Just weeks away from Pandemic Year Three, the scene on Saturday along D.C.’s U Street NW — that premier corridor for lines, liquor, and late-night traffic — may as well have been captured in 2019.
The crowds had showed up to eat fried chicken and sip on cocktails. To dance to ABBA, aptly outfitted in bell bottoms and flower-print T shirts, or jump around to punk music. They lined up outside the new gay bar, just a few weeks old, and the late-night stalwart pizzeria, nary a face mask in sight.
“It’s like, ‘This is it.’ It’s over. There’s no going back anymore,” said Guillermo Roa, the general manager at El Techo, a rooftop cocktail bar in the Shaw neighborhood.
Inside the establishment, techno beats bumping under pink and red lights, 32-year-old Justin Pope was nursing an IPA and Old Fashioned at the bar as he chatted with his younger brother, back to their bimonthly routine of sibling nights out.
“It’s a big tidal wave about to wash ashore,” Pope said. “Everybody’s been tired. Everybody’s been waiting. Our freedom is coming back.”
With coronavirus case counts in and around Washington high but trending down — and government officials changing guidance and easing requirements — many here said that life, or at least nightlife, has maybe, finally, possibly gotten “back to normal,” even if that normal turns out to be another fleeting phase in the pandemic.