It took an hour and 15 minutes on a recent Saturday for everyone in the epic line outside Rose’s Luxury to make it to the host stand. Needless to say, more people were turned away for a later seating than not.
From my perch on the patio at Molly Malone’s, I watch a middle-aged couple walk past me to the bar. A few groups of women head to Lola’s next door. Meanwhile, a handful of others approach Rose’s, see the line, stop dead in their tracks, and spin in the opposite direction. And then there are those who go inside only to find out they’re too late: The dining room is booked for the night. Huddled outside with concerned faces, they plot their next move.
The good news is that there’s a slew of businesses just waiting to take in these Rose’s rejects. Can’t get into D.C.’s hottest restaurant? Head to Cava. Or Ambar. Or Ted’s Bulletin. Need to kill two hours before your table is ready? Lola’s has a cosmo on its menu called “Waiting for Rose’s.”
Rose’s Luxury celebrated its two-year anniversary a couple weeks ago and just earned the top spot in the Washington Post’s Fall Dining Guide, the latest in a seemingly endless series of accolades. But the restaurant isn’t the only one benefitting from the buzz. Rose’s popularity is often its neighbors’ gain. Call it the Rose’s Bump, if you will. In fact, there’s a whole micro-economy feeding off chef Aaron Silverman’s restaurant and its legendary line, which has created a cottage industry of people who are paid to wait in it. Nearby restaurateurs say Rose’s has had an indelible effect on transforming Barracks Row as a whole into a destination.
“We noticed there’s more foot traffic,” says Medium Rare owner Mark Bucher. “It’s raised more awareness for the street, so there’s just more people, more foodies walking by that are curious, so they come back.”
Tommy Ewing-Brown, a manager at Molly Malone’s, says groups will switch off waiting in line and getting a drink before Rose’s opens. Some might come in as they wait for a table, or later for a nightcap. The bump is particularly prominent Monday through Wednesday during happy hour. During that time, Molly Malone’s is filled with nearly as many Rose’s patrons as regulars, he says.
The Rose’s Luxury diner has certain tells: They’re usually dressed just a little bit nicer than the usual clientele, Ewing-Brown says. Plus, the restaurant has 48 beers on draft—yet the Rose’s customer orders a cocktail. “I’d say between 3:30 and 5 o’clock, anybody that walks in and starts ordering martinis, I pretty much know they’re going to Rose’s,” he says.
Capital Teas manager Andrew Keller spots them another way: They’re incessantly checking their phones to see if their table is ready.
Last winter, the tea shop handed out hot tea samples to people waiting in line. The tactic drummed up a lot of business, but Capital Teas stopped doing it to avoid confusion; some people mistakenly thought the tea was from Rose’s and tried to order it at the restaurant.
Other neighborhood businesses will occasionally hand out flyers to people waiting in line. In fact, Barracks Row Main Street, the group devoted to revitalizing the commercial corridor, actively supports this. “These are people who are waiting on the street and who are likely to have an hour or two to kill before they can get a table. We encourage our other businesses to take advantage of a captive audience,” says Martin Smith, the group’s executive director.
For his part, Silverman doesn’t mind as long as it doesn’t make guests unhappy. “If it’s a positive for them, it’s a positive for us,” he says.
Even without the samples, Capital Teas gets a definite bump from the line, especially among those who don’t drink alcohol or who don’t want to fill up before dinner. On an average night, at least five to 10 customers come in from the line, Keller estimates. “If it wasn’t for the Rose’s line, that particular period of time is usually completely and utterly dead because people are already eating,” he says.
Keller recalls the Rose’s line growing substantially once Bon Appétit named it the best new restaurant in America last year. “For us, it’s been more of a gradual uptick,” he says. “More people are coming, and more importantly, more people are coming back to Rose’s to eat again, and they remember us from the last time, and so they come back.”
Cava co-owner Ted Xenohristos also remembers the period after the Bon Appétit list came out: “We had a lot of people tweeting us, ‘Waiting at Cava for a table at Rose’s…’ The first year [Rose’s] opened, it was so much insanity going on, we could figure out that we got two or three tables a night from people who couldn’t get into Rose’s.” Xenohristos doesn’t see those tweets as much anymore, now that waiting in line isn’t as novel. He says it’s hard to gauge how much of a bump Cava potentially gets from Rose’s since the restaurants draw a similar clientele.
Not only has Rose’s impacted existing businesses, it’s created a new one: waiting in line for a reservation for pay. Personal assistant Nadine Seiler of Everyone Needs a Nadine was first hired to stand in line through TaskRabbit about a year ago. But as the requests became more frequent, she began specifically advertising the service on Craigslist and on her website. “The first time somebody hired me to do it I was flabbergasted,” she says. “I’m still shocked.” Now, Nadine waits in line at Rose’s Luxury (or Little Serow) anywhere from two to four times a week, and she charges $30 an hour with a one hour minimum.
She’s not the only one looking to capitalize on the line. A quick look on TaskRabbit reveals a mini community of people who specifically advertise waiting in line at Rose’s Luxury. They charge anywhere from $20 to $60 an hour. On my most recent visit, one guy handed out business cards to everyone waiting.
Silverman isn’t so keen on people paying others to stand in line for them, but he tolerates it for now. “I wish, if I had my option, that it didn’t exist,” he says. “But there’s only so much we can control.” Right now, Rose’s sees one or two paid line-holders per night—not enough that it’s become a huge problem. Many of the TaskRabbit folks are quite friendly, he says. “We’ve had a couple that weren’t so nice that we don’t allow them to come up to the door anymore.” Rose’s has also banned people from securing tables for multiple parties at once.
Meanwhile, Silverman claims that the line—and subsequent spillover—has actually died down over the last few months. The mere idea of the line is often more intimidating than the line itself. “Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday this week, if you walked in at 8 o’clock, you would have been sat immediately,” Silverman said last week.
Regardless of how long the line actually is, the more significant impact of Rose’s Luxury is not whatever bump it may give individual businesses but the role it’s had in turning Barracks Row into a dining destination. Of course, Rose’s can’t take full credit. The neighborhood was already on the upswing before Rose’s came along, and places like Belga Café, Ted’s Bulletin, and Cava draw their own crowds. But other restaurateurs say it’s definitely been a game changer.
“We’re kind of this little outcast neighborhood,” says Cava’s Xenohristos. “Everybody’s always talking about 14th Street and Dupont and Adams Morgan. I think what Rose’s came and did for all of us was give us some street cred… [Silverman has] brought attention to our street, and for sure he’s definitely helped our business, and I think he’s helped everyone on the street’s business.”
In the past, Bucher says Barracks Row mostly drew nearby residents. “Now people get in Ubers and go to Barracks Row for Rose’s,” he says. “The street’s become a dining destination.” That’s subsequently helped his business: Bucher claims Medium Rare’s sales at that location, which opened in January of 2014, have been up 20 percent year over year.
The flip side to the blossoming dining scene is rising rents. “Rents go up naturally anyway when an area gets hotter,” Bucher says. “Demand certainly outstrips supply right now on Barracks Row.”
Bucher says more restaurateurs, especially those with more upscale concepts, are now being drawn to the street. “I don’t think Garrison would work in 65, 70 percent of the city. It’s expensive and a sophisticated bar program—it only works in certain neighborhoods. Rose’s paved the way for that.”
Silverman also sees that as part of his own legacy: “For us, just showing that this kind of restaurant can do well here, hopefully other people will follow,” he says. “I hope, I think that we had something to do with making it not as big of risk for someone like [Garrison chef Rob Weland] to come to the street. It’s a little more proven ground that the customers and the neighborhood will support that kind of place.”
Weland says he would have opened in the area regardless. After all, he lives in the neighborhood. Still, he says, “I couldn’t be happier to have them as our neighbor. You couldn’t ask for anything more if they’re driving the clientele.”
At the same time, it’s nearly impossible to escape the shadow of Rose’s Luxury. Garrison recently received a three star review from the Post and has quickly become a dining destination in its own right. But critic Tom Sietsema still spent the first paragraph of his review talking all about Rose’s Luxury. It was because he couldn’t get a table there that he ended up a Garrison.
“If it was crappy company, I’d have something to say,” Weland says. “But it’s very good company, and I have no problem with that at all.”
And it’s not just that a higher caliber of restaurant is moving into the neighborhood. Ultimately, Rose’s presence has forced everyone nearby to try to be that much better, Xenohristos says.
“It’s pushing everyone to elevate their game,” he says. “We have to be just as good as the next guy. And I think that all these good restaurants coming into the neighborhood, they all push each other.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery