I just happened to look out the window of the L2 bus, and there was Angie's, in the middle of its own funeral.
The neon sign that had burned in the second floor window since the 1940s was gone. So was the picture of Michael De Finis, The Omelette King, which had stood proudly beside the front door. Two bored movers were carrying naugahyde chairs down the stairs. On a rainy Monday morning, the Italian restaurant where I must have eaten half a million meals was vanishing into the back of a double-parked pickup truck.
I had neglected Angie's Italian Gardens in recent years. We had left the old neighborhood in 1981, and while I had been past Angie's many times since then, I hadn't been inside.
But in the '60s and '70s, Angie's was the homestead and the hearth. Those were days of bachelorhood, a 12-letter word that actually means "sick to death of one's own cooking." So it was a reflex, and a pleasant one, to head for 2317 Calvert St. NW, just west of Connecticut Avenue, and up the musty stairwell, painted in that horrendous shade of salmon.
Maybe Angie would seat you, or maybe one of the waitresses would. Regardless, the seater would always say, "Hi. Schlitz, right?" You'd nod, and you'd be given the table by the window with the good light so you could read your magazine, and they'd fill you so full of veal and peppers for six bucks that you could barely walk home.
If the food was homey, the environment was more like homely. A black-and-white TV set sat on (not above, not beside, on) the bar. The picture tube was so worn and blurred that it seemed the set must have been on since the day Angie bought it -- some time back in '55, I'd guess.
Along the south wall hung autographed pictures of Redskins. But these were anonymous, 340-pound linemen from the 1950s, who flattened opponents with lard, not with finesse, the way the sleek Super Bowl heroes of the 1980s do. Like the Redskins it enshrined, Angie's was never sleek in the slightest.
The old place served nothing that couldn't be concocted in 10 minutes on a grill or in an oven. The old place always fed cops and bus drivers for free at the first table on the left. At Angie's, if you asked for a glass of chablis, they'd look at you as if you were nuts.
I went back a few days ago to nose around. Not only is Angie's gone, but so is the mom-and-pop grocery that used to be below it. The signs in the window announce that the grocery will soon become a gourmet delly. And what will become of Angie's?
"I think they're going to open a restaurant up there," said a woman who was directing remodeling in the delly-to-be. "But I'm not sure."
I tried the door to 2317. Open! I took the steps two at a time. Same salmon walls. But dust was everywhere, and your footsteps echoed.
"That you, Joe Bob?" called a carpenter, from where the kitchen used to be.
"No, just looking around," I called back. But there wasn't much to see. A half-finished bottle of Sprite sitting in the middle of the floor. A battered beer cooler. A piece of crumpled tile. No cops, no bus drivers and no "Hi. Schlitz, right?"
Angie's is the sort of restaurant no one ever opens any more. On the contrary, Angie's is the sort of restaurant that seems to close all the time. Angie's is the sort of restaurant that shouldn't.