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Aw, shucks. Oyster fans will be pleased to learn that next week marks the first-ever Old Town Oyster Week.
The event, which runs from October 12-17, was created by the Old Town Business Association and Guinness Beer. Participating restaurants will offer two Guinness products and an assortment of oyster dishes.
The restaurants include:
- Daniel O’Connell’s Irish Pub
- The Fish Market
- Landini Brothers Restaurant
- Mia’s Italian Kitchen
- Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub
- The Wharf
- Theismann’s Restaurant
- Union Street Public House
- Virtue Feed & Grain
- Vola’s Dockside Grill
- Whiskey & Oyster
The event has not gone unnoticed by Del Ray business owner Bill Blackburn, of Pork Barrel BBQ in Del Ray. Blackburn challenged Chadwicks owner Trae Lamond to an oyster eating contest.
“It’s always fun beating Trae, especially when also helping to promote some great Alexandria restaurants and raising money for Alexandria causes,” Blackburn said.
Lamond accepted the challenge.
“I’m gonna shuck him up,” Lamond told ALXnow.
It’s oyster week! In celebration of this I am challenging local punk and Chadwicks owner Trae Lamond to an oyster eating contest to benefit a local charity of his choice. Details and location to be determined.
🦪 Old Town Oyster Week 🦪 is on October 12-17! Look for Guinness and oyster pairings at participating restaurants such as @ChadwicksAlexVA @oconnells112 @fishmarketva @alexvamurphys and more. #OldTownOysterWeek https://t.co/NUWE2SEkhx
— Visit Alexandria VA (@AlexandriaVA) October 8, 2020
When Monte Durham’s contract with TLC expired in March, he realized he needed to do something else. The star of Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta was told that the network would be going dark because of the pandemic, and Durham quickly decided to go back to his roots as a hairstylist and open a boutique in Old Town.
“My goal is to inspire, educate, and hopefully motivate people to go to the next level with their look,” Durham told ALXnow.
Durham is opening Salon Monte this Saturday, September 12. At 6:30 p.m., Mayor Justin Wilson is scheduled to cut a ribbon for the 825-square-foot salon at 210 S. Union Street. That’s next door to Hotel Indigo and across the street from the Union Street Public House.
Why go to Salon Monte? It’s simple, Durham says.
“We’ve got location and valet parking,” he said. “The big hubbub about this is that it’s new. It’s fresh, it’s invigorating. You’re going to be serviced totally differently.”
The bridal image consultant, who lives in Belle Haven, was filming Say Yes to the Prom in New York City when the pandemic struck, and by mid-March was back home when he got the news that the network was going dark.
“In the midst of all of that, our contracts expired,” Durham said. “Are they going to reinvent the wheel? Who knows. So, while we’re waiting on that, I thought, ‘You know what? Ten years of traveling and going back and forth, if we don’t film again, what can I do? Well, after all I am a hairstylist.”
Durham is still appearing at wedding events, including the upcoming Alexandria Wedding Showcase this Sunday, September 13. He’s hired a hair director and a client service director to work with him in his boutique.
“When a father looks at the price of a wedding dress and says, ‘She’s only gonna wear it one day,’ I go, ‘Okay. I want you to ask your wife where her wedding dress is,'” Durham said. “They always know exactly.”
The salon was far from finished a week before the opening, but Durham said when finished it will include his private studio with a large portrait of his style icon Jackie Kennedy, shampoo lounges and all of his own personal hair care products.
“Everything in the salon is custom because it’s small,” he said. “The lampshades cost me an arm and a leg, but they look so good.”
There are now 1,657 cases of COVID-19 in Alexandria, an increase of 30 cases since yesterday, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
There are no new reported deaths and the number of fatalities attributed to the virus remains at 37. There have been more than 800 new cases and more than a dozen coronavirus-related deaths in the city this month alone.
Two women and one man in their 70s are the latest victims of the virus. Two victims were black/African American and the third victim was Hispanic.
Hispanic residents make up 17% of the population and are leading with the highest number of cases in the city, with 783 reported cases, six deaths and 75 hospitalizations.
There have been 125 cases associated with 11 outbreaks in the city, and 107 of those cases have been health care workers. Nine of the outbreaks occurred at long-term care facilities, and 15 deaths have occurred at such facilities, although that number has not been updated since the city’s release on May 2. The other outbreaks occurred at a “congregate” setting and an educational setting.
It is also not clear how many people have recovered in Alexandria.
Some Wear Masks, Others Don’t
As the city prepares to slowly reopen its economy on May 29, there were stark differences between the scenes in Arlandria and Old Town on Thursday afternoon. Outside Casa Chirilagua on Mount Vernon Avenue, hundreds of Hispanic residents wore masks as they waited in line to receive emergency food.
Despite Governor Ralph Northam’s stay at home order, a number of restaurants on lower King Street loudly played music outside and dozens of people gathered without face masks on Thursday. The order is in effect until June 10, and Alexandria Police can charge anyone in gatherings of 10 or more people with a misdemeanor citation.
The Alexandria Health Department has not shut down any restaurants since Union Street Public House was forced to close on St. Patrick’s Day for violating the governor’s 10-person rule. Meanwhile, the AHD is developing a new accreditation system for businesses that adhere to safety guidelines, including wearing face masks, hand washing and other sanitation practices, and social distancing.
COVID-19 Drive-Thru Testing on Monday
This week, Northam announced that 3,000 free COVID-19 tests will be administered in Alexandria on Monday, May 25, and that the state’s most impacted areas will get additional testing throughout the remainder of the month.
Landmark Mall (5801 Duke Street) and Cora Kelly School (3600 Commonwealth Avenue) are the locations for 3,000 free COVID-19 tests that will be administered on May 25 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Residents are encouraged to wear face masks and walk-up participants should wear sunscreen.
There have been 5,596 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests administered in the city so far, and the city’s seven day average shows a 14.7% infection rate of those tested. There have also been 920 antibody tests in Alexandria.
Statewide, there have been 1,136 reported deaths, and 1,100 of those deaths are confirmed to have been COVID-19-related, according to VDH. There are now 34,950 cases (33,208 confirmed, 1,742 probable) and 4,145 hospitalizations (including 28 probable cases).
After extensive pressure from local leaders, from a congressman to a county board, Gov. Ralph Northam amended a plan to lift coronavirus-related restrictions on Northern Virginia until May 29 at the soonest.
“We are pleased that the Governor is ensuring that we have the public health protections in place before we proceed to Phase 1,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “That will ensure that our easing of restrictions will be permanent.”
Northam said the executive order mandating closures and restrictions on businesses in Northern Virginia — which includes Alexandria, neighboring Arlington and Fairfax, and other localities — will remain in effect for at least two weeks after other parts of Virginia are allowed to reopen.
Virginia has been under a stay at home order since March 30 and non-essential businesses have been closed since March 23. There was at least once instance early on of the Alexandria Health Department stepping in to shut down a restaurant, Union Street Public House, for not adhering to initial restrictions.
In an update to the City Council, Alexandria Health Director Dr. Stephen Haering said it will only be safe to reopen once:
- Once the percentage of positive tests over 14 days goes down
- Hospitalization decreases and hospitals are able to handle any potential surge
- There is an increased and sustainable supply of personal protective equipment.
Photo via Governor of Virginia/Facebook
The Alexandria Health Department is now conducting virtual restaurant inspections for the first time, and the department’s environmental health manager estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic has closed half of the city’s 860 permitted food establishments.
“We’re touching base with all of our restaurants and focusing very much on employee health, obviously, with a COVID-19 focus,” Rachel Stradling said. “We’re doing that so that we can keep in touch and keep up with our infection work.”
That means the department is reaching out to restaurants and businesses via email and phone, although if the pandemic continues for an extended period that may include getting more technology involved in touching base with business owners. Stradling currently has four staffers dedicated to the work, and she said that no businesses have been shut down since Union Street Public House was forced to close on March 17 for failing to follow the 10-person maximum for establishments.
“Right now it’s a matter of phoning up making an appointment to speak to the person in charge when they have a little time,” Stradling said. “I would say approximately 50% of our restaurants are open. Those that were able or previously doing a delivery and take out option, obviously the change was much easier for them.”
Many restaurants will not survive the pandemic, Stradling said.
“Unfortunately, some of the businesses that we have open today will not be open in three, four months time or however long it takes to get to the end of this COVID-19,” she said. “Alexandria is an amazing place to live and to work, and it’s important that we get those places back open as possible for the next generation of restauranteurs, and it’s horrible to say that, but I think that’s going to have to be one of our focuses.”
Stradling added, “Also, the restaurants that closed their doors, we’re going to help them get back open. The one thing I hope that we keep is the relationship that we’ve developed with our restaurants. It’s moved on from the health inspector coming along and telling you what to do into a much more combined joint force against a virus.”
The department is asking residents to stay home as much as possible, and also to order from their favorite restaurants.
“If you do have a favorite restaurant that you’d like to go to and if they are still offering a delivery and takeout option, I would encourage everyone to go,” Stradling said. “Please do the social distancing, please stay six feet apart… They desperately need our help and our money.”
From our kitchen to yours, we want to say thank you again for your continued support ❤•#buzzbakeshop #buzz #teambuzz…
Staff photo by James Cullum
Though restaurants across Alexandria are closed for traditional Easter and Passover meals due to the coronavirus pandemic, many are offering select take-out options available for pick-up or delivery.
Visit Alexandria, which has been running a series called ALX at Home to keep locals engaged during the quarantine, has put together a long list of local restaurants with special Passover and Easter options. Many of them do require pre-ordering the meals in advance.
Restaurants featured on the list include:
- A la Lucia (315 Madison Street) — An Easter Family Dinner Special which includes either a braised lamb in red wine sauce or pork chop in peppercorn sauce, as well as a salad, a choice of sides and bread. Total: $75, serves 3-4.
- Balducci’s Passover and Easter Catering (600 Franklin Street) — Passover and Easter catering is available for pickup, but orders must be placed 48 hours in advance.
- Bastille (606 N. Fayette Street) — A French cuisine Easter dinner including salmon filet or lamb with additional wine available for $25. Total: $49, serves two.
- Chart House (1 Cameron Street) — Easter family dinners include prime rib and roasted salmon. Total: $80, serves two-three.
- Clyde’s at Mark Center (1700 N. Beauregard Street) — Clyde’s is offering four Easter entrees, from roast lamb to ribeyes, along with a sauce, sides, and brownies. Orders can be placed tomorrow (Wednesday) before 5 p.m. by calling 703-820-8300 with pick-up on Saturday (April 11) or Sunday (April 12).
- Del Ray Cafe (205 E. Howell Avenue) — The local French cafe is offering an Easter brunch with a variety of vegetarian options. Pre-orders must be placed by Thursday (April 9) by calling 703-717-9151.
- Elizabeth’s Counter (804 N. Henry Street) — Elizabeth’s Counter, né Sugar Shack, is embracing the donut origin a pick-up box of six Easter donuts. The menu — donuts included — is entirely vegan.
- Hummingbird Bar + Kitchen (220 S. Union Street) — The restaurant in the Hotel Indigo on the waterfront is offering brunch, featuring ready-to-bake cinnamon rolls and salad. Total: $59, serves four.
- Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap (401 E. Braddock Road) — Lena’s is offering three-course Easter meals featuring spaghetti, chicken cacciatore and more. Orders can be placed on the phone at 703-683-5330. All menus will be available for pick-up via ChowNow, or for delivery via UberEats, Postmates and GrubHub. Total: $69, serves 4.
- Mia’s Italian Kitchen (100 King Street) — Mia’s is offering a three-course Easter menu, including a Sunday salad with a choice of either Braciole di Manzo or chicken cacciatore rollatini. Total: $69, serves 4.
- Oak Steakhouse (901 N. St Asaph Street) — The North Old Town steakhouse is offering an Easter at Home menu with steak, a burger, or portobello mushrooms. Orders can be placed by emailing [email protected] or calling 703-283-7645. Pick up will be Thursday (April 9) through Saturday (April 11) from 4-7 p.m.
- Sweet Fire Donna’s (510 John Carlyle Street) — The barbecue joint is offering Easter Brunch To-Go including smoked ham with roasted asparagus and two eggs. Preorders should be placed by 10 p.m. on Saturday (April 11). Total: $15.95.
- The Majestic Cafe (911 King Street) — the American comfort food eatery is offering pickup at Mia’s Italian Kitchen (100 King Street) for a three-course Easter meal. Options include prime striploin, leg of lamb, and others along with lemon icebox pie for dessert. Preorders should be placed at 703-997-5300. All menus will be available for pick-up via ChowNow, or for delivery via UberEats, Postmates and GrubHub. Total: $99, serves 4.
- Union Street Public House (121 S. Union Street) — the waterfront pub is offering catered Easter meals with options like grilled asparagus, potatoes au gratin, and deconstructed carrot cake. The meals also come with selected wine pairings available for purchase. Preorders should be placed by 4 p.m. on Thursday (April 9). Total: $35 per person.
Staff photo by James Cullum
Over the last several weeks, the Alexandria Health Department has worked closely with hundreds of businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19.
Rachel Stradling leads the department’s interaction with approximately 860 permitted food establishments in the city, and that’s meant advising them on new rules from Richmond. Her small staff of 10 is also advising Alexandria City Public Schools on their emergency food distribution and helping grocery stores during hours allotted for senior citizen shopping.
Governor Northam’s Monday order prohibiting gatherings of 10 people or more and closing all restaurants except for carryout and takeout until April 24 has put Stradling and her staff into overdrive. The pandemic has shuttered hundreds of businesses around the city, from restaurants to retail shops, and has dramatically impacted the city budget. Thousands of locals are now out of work.
The Health Department was forced to shut down one restaurant — the Union Street Public House — on March 17 for failing to follow the 10-person maximum for establishments, Stradling said.
There are currently 14 cases of COVID-19 in Alexandria, and to help businesses, earlier this week the city council passed an emergency ordinance putting a moratorium on penalties for restaurant meals taxes, transient occupancy tax and the BPOL (Business, Professional and Occupational License) tax.
This week, ALXnow asked Stradling about the work she and her 10-person staff have been up to and how they are holding up.
ALXnow: How big is your staff and how many establishments are you working with?
Stradling: There have been 10 of us all together that have been working on this, and we have about 860 permitted food establishments in the city, and we have a lot of grocery stores and a lot of other food establishments, but there are about 400 restaurants at any time. We’ve all been working diligently as a team to try and reach out to as many as we possibly can and help them through what are unprecedented times. We’ve never had anything like this before, so we’re all learning and we’re all trying to work together to keep people safe while helping businesses.
ALXnow: Did you have to shut any restaurants down?
Stradling: We’ve only had to shut one person down, or one restaurant down. It was the Union Street Public House on the 17th, the first day that the 10-person order was issued. I think there have been about six or seven other establishments that haven’t been in compliance. I would say the vast majority of our restaurants have really embraced the spirit of the executive order and really understand the public health rationale behind it and really want to be there and have been working with us.
ALXnow: You issued them a warning that there were too many people, and then they couldn’t follow it?
Stradling: Yeah, and then unfortunately we did have to suspend that operating permit overnight, but they came into compliance and they really did embrace the spirit of the order once we gave them that kind of information, and they were able to open the following morning.
ALXnow: You have also been working at grocery stores, right?
Stradling: We have reached out to all of the ones that are offering the morning times with the elderly population so we’ve worked with them to help them make sure that the measures that they’re taking will keep the elderly community as safe as possible while they’re in the grocery store during restricted shopping times.
The most important thing is obviously hand washing. All of my team has been allocated hand sanitizer, which we’re making sure that we use in the field. We’re washing hands but we’re not wearing gloves and we’re not wearing masks. Right now we are trying to restrict how much we’re actually going out into the field and relying on phone and email.
ALXnow: Are you and your staff leaving the office?
Stradling: So far all communication has been by phone and email. We will definitely go out and give assistance, but we’re also really conscious of reinforcing social distancing. We’re trying to minimize how much kind of presence we have outside, but making sure that we still continue to give excellent customer service.
We’ve made the decision that we really want to follow the instructions and the guidance that we’re issuing about social distancing and telework. We’ve actually spent today gearing up to actually get as many people as we possibly can from my team from coming into our building. Everyone has a laptop, they have cell phones.
ALXnow: How are you doing with working hours? Is everybody on your team working overtime?
Stradling: We have people who are on call 24/7 to respond to complaints at our restaurants. Our team works together brilliantly and we try and rotate who’s working extra time and overtime so that nobody gets burned out. I think I worked 80 hours last week. We’re in this for as long as it takes.
I want to be there when my restaurants email me in the evening, and they’re concerned about how they’re complying or they need some advice. They’re going to an incredibly difficult time right now so if I can do anything to alleviate some of that stress, I’m going to respond to that email and take that call.
ALXnow: What are some of the lessons you have learned through this experience?
Stradling: One of the things that really shocked me is that I need to be much faster having the servers that are up to date and being able to communicate with businesses really quickly. Up until the governor’s second order was issued, things were changing very rapidly on how many people could be in a restaurant and what that actually meant. And I’ll be honest with you, sometimes about by the time that I had crafted an email ready to send out, that information was already out of date. It’s an evolving situation. We just have to adapt, and sometimes time flies by.
ALXnow: Why do you refer to them as “my” restaurants?
Stradling: I say they’re my restaurants because it’s my city of Alexandria. I tell my staff that we’re there to help our businesses succeed. And, yes, there is that whole regulation and compliance piece and getting them into compliance, but at the end of the day it’s a team effort. Right now, I just want them to get through this as best as we all can.
I come from a retail background. My parents had a grocery store when I was growing up. My first childhood memory is sitting with them and putting prices on cans of food. For me it’s really personal when a restaurant tells me their story. You know, I look back and I can see my mom’s face on their face and the sheer panic in their eyes and that they really don’t know how are they going to pay that next paycheck. That’s really personal to me. I care deeply about our restaurants and their success. We’re going through really difficult and challenging times and I can’t help but feel that empathy for my restaurants that have been massively impacted.
Before it was a Starbucks, before it was the Seaport Inn, the restaurant at the corner of King and S. Union Street was a bawdy little tavern with a petrified pig.
As early as 1893, records refer to the location as Brill’s Restaurant, and local newspaper reports from a year later detail a curious incident with a slab of ham. These details, and others about local Alexandria restaurants, are featured in a new book by local journalist Hope Nelson called Classic Restaurants of Alexandria.
A newspaper article from the Alexandria Gazette-Packet from 1894 said the restaurant kept a unique petrified ham on display.
“A curiosity in the shape of a petrified ham is on exhibition at the restaurant of Mr. Jacob Brill,” the article said. “The ham was found in the ground near Staunton and will be sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.”
After Brill’s restaurant closed, Nelson said the space was eventually transformed into the Seaport Inn, a more upscale restaurant that served seafood for more than 50 years before it closed in 2000. All that remains of the restaurant today is a plaque outside the building, which now houses a Starbucks.
Nelson, who has written a food column for the Gazette-Packet for several years, said Alexandria has a unique culinary history shaped by restaurants both long gone and currently active. Given the city’s long culinary history and numerous restaurants, the book only discusses the long-time establishments.
“The litmus test was, if it’s currently operating, it needs to have been operating for more than 25 years,” Nelson said. “A few are right at the level, while some like Gadsby’s have been around much longer.”
One of the youngest on the list, Nelson said, is Taqueria el Poblano — a baja-style taco place in Del Ray, though it’s since expanded to Columbia Pike and Lee Highway in Arlington.
“It’s slightly over 25 years old, so it is the baby of the book, but it has such a following in Del Ray and Alexandria that I couldn’t not include it,” Nelson said.
Nelson said the restaurant’s family-friendly reputation and welcoming environment are the keys to its local success.
“It’s a small little restaurant that whether winter or summer, there’s always a wait to get in,” Nelson said. “Because it’s such a family-oriented place, a lot of families with young children feel comfortable that their kids can be loud and act up and they’re part of the family. Management welcomes you like an old friend and they have a knack for recognizing people.”
The book is available online or at The Old Town Shop. Nelson will be signing copies at her book launch party next Wednesday, Dec. 11, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Union Street Public House (121 S. Union Street).
In case you haven’t heard, the Washington Nationals are playing the Houston Astros in the World Series tonight at 8 p.m.
You could watch the game at home, but several restaurants and sports bars across Alexandria are offering a variety of specials as they stream the game.
This list is not comprehensive and is comprised mainly of bars that either posted specials on their social media or picked up the phone at 11 a.m.
Pork Barrel BBQ at 2312 Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray has made a game out of its drink specials. Events that occur during the game will correspond to a matching special. According to the restaurant’s Facebook page:
- Nats hit a triple: $1 PBR cans for 10 minutes
- Nats player gets ejected: $2 Jäger shots for 10 minutes
- Trea Turner steals a base: $1 Jack Daniel’s shots for 10 minutes
- Nats relief pitcher uses bullpen cart: $1 tequila shots for 10 minutes
- Juan Soto is hit by a pitch: $2 Jameson shots for 10 minutes
- Baby Shark hits a homerun: a round of beer for the bar.
Elsewhere in Del Ray/Arlandria:
- Charlie’s On the Avenue (1501 Mount Vernon Avenue): $3 lagers during the first inning. Prosecco on draft is $5. Budweiser buckets are four for $16 and six for $20. Pitchers of lager are $16 or a pitcher of an IPA for $20. Chili cheese dogs, nachos, corn dogs, pretzels and caramel popcorn will also be available.
- Hops N Shine (3410 Mount Vernon Avenue): During the first inning, the bar will offer $4 local craft beers, moonshine and bourbon. Throughout the game, wings, tater-tots and hot dogs are $5 with $10 liters of lager.
In Old Town:
- Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub (713 King Street): Happy hour until the end of the game with $4.50 or $3 for draft beers. Staff said the bar is also going to have chili dogs.
- The Light Horse (715 King Street): “I know we will have food specials tonight,” staff said. “Maybe drink specials, but not sure yet what it will be.”
- Union Street Public House (121 S. Union Street): A special menu with loaded pub fries, wings, bratwurst, as well as select beer cars for $3.
In the West End:
- Shooter McGee’s (5239 Duke Street): Various beers are $3.50, with $3.50 cod bites, mini-burgers, and cheesy curly fries.
- City Kitchen (330 S. Pickett Street): Various shooters are $3, with 20-ounce beers at $5, and bratwurst and burger sliders at $5 and $4 respectively.
Flickr (top) photo by Stephen Yates
Sami Bourma doesn’t know what he’s going to do. At 2 p.m. today, the unemployed father of two children and resident at Southern Towers had an eviction hearing at the Alexandria Courthouse.
Two hours prior to that, Bourma and a number of his friends and neighbors stood outside the courthouse in Old Town and, for the second time this month, protested in asking Governor Ralph Northam to cancel evictions.
“I had three jobs before the pandemic, organizing for my local Union 23, as a cook and as an Uber driver,” Bourma told ALXnow. “How can I pay the rent if I don’t have an income? I don’t know what I’m going to do. That’s why I’m protesting today.”
On Tuesday (July 14), Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring stated that lower courts can grant continuances on evictions, and that there are a number of state and federal protections in place so that people can stay in their home during the pandemic.
“The pandemic has taken a very real toll on Virginia’s economy and tens of thousands of Virginians, many of whom are hourly workers, have found themselves without a source of income during these difficult times,” Herring said. “We are still in the middle of a state of emergency and a public health crisis and it’s so important for Virginians to be able to stay in their homes to keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe.”
Northam’s request to extend the moratorium to later this month was denied by the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Jonathan Krall with Grassroots Alexandria was at the protest, and said that the continuances should be granted.
“You shouldn’t be putting people out on the street,” Krall said. “That doesn’t help the economy and doesn’t help the tenants or the landlords. People are starting to get evicted, and this is a major problem.”
Evelin Urrutia, the executive director of Tenants & Workers United, said that the Latino population in the city is hurting.
“We’ve been suffering with a housing problem, and the pandemic just made it worse and we are seeing it happen,” Urrutia said. “We have many families who are behind two or three months on the rent, and they won’t be able to catch up.”
For Bourma, the issue has become one of survival. After speaking with ALXnow, he walked back over to the two dozen protestors and took the megaphone to lead a chant.
“No money, no rent!” he shouted into the megaphone.
Staff photos by James Cullum