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Yenching, Walgreen, Premarital Sex

You all could probably write this post for me: Whenever I come along here to bemoan the passing of some neat old local places, some of you rib me for getting all weepy about vanishing institutions, whether it be Tower Records,
college radio stations, the Lazy Sundae ice cream shop in Clarendon, or the always-imminent closing of AV Ristorante.

(The obit for the AV has been sitting in the can for so long, it's gone through three computer systems at the paper.)

So now that Yenching Palace, the District's oldest and most famous Chinese restaurant, is really closing, I'm sure you'd all like to sing along with me as I marvel at the eatery's staying power Art Deco front, retell the great yarn about the role the place played in the Cuban missile crisis chapter of American diplomatic history, or shed a tear over the increasing corporatization of a lost neighborhood of interesting and unique locally-owned shops (Cleveland Park.) (Some comments from the neighborhood listserv here.)

Yenching Palace will become a Walgreens drug store, and the company says it will keep the wonderful facade of the building. I do love the look of the place, though it's the great neon sign more than the building facade that sends me. And really, it's the inside more than the outside that I love most: The combination of the Art Deco stylings and the Chinese-American mid-century kitsch is a huge loss. The food, not so much. It's a couple of steps up from serviceable, certainly better than most of the quick Chinese takeout places, but no match for the better Chinese places in Chinatown, Rockville or Wheaton. (Speaking of which, Christmas at Bob's Noodle 66 in Rockville was a meal to die for; the chicken-ginger casserole and the Taiwanese hamburger are unrivaled in this region.)

Walgreens, it turns out, is the largest drug store chain in the country. I've never lived anywhere where the company has a significant presence--I've lived in places dominated by CVS, Duane Reade and Eckerd's and this will be Walgreens' first store in Washington--so I've not had the honor of going to one of their stores. I can't comment, therefore, on whether they constitute an improvement over the pestilence known as CVS. But we can at least hope.

As for the rest of the post, you can imagine where I would have gone. So rather than carry on about the loss of Yenching Palace, I'll leave you with this more alluring bit: More than 90 percent of Americans engage in sex before marriage. "Further," according to the journal "Public Health Reports," "contrary to the public perception that premarital sex is much more common now than in the past, the study shows that even among women who were born in the 1940s, nearly nine in 10 had sex before marriage."

"The likelihood that Americans will have sex before marriage has remained virtually unchanged since the 1950s," says study author Dr. Lawrence Finer.

And this: Until recently, the largest number of births in this country happened in mid-September, making this week the primo time to get pregnant. But in the past few years, the #1 time of the year for births has migrated to...this week, meaning that some folks are timing their pregnancies so they can give birth around holiday time, when families are gathered together.

Just thought you'd want to know.

By Marc Fisher |  December 27, 2006; 8:57 AM ET
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Two comments...

1. Thank goodness for Walgreens. They were the only drug store open Monday (Christmas day) in the Scranton/Wilkes Barre area. And since my mother was suffering greatly with stomach flu and we had no medication in the house, we were very grateful!!

2. I guess I was in the 10%, I waited until I was 33 and married.

Posted by: amw | December 27, 2006 9:54 AM

Aw - I kind of like your local-institutions-closing posts. You don't need to change to accomodate all those bitter commenters.

Posted by: h3 | December 27, 2006 9:57 AM

I'm going to miss the Yenching Palace, but then, I'm still in mourning over the Roma.

God help us all if they close the Uptown, as has been predicted for years.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 27, 2006 10:04 AM

One other comment: if 90% of people have had sex before marriage over the past 50+ years, why do the numbers drop so drastically after marriage? Sheesh.

There is a lesson here, people.

bc

Posted by: bc | December 27, 2006 10:09 AM

You sure it's because people want to give birth when family is in town? I thought the fact that you get a child credit on your taxes for the year if you give birth before 12:01 on Jan. 1 might have something to do with it ...

Posted by: Kate | December 27, 2006 10:17 AM

Traditionally high birth rates in the northern hemisphere occur in September, October November, nine months after the long cold nights of winter. With the advent of air conditioning, summer snoggin becomes a much more attractive prospect.

Posted by: kurosawaguy | December 27, 2006 10:42 AM

I'm still in deep mourning over the closing of Tower Records....

Posted by: WB | December 27, 2006 10:44 AM

keep up the good work mourning the shops and restaurants that bring character to our communities. it is such a shame that unique retail locations are being forced out by these national chains. I find it hard to believe that people really want to see a gap, walgreens, starbucks, etc. on every corner. Unfortunately, those old places only work in places like williamsburg and ellicott city, where we "tour" them, instead of shopping in them.

Posted by: jan | December 27, 2006 10:49 AM

But on a happy note, Sadam will hang within the next 30 days!

Posted by: WB | December 27, 2006 10:49 AM

How is that all these drug store chains have the resources to snap up every last centimeter of prime real estate but none seem to be able to hire enough staff even to man the cash registers? And God help you if you actually need help on the floor finding something.

It's really too bad the management at Yenching did realize their food was so mediocre, I realized it 25 years ago. With just a little investment in the kitchen this could have been a real institution instead of a kitschy curiosity.

Posted by: Paul | December 27, 2006 11:20 AM

The best part of the Roma was that it combined the three holy grails of restauranting:
1. Top notch food
2. Cheap prices
3. ATMOSPHERE!

Growing up in the 1970s and 80s we relished all the weird deco and moderne buildings, but with the skyrocketing cost of real estate, it ratcheted up the required return on investment per square foot, you know? There's still Pistone's in Seven Corners, poresumably the Ambrosia still exists in Vienna, Luigis serves decent food, Vace is relatively modern, but all the Rockville, Bethesda and Upper Northwest "retiree restaurants" are gone. I know of no more "time travel" places. We lost AVs, Roma, Tastee, Trader Vic's, etc. I will never, ever forget Bethesda's Smiling Buddha restaurant on Wisconsin Ave.

Posted by: Bethesdan | December 27, 2006 11:24 AM

hope someone from the bush administration reads this column so they can face the reality that despite their persistence that we shouldn't adults in this country are going to have sex outside of marriage. They need to abandon their ludicrous just don't do it policies. Can someone tell me again why we have people who are living in the dark ages running this country? Shouldn't they be in the pulpit in some evangelical church somewhere instead?

Posted by: bigdaddy | December 27, 2006 11:41 AM

The independently-owned Chinese/Asian restaurants serves much better food than the Chinese chain restaurants. Everything at the Great Wall tastes like garlic and the food at Panda Cafe is very bland. I will always seek out an independent Asian restaurant.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 27, 2006 12:22 PM

Marc, are you trying to say if people have people have premarital sex, they should go to Walgreens for condoms? Are you trying to tie the two together? A little subliminal message there?

Posted by: Just Asking | December 27, 2006 12:25 PM

What you may not remember is that Yenching Palace was not born with that name. It was originally Peking Palace, but was required to change its name because an even older Chinese Restaurant, about 2 miles further north on Connecticut Avenue, already owned the name.

By the way, the older restaruant, which had all of the usual Amerinese dishes, such as chow mein, also had a complete menue of much more serious dishes, including Shark Fin soup.

Posted by: Catcher50 | December 27, 2006 12:49 PM

Anyone remember, besides Trader Vic's, any of the Tiki-decorated AmerAsian bars or restaurants in DC from the 50s-60s? I remember the Aloha Inn in Gaithersburg, but my parents, the cultural snobs would never set foot in a Tiki bar, despite our childhood pleading. I thought it interesting that Ed Walker on WAMU's Big Boradcast played an old episode of "Broadway is My Beat" from the late 50s that mocked fake Chinese food tiki bars. Not unlike, I suppose, the showy 1950s Italian places mocked in the 1990s film "Big Night." Were they all like so many Rainforest Cafes dotting the nascent Beltway era?

Posted by: Bethesdan | December 27, 2006 2:01 PM

Ah, the Aloha in Gaithersburg! I remember going there a few times during lunch hour and sharing one of those drinks served in the large bowls with a friend or two...a few appetizers...double vision as I drove back to work.

Posted by: gburg | December 27, 2006 2:21 PM

Pre-marital--it would be interesting to know whether HOW LONG before marriage has changed. Are we starting earlier, or getting married later? And is the jogging really that much better in Australia?

Posted by: cevansjr | December 27, 2006 2:42 PM

Let's not forget Mr. Egans, Reeves and Whiteys in our necrologue of local eateries.

Posted by: Nostalgiac | December 27, 2006 3:04 PM

Shakeys Pizza!

Posted by: Those taters were yummy! | December 27, 2006 3:06 PM

Sorry, Mr. Fisher, you have no credibility on food.

Bob's 66 is roughly the fifth-best Rockville Restaurant within a few blocks of town center, besting only that lousy take-out near Kam Sam.

Just saying.

Posted by: dmoynihan | December 27, 2006 3:23 PM

I had a baby this September. I know when I got pregnant - the first week of January. I always found it funny, during my pregnancy, how many people would say to me, wow, my sister/dad/mom/own... birthday is around your due date. Then I would mention that it was because of Christmas and New Years Eve. They would give a blank look, do some mental math and get either an amused or slightly ill look, depending on who they had just imagined conceiving a child. always amusing for me. There are also a large number of babies born in March nowadays, as the oh-so-scheduled moms to be, who get to January and think, oh no, can't start a family right now, will do it in 6 months, which is June, which means March.

Posted by: September | December 27, 2006 6:38 PM

Speaking of "retiree restaurants", what about, in Bethesda, O'Donnels, Hot Shoppes, Bish Thompsons...
And some other ones I miss...
Maggies, Uncle Jed's, the bar that was next to the carpet store in that strip mall right before bradley blvd on Wisconsin, the place that is now tommy joes...

Posted by: Ah, the memories | December 27, 2006 6:50 PM

The Bayou in Georgetown. And wasn't there a hamburger joint around the corner? They served those little hamburgers.

Posted by: Swirling Memories | December 27, 2006 8:11 PM

Wait! Don't kill these places off prematurely: Reeve's is still around, at 1306 G Street NW, still serving that same great strawberry cheesecake and strawberry shortcake. And the AV is still open, despite its building being sentenced to death.

Posted by: Fisher | December 27, 2006 9:37 PM

Sorry, I was thinking of Sherills, not Reeves.

Posted by: Nostalgiac | December 27, 2006 10:20 PM

I lived in New Jersey, where Walgreens has sprung like Topsy, for several years. It's a good chain, and is to CVS or Rite-Aid among drug stores what Wawa is to 7-Eleven among convenience stores.

Posted by: Vincent | December 28, 2006 1:09 AM

Used to be, the District was a place distinct from, I don't know, Plattsburgh. Walgreen's? Meh. I mourn for People's and Dart.

Don't disparage those old Polynesian places with the tiki totems. Those poles were really menus. Hence the phrase "lo mein on the totem pole."

Posted by: used to be | December 28, 2006 9:38 AM

The DC I grew up in -- with People's Drug Stores, Woodies and Hecht's, and Eddie Gallaher, and Eddie Leonard's, and the Senators, and public schools that actually educated -- is gone. Long gone. Someday, I will be gone too. (In a way, I already am, since I live in Bmore. Walgreen's is an improvement over CVS.)

I pity those who come after me. This was a great town. Now, if you're making less than 100K, you're probably just visiting.

Posted by: RL | December 28, 2006 10:22 AM

Well said, RL. DC will never evolve like Baltimore has.

Posted by: Fred Co. | December 28, 2006 10:50 AM

try their Yunan rice noodle before it shuts the doors. a very authentic regional cuisine of SW China - unique, uncommon and very very good - not for your average american tast buds though. sometimes you have to call ahead to pre-order it coz it takes time to prepare. good luck.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 28, 2006 11:48 AM

Keep memorializing the dying institutions, Mark. We need someone to keep watch. Not every death has to be lamented, but they all should be noted.

Posted by: Lindemann | December 28, 2006 2:36 PM

Marc,
Please refrain from writing columns that might encourage some of your readers to share details of their mother's stomach flu and when they, themselves, lost their virginity in the same post. Ick.

Posted by: Mark | December 29, 2006 3:17 PM

Marc,

The reason people are timing births for this week is to get the tax deduction. If we would just adopt a flat tax all deductions go away and we'll have a return to the September births.

Posted by: KK | January 4, 2007 3:24 PM

Hi, I am very sad to see the Yenching Palace go, not so much because I was a regular customer, but because it is the place of a personal story: My father had gotten engaged to my mom New Years of 1969, and they were to be married at the end of March. Sometime in between these dates, my dad was at the Yenching Palace, probably feeling a normal dose of nervousness about the life change he was embarking on. His fortune cookie said, "Do not reconsider any of your plans." This confirmed everything for him and I have to thank the Y.P. for my existence!

Posted by: Amy Perlman Gura | January 15, 2007 4:33 PM

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