Despite city guidance, some restaurants surrounding the White House are preparing for potential unrest surrounding Election Day.
Multiple protests are planned for the week of Nov. 3, and the Metropolitan Police Department imposed emergency no-parking orders on streets in much of downtown D.C. from midnight on Tuesday to 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, citing anticipated demonstrations. City officials do not recommend boarding up shops, but some Foggy Bottom restaurant owners said they are barricading themselves in case protests turn violent.
“We’re right here in Black Lives Matter Plaza area, and there’s been a lot of protesting of all kinds,” BLT Steak general manager Jesse Hiney said. “The majority of these protests have been very, very peaceful, and the most harm that they’re causing is needing to come in and use the restroom, [but] this is going to be, I think, a larger portion of the population that’s going to be involved if the wrong thing happens on Election Day.”
MPD purchased more than $100,000 worth of tear gas canisters and grenades, used over the summer to disperse BLM protesters, in preparation for protests, WUSA9 reported last week. MPD Chief Peter Newsham said last month that tear gas was purchased to prepare for post-election protests and potential riots.
“In law enforcement circles, it is widely believed there will be civil unrest after the November election regardless of who wins,” Newsham said.
Hiney said BLT Steak, located a block east of Lafayette Square at 1625 I St. NW, will close on Election Day to allow staff to vote and shield employees from potential violence. Despite opening after Nov. 3, the restaurant’s windows will be barricaded from Monday to Nov. 9 or longer, depending on the tone of the protests, he said.
“There are lots of buildings around us, and they all have boards up, so if we’re the one that doesn’t, it’s going to be worse for us, because [looters] will definitely target us,” he said.
He said he is nervous that protests might turn violent after Election Day, potentially causing damage to his restaurant. He cited BLM demonstrations across D.C. this summer, which were largely peaceful but included some protesters who looted businesses.
BLT Steak’s exterior was boarded up during the height of BLM demonstrations, but Hiney said protesters smashed the windows of nearby restaurants like Panera Bread and Teaism, which were not covered.
Caleb Fisher, the manager of Luke’s Lobster, one block west of Lafayette Square at 800 17th St. NW, said he is keeping an eye on the area around his restaurant but holding off on boarding up or closing until he has a better idea of where the majority of protests will be located.
“We’d just be making sure we’d stay knowledgeable about where the potential traffic is going to be and then we would go from there,” Fisher said. “As far as other preparation, maybe either closing, closing early, coming in later, something like that.”
Fisher added that he is ready to board up the restaurant’s windows, if necessary.
“It depends on how unruly it gets,” Fisher said. “We’ve boarded up before the protests once before in May. We hope not to board up again, but if something unforeseeable happens that means we have to board, then we will.”
Jonathan Langel, the general manager of Bobby Van’s Steakhouse, located a block east of Lafayette Square at 809 15th St. NW, said his restaurant’s windows were shattered during protests this summer, and the property was so damaged that management had to close the restaurant for six weeks to recover.
Langel said restaurant management has not yet decided whether to board up for Election Day, adding that the results typically don’t come in until late at night or early the next morning.
“We haven’t completely decided how we’re going to handle it,” Langel said. “Election results usually don’t come out until much later at night, or not until the next morning, so we might stay open and protect ourselves as much as we can in advance, or there is a chance that we will just board up for the day and close.”
Langel said Bobby Van’s plans to prepare for potential unrest are based on information he’s heard from neighbors and building management.
“A lot of people [around the White House] are very plugged in for when there’s potential unrest and, you know, they try to get ahead of it,” Langel said.
Jeremy Pollok, the owner of Tonic at Quigley’s at 2036 G St. NW, four blocks west of Lafayette Square, said protesters may not make it to his neck of Foggy Bottom given the restaurant’s relative distance to the White House. But he added that he will move outside furnishings like chairs and heaters indoors so they can’t be used to destroy property.
He said he is prepared to close for a few days if demonstrations progress, similar to what the restaurant did over the summer. Pollok said he wants to ensure both his staff and the restaurant property are safe during the protests.
“Once we saw what was happening [this summer], we were basically shut down,” Pollok said. “We brought everything inside, and we were shut down for probably two or three days just to be on the safe side. So if Tuesday rolls around and things are looking a little sticky, then we’ll just plan on not opening on Wednesday or until it is safe to open.”