It’s a long Hanukkah in Washington, and Eli’s isn’t closing

It’s a long Hanukkah in Washington, and Eli’s isn’t closing

Amid a social calendar crunched into a few days by ‘Thanksgivukkah,’ DC kosher icon says it’s sticking around, albeit down the street

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Eli's Restaurant, a Washington, DC, favorite (photo credit: courtesy)
Eli's Restaurant, a Washington, DC, favorite (photo credit: courtesy)

WASHINGTON — Exhale, kosher Washington, and loosen your belts. As if the holiday social season – jammed into a brief period post-Thanksgiving – wasn’t food-oriented enough, there are yet more calories on the horizon. Eli’s Restaurant, the kosher meat eatery known for its Jewish celebrity-named sandwiches and A-list clientele, will not be closing its doors, only moving down the street.

In October, a wave of concern swept across the DC kosher scene when it was revealed that the restaurant’s current Dupont Circle location was scheduled for redevelopment. If the popular restaurant, which draws politicians, reporters, lobbyists and Jewish organization leaders, were to close, the capital would be left with only one place to hold critical kosher lunch meetings – Distrikt Bistro, a Mediterranean-themed small-plates restaurant located in the local Jewish Community Center.

And there was precedent for worry. One of DC’s few other attempts at kosher dining – L’Etoile – closed in 2002 after it lost its lease. Other endeavors also fell victim to circumstances, including Archives and Stacks, two dining establishments, owned by kosher-keeping lobbyist Jack Abramoff, that met the quintessentially Washingtonian fate of having their owner jailed for corruption-related charges.

After his release from prison, Abramoff would later tell interviewers that the kosher restaurant business in DC was far from his most lucrative trade. Archives, he said during an interview on a food program on DC’s WAMU public radio, was “in every step along the way a community service.”

“Because there were no kosher restaurants, the young people weren’t staying here because there was really nowhere to go out to eat with the family,” he said. “And I felt that I was very involved in lots of other communal efforts, and I viewed that one very much as that. And, unfortunately, from a business point of view, it stayed very much a community effort and didn’t ever come near turning a profit.”

It was a community effort, in fact, that helped cement Eli’s deliverance.

In true DC style, over 400 people mobilized to sign a petition on calling on the restaurant’s owners to keep it open.

“In addition to being a staple for the local community, it has also served countless Jewish tour groups, schools, camps, and visiting families and friends,” wrote petition initiator E. Jakabovics. “Not having an affordable, family-friendly kosher restaurant in DC will negatively impact the community in many ways.”

The signers reflected the wide circles of Eli’s influence. From as far away as California and Missouri, Eli’s regulars attested to the fact that the oft-crowded eatery was a prime spot for doing business.

Eli’s is not moving far – to 2142 L Street, N.W – three blocks away from its current location. It is switching neighborhoods, nominally, from Dupont Circle to the West End, a neighborhood that sits just above Foggy Bottom, home of George Washington University and the State Department.

News will travel fast this week, as Jewish Washington officialdom bounces from party to party, holding delayed and condensed Hanukkah celebrations. With the long Thanksgiving weekend taking up the first five days of the holiday, a bizarre side-effect of “Thanksgivukkah” was that the White House and Congressional Hanukkah parties were pushed off ’til after the conclusion of the holiday.

The Israeli Embassy held its Hanukkah celebration on Tuesday, but with the Senate still on Thanksgiving recess until next week, a number of would-be guests are still in their far-flung districts.

Most other DC institutions also held their Hanukkah festivities in the three last days of the holiday – from Monday evening to Wednesday, leading to a social calendar backup of epic proportions.

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