The middle-aged couple at the front of the line smile for their selfie. They hold up their index fingers. We’re number one!
It is just after 3 p.m. on a hot July day at Rose’s Luxury, the Capitol Hill eatery that was proclaimed the country’s best new restaurant by Bon Appétit magazine a year ago. The doors won’t open for another 2
A cheery summer intern arrives, staking out a spot for her family to celebrate a birthday. A young man with a faraway look holds a copy of David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” on top of his head. Absorbing it, not reading it. The alt-rockish dude with the long hair, heavily tatted arms and mountain-man beard? Turns out he’s a dentist from Chattanooga, Tenn., who wants to add Rose’s to his list of D.C. things he’ll talk about when he gets back home. That, and the monuments at night.
Every day, the line at Rose’s is different. Every day, the line is the same. It is Washington food fiends mixed with a heavy dollop of hungry out-of-towners. It is well-heeled and well-behaved. It forms at the side of the sidewalk, letting passers-by pass on by and wonder just what all these people are waiting for. Sometimes they wonder aloud: “Is the food free?” “Why would anyone do this?”
By 5:30, the line has grown to 90.
The endurance feat required to eat at one of Washington’s most in-demand restaurants began 20 months ago, when Rose’s opened with a strict no-reservations policy.
Local diners were soon banging elbows with eat seekers from afar, all chasing gustatory glory at this handsome 85-seat place on Barracks Row. The food, everyone seemed to agree, was amazing. The service, too. But the waiting . . . the waiting was the hardest part.
Waiting for the small plates of grilled avocado with tomatillo, poblano, cotija cheese and cilantro stems ($12). Waiting for the hanger steak with Japanese mustard, eel sauce and Tokyo scallions ($14). Waiting for that crazily delicious pork, habanero, lychee salad dish ($13) that everyone loves even if . . . What is lychee, anyway?
Waiting for crudo. (Except there is no crudo.)
The line has become a thing. Waiting has become a thing. Patrons spend longer anticipating their meal than eating it. Patience, never a virtue in Washington, is put to the test. In most cases, patience wins.
“It feels like an accomplishment,” says Majia Welton, a 31-year-old health-care policy consultant who was in line on a recent weeknight. “When you first walk up, you’re the last person in line, and you think you might not make it. But then other people start standing behind you, and it feels like you’re making progress even though you’re just standing still.”
Going forward without moving. The line will play with your mind. Veteran diners at the restaurant have developed strategies for waiting the least amount of time possible. (Picking a day with especially foul weather can work. Or just go late and hope for the best). For first-timers, panic can set in.
“We need to be there two hours early.”
“Three to be safe.”
“Let’s just go now!”
Patti and Dennis Laraja made their first visit this summer. The Northern Virginia couple, who are in their 60s, arrived before 4 p.m. on a weekday to find others ahead of them. Patti was prepared. She had brought her knitting and worked on a bedspread as she sat in her wheelchair. She also brought a book, Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians,” to pass the time.
Rose’s is a line that reads. Recently spotted titles: “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; “Home Cooking — A Writer in the Kitchen” by Laurie Colwin; the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration report on blah, blah, blah.
Rose’s is also a line that tweets. Everyone wants to share the experience. Heads are bowed, eyes are focused on screens, fingers tap away madly. If you search Twitter for Rose’s Luxury while you’re waiting in line, you’ll often read updates by your linemates commenting on the wait or posting photos of the line. It’s a signal to their followers. I’m almost there! Victory is in sight.
“Would love to render an opinion, but . . . still . . . waiting . . . for . . . (@Rose’s Luxury in Washington, DC),” one line-stander declared.
“Waiting for a table at Rose’s Luxury. 3.5hr wait. I have *never* had to wait this long for a table. Not even in real cities,” a disgruntled New Yorker complained.
Waiting is not for the weak. On a recent sweltery afternoon, the line stretched down the block. The sky grew dark as a right-on-time D.C. summer thunderstorm rolled in, delivering a 15-minute deluge that soaked the standers. No one moved.
Owner and head chef Aaron Silverman defends the wait his customers endure. The restaurant’s no-reservations philosophy, he maintains, makes it accessible to anyone who doesn’t mind sacrificing a couple of hours. Plus, he says in an e-mail, “We don’t want to have to force people out of their seats because we are rushing to seat the next table.”
Silverman says that the only complaints he has heard about the wait is that the restaurant doesn’t serve margaritas outside. He likens the personality of the line to speed dating. “You get to talk to a lot of people, but everyone gets lucky in the end.”
Well, not everyone. On weeknights, most in the line will get to eat, though larger parties are often out of luck because there’s only one table that can accommodate seven or eight people. On weekends, the cruel cutoff happens earlier, and diners are directed to the upstairs bar — if there’s room — or encouraged to try again another night.
Rose’s won’t tell you when to arrive, but the earliest Silverman remembers seeing the line start was about 1 p.m. on Valentine’s Day. “About seven dudes who were probably in the dog house,” he says.
When the doors finally open, diners at the front of the line can eat immediately or choose a time for later that evening. Those who aren’t seated right away often retreat to nearby watering holes to while away the hours until dinner. At Lola’s, a bar two doors down, the top cocktail on the menu is called “Waiting for Rose’s.”
This being Washington, some can’t be bothered to wait at all. So they’ve outsourced the job.
Mini Newell has been paid to stand in line at Rose’s five times this year. Thirty bucks an hour, and she’ll hold a spot for you. Newell offers her services through Task Rabbit, the online service where clients find people to do their chores for them.
At Rose’s, Newell waits and then gives the greeter the name and number of her client.
“I’m sure they know me,” Newell says with a laugh. “They know when I come up that I’m going to give them a different name and number every time.”
At $30 an hour, Newell is a bargain.
Linestanding.com charges $36 an hour during the week, $50 an hour on weekends to wait at Rose’s. Washington Express charges $40 an hour and requires a three-hour minimum. Little Serow, the critically acclaimed Thai restaurant in Dupont Circle, is the only other restaurant in town where line-standers are paid to hold a spot. At Rose’s, though, the practice is growing — and that rankles some people.
“I think it’s sort of lame,” says Benjamin Lawless, a lawyer who is waiting on a Wednesday. “I would never do it.”
“It’s ridiculous,” scoffs another woman, who declines to give her name. “The superwealthy can basically buy their way out of anything.”
Complaining about paid lineholders at the not-inexpensive restaurant, one wag observes, is an example of the 2 percent complaining about the 1 percent.
Silverman says he’s not a fan of the people being paid to wait in line, but the restaurant hasn’t figured out how to deal with the practice. He wants the line to be democratic. Everybody waits. Even his parents have had to wait, he insists. There has been one notable exception. First lady Michelle Obama was able to land a table in February without a wait.
“There’s one or two people in this world that might be able to get a reservation, and she’s definitely one of them,” Silverman told The Washington Post’s Reliable Source.
Silverman is in the midst of planning for his new fine-dining restaurant, which will open next year right next door to Rose’s. For some reason, it won’t be open Saturdays or Sundays. But it will take reservations.