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The Last Calamari: A.V. Ristorante's Sad and Joyful End

If you feel a deep need to be there for the final dinners at the grand old A.V. Ristorante, you will wait, and wait, and wait. Last night, the wait for a table grew steadily throughout the evening, but despite the hours-long queue of folks hanging out in the back room bar, this was a happy crowd, because even though the A.V. is closing on Saturday to make way for another big office development, it's impossible to eat at the A.V. and not feel in a celebratory mood.

(Read more about A.V. Ristorante's history here.)

The shrimp fra diavlo and the linquini with clams were up to par, even if the kitchen did run out of bread and fall deeply behind in orders as the crowd blossomed. But nobody was complaining. Rather, people were telling stories about Washington in 1967, before the riots, when the A.V. was in a neighborhood that was still home to the Wax Museum, when the merchants had not yet abandoned the city to go build Rockville Pike, when Washington still had a faint hint of an Italian neighborhood downtown.

(Not everyone was passing the time in social discourse: Some were too busy reading the new Harry Potter. The big book was open on a few tables, and the maitre d' said that one diner last Saturday night read the entire, massive volume while waiting for a table--four hours and 20 minutes, which is an impressive bit of speed-reading, if true.)

Developer Doug Jemal plans to take down the A.V. and build something to take advantage of the continuing real estate boom downtown. The story of the A.V. is the story of a city's organic growth spurts and depressed periods, the story of immigration and suburbanization, of neighborhoods rising and falling and now rising again. The owner, August Vasaio, and his family and longtime staff, were working the room last night, exchanging an endless series of hugs and kisses. These are nights for table-hopping and reminiscences as all the regulars come in for one last fling. We sat a couple of tables away from the mayor's parents last night and yes, they had to wait just as long as everybody else.

From the scene last night, you could hardly imagine that the Post's restaurant critic emeritus, Phyllis Richman, once recommended the A.V. to Money magazine as one of the rudest restaurants in the land. That was certainly never my experience, and this week, it's inconceivable.

Those who deeply loved the A.V. will get a chance come September to buy its furnishings--everything from the chairs and tables to the Venetian glass and fountains will be up for auction.

In the meantime, go, eat, soak it all in. There's nothing quite like the A.V. in Washington; starting Sunday, the only option will be the annoying drive up to Baltimore, where there are nearly a dozen places of similar style, quality and atmosphere. Plus cannoli.

By Marc Fisher |  July 24, 2007; 2:00 PM ET
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Comments

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Marc,

Did AV Ristorante own its building and land? If so, they're taking a nice piece of change out of the old business in addition to all the memories.

Rudest restaurant? You've make you think that they recognized Phyllis Richman when they were serving her.

Posted by: KK | July 24, 2007 4:14 PM

Here's the original report on the sale by the Post's Dana Hedgpeth, from July 2006:

D.C. developer Douglas Jemal said he bought the land that A.V. Ristorante Italiano occupies and is working to buy the rest of the block at New York Avenue and Seventh Street NW. He said he would like to put offices and retail on the site, much as he did on the block of Seventh Street NW across from Verizon Center.

Jemal wouldn't say how much he paid for the restaurant, a neighborhood institution that was started in 1949 by Augusto Vasaio and remained in his family. "They don't have to worry about the price of pizza anymore," he said. "They can retire."

But not right away. The owners said the restaurant won't close until October 2007.

"I'm very sad, but what are you going to do," said August Vasaio, one of the owners. "This is my lifeblood. But it's progress. Every good thing comes to an end."

Posted by: Fisher | July 24, 2007 4:31 PM

Fisher,

Thanks for chasing that down. Excellent research.

I note that they were planning to turn out the lights in October, but now they're leaving in July. I'm betting they picked up a few more lira in that early departure.

Posted by: KK | July 24, 2007 4:45 PM

One can certainly be nostalgic for A.V. because of the loss of a long-standing institution or because it might be one of the few restaurants in D.C. which has any semblance of authenticity with respect to a New York-style Italian joint.

But let's face it, the food sucks. Get over it.

Posted by: Rillings | July 24, 2007 5:09 PM

When I first moved to DC in 1969, the AV was a regular stop for years-- as long as we could park nearby or up against the police station. AV area grew less friendly a few blocks away. Food once was great-- and authentic. Agree with comments re realistic NYC feel. As to Phyllis Richman calling AV a rude place-- I heard she was no picnic herself: a diva without much to be a diva about, self-centered and brassy (although a good restaurant reviewer). AV probably saw through what people called her haughty arrogance and didn't roll over for her. So long and thnx, AV, for all the memories!! Enjoy the investmet income for a change!

Posted by: Now a West Coaster | July 24, 2007 5:31 PM

When I first moved to DC in 1969, the AV was a regular stop for years-- as long as we could park nearby or up against the police station. AV area grew less friendly a few blocks away. Food once was great-- and authentic. Agree with comments re realistic NYC feel. As to Phyllis Richman calling AV a rude place-- I heard she was no picnic herself: a diva without much to be a diva about, self-centered and brassy (although a good restaurant reviewer). AV staff probably saw through what people called her haughty arrogance and didn't roll over for her. So long and thnx, AV, for all the memories!! Enjoy the investmet income for a change!

Posted by: Now a West Coaster | July 24, 2007 5:31 PM

When I first moved to DC in 1969, the AV was a regular stop for years-- as long as we could park nearby or up against the police station. AV area grew less friendly a few blocks away. Food once was great-- and authentic. Agree with comments re realistic NYC feel. As to Phyllis Richman calling AV a rude place-- I heard she was no picnic herself: a diva without much to be a diva about, self-centered and brassy (although a good restaurant reviewer). AV staff probably saw through what people called her haughty arrogance and didn't roll over for her. So long and thnx, AV, for all the memories!! Enjoy the investmet income for a change!

Posted by: Now a West Coaster | July 24, 2007 5:32 PM

Jemal had better put ground floor retail in there. The neighborhood really needs it, especially on that corner.

And it'd be nice to have a mixed use development - with ground floor retail, some office, some residential.

As for AV, it is sad to see it go. Yes, the food was sometimes mediocre. But at least the place had personality.

Posted by: Hillman | July 24, 2007 5:44 PM

So what if they owned the land. They are greedy like so many others.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2007 8:37 PM

So what if they owned the land. They are greedy like so many others.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2007 8:37 PM

Hillman's right.

The area still needs ground floor retail. And not some lame chain, please.

Posted by: Mark | July 24, 2007 10:05 PM

I don't understand the 'they are greedy' posting. They made millions off this deal.
What is wrong with that? Are they supposed to stay in business indefinitely, working every day and losing out on those millions?

I sense a little jealousy at work here.

Posted by: Hillman | July 24, 2007 11:50 PM

I agree with Mark and Hillman -- it would be great to see ground floor retail in that neighborhood. I wonder why there's none there now?

Who could come in -- other than a "lame chain" -- and run a profitable retail establishment in that neighborhood? Politics and Prose?

Posted by: KK | July 25, 2007 7:38 AM

I was there Saturday for my first ever trip there to join friends who wanted to go one last time. The manager was the biggest jerk I have ever seen involved in the food service industry. After waiting for table for about a half hour, our party of seven heard our name called. No more than 30 seconds later, we discovered it was not our party, but we had misheard the manager announce a similar name. Understanding the mix-up, we headed back to the bar, only to hear the manager announce we were being bounced to the back of the list. We assumed he was joking until he assured us we would be waiting for a couple hours for a table. Dreadful customer service, the jerk wouldn't lisen to reason, and I'm glad the place is closing. The food at Matchbox was much better.

Posted by: 5Dollar | July 25, 2007 10:13 AM

I was there Saturday for my first ever trip there to join friends who wanted to go one last time. The manager was the biggest jerk I have ever seen involved in the food service industry. After waiting for table for about a half hour, our party of seven heard our name called. No more than 30 seconds later, we discovered it was not our party, but we had misheard the manager announce a similar name. Understanding the mix-up, we headed back to the bar, only to hear the manager announce we were being bounced to the back of the list. We assumed he was joking until he assured us we would be waiting for a couple hours for a table. Dreadful customer service, the jerk wouldn't lisen to reason, and I'm glad the place is closing. The food at Matchbox was much better.

Posted by: 5Dollar | July 25, 2007 10:13 AM

Marc, are you saying that the Harry Potter reader waited more than four hours for a table?

Posted by: Tom T. | July 25, 2007 12:19 PM

I used to love their pizzas. Nothing in the neighborhood was better than the cheap chianti with a well done pie.

However, I had the worst, rudest experience of my many years coming to A.V the other evening. They clearly have forgotten what made the place so special.

Truly, the door hit me on the way out.

Instead of walking home with the normal pleasant taste of slightly burnt pizza and ripe chianti in my mouth I left wishing, at best, good riddens, at worst, that the hole would have burned to the ground in the '68 riots.

Posted by: Dan | July 25, 2007 12:23 PM

I agree with the commentors that said the servers were rude and the food mediocre. I had friends who used to go there but I was never impressed. I laugh when people bemoan the loss of these "Washington institutions" like AV and the bakery from a few weeks ago. Obviously people weren't going to these places or they wouldn't be closing.

Posted by: not impressed | July 25, 2007 12:28 PM

Closest thing to AV in atmosphere & style of cooking in the MD 'burbs is Pines of Rome in Bethesda, and Vicino in downtown Silver Spring...

I still remember the Roma in Cleveland Park!

Posted by: LooLoo | July 25, 2007 4:05 PM

Not Impressed:

That isn't true at all. AV's sold their property because they were retiring and got an offer for the land to be redeveloped. That restaurant could have lasted another 40 years. Why do people automatically think when a store closes that they went out of business? That makes no sense. Does anyone remember the Roma in Cleveland Park? That owner just moved to Florida (as I remember it) and didn't want to run the restaurant in absentia. That's another place that could have lasted for another 40 years. Yenching Palace was not great, but not going broke either. I'm sick of these thread-skimming analyses.

Posted by: DCer | July 25, 2007 4:07 PM

I used to like A.V. a lot, even though the food wasn't spectacular. They had the best garlic bread ever. However, I tried to go there last night for dinner and was treated with the utmost disrespect for committing the unpardonable sin of requesting a table. As I left the restaurant for the last time, I told the owner's rude wife that I wasn't sorry they were closing. They deserve it.

Posted by: FC | July 27, 2007 11:25 AM

I've been a regular at AV's for 35 years and was at least recognizable by the owners includin Augusto Sr. who passed away many years ago. The food was real basic southern Italian, the white pizza NEVER duplicated by anyone on three continents where I searched. The place had charm and will be missed. The march of time has caught up with AV's..the new convention center demanding more and more room. If the developer had any real vision..he would have remodeled the place and built around it. I was there Saturday night and despite the wait, they couldnt have been any nicer in seating people and explaining to everyone the situation. Anyone that complains about this place didnt belong there.

Posted by: Charlie | July 29, 2007 9:20 AM

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