Alexandria, VA

Bill Blackburn is feeling fine after participating in the second round of a COVID-19 clinical trial.

The Alexandria restauranteur says he felt a sense of duty by being one of 30,000 people tested in the Phase 3 study to see whether mRNA-1273 can boost immune systems and create antibodies to kill the coronavirus.

“I was motivated by helping the greater good,” the 42-year-old Blackburn said. “Somebody has to do this.”

Blackburn’s wife works in clinical trials and signed him up.

“I told her I’d love to be involved in that, that I’d be a guinea pig,” Blackburn said. “I got a phone call about six weeks ago and they did some phone screening about my health, my weight, occupation and my lifestyle. Then they called me the next day and said that I met the profile for this study.”

Blackburn, who is a co-owner of the Homegrown Restaurant Group, twice drove out to Meridian Clinical Research in Rockville to get injections. Half of the participants received a placebo.

Dr. Brandon Essink, principal investigator and medical director at Meridian, called the study one of the most “important and impactful clinical research studies in our lifetime.”

Blackburn says he’s feeling healthy, and isn’t experiencing any side effects, which include headaches, swelling glands, fevers and joint pain.

“They call me twice a week, and I have an app on my phone where they send me messages to check my temperature and other things,” Blackburn said. “I am feeling 100% normal. I am experiencing no side effects.”

Courtesy photo

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Morning Notes

Beyer Co-sponsoring Legislation to Impeach U.S. Attorney General — “Accusing political opponents of “sedition” then morphing into an arch libertarian when Trump cronies are indicted. Attacking career prosecutors for doing their jobs. AG Barr is a menace to the rule of law–I’m cosponsoring legislation to begin impeachment proceedings against him.” [Twitter]

Absentee Voting Begins Today in Alexandria — “The ballot includes contests for President and Vice President of the United States, one member of the U.S. Senate, the member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the 8th Congressional District, and two amendments to the Constitution of Virginia.” [Patch]

King & Rye Opens in Alexandria — “Check out @Alexandrian_VA’s new restaurant, King & Rye. This downtown restaurant opened earlier this month, and features a large outdoor patio, intimate terrace, and full bar serving specialty cocktails. The perfect location for a private event.” [Twitter]

Douglas MacArthur Elementary School Rebuild Comes in Over Budget — “City Council approved a development special use permit on Saturday for the Douglas MacArthur Modernization Project, which is currently $5 to $7 million over budget. The project, which involves demolishing the existing Douglas MacArthur Elementary School and rebuilding a new one, will increase the school’s capacity from 558 to 850 students.” [Alex Times]

Alexandria Police Conduct Deescalation Training — “Yesterday APD’s Tactical Training and Response Unit conducted officer safety and deescalation training with the Traffic Safety Section. These training’s teach ways to stabilize situations so that more time, options, and resources can be called upon.” [Twitter]

Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub Celebrates Half-Way to St. Patrick’s Day — See Irish music on a Facebook Live performance from Thursday night. [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “During the day, partly to mostly cloudy. Slight chance of a rain shower. High 74F. Winds N at 10 to 20 mph. At night, a few clouds. Low 49F. Winds N at 10 to 15 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Marketing Manager — “Develop and manage strategic, comprehensive marketing campaigns for NSBA (National School Boards Association) revenue- generating products, services and events.” [Indeed]

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Feeling hungry? This week, Alexandria Restaurant Partners launched its Unlock ARP membership program, and for $30 participants will receive a key fob that will unlock discounts and off-menu dishes at a number of their restaurants in the city.

The program is intended to boost business for ARP’s numerous restaurants in and around the city, including Mia’s Italian Kitchen, Vola’s Dockside Grill, Riverside Taco Company, Joe Theismann’s Restaurant, Palette 22 and The Majestic (which is scheduled to soon reopen).

As of Tuesday, there were 350 membership slots available out of the 500 that will be allowed to participate at this time.

It costs $30 to join, and this month members can get 99 cent draft beers at Theismann’s and a complimentary starter. Those who sign up will receive email discounts.

ARP was one of the first restaurant chains to announce that they were closing all of their locations because of the pandemic, and has also raised thousands for its employees and city nonprofits.

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Morning Notes

A Quarter of Alexandria Voters Have Requested Mail-In Ballots — “Over a quarter of Alexandria’s registered voters have applied for a ballot by mail for this November’s election (!!!). Ballots will be mailed out beginning next week when in-person early voting also begins. You can apply online today for a mail ballot!” [Twitter]

Seven Alexandria Students Make National Merit Scholarship List — “Students from Alexandria area high schools have been named 2021 National Merit Scholarship semifinalists, taking the first step in securing a scholarship in the competitive program.” [Patch]

Beyer Criticizes Trump for Complaining Over Scandals — “You were recorded admitting you deceived the entire country about the danger of a virus that has killed more Americans than all wars since WWII combined. Can’t lie your way out of this one.” [Twitter]

ACPS Needs Donations for School Supplies — “While this year is considerably different because of the coronavirus pandemic, students still need essential supplies. ACPS is asking for community support. However, instead of donating physical items, they request that interested parties donate funds electronically.” [Zebra]

Alexandria Police Officer Appointed to State Board — “Governor Ralph Northam announced on September 4 that he has appointed Alexandria Police Officer Bennie L. Evans to the Commonwealth of Virginia Criminal Justice Services Board.” [Facebook]

Here’s Seven Things to do in Alexandria This Fall — “Enjoy a cruise aboard the tall ship Providence or set out for the new cat café or coming-soon dog bar. Contemplate new outdoor artwork like the ‘Come Together’ mural in Old Town. Mask up and visit just-opened independent businesses including the D.C. area’s first zero-waste sustainable grocer plus the national eco-conscious brand Patagonia, coming to King Street in September. Twelve new restaurants will tempt you with takeout or outdoor seating. Don your face mask and discover what’s new in Alexandria.” [Visit Alexandria]

Workforce Development Center Offers Job Counseling — “Are you recently unemployed or want to change your career and don’t know where to start? We are now offering free one-on-one Job Search Coaching to help Alexandrians who have experienced job loss during the pandemic.” [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “Thunderstorms likely during the day. Potential for heavy rainfall. High 83F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 80%.Thunderstorms likely in the evening. Then a chance of scattered thunderstorms later on. Low 73F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 80%.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Scholarship Fund of Alexandria Assistant Director — “The qualified applicant will be eager to support the organization’s effort to help Alexandria high school students obtain college scholarships and college and financial aid advising. This position is full-time, year-round and provides an opportunity to work in a small, dynamic, mission-driven, collegial nonprofit organization.” [Indeed]

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A Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing has left Elizabeth’s Counter in Alexandria as the last vestige of the once powerful ring of regional Sugar Shack locations, according to the Washington Business Journal.

Months after Sugar Shack owner Rob Krupicka unveiled ambitious plans to convert the Northern Virginia and D.C. locations from donut shop Sugar Shack into a new restaurant called Elizabeth’s Counter, Krupicka told WBJ that the pandemic drove down sales and forced him to close locations in Arlington and Washington D.C.

The Alexandria location at 804 N. Henry Street was the only location to be converted to Elizabeth’s Counter before the closures, though many locals refer to it by the old name out of habit and much of the interior decorations kept the same donut shop glaze.

Sales at Elizabeth’s Counter have rebounded somewhat since the worst of the pandemic, WBJ reported, boosted somewhat by speakeasy Captain Gregory’s.

The Northern Virginia branch isn’t the only part of the Sugar Shack franchise that’s faced financial troubles, the Richmond-based chains had to shut down other locations after lawsuits between the company’s founders.

Photo via Elizabeth’s Counter

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After some initial success, Visit Alexandria has announced the ongoing Restaurant Week deals will be extended for an additional week.

Currently, over 60 restaurants across the city are offering takeout, delivery, or curbside pickup meals-for-two at $49. A full list of participating restaurants is available online.

“The online menu book makes it easy to browse delicious selections from dozens of Alexandria eateries,” Visit Alexandria said in a press release. “No menu offering is the same — from appetizer, entrée and bottle of wine packages to three-course meals for two with mouth-watering desserts plus add-on options of cocktails to-go, there is undoubtedly a menu suited to everyone.”

Visit Alexandria said in the press release that the to-go model emphasized in this Restaurant Week is designed with a preference towards eating at home over dining in local restaurants while COVID-19 is still present in Alexandria.

The extension is also an effort to give some struggling local businesses a little boost.

“The success of Alexandria’s independent restaurant scene is critical to the city’s small business economy and essential to preserving a beloved experience of the city for residents and visitors alike as these local establishments weather the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Visit Alexandria said.

Posted by Visit Del Ray on Sunday, August 30, 2020

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The pool tables are gone, there’s no dancing and everything is spread out, but singing karaoke at the Rock It Grill is still going strong with some new additional safety features.

“Our regular Rock It customers are beyond wonderful,” said owner Laura Seiss. “As far as employees that are back, everybody who wanted to work is working.”

The 31-year-old restaurant and bar at 1319 King Street spent its formative years as the country western-themed hangout GW’s until 1997, when it rebranded itself as Rock It Grill in 1997. It was the only place in town that offered karaoke seven nights a week for years. It was also a popular spot for Halloween and other parties.

The changes don’t mean a thing to Roger Vasilas, the owner of The Lamplighter, which is just up the street. Nearly every day at lunchtime you’ll find him at Rock It, spending his free time eating familiar food and seeing familiar faces.

“I’ve got too many good memories of this place to pick one that stands out,” Vasilas said. “I know everybody here. I can have a conversation about anything with anybody here.”

Manager Hana Harris has worked for Seiss the last 11 years, and was temporarily laid off for two months before Rock It reopened at the end of May.

“This place is like ‘Cheers’ because everybody knows your name here,” Harris said. “Business is starting to slowly pick up bit by bit.”

Now there’s karaoke Wednesday through Saturday. The deejay stands behind a plexiglass screen and receives songs from staffers who give them written requests from customers.

“The best is that everybody cheers for everybody with the karaoke,” Seiss said. “It’s heartwarming. The thing about us is that somebody can walk in the first time, and when they come back the regulars welcome them back.”

Seiss has been unable to pay rent throughout the pandemic and has paid her landlord 25% of the government loan monies she has received, she said. The business has gone through the ALX Promise accreditation through the Alexandria Health Department, and she says her staff of nine full and part time employees are working hard to keep things clean and safe.

“We don’t want to go backwards, and we’re working really hard,” Seiss said. “We’re not a takeout kind of place, and people like to come here to hang out.”

Image via Rock It Grill/Facebook

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Alexandria has put another summer work week to rest.

As the City Council enjoys a legislative break, the School Board conducted a virtual meeting to discuss the renaming process for T.C. Williams High School. Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., and the board advocate a public engagement process that could result in the board voting to change the name this December, followed by a vote on a specific name next spring. A group of community activists, however, believe that the name should be taken off immediately, since ACPS acknowledged Williams was an avowed racist and segregationist.

This week, readers also responded to stories about public safety, local businesses, entertainment, real estate listings and an update on absentee ballot requests.

Not included in this week’s list is Friday’s story about an increased police presence in Old Town after an uptick in violent crime.

What stories impacted you this week? Let us know in the comments.

Here are our top stories this week in Alexandria.

  1. Fire Department Says $1 Million in Damages and 21 People Displaced in West End Fire
  2. Lena’s in Del Ray Applies for Large Second-Floor Expansion and To-Go Alcohol Sales
  3. New Convenience Store ‘Old Town Mini Mart’ Coming to King Street
  4. Police Investigating ‘Shots Fired’ Report in West End
  5. Man Arrested for Forging Over $10,000 in Checks from Alexandria Dentist
  6. Del Ray Shell Station Robbed on Saturday
  7. ACPS Still Cutting Down 150-Year-Old Tree, Preparing for Parker-Gray Stadium Renovation
  8. Drive-In Movies Coming to Alexandria on August 29
  9. Truck Lit on Fire, Stripped of Identification at City Impound Lot
  10. Listing of the Day: 428 N Washington Street
  11. Alexandria Sees Record High Absentee Ballot Requests

Have a safe weekend!

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Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza and Tap could be undergoing a bit new expansion if its special use permit gets approved.

According to the application, new plans would expand Lena’s into the second floor of 515 Mount Vernon Avenue. The expansion would add 180 additional indoor seats to the restaurant.

The restaurant owners, Yates Restaurant Group LLC, are also requesting that the permit be amended to allow off-premise sale of beer and wine.

This isn’t the first time Lena’s has worked to try to accommodate larger crowds at the popular pizza restaurant near the Braddock Metro station. Lena’s also converted the rear parking deck into a tropical oasis-themed bar in June to facilitate more outdoor dining at the height of the pandemic.

The application is scheduled to be reviewed at a Planning Commission meeting on October 6.

The restaurant was the only location in the Alexandria Restaurant Partners group that didn’t close in March when the city entered an emergency shutdown.

Photo via Google Maps

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Alexandria’s Restaurant Week is back, though in the takeout and delivery format that many restaurants have had to adapt to during the pandemic.

From this Friday, Aug. 21, to Sunday Aug. 30, over 60 restaurants in Alexandria will offer a $49 takeout, delivery, or curbside pick-up dinner for two. The event, which started in 2009, is being rebranded as Alexandria Restaurant Week To-Go.

“This year, guests are encouraged to bring Alexandria Restaurant Week home and enjoy special menus from the comfort of their dining room table, porch or couch,” Visit Alexandria said on a listing for the event. “The online menu book makes it easy to browse delicious selections from dozens of Alexandria eateries. No menu offering is the same — from appetizer, entrée and bottle of wine packages to three-course meals for two with mouth-watering desserts plus add-on options of cocktails to-go, there is undoubtedly a menu suited to everyone.”

Many old favorites are returning, but Visit Alexandria said this year features some new additions, like:

“Many participating restaurants, including Cheesetique, Spice Kraft Indian Bistro, Taqueria Picoso and Yunnan By Potomac Noodle House, have provided free meals to frontline hospital workers, first responders and neighbors affected by the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the past few months,” Visit Alexandria said. “Through Alexandria Restaurant Week To-Go, locals and visitors alike can lend their thanks to the locally owned restaurants that have provided relief throughout the community even during their own business hardships.”

A full list of restaurants is available online.

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Morning Notes

Beyer Introduces Pandemic Response Accountability Legislation — “Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) today introduced the Supply Chain Accountability Act, legislation that would require the Administration to explain its strategy for fixing key breakdowns in the pandemic response. Beyer serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means, which has partial jurisdiction over healthcare matters.” [Beyer.house.gov]

Coronavirus Cases at 2,995 in Alexandria — “Positive tests up 19 to 2,995 in the City 7-day Positivity Rate up to 5.7% 3 new hospitalizations Still safer at home, wash hands, wear masks and support our essential workers.” [Twitter]

Nelson Greene Advocates Renaming T.C. Williams High School for Retired Judge Dawkins — “Here is a model to be followed, and imitated. So let’s do the right thing and change the name to Judge Nolan Dawkins and really let him know what we think about him and his service, his life and have a model for all.” [Zebra]

New Italian Restaurant Opening in Old Town North on Thursday — “The restaurant, from chef and restaurateur Jamie Leeds, is the long-awaited replacement for Hank’s Pasta Bar, that closed last year for renovations.” [Alexandria Living]

Del Ray Cakery Becomes Del Ray Cookie Company — “Over the last year or so, my business has gone in a different direction. I have been doing so many cookies, so I decided it was time to move my business in a different direction.” [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “Partly cloudy in the morning followed by scattered thunderstorms in the afternoon. High 91F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60%. Locally heavy rainfall possible.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Commercial Interior Designer — “Share a passion for transforming client work environments with amazingly innovative designs. Builds on and manages the client relationship to create an exceptional client experience. Provides design services to dealership customers, including programming, space planning, typical development, 3-D virtual experience, specifications and site-to-plan review.” [Indeed]

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You haven’t made it as a local controversy until Holy Cow Del Ray makes a burger in your honor.

This month, the subject is the name debate around T.C. Williams High School. The local burger joined the fray with “The Alexandria HS.”

“We think that The Alexandria [High School] Titans has a nice ring to it,” the burger shop said on Facebook. “What are your thoughts?”

The burger is an Angus beef patty with Havarti cheese, double bacon, crispy onion, bibb lettuce, and bacon ranch on a broiche bun.

“We’re always trying to name them after current pop culture things, whether that’s national, state or local,” Bill Blackburn, owner of Holy Cow Del Ray, said. “The topic de jure is the T.C. Williams High School name. The writing is on the wall, it’s probably going to be renamed. The only question is when and what. We throw one option out there and make it kind of a debate.”

The school board decided in July that it would take up a discussion on whether to rename the school this fall.

The comments on the Facebook page were mixed between those who agreed with the name and other suggesting names after local Civil Rights figures like Earl Lloyd.

Blackburn said there’s always a risk for more controversy with anyone that’s named, so Alexandria High School is a safe and unifying option.

“I think right now, Alexandria, more than any time since I lived here, we need to be one Alexandria,” Blackburn said. “Naming it after someone is divisive. Alexandria needs to come together as one. We identify strongly with only having one high school.”

As for the contents of the burger, Blackburn said the goal was to make a good burger rather than finding something to fit the name — unlike the addition of Miracle Whip to the Seminary Road-Dockless Scooter-Waterfront Development-Halal Butcher-Bike Lane Sandwich.

Photo via Holy Cow Del Ray/Facebook

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