All I wanted was a mimosa. But what I got instead was a reality check that was harder to swallow than the citrusy-champagne concoction I craved.
The sun had finally decided to make a cameo in D.C. after weeks of snow and crippling cold weather. It was a Saturday, and the emptiness in the cabinets of my apartment was battling with the empty echo in my stomach. After much deliberation, my roommates and I decided to make our way to Local 16, a pretty decent lounge with a really sweet brunch deal. $20 for an entree and bottomless mimosas. Our pockets were still a little limp from Spring Break, so the $20 charge was enough for us to eat well without killing our college budgets.
As soon as we arrived something felt off, but I couldn’t quite put a finger on it. I surveyed the crowd. Not too many faces looked like mine. There were a sea of blondes with blue or green eyes, but barely any brown complexions in the room. I chalked up my observation to being spoiled by Howard University. Attending a historically black university allows me to come in contact with a spectrum of chocolate hues, so going somewhere and not seeing Black people feels a little weird sometimes.
Whatevs. We were ready to take full advantage of the mimosas.
“Do you have a reservation?” asked the host.
The three of us looked at each other with widened eyes. U Street was getting fancy on us. During our four-year stay in D.C., we had never had to make a reservation for brunch. We explained that we had not made a reservation, but the host assured us that we would be put on the waitlist and a table would be ready within 20 minutes.
“You can go to the bar upstairs and start the drink portion of your meal,” the host explained.
She definitely didn’t have to tell us twice. The venue was crowded, and the bar on the rooftop deck was even more congested. Standing as close to the bar as possible, the atmosphere was comparable to something I’d only felt a few times before. There were no “Excuse Me’s,” no “How can I help you’s?,” nothing that indicated any form of common courtesies.
Everyone’s been drinking. It’s busy, I get it.
We stood around for a few more moments and after growing tired of watching everyone else plummet into a drunken stupor, we approached staff to be served our drinks. My roommate asked the nearest employee if we could start our rounds of mimosas, and he ignored us. If you’re going to ignore someone, you probably shouldn’t make eye contact with them. We found a cheerful worker, who seemed a little apprehensive but filled our glasses anyway. The wait for the drinks lasted longer than the drinks themselves, and before we knew it we were ready for another round. We asked another employee for our second round. Her reaction was one I wasn’t ready to hear.
“That’s not how it works. We don’t do that here,” she said.
Well, this is awkward. The host told us to come upstairs and if we weren’t allowed to drink before eating I can’t imagine why the other staffer would have filled our glasses in the first place.
We asked to see the manager. I decided to handle the exchange because I seemed to be the most calm among our bunch. I explained our dilemma using the sweetest voice I could.
“In order to have bottomless brunch, you need to order your food either at the bar or at a table. I’m not sure if you’re aware of the price, but it’s $20 dollars for the brunch deal. If you want to stand and drink we’re going to have to charge you an additional $22,” the manager explained.
I countered her explanation. “We’re aware of the price. It’s why we wanted to dine here. We’re not trying to drink for free without ordering. We were simply doing what we saw everyone else do. Everyone on this rooftop has received some type of service, while we’ve been standing here idle,” I said. “Seeing as how there is no room at the bar, the only option we’ve been left with is to stand next to it. The three blondes that were doing the same thing had no problem getting refills.”
The manager continued to bicker, perplexed as to how we could have been under the impression that we were allowed to do as what we think we saw 99.9% of the restaurant doing. She said she would check with the host.
“So we’re not going to charge you,” she said.
There were the magic words. I rounded up all three glasses and told her to have a nice day. The three of us couldn’t believe it was such a hassle to get spiked OJ.
After asking our friend, a Local 16 employee, the series of events seemed to make less sense. Our friend had no clue what we were talking about. People started their drinks before their brunch meals regularly, our friend said, regardless of whether they were seated. Oh, and the additional $22 we were threatened with doesn’t exist either. She talked us into revisiting the restaurant during her next weekend.
Take 2. The same feeling overcame me. I surveyed the crowd again. Less concerned with facial features, I was more concerned with whether the “protocol” was being met. It did not surprise us to see that a majority of the hands held glasses overflowing with mimosas.
Local 16 was contacted about the details of their protocol. The manager did not recall the incident.