War Wounded Bid Steakhouse Farewell

Spec. Maxwell Ramsey jokes with Ervin Street, left, as he is assisted to the ground to attend the last dinner at Fran O'Brien's Stadium Steakhouse.
Spec. Maxwell Ramsey jokes with Ervin Street, left, as he is assisted to the ground to attend the last dinner at Fran O'Brien's Stadium Steakhouse. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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By Petula Dvorak and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 29, 2006

A fiercely beloved military tradition came to a close in downtown Washington last night when Fran O'Brien's Stadium Steakhouse reluctantly served its last thick steak with a side of laughter and dignity to soldiers recovering from war injuries in the area.

But the veterans -- many of whom made their first, cautious forays in public with prosthetics, scars and skin grafts during the Friday night dinner tradition -- did not go down without a fight.

Hundreds of soldiers began online campaigns to preserve the weekly dinners, save the steakhouse and shame the Capitol Hilton, at 16th and L streets NW, which houses the restaurant and declined this month to renew its lease.

The restaurant, a staple among the power-dining set, is losing its lease Monday. That might be sad for steak lovers everywhere, but the real tragedy, many supporters said, is the end of the 2 1/2 years of Friday night veterans' dinners.

Hotel general manager Brian Kelleher said it was simply a business deal, a lease negotiation that broke down after restaurant owners were asked to spiff up the "dated" look and didn't comply and then were late on their rent.

The hotel asked the owners to update worn upholstery, install new carpeting, replace an aging canopy and polish the brass outside, but the owners refused, Kelleher said.

Supporters of restaurant owners Hal Koster and Marty O'Brien said that although it might have been a business deal, it was also an affront to veterans.

"I understand where they're coming from, but I don't like it," said Capt. Brian Jantzen, 28, whose legs, heels and ankles were broken in a roadside bombing in Ramadi, Iraq, and who last night was attending his third dinner at the steakhouse.

"This is such a great thing for the troops."

The blogosphere is ablaze with petitions and promises to "sleep in a car rather than stay at that hotel."

"Operation Perish Hilton" is launching a drive for supporters to boycott Hilton hotels and swamp the chain's corporate offices with protest letters penned on other hotels' stationery.

Part of that campaign is based on complaints by the restaurant's owners that Hilton did not accommodate their requests to make the building more accessible for the disabled veterans.

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