It was just before midnight on Tuesday night when Two Nineteen Restaurant was forced to temporarily close down.
Really it was more like three businesses closing at once since the building at 219 King Street is home to The Bayou Room, an upstairs cigar lounge and the New Orleans-style French Creole restaurant. Old Town was quiet by the time the doors shut at 11:59 p.m. and there were hardly any cars or people outside.
“Some of our customers, they don’t have family,” said Two Nineteen’s owner Patty Charoentra to ALXnow. “They have no place to eat. They walk in to smoke cigars and eat and listen to music. People love this place like a second home. They come here to have fun, to take the stress out from their workplace. But even when we reopen, everything is not gonna be back to a normal life.”
Governor Northam’s Monday order prohibiting gatherings of 10 people or more and closing all restaurants except for carryout and takeout until April 24 was the final straw that forced Two Nineteen Restaurant to temporarily close — and it also meant closing its Bayou Room and cigar club.
One customer said that Two Nineteen’s cigar lounge is a favorite for her and her boyfriend. Usually on Tuesday the Holly Montgomery Band would be playing, but it’s impossible to pay for a band when there are only 10 people allowed in the entire establishment at one time.
“We all came because we knew that they are closing,” the customer said. “It’s surreal. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Charoentra and her husband Kelvin Eap, both immigrants from Thailand, have owned Two Nineteen since 2005. They employ 20 full and part-time employees, and their daughter is the manager.
“I worked very hard to make this place happen,” Charoentra said. “I worked three jobs and slept four hours a day until we could open our first restaurant. I’m here seven nights a week, believe it or not. I haven’t had a day off for several years. I don’t know what to do. We’ve stayed open so that we can keep the employees working. They’ve been deep-cleaning now for more than a week.”
The couple moved to the states from Thailand in the mid-80’s, and then 10 years later opened Thai Chef and Sushi Bar in Dupont Circle. They owned the restaurant for more than 20 years before selling it in 2017, and learned some valuable lessons along the way.
“Like during 9/11, you have to try to do your best every day and then know how to cut the expenses that [are] not needed, and then put yourself to work in as many areas as possible,” Charoentra said.
Bartender Manfredo Lagos is a native of Mexico, and said that his niece, who is a nurse, and her husband and son are infected with COVID-19 and are in a hospital in Mexico City. He said that he routinely sends them money and now feels powerless without a job.
“I’m not asking for anything,” Lagos said. “I’m Latino. I’ve lived in this country for 31 years, and work is hard. I’ll be in this atmosphere with the smoke and the whisky into sometimes late into the morning. We do what we have to do for our families.”
Lagos, who had to turn customers away because the restaurant reached its 10-person limit on Tuesday, said that Charoentra will send him home with a lot of food, and some cash.
“Patty is so great. She’s like the mother of this place,” Lagos said. “She’s gonna give me like 17 to-go boxes of food to take home. She is the best.”