Tears will be flowing as freely as the champagne New Year’s Eve at the Market Inn, as the iconic Southwest Washington eatery - loved by power brokers, politicians and working class alike for 49 years - is closing its doors for good after Wednesday.
“It’s another aspect of the old Washington scene that’s just disappearing,” said D.C. native Allen Brooks, 76, whose father, Bill, was the Market Inn’s first general manager.
So many Capitol Hill lawmakers used to frequent the restaurant, nestled unceremoniously in the shadow of the Interstate 275 bridge, that staff would ring a bell by the front door every time the House and Senate was voting - alerting the politicians that it was time to return to work.
Claude Pepper, who represented Florida in the House and Senate, upon hearing the bell, would ask the wait staff to keep his food warm while he dashed back to the Capitol.
“He’d say, ‘Put my meal back in the kitchen. I’ll be back in 30 minutes,’” said General Manager Michael Kipp, 65, who has worked at the restaurant since he was a college student.”He’d never miss a vote.”
Owner Carl Mandis hadn’t planned on closing the family business that was started by his mother and father, Hilda and John Mandis, in November 1959. But the property owners’ new lease demand, which includes higher payments and a shorter renewal period, made it impractical to continue business, Mr. Kipp said.
The property owners plan to raze the building to make way for office space, he said.
The Market Inn, which specializes in seafood such as lobster, crab cakes and she-crab soup, is a place that Father Time has left alone, its loyal fans say. The windowless dining rooms and dark wood interior reflect an era better suited for the Rat Pack than those caught up in Washington’s rat race.
Its legendary collection of female nude portraits - some tasteful, others not so much - hang unashamed on the barroom walls, provoking nostalgic chuckles from longtime patrons.
Rep. Charlie Wilson of Texas, whose support and funding of anti-Soviet Union fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s led to a book and movie portraying his efforts, was a frequent customer.
Supreme Court judges also have frequented the Market Inn, with several occasionally eating together.
Mr. Kipp is among a legion of loyal employees who has spent decades at the restaurant, helping create and sustain an ambiance that oozes familiarity and coziness.
“Everybody has been here forever,” he said of the staff. “That’s what makes this so sad. … This is my second home. It’s the only job I’ve ever had.”
Market Inn bookkeeper Aurellia Clontz, 73, who has worked at the restaurant for 44 years, echoed the sentiment.
“We’ve had several marriages among the staff here. They’re good people to work for, and it’s like family here,” she said.
Elizabeth Mandis-Whitehill, who since the early 1980s has worked at the restaurant opened by her parents, said many of the staff are applying for jobs at other restaurants, though some of the longtime employees are considering retirement.
“Even with the economy being so bad, all they have to do is say they worked at the Market Inn and they figure they’ll be picked over somebody else,” Mrs. Mandis-Whitehill said.
But if not, some staffers have joked about a new career in the retail business.
“We’re all trying to get the same job as greeters at Wal-Mart,” she laughed. “That’s how we have to look at it or we’ll get sad.”
The paintings, including most everything else inside the restaurant, will be available for purchase through a public online auction at www.rasmus.com.