Before the doors opened yesterday at Colonel Brooks' Tavern, staff members in shirts that said "Conserve Water, Drink Rum," munched on doughnuts and moved through the normal tasks of a restaurant morning, such as slicing lemons to garnish the day's beverages.
But inside the wood-trimmed dining room, there were a few signs that this day was different: People were hugging one another, and a man at the back door was asking about the suddenly vacant dishwasher's job. And outside, on Monroe Street NE, there were several television news satellite trucks and a Roman Catholic priest pulling up in a white Nissan.
The tavern, in Northeast Washington's Brookland neighborhood, reopened at lunchtime yesterday, 10 days after a dishwasher, a cook and the head chef were found fatally shot in a walk-in refrigerator, slain in an apparent robbery that netted $2,000 to $3,000. The crime remains unsolved, and police have no suspects.
With the bushes outside still decorated with bouquets and half-burned candles, those at the restaurant yesterday were constantly reminded of the tragedy. But most people said they found it therapeutic to return to the regular routines of working and eating
"This is the easy part," said tavern owner Jim Stiegman, who opened the establishment 23 years ago. "We know how to run a restaurant."
The slain employees were Rodney Barnes, 47, a longtime dishwasher; head chef Joshua Greenberg, 34; and Neomi Payne, 48, a cook known for her delicious biscuits. They were found with gunshot wounds about 8:15 a.m. April 6, minutes after they had arrived to begin preparing Sunday brunch.
Another tavern employee has said that he was in an upstairs office that morning counting money when he saw two masked men enter the restaurant. The employee said he hid, then heard loud voices giving orders, followed by shots.
Colonel Brooks', at Ninth and Monroe streets NE, then was filled with police officers and paramedics, and later with crime scene technicians and FBI forensics experts. It wasn't until last weekend that police finally left the scene after taking the surviving employee on one last walk-through, asking him to re-create the events of that morning.
Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday that police were interviewing witnesses and pursuing leads. "There's nothing new in the sense of being a break," he said.
From the start, Stiegman had said there was no question that the place would reopen, though he acknowledged the trauma felt by his 50 or so employees. The workers spent a good deal of time preparing themselves and their restaurant for reopening.
On Tuesday, Stiegman said, tavern employees arrived at 7 a.m. They took deliveries -- their entire inventory, $7,000 worth of food, had been thrown out -- and started cooking and baking. Stiegman said they spent the day making cheesecakes, salad dressings and 60-pound batches of seasoned hamburger meat. Just making the restaurant's ribs requires an hours-long process of rubbing, grilling and smoking, which all had to be done anew.
Yesterday, work in the kitchen again started at 7 a.m. All the tavern's employees returned, Stiegman said, and several former employees were called back to help. During the morning, a man knocked on the back door and asked whether he could apply for the vacant dishwasher position.
"I guess everybody reads the newspaper," Stiegman said.
Just before the doors opened, Monsignor Richard Burton, the pastor at nearby St. Anthony's parish, arrived with a well-worn plastic bottle of holy water. Another priest had blessed Colonel Brooks' when it opened, and Stiegman felt it needed a re-blessing
"This place is like the living room of Brookland," said Burton, who adapted a prayer meant to bless a house, asking for people to live in peace with one another.
"Where it said 'house,' " Burton said, "I said 'restaurant' or 'this building.' "
Before the day began, Stiegman sat at a table by the window and predicted that business would be good. But, he said, "I hope that everyone doesn't come today. You know, we're here forever."
Once the tavern reopened, it slowly filled with dozens of regulars, enough to keep the dining room three-quarters full for most of the afternoon.
Some tables of diners endured several rounds of questioning by reporters and camera crews. They said the restaurant's employees and customers were like family.
"It's like being at home," said Vinnie Wohlfarth, echoing Burton's remarks, adding that the tavern's atmosphere and popularity prompted her to set up her art gallery across the street. "There's not a whole lot of uptight happening in there."
Busboy Robert Downing came to work wearing a crucifix that he said he received from customers when he was hospitalized once.
"Everybody stays close around here, " he said, hurrying back to the kitchen to keep up with his work. "Just kind of sticks together."
Nancy Barnes, the wife of the slain dishwasher, said yesterday that she was happy that the tavern had reopened and hoped that business would thrive. She said she hoped to eat there again herself sometime, but not yet.
"I'm not saying no time soon," Barnes said. "But I probably will."
Diner Chantell Savage of Northeast Washington said she had been at Colonel Brooks' the evening before the killings, when the bar was so packed that people could hardly move. She remembered one man standing up on his table that night and leading the entire bar in a song.
Yesterday, as the tavern served its first meal since that day, she sat at the bar with Pete Moore, a Brookland resident and tavern regular.
Moore said he had known the staff members who were killed. It was too early to talk about them, he said, but the right time to make a return visit to Colonel Brooks'.
"This," he said, with a gesture that took in the bar and his fried oyster sandwich, "is my therapy."