Smokecraft Modern Barbecue will be able to keep its live entertainment permit after all.
The Arlington County Board approved a 10-month permit for the restaurant at 1051 N. Highland Street in Clarendon this Saturday.
For the last two months, the permit was renewed on a monthly basis while the county and the restaurant went back and forth on policies that would comply with the Arlington Restaurant Initiative, a program that intends to make participating alcohol-serving restaurants safer. Compliance is required for Clarendon restaurants and bars to maintain a live entertainment permit.
Smokecraft had initially balked at some of these requirements because, “per guidance received from their lawyers and insurance agents, the applicant believed that these written policies posed a liability threat to their establishment,” the county said in a report.
“We are a safe establishment. We have been a safe establishment. We continue to plan to do so. Adopting these specific written policies isn’t going to change our commitment,” owner and pitmaster Andrew Darneille told the Board last month.
Since then, however, the county says it has received and accepted written policies and procedures that bring Smokecraft into compliance with ARI.
No Arlington-specific restaurant walked away from Sunday’s RAMMY Awards with new hardware for the display case, but it was not a total shutout for the county’s food scene.
This was the 41st annual edition of the regional awards program, organized by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington and held at the Washington Convention Center.
There were three winners with Arlington connections.
RASA — a growing, local fast casual Indian restaurant chain with a location in Crystal City — won for Favorite Fast Bites. Co-founders Sahil Rahman and Rahul Vinod took the stage before a large crowd of local restaurant industry figures to accept the award, thanking their team and their fathers, who are also restaurant owners.
Rose Previte, who won for Restaurateur of the Year, will soon have an Arlington restaurant. Best known for Compass Rose and Maydan in D.C., Previte’s company No White Plates is building out Kirby Club, which has an existing location in the Mosaic District, in the former Iota Club space in Clarendon. The Middle Eastern concept, which in Clarendon was formerly to be called Tawle, is expected to open in the coming months.
Among those receiving RAMMY nominations this year but not making it to the podium were Snjezana Jaksic of Ambar Clarendon (Manager of the Year); Bridie McCulla of Liberty Restaurant Group (Pastry Chef of the Year); Bar Ivy in Clarendon (New Restaurant of the Year); and Ruthie’s All Day (Favorite Gathering Place).
Favorite Gathering Place and Favorite Fast Bites, which RASA won, were among the five categories for which members of the dining public — rather than a select panel — voted both the nominees and the winners this year, for the first time.
One notable backdrop for this year’s award ceremony is the July 1 implementation of D.C.’s new tipped-minimum wage law, which will raise the base pay of tipped restaurant staff significantly over the next few years. That has prompted some District restaurants to impose surcharges on customers and has also led to some speculation that Arlington could see an influx of new restaurants that would have otherwise opened across the river.
“The only 100 percent wood-fired BBQ restaurant in Arlington.”
What started out simply as a husband and wife catering their own wedding escalated to buying a food truck in 2014, and eventually turned into Joe and Mandy Neuman’s first restaurant opening in 2019.
Joe Neuman, owner of Sloppy Mama’s BBQ, can rattle off the trials and tribulations of what the years have brought them this far.
“Mandy and I catered our wedding, and had a pig roast,” said Joe. From there, family and friends asked the couple to cater for them and eventually they were doing 3-4 pig roasts a summer.
Fast forward to 2014, the Mandy and Joe found themselves inside of their own Sloppy Mama’s BBQ food truck.
“Food trucks became a thing and we bought one… as it was the most economical entrance to food industry,” chuckled Joe.
They went on to hustle and live the food truck life before getting their first kitchen in Sterling, Virginia for a couple months. From here they moved to Chantilly and then D.C. in 2015.
During that time they moved to a home in Arlington, to be closer to their business.
The business was operating in D.C., they had the food truck, a dive bar and were inside Union Market.
“Since we do real BBQ, we couldn’t find many places that would allow outdoor smoker,” recounted Joe. He takes pride in sticking with his traditional, wood-fired BBQ method, despite the challenges.
“We cook with nothing but wood,” says Joe.
They have two 1,000 gallon offset smokers right outside the restaurant, where they cook the meats every morning they’re open.
“We fire them up in the wee hours of the morning, we get started very early,” said Joe. “We time our meats to come off right before lunch and dinner.”
While Joe was on the hunt for available brick-and-mortar locations that would suit his needs, he came across an article about a restaurant closing on ARLnow.
Not before long after they signed a lease for their current space at 5731 Langston Blvd — formerly a ramen restaurant called Misomen — in December of 2018 and officially opened in July of 2019.
Rosslyn’s Thai Select is adding a sushi bar in the former home of a spin studio.
The four-year-old Thai food restaurant located just off Wilson Blvd in the Colonial Village Shopping Center is expanding, a restaurant representative confirmed to ARLnow.
The restaurant is adding a sushi bar and a small dining area in the space that formerly housed Good Sweat. The independent spin studio at 1711 Wilson Blvd closed back in May 2022.
It’s expected the sushi bar will open sometime in October or November, the representative said, though it depends on when county permits are received.
The expansion was needed because their original space “is tiny” and it often gets very crowded when there are both customers and drivers picking up food orders packing into the space, we’re told. The restaurant’s take-out and delivery business grew significantly during the pandemic, the representative said.
Colonial Village Shopping Center in Rosslyn has seen a good deal of turnover in recent years, with a French pastry shop replacing a coffee shop and a Brazilian steakhouse moving into the former home of Ben’s Chili Bowl.
One thing that has not changed is the well-known, cash-only Pho 75, which has been in the shopping center for years.
Hat tip to anonymous and Ben L.
Earlier this month, Arlington Kabob cooked up hot dinners for a cause.
About two weeks ago, the restaurant donated 75 individually packaged meals to the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health. The nonprofit provides housing and programming to young people with rare diseases being researched and treated at the NIH campus in Bethesda.
Arlington Kabob owner Susan Clementi says she was approached about a meal donation by longtime customer Gindy Feeser, who regularly serves dinners at the Children’s Inn with her coworkers.
Clementi said she worked with Feeser and her team at General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) in Falls Church to offer a “moment of kindness” to kids living at the hospital, who lack normalcy in their day-to-day lives.
“One of my personal spiritual values is to stay involved and have awareness for my community,” Clementi said. “We at Arlington Kabob are always eager to support any great cause… and partner with [the restaurant’s dedicated customers] to make a small difference.”
Together, for the GDIT team’s June dinner contribution, Clementi provided the kabobs and Feeser provided the service.
“I think most of us know by now how lucky we are to have a gem like Arlington Kabob in our neighborhood,” Feeser said in a recent post that received considerable attention on the social media platform Nextdoor.
She said delivering a car full of kabobs to Bethesda was “a mouth-watering experience.”
“Once delivered, they were gone in minutes,” Feeser said in her post, which garnered nearly 530 reactions. “Bellies and hearts, full.”
Arlington Kabob is located at 5046 Langston Blvd in the Halls Hill/High View Park neighborhood and is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The restaurant was founded by Clementi a decade ago and, as reported earlier this year, is noted for its partnerships with local schools on various fundraising initiatives.
Celtic House on Columbia Pike wants to expand, but it will have to go through the county’s historic review board first.
The pub confirmed to ARLnow over the weekend that it wants to add a whisky and bourbon bar, in a lower level space previously used by a now-closed dry cleaner. The original pub and the whisky bar will be connected by a staircase.
The plan is on the agenda for tomorrow’s (June 21) Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board meeting, since the strip retail center in which Celtic House is located is part of a historic district. Celtic House is proposing to add a small vestibule onto the rear of the building at 2500 Columbia Pike, to serve as an entrance to the new space.
“The Arlington Village Shopping Center is contributing to the Arlington Village National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) Historic District, which was designated by the National Park Service in April 2003,” notes a county staff report. “The applicant proposes to install a one-story, front gable-roofed vestibule addition near the southeast corner of the rear elevation.”
“The vestibule door will also be a new ADA-compliant wood and glass door with sidelights, and adjacent to the door and sidelights are simple pilasters with new exterior lighting,” the report adds.
The proposal is on the historic board’s consent agenda, implying that it is non-controversial and expected to pass.
The Celtic House spokesperson told ARLnow that the new bar should open at some point this fall, as long as the approvals are granted as expected.
Matt Blitz contributed to this report. Hat tip to @SRtwofourfour.
The makeshift outdoor dining areas that sprung up in the early days of Covid, and gradually took on a more permanent feel, could be here to stay.
On Tuesday, the Arlington County Board voted to hold hearings next month mulling zoning changes that would give most restaurants a way to add outdoor seating areas without special Board approval.
Restaurants were able to do this during the pandemic — adapting to social distancing and indoor gathering regulations — via a special county program that is ending on Aug. 15.
Under the proposed ordinances, temporary outdoor seating areas (TOSAs) that are on private property and on public sidewalks within rights-of-way would be approved administratively. Those on privately owned public spaces, like the patio outside the seafood spot Seamore’s in Clarendon, would require a County Board use permit.
Restaurants could go to the Board to have parking spots converted to outdoor dining space.
The proposed ordinance changes, which will be discussed in a Board meeting on July 15, have been under development for the last year. The county says the code changes support local businesses, about 100 of which have TOSAs, and account for livability concerns some residents raised.
“This is a huge body of work. A huge thanks to staff, who’ve been working on this comprehensively for a while,” Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. “I know it seems like a simple issue to some, but as you peel layers of the onion, you continue to find more complexity.”
The Board initially approved TOSAs early in the pandemic to help restaurants circumvent the typically lengthy process for getting an outdoor dining permit. These spaces were popular for offsetting revenue lost to closures and social distancing and for creating a safer dining experience.
As the pandemic wore on, the Board allowed TOSAs in common areas, such as plazas, and for restaurants to continue operating them at full capacity once the indoor capacity restrictions lifted.
“It was a life saver for our family and employees and continues to be a large part of our business,” Lebanese Taverna Executive Vice President Grace Shea said during a forum hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100 on Wednesday night.
Now, she says, it brings more people to the restaurant.
“Outdoor seating enhances the streetscape of where the restaurant is. It attracts people by creating a welcoming atmosphere,” she said. “It’s also additional revenue that we do not have to pay rent for.”
In 2021, Arlington County signaled plans to study early a dozen separate policies governing outdoor cafés to figure out how to make TOSAs permanent. That started in the fall of 2022, after a local Covid emergency order ended.
County staff say it heard both support and concerns from the community. One strong supporter is the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.
“The Chamber and the county both agree that we want to make this transition smooth for restaurant owners who want this outdoor dining,” said John Musso, the government affairs manager for the Chamber, at Wednesday’s forum. “We’re looking forward to continuing this conversation.”
B Live “has decided to pivot” to having live band karaoke for most of the weekend, decreasing the number of live original acts the local music venue will be hosting going forward.
Co-owner Christal Bramson tells ARLnow that the restaurant and live music venue, at 2854 Wilson Blvd in Clarendon, is shifting away from hosting a full slate of original musical acts all week long and towards more live karaoke.
The reason, Bramson said, is that Thursday night’s karaoke has proven to be so popular and has garnered so much “positive feedback” that it made sense for B Live to lean into it.
“We will still have live bands, but will have more nights of live karaoke,” she wrote. “Our Thursday evenings, we have received a lot of positive feedback on the live karaoke band.”
Bramson said B Live is “responding to demand” since there is no other dedicated live karaoke venue in Clarendon.
It’s unclear when this shift in programming might happen. The June calendar still has a number of weekend shows listed to appear later this month. Bramson said her team is “currently working on the calendar”
B Live, owned by wife and husband team of Christal and Mike Bramson, opened just over a year ago in the long-time space of Whitlow’s — which has since moved to the District — with a promise of allowing guests to “engage with the local music scene.”
In an interview last June, Mike Bramson told ARLnow that they wanted to open B Live in Clarendon because of the neighborhood’s long history of being home to live music venues. With several closing in recent years, including the beloved Iota Club in 2017, the hope was to fill that live music void for locals.
B Live is also making several other changes in the coming weeks. This coming weekend, the venue is opening an outdoor/lawn space complete with a “launch party.”
And, by the end of the month, a restaurant pop-up will be launching out of B Live. Wicked Buns from local chef Nacho Olivera, who also has worked at Detour Coffee and the Rebel Taco food truck at the Lot, will be serving double-patty burgers, kobe beef hot dogs, and fried chicken sandwiches at the venue.
The long-planned “tropical glam” bar coming to B Live’s rooftop is also planning a much-anticipated debut next month. Coco B’s, as the rooftop venue will be called, is described by Christal Bramson as the “female version” of B Live.
“We are awaiting a couple more inspections,” Bramson said. “But anticipate an early July opening date.”
A barbecue joint in Clarendon may have its occasional parties go up in smoke.
Arlington County says Smokecraft Modern Barbecue at 1051 N. Highland Street could lose its live entertainment permit because it does not comply with a local initiative requiring restaurants and bars to meet certain alcohol safety standards.
At issue: Since November, Clarendon venues with live entertainment permits need to comply with the Arlington Restaurant Initiative (ARI). One requirement is that establishments have certain written policies and procedures, which the award-winning, list-topping Smokecraft — which opened in 2020 — does not have.
The restaurant and its attorneys say they believe such written policies could make the restaurant vulnerable to litigation, meaning an increase in insurance costs of upwards of $10,000 a year.
“We are a safe establishment. We have been a safe establishment. We continue to plan to do so. Adopting these specific written policies isn’t going to change our commitment,” owner and pitmaster Andrew Darneille told the Board last night (Tuesday).
Further, he said, the live entertainment permit is not actively in use, all alcohol-serving staff are trained in how to serve safely, the restaurant has a “perfect alcohol safety record,” and alcohol only comprises 15% of sales.
Without compliance, the Arlington County Board says it will eventually revoke the live entertainment permit. In May, the county allowed Smokecraft to keep the permit and revisit the issue in a month while the parties cook up a solution.
Last night, the Board was poised to revoke the permit but instead voted to punt on the issue for one more month because negotiations are headed in the right direction.
Still, the patience of Board members appears to be wearing thin. Some seemed annoyed the issue had gotten to this point, where other restaurants found ways to make it work.
“I think you can get there without realizing the apocalypse your representatives see,” Board Chair Christian Dorsey said. “For my purposes, each month that we continue in this dance is another month where you continue to enjoy a permit without adhering to ARI standards — a luxury that the other establishments haven’t had.”
Dorsey said Smokecraft has the flexibility to write policies that meet a “minimal bar for compliance” and work for the business.
“One of the beauties of this is that the policies are not proscriptive — they’re illustrative,” Dorsey said. “It’s not like it’s going to require you to upend your operations.”
In response to the argument that Smokecraft should be able to follow the lead of other businesses, Darneille said that is an unfair argument.
“I recognize 50 other restaurants signed onto this but I can’t speak to why they made decisions to do what they’ve done,” he continued. “We’ve raised a concern here that’s valid for us. We are working to try and resolve that concern.”
He shifted blame to the county for not promptly engaging with the restaurant when these concerns first were raised. Then, after a meeting last month, he said it took two weeks to receive responses from the county.
County Board members did not address this point. ARLnow has previously reported on restaurateurs and other business owners having trouble reaching staff in a timely manner.