Restaurant hostess stands have long featured giveaways for departing diners — matchbooks, mints, the occasional toothpick. The only one that gets collectors excited, though, is the matchbook, an endangered species since D.C.’s restaurant smoking ban took effect in 2006. Several places, however, have come up with a popular alternative: branded boxes of toothpicks. “Our toothpicks purposely look like matchbooks so they can still fit in people’s collections,” says Gus DiMillo, co-owner of Passion Food Hospitality (which oversees Ceiba, District Commons and Passion Fish, among other restaurants), who didn’t want to see a longtime dining tradition disappear. Here are a few more branded boxes worth stashing away.
Chef-owner Mike Isabella chose toothpicks over matchboxes for a simple reason. “I don’t smoke and I don’t support smokers,” he says. So there.
707 6th St. NW; 202-289-3600. (Gallery Place)
These double-pointed toothpicks are made from bamboo, which doesn’t break apart easily, so you won’t get a splinter in a place where you REALLY don’t want one.
2418 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-333-2558. (Woodley Park)
Packets of this size and shape are commonly referred to as cigar matchboxes, which is fitting since chef-owner Enzo Fargione is a longtime stogie smoker.
427 11th St. NW; 202-546-0088. (Metro Center)
These Japanese-styled toothpicks are decoratively grooved, so diners can easily snap off the tops to indicate they’ve been used.
2200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-587-8277. (Foggy Bottom)
An Age-Old Instrument
A lot of history is packed into these dental-floss alternatives. Anthropologists believe Neanderthals used primitively hewn shards of wood to pick bits of mastodon meat out of their teeth. Roman Emperor Nero supposedly once made a dramatic entrance at a banquet hall with a silver toothpick in his mouth. It wasn’t until the 1870s that the whittled wooden spears were introduced to Americans by entrepreneur Charles Forster (he’d first seen them being used by natives in Brazil).