From Dito Sevilla. Email him at dito[AT]borderstan.com, follow him on Twitter @DitoDC.
Well folks, it appears the rumors are true. Trio has been sold along with Fox & Hounds, 17th Street’s most elegant dive-bar to long-time manager of its sister restaurant Trio. Both businesses officially changed hands earlier this month.
The prospect of an eventual sale was nothing new. For years, Trio and Fox & Hounds have been officially, or rather unofficially “for sale” through brokers and agents tasked with finding the right buyer for one of DC’s oldest restaurants. Trio Restaurant opened as a luncheonette by an eponymous “trio” of partners sometime in 1940.
Since that time, the restaurant has remained in the same family, some 73 years. Over the decades, owner George Mallios and his family expanded their luncheonette several times, first into a full-service diner, and then around both corners of 17th and Q Streets NW adding the Fox & Hounds “Lounge” in 1967, and Trio Pizza in 1973. Trio Pizza was eventually broken off and sold to Jaime Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bar where it remains today, having itself expanded further down Q Street.
Of all the recipes served at Trio and Fox & Hounds, none are more vexing to me than their astonishing recipe for success. Having lived in Washington my entire life I have seen restaurants come and go, open and close, reinvent, repaint and renovate… but not Trio. As long as I can remember, the corner remains unchanged.
Sure the burgundy awnings are now green, and the faded mismatched plastic patio chairs are replaced as soon as they no longer support the weight of exactly one drunk person, but for the most part, no effort has ever been taken embrace change. I usually subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, but Trio has taken it to another level altogether.
Though you’d never notice, every year the wall-to-wall carpeting of the Fox and Hounds is changed out for (you guessed it) the same exact gray-tan-beige Astroturf. Drinks are served, as they always have, “English Style,” where the liquor is poured over ice, and handed to you with a small bottle of mixer, allowing you to add it as you see fit. The recipe only changes if you change it yourself.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you cut a hole in a wall and jammed a port-a-potty into it? One visit to either Fox & Hounds bathroom will illustrate the result better than I could in writing. Although we are told that they are closing the second weekend of February until Tuesday at 4 pm to redo the bathrooms!
For all of it’s idiosyncrasies, dysfunctional pricing system, handwritten receipts, quizzical odors and so-outdated-it’s-new-again-décor, Trio and “the Fox,” as locals know it, are places where you always feel at home, (assuming you live in a bowling alley’s party room). One can’t help but let their guard down in a place where judgment is the only thing not welcomed. Chelsea Clinton chose Fox & Hounds as the place to drown her sorrows after one particularly tough break-up with her now husband. Tears and Jameson flowed, as patrons and secret-service agents looked on, both in horror. How could we judge?
As the next few months pass, the staff may be retained or replaced, the walls may change color, the bathroom may no longer resemble a jiffy-john, and with luck, the food may even improve, and under the right circumstances you may even eat it. But, remind yourself that no matter whatever the future holds for the corner of 17th and Q, it will always be Trio, it’ll always be the “Fox” and the tears of a president’s daughter will always be welcome. On a block where Agora was Jack’s, and Jack’s was Le Pigalle, and Le Pigalle was Peppers and Peppers was Boss Shepherd’s — I know as much as things change, they will, too, remain very much the same.