Closing the Doors The Family Opened

"You're doing something your whole life, and then you're not doing it anymore," said Augusto Vasaio Jr., whose father founded A.V. Ristorante Italiano. (By Pouya Dianat -- The Washington Post)
By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 26, 2007

Waiters were rolling out of the kitchen with steaming platters of rigatoni and mushroom-topped pizzas, the phone was jangling with more and more orders, and who was that coming through the timeworn front door?

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, leading an entourage for a last gastronomic adventure.

For more than a half-century, the justice has been a regular patron at A.V. Ristorante Italiano, Washington's one-stop answer to Little Italy since the days when Harry S. Truman occupied the White House.

Now, he'll have to find another joint.

After 58 years, A.V.'s owners -- two brothers who took the business over from their parents -- are packing up their all-opera jukebox and their five-foot-tall alabaster Leaning Tower of Pisa and shutting down after their final serving Saturday night.

They have sold their property, at Sixth Street and New York Avenue NW, to developer Douglas Jemal, who plans to put up an office building.

"Isn't it sad?" Scalia asked as he arrived Tuesday for a farewell pizza with red anchovies.

In pinstriped, blow-dried, ever-ceremonial Washington, A.V.'s was unabashedly devoid of artifice, a place where a hardhat could sit next to a congressman, and both could end up sighing and looking at their watches as they waited for the famously surly waiters to bring their dishes.

In recent days, patrons have come for a last look at the marble fountain of Neptune astride three horses in the courtyard; at the suit of armor in the front window; at the golden porcupine fish inexplicably dangling over the cash register.

"It's a boudoir; it's without convention; it's totally unique," gushed Stefan Halper, 63, a veteran of the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations, grinning as he took it all in.

Inevitably, any visitor pauses before the blood-red walls and the crazy quilt of framed, autographed photos of patrons past and present: the one of Rep. Dennis Hastert below Sen. Strom Thurmond, who is across from Jack Nicholson, who is next to Dan Quayle, and above Danny Kaye and Wes Unseld and Willard Scott and Dr. Meyer Rosenbaum . . .

Meyer who ?

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company