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Jun 17, 2010 10:04 AM

Tourist hot-spots - for both OOT and locals

I may get flamed by this, but has anyone noticed the phenom of "local tourists"? That is, flocks of people from the burbs coming into the big-city for a night out, causing huge crowds at local hot-spots?

As a city-dweller, I annoyed (albeit probably unjustifiably) when I can no longer frequent a restaurant because it gets over-taken by its own popularity. Obviously I try avoid traditional tourist eating establishments (i.e. Old Ebbit, Hard Rock, Round Robin bar, etc.). However I've noticed that I can no longer get into several of my "neighborhood" places (Jaleo, Rasika, Zatinya, etc) because of the influx of local tourists - aka bridge and tunnelers.

While I still greatly enjoy the food at these restaurants, the crowding, noise, and general unavailability of seating (even though I normally sit at the bar) causes me to avoid them. Further, it seems that because of the popularity of these places, the service has been greatly diminished... I often get the feeling that MY patronage is not necessary when there is a bachelorette party of 15 from Olney waiting in the lobby.

I guess my point is that it is regulars like me that will stick with these places in the long run, if they don't ruin it for themselves now. Anyone else feel this way?

Rasika Restaurant
633 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

Hard Rock Cafe
601 E Pratt St Ste 2, Baltimore, MD 21202

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  1. I sometimes get frustrated at having to make reservations 2 weeks out even for neighborhood joints in Clarendon, but in a struggling economy I want these places to survive so I am happy to see them busy and doing well. And if these places do well I will get more restaurants opening in my neighborhood. So I tend to visit neighborhood places where I just want to hang on weeknights. Or make a reservation two weeks out. I often like to sit at the bar as bartenders are much more likely to recognize me and remember what I like than hostesses.

    And there are always good places to check out. For example when I couldn't get into places I wanted with guests in Clarendon the other weekend we ended up American Flatbread because we could get in and had a great dinner there.

    I think the dining scene has just really picked up and people want to experience that and yes it may be annoying, but without it we wouldn't be getting the restaurants we are enjoying and will enjoy.

    Service issues are big with me though, but sometimes I feel like if you go in with a bad mood or annoyed with the crowd it is going to be hard for even a very pleasant server to turn that around. They want to be able to service you well it is how they make money, but I feel sometimes we need to let them know what we need too, in a polite nice way.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ktmoomau

      Hey, because we live in the burbs, doesn't mean we are tourists. I travel into DC every day to go to work. On occasion I want to take my wife to dinner downtown. It is just as easy (easier in fact) to get downtown than it is to Bethesda. So if you have a problem, cart your postier out to the burbs for dinner and pay them back.

      There are plenty of restaurants in DC where I'm a "regular" have a personal relationship with the owner, have my favorite server, etc. Let's face it, just because you live in the city, doesn't make you one of the special Washingtonians. The DC area encompases a lot more than just DC proper.

    2. One way to look at this-when they pay more taxes, then you'll hopefully have to pay less taxes. (Restaurant and sales offsets property and income). Its a classic tourist economy.

      1. Yeah, I know what you mean. I hate when folks from the city or Maryland come to places like Passion Fish, Eve, Hee Been and Hong Kong Palace. The NERVE!

        Should we start checking ID's at the door?

        Hong Kong Palace
        6387 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22044

        1. Like I said, I knew i'd be flamed..

          But, my main point is that because of the influx of people, the service at these places degrades. Unfortuantely, it seems that when a restaurant becomes uber-popular, the staff then cares less about the customers, as they know there are dozens of people waiting to get in regardless of the level of service.

          A great example of this was just posted in regards to seating at Mini-bar - although i realize that is a slightly different situation given that the limited availability is part of the appeal.

          6 Replies
          1. re: scotcheroo

            Unfortunately you made your point improperly. Any time a restaurant becomes really popular, there is the potential that service will suffer. But don't blame it on "local tourists" blame it on the restaurant not being able to maintain an acceptable level of service. It would be the same problem if all of the influx was from those DC foodies who just had to be at the hottest place in town.

            1. re: dinwiddie

              Yes, if all the DC foodies converged at once it would be a problem. And, restaurants are indeed to blame.

              But in my experience this the problem seems to be unique to certain popular restaurants within DC that are beacons for suburbanites. I haven't heard of the same kind of problems at places in the burbs (Eve, Hong Kong Palace, etc such as Dennis mentioned), that are now popular.

              Hong Kong Palace
              6387 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22044

              1. re: scotcheroo

                Honestly? You're still not seeing the bigger picture and looking at this pretty narrow-mindedly.

                Obviously suburban restaurants can handle bigger crowds because suburban restaurants are bigger (space-wise), period. Rents are lower, there are actual big banquet halls, etc. How many of the truly popular restaurants in DC proper have huge, spacious banquet hall-type areas? Most of the great restaurants I've been to, the tables are barely a foot apart from each other. Oh yeah, and then there's the fact of limited space in DC due to the restrictive building codes.

                City vs. Suburban, there's ALWAYS gonna be a difference. You can't avoid it, and blaming it on the suburbanites is not the argument to go with because most of them work in and are as familiar with the dining scene as the city residents.

                1. re: scotcheroo

                  It does happen. Passion Fish is a good example and Volt is even better. Heck, even TECC is a great example in my book. I was on great talking terms with Jose and his Dad when they were in the trailer. Food is still good, but not what it was, and I wait longer than when he was in the trailer.

                  It's not just DC and it definitely is the restaurant's choice of how to handle wonderful success, and it's up to us to make a decision based on many factors - food quality being the main factor.

                  1. re: Dennis S

                    Ooh, and add to the list Ray's Hellburger - especially after that newish DC resident went there...

              2. re: scotcheroo

                So you're saying that nobody goes there anymore because it's too crowded?

              3. How about the flocks of people from the city who go to the burbs? I live and work in DC. I think I rarely have a meal in DC other than lunch.

                I look at restaurants two ways. Some are designed to attract people into town. The places you mention, Jaleo, Rasika, and Zaytinya, are designed to drive tourists into town to dine and eat at a scene. They are backed by popular chefs with big PR machines. Not saying the food is bad, I love all three, but saying you go to these places for the scene first, food second, and that is what they are delivering.

                Then there are truly local restaurants. When the bachelorette party of 15 from Olney is holding up Yannis, then we have a problem.

                I don't really have a problem with people visiting these places. DC needs the cash and I like to see restaurants in DC succeed, which makes it a better place to live. I'm ok with it.

                Rasika Restaurant
                633 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004

                701 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

                4 Replies
                1. re: Adam23

                  VERY good point about the PR machines and the truly "local" places. Maybe the ultimately goal should be to get these restaurants to focus on the food first, and how their chefs look on TV last.

                  1. re: scotcheroo

                    When they're slammed, they're slammed. You can blame this board, to a great extent. The best strategy is to get in early or late to avoid the crush, or try going in the middle of the week. Brings to mind that famous Yogiism, "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded."

                    1. re: flavrmeistr

                      Perhaps it is time to sniff out good chow elsewhere if the places you mention are inundated and you don't like that atmosphere. For every Rasika that has a PR machine driving people there (from all over the world - just open up one of those in-flight magazines some time! ), there is another restaurant that might be as good or better. They are out there, and people who post on this board can help get you there. For instance, perhaps instead of Jaleo, you could try Masa 14, Cork, etc. I for one am happy to leave those places you mentioned to the hoards and try new places. I wish them well though - in this economy.

                      Masa 14
                      1825 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009

                      1. re: crackers

                        Another very good point, and this is essentially my preference now. Even though often the locations of these places are definitely less convienient.