Del Ray, the Alexandria neighborhood sometimes known for stroller traffic jams along Mount Vernon Avenue, is experiencing a different kind of mommy war at the moment. Folks can thank a new restaurant for the tension.
A sushi spot, set to open imminently along the busy strip, is exciting news for those who want raw fish to join the options that have popped up to make Del Ray both a home and destination for many new families.
But the restaurant is for people 18 and older.
No kids. No strollers. Just adults enjoying sushi and sake in a lounge-type setting.
“We thought parents just needed a place to give it a break, like an adult clubhouse,” said owner Mike Anderson, who owns four family-friendly restaurants: Mango Mike’s of Alexandria and Bethany Beach, as well as the burger joint Holy Cow and popular barbecue spot Pork Barrel in Del Ray.
“We ran it by some parents that had kids and I would say eight out of 10 thought it was a great idea. They said ‘You’re on to something here,’” he said in a phone interview during the lunch rush at Pork Barrel.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Anderson felt parents or childless patrons need a break. Visit the Bethany Mango Mike’s around 5 p.m., he said, and “there must be 50 kids in that joint. It’s pandemonium.” So he thought a more upscale, quiet atmosphere would work well in Del Ray.
Fast forward to April 9, when the Del Ray Patch wrote about the upcoming restaurant, opening a toybox full of tirades, from both the pro-kid and pro-adult-only sides.
The story drew more than 100 heated comments online, some comparing the exclusion of kids to apartheid and others using words like “breeders.” Then there was this: “You losers live in Del Ray, a FAMILY ORIENTED community. If you don’t like it, get out.”
The Del Ray Patch editor eventually shut down the commenting function on the article.
Anderson isn’t the first restaurateur to consider blocking entry to tots. Brooklyn, ever the trend-setter, kicked things off several years ago when a Park Slope bar posted a sign that read, “Please, No Strollers.” In a place full of hipster parents used to hitting happy hours with Bugaboos, the policy started an all-out war. Too many big strollers, no room for single hipsters to pop open a can. Parents argued they were the ones making Brooklyn vibrant. And on and on.
A restaurant in Monroeville, Pa., near Pittsburgh, instituted a “no kids” policy in 2011, banning children under 6 years old. The restaurant owner said in interviews that business was way up after the ban. (It may have helped that the restaurant received not just regional, but worldwide, attention for the decision.)
Anderson said he was kind of surprised by the level of interest in his new restaurant and its age restriction. “But overwhelmingly, we were buoyed by the fact that most people like the idea of no kids,” he said.
Count myself — a mother of two small boys — on that side. My husband and I search out places that are kid-free for date nights; otherwise, my hair stands on end when a baby cries or I hear someone yelling for mama. I immediately tense up, thinking it’s one of my kids needing something. Then a plate drops. Or I see a dad getting up 12 times to retrieve napkins, straws, matching straws, straws that don’t bend, straws that do bend. More napkins. It simply stresses me out because I’ve been there. Lots.
It’s great to take kids out to eat. We do. And we enjoy it, mostly. (Except when a plate drops or we need to exchange the straws again.) But there has to be an oasis in restaurant-land, particularly as parents today are much more inclusive when it comes to nights out — and restaurants are eager to accommodate them.
Arlington Rooftop Bar and Grill has a night for parents to drop their kids off with sitters in one area, while they go eat and drink in another. Wonderland Ballroom in Columbia Heights has baby happy hour every Wednesday. And Jackie’s Sidebar in Silver Spring just introduced something similar. There are many other examples.
As for Anderson, he has only opened kid-friendly spots up until this point. “I didn’t realize the importance of that until I had them,” he said, referring to his three daughters. But now that they’re grown, he sees a reason to have quiet spaces as well.
The new restaurant, marked on the door by the Japanese symbol meaning “sushi,” will have 10 seats at the sushi bar, 15 seats at a sake bar, and about 25 other seats around low tables.
And no high chairs.