On the Town
Heading Outdoors? Here's the Buzz
By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, May 7, 2004; Page WE05
WASHINGTONIANS love to eat and sip cocktails outdoors -- look at the crowds that descended upon the bars and restaurants along the Georgetown waterfront as soon as temperatures began to climb last month, and the long waits for rooftop tables at Lauriol Plaza restaurant or the Reef in Adams Morgan on a pleasant Friday night. But with millions of cicadas waiting to emerge after a 17-year slumber, swarming into trees to mate and leaving their shells to coat the ground, local restaurateurs and bar owners aren't sure how many customers are going to want to go out and enjoy the weather on patios or rooftops.
Saied Azali remembers the last time the cicadas came to Washington. A native of Iran, he'd never seen the insects before they began buzzing around the rooftop dining area of Perry's, his Adams Morgan restaurant.
"They don't really bother people," he says. "They fly around and make a lot of noise and fly into things.
"I'm sure they're going to be the guests we don't want, but they're going to be there. I'll let people know when they sit down [if it's bad], but we can't really do anything about it. I'm not going to kill them."
Across the city at Island Jim's Crab Shack and Tiki Hut in Brookland, owner Jim Stiegman says he also remembers the last cicada invasion, "but [until recently] it never hit me that this could be a real problem thing."
Stiegman isn't sure whether customers will want to sit under a soaring palm tree in the large sand pit sipping rum cocktails -- especially if the cicadas are drowning out the beach music or dive-bombing into customers' plates. He could close the glass doors around the pavilion-style bar, but "Island Jim's . . . is an open-air approach to things."
"I guess we'll have to wait and see," Stiegman says. "We were off probably 25 percent last year because of the monsoon season we had. Having monsoons and locusts -- this could be a new biblical epic out here."
Estimating how cicadas will affect outdoor dining and nightlife "is going to be a tough call," says Mike Raupp, a professor of entomology at the University of Maryland. "Everybody is talking like there are going to be cicadas everywhere, but there are going to be places where there simply are no cicadas. There are places that will have 1,000 or 10,000 cicadas under one tree.
"It almost takes a neighborhood-by-neighborhood investigation. It can be very localized."
Basically, any area with a surfeit of large old trees is at risk, Raupp says. Downtown, for example, cicadas may be rare, but "healthy numbers" of the bugs are expected to appear in Bethesda, Arlington and the area around the Washington National Cathedral. "There are enough big old trees in Adams Morgan [to attract a large number of cicadas]," Raupp says.
But that's no reason to panic and lock yourself inside for six weeks, nightlife-loving cicadaphobes. You'll most likely be able to enjoy cocktails on the roof of Clarendon Ballroom, dance on the outdoor deck at Dream or take in the view from the Hotel Washington's Sky Terrace without pulling cicadas out of your hair and fishing them from drinks.
"If there are no trees overhanging the patios or rooftop areas, they're probably in no particular peril," Raupp says. "By and large, [the cicadas] are going to be in treetops."
Anyway, cicadas don't bite, and if one accidentally flies into you, it'll try to get away as soon as possible. Raupp swears that talk of Hitchcock-style swarms is usually just that, and in their short time above ground, most cicadas will travel only "hundreds of feet" away from their holes. "These guys are basically moving from holes under trees up into the trees and mating," he explains. "They're not going to be taking long flights because of the dangers from predators."
So if you're not going to see many cicadas, you don't have anything to worry about, right? Wrong. "The part that was bad [17 years ago] was the noise," Azali remembers. "It was so loud."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
(Illustration David Brion For The Washington Post)
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Cicada Emergence by the Numbers
For Cicadas, Life Is Better in the Burbs (The Washington Post, May 12, 2004)
It's Enough To Drive You Buggy (The Washington Post, May 12, 2004)
CICADA BUZZ (The Washington Post, May 12, 2004)
Vanguard of Brood X Marks Its Spot: All Over (The Washington Post, May 11, 2004)
Party Crashers (The Washington Post, May 6, 2004)
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