Of vegetarians and blue jeans

Dec. 3, 2007, midnight | By Cassie Cummins Caitlin Schneiderhan | 13 years, 1 month ago

The 1950s come alive for two friends at the District Chophouse

Cassie: The District Chophouse didn't really scream vegetarian to me. All I could think of as I sat in our plump leather booth and munched on the complimentary cornbread was the sad, screaming cow they used to make Caitlin's Chophouse burger. And so begins our second Caitlin-Cassie adventure.

Caitlin: Cassie and I had been wandering around downtown D.C. for an hour and a half in the oddly warm October sunlight, and I was thirsty. Not bloodthirsty as some vegetarians (ahem, Cassie) might put it, but I had a definite hankering for a Diet Coke.

After bickering about what restaurant to go to for what seemed like forever, the two of us arrived outside the Chophouse. It was all class - white linen tablecloths and Frank Sinatra crooning over the speakers. We exchanged glances and took in our slightly sweaty, jean-clad reflections in the plate-glass window. "Chophouse?" Cassie asked incredulously. We looked at each other. We both grinned. We went in.

Cassie: As Caitlin and I entered through the heavy, mahogany doors, our eyes fell upon a lovely black and gold-plated sign: Appropriate attire required. "Do you think my flip-flops will be a problem?" I asked Caitlin. "Because if not, we can always hit up the Pita Shack." She told me to stop making excuses. But honestly, we were wearing jeans. Anyways, there wasn't a single thing for me to eat on the menu. Well, except for grilled Portobello mushrooms - the classic vegetarian option.

Back in time

The District Chophouse, while located only about a block from the Verizon Center and a few streets over from the ESPN Zone, is as far from those two venues in atmosphere as possible. While the ESPN Zone and Verizon Center pride themselves in their flashy loudness, the District Chophouse has a much quieter ambience - the only sound is that of '40s and '50s singers over the radio. The restaurant's feel harkens back to a time when emotionally suppressed women wore big skirts and their men brought home the bacon with their secretive governmental jobs. Need proof? Aside from the distinctly 1950s photos covering the walls (all of which feature alcohol in one way or another) and the wine list (as long as the dinner menu of the average restaurant), you need look no further than the website, which promises that "you will be charmed by the rich, mahogany, full service scotch and bourbon bar accompanied by the hand-carved billiard tables and a comfortable lounge equipped with armchairs and sofas."

That's right. Charmed. No one has been charmed since the mid-1950s. That should tell you just how quaint this place really is.

Caitlin: When our well-coiffed waiter came to take our order, guess what Cassie asked for? Portobello mushrooms. Portobello. Mushrooms. The obvious anti-burger choice for a vegetarian. She may as well have taken a Sharpie and scribbled all over her face "Look at me! I don't belong in this chophouse!" As if our slightly less-than-polished appearance didn't already give us away.

Where it's at

Cassie: I realize that ordering a plate of mushrooms off the starter menu isn't really something you do at a steakhouse - but it was either that, or…no, that was it. That was the only vegetarian option. Oh well, I don't care if they were just mushrooms; they were the best darn mushrooms I've ever had. And besides, I wasn't going to reduce myself to an animal-killing, meat-eating heathen just to please the huddled chophouse masses. I stood my ground.

Caitlin: Yes, but I told her that appearances matter in a place like this! Do you see these white tablecloths? The heavy, dark curtains? Do you feel the leather seats upon which our bottoms sit? Do I have to spell it out for you? We're not eating food! We're eating class!

Cassie: I told her, "Caitlin, it's only lunch."

Caitlin: Well, she didn't want to go to the Hard Rock Café.

District Chophouse manager Chesed Broggi describes the atmosphere as "relaxed high-class." Some may consider this an oxymoron, but to Broggi, it's the only description that really fits the unique restaurant. "We get people in here with families, and [we get] high-powered Washington executives and politicians," she says. "People are drawn to this atmosphere. Some come here for conventions that occur only once a year and then book another reservation right after they leave - for the next year!"

While the restaurant is unique, it is part of the Rock Bottom Restaurants chain based in Colorado. There are a number of Rock Bottom franchises and four Chophouses - the one in D.C. and three in Colorado, including the very first Chophouse and Brewery in Boulder. The D.C. branch is located in a former bank building that is at least a century old.

In the D.C. archives, Broggi says, the Rock Bottom entrepreneurs found a number of old photographs of the bank from the 1940s - photos that currently adorn the walls of the restaurant, hanging beside images of famous 40s music and film stars and a large number of smiling, happy people holding bottles of alcohol.

Standing out

Caitlin: So there we were, sitting in our booth, glaring at one another over a burger and a plate of mushrooms, when a woman walks by. Perhaps it was just my anger-heightened senses, or perhaps I am just naturally edgy and assuming, but I could swear that she gave us a look that was a distinct mixture of condescension and irritation. As soon as she was past, I turned back to Cassie and hissed. "Did you see that? Did you see how she looked at us?"

Cassie: "No, Caitlin, I didn't," I told her. "Just eat your burger and don't worry about it." But now that I think back, that lady probably was sneering - and with good reason. We were wearing jeans. And, what's more, a sign was posted at the entrance shunning anyone who fails to meet the standards set by high-class society. But, in our defense, no one said anything.

According to Broggi, the Chophouse dress-code policy isn't very strict at all (especially in comparison to Blair's). "We let people in jeans in," she says. "The 'Appropriate attire' sign just gives us an excuse to refuse service to people wearing things that are offensive - maybe their t-shirts have something crude written on them."

But, Broggi says, with the Verizon Center so close, the restaurant can't afford to enforce the policy too strictly. "We get a lot of people in here before games at the Verizon Center," she says. "The only thing we really enforce is that we don't allow men in tank tops to come in."

While your mind may immediately conjure up a troop of Neanderthals in camis, what Broggi really means is team jerseys. "It's really only a problem if there's a basketball or hockey game that night at the Verizon Center," she says. "They want to wear the jerseys to dinner, but that has the potential to create a lot of conflict, so we don't allow it."

Cassie: Well, there you have it. I guess our high school drapes weren't controversial enough. But had I worn an "Everybody loves a vegetarian" t-shirt, we probably would've been thrown out.

Appropriate attire required

Dressing for the chophouse

The District Chophouse says that it doesn't have a strict dress code. But their sign invites it, so we're giving it to you. Here are some things that you daredevils might be able to get away with wearing to a "relaxed dining experience" such as this one.

Skirts: Put on that nice skirt. You know - the one that you wear to visit your grandmother. If you're a girl, hopefully it makes you look just darling. If you're a boy...hopefully your grandmother understands and accepts you for who you really are.

Now take off that skirt and put on one that violates the dress code policy. Check it with the finger test. Does it not quite come down to your fingertips when you hold your arms by your side? It doesn't matter. Wear it anyway!

Shoes: For men and women in this situation, there is one rule and one rule only when it comes to shoes: uncomfortable. Girls, break out those high-heels that make your soles scream when you see them. Guys, a new pair of dress shoes is in order here. Beauty is pain, people! Beauty is pain.

Accessories: Since their inception, mankind has wondered about the purpose of the tie. It seems unlikely that a piece of thin, silken cloth could have any logical purpose in everyday life. And yet, they continue to be a staple of the male (and Avril Lavigne) wardrobe. Wear one. Wear two, if necessary. Who knows? They might just add that needed bit of class.

Cassie Cummins. Cassie Cummins is an 11th grade CAP student whose life is made complete with a hot cup of coffee and a long nap- preferably with Abe Lincoln by her side. When she's not doing homework or pining over her loss of sleep, she enjoys watching … More »

Caitlin Schneiderhan. More »

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