Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Washington Social Diary

Coach Stop owners, brothers Mike and Mark Tate.
by Carol Joynt

It’s reached the point where someone could make a reverse Monopoly game geared to the impact the wrecked economy has had on the local businesses we thought would be around forever. You know the places I’m talking about, the disappearing indigenous “Ma and Pa” shops that give a community its unique personality. They can be as grand as Tavern On the Green or as humble as the corner bar. Regardless, they fall like rotted fruit, unable to sustain life on an anemic flow of customers and cash.

No longer do the signs on the locked doors say “We’ve Moved Up The Street To A Larger Space.” Nope. They just say “Closed.”
The Coach Stop on its last day of business, Sunday, January 3, 2010
And so, with a heavy heart, I write an obituary for The Coach Stop, which closed Sunday night after more than 50 years of serving up all manner of southern comfort food, and generous cocktails as well as thick milk shakes, in the heart of the main drag of Middleburg, Va. It would be a crime to say it was just a restaurant, because it was so much more. For the “hunt country” it was, with its long counter and round booths, a combination of Elaine’s, Swifty’s and Three Guys.

The Coach Stop’s customer base was more than diverse. It was downright improbable. A novelist couldn’t dream up a barbecue and burger joint whose patrons included, at one time or another, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Onassis, Paul and Bunny Mellon, Jack Kent Cooke, Robert Duvall, Cheryl Tiegs, Rudolph Nureyev, Zoran, Tab Hunter, Nancy Reagan – plus assorted family members with last names like Buchanan, Fout, Whitney, Bogley, Wiley, Stettinius, Ohrstrom, Randolph, Mathieson, Slater, Glascock, Grayson, Graham, Smith and Van Metre. Not to forget jockeys, stablehands, various rogues and just about every young woman who ever went to Foxcroft.
The Coach Stop: "Fine Dining Since 1958." Though in rural Virginia, The Coach Stop always had the latest papers.
A last look at The Coach Stop dining room.
The art on the walls at The Coach Stop: horses and hounds.
The Coach Stop's owners happily posted notices of pets in need of a home; Some of my personal house favorites.
“Anybody who came to Middleburg ended up there at one time or another,” said 36-year resident Sally Hosta.

The ownership changed over the years. When I first discovered The Coach Stop it was 1977 and the owners were Brian and Loretta Jillson, who bought it several years earlier from John Bryan. In 1988 the Jillsons sold out to two employees, brothers Michael and Mark Tate. While ownership was different, The Coach Stop stayed pretty much the same – open 7 days of the week for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a mess of newspapers always at the front entrance, customers in muddy riding boots and other country kit, a reliable and affordable menu and a staff that remained year after year.
A Coach Stop specialty: barbecue, slaw and chips.
The renowned Coach Stop onion rings.
The Coach Stop's chili.
The popular Coach Stop bacon cheeseburger with sides of slaw and mac n'cheese.
In their letter to patrons, Mark and Mike said, “While we have served a number of celebrities over the years, The Coach Stop has always been about the regular diners and longtime staff.” They also applauded the food, “from the creamed chipped beef on flaky biscuits for breakfast, to the jumbo hamburger with homemade onion rings for lunch, to the calves liver and onions or backfin lump crab cakes for dinner.” And let’s not forget the strawberry pie. They attributed the closing to “a lot of aspects,” but on more than a few occasions Mike told me the economy was crushing them.

It scares me when small business owners speak those words. Many loyal customers can’t afford to support them the way they used to, and yet no one wants to lose them. Saving the small businesses, as we know, is a critical issue before the Obama Administration and Congress, but the burden seems to fall mostly to the consumer. Talk to any small business owner and they’ll tell you they feel worthy of the same government love that was handed out to the big boys.
A reporter, on the right, interviews customers on the last day of business at The Coach Stop.
Friends have a "hello" at one of the Coach Stop's prized booths.
The busy counter on The Coach Stop's last day.
After serving his last customers Sunday night, Mike Tate emailed: “I am spent. You don't realize how big a mess a restaurant is until you start to clean it up.” I can second that, having had to close my late husband’s 40-year-old Georgetown pub in mid July.

Coincidentally, at the same time The Coach Stop announced its closing, down the road in Warrenton, Va., another hunt country staple, Napoleon’s, served its last drinks on New Year’s Eve after three decades of business.

Alas, too often now the truth about small businesses is a slice of lyrics from a 1980 Queen hit: “Another one bites the dust, another one bites the dust, and another one gone, and another one gone. How do you think I’m gonna get along without you when you’re gone?”

In 2010, a hymn for landlords and developers.
The Coach Stop's motto was "Where you always see someone you know."
The Third Crasher Turns Out To Be Real

In a Washington Social Diary column well before Christmas, I mentioned I’d been hearing rumors of a “third gatecrasher” at the White House State Dinner made famous by gatecrashers One and Two, Michaele and Tareq Salahi. Here’s part of what I wrote December 7:

“The week was a series of tips and rumors about the couple. A few came like missives from Deep Throat, with requests to meet, where to meet, to turn off the cell phone and to make certain I wasn’t followed to the rendezvous. This did make me laugh. My favorite rumor was that they weren’t the only crashers at the White House State Dinner.”

My secret meetings were with James Packard-Gomez, who co-owns the popular Erwin-Gomez salon where Michaele Salahi got herself put together for the State Dinner. James and I met for coffee in the back of a Georgetown coffee shop, Baked & Wired, where he showed me emails confirming the third crasher.

Carlos Allen with Michaela Salahi.
He had a name – Carlos Allen – but no photo. Back then I contacted Allen on Facebook. He immediately “friended” me and wanted to meet, but when I said I had good information he was at the State Dinner and wanted to talk to him about that, he stopped responding to my messages.

Meanwhile, James began to get paranoid, which can happen in Washington when you’re carrying around potentially explosive information, especially information that can be damaging to the White House. The more he learned about Allen, from friends and hangers on, the more he was convinced he was being followed, perhaps by the Secret Service, and that his laptop and emails had been tapped into. He ceased meeting me in person and we communicated only via text. He wasn’t seeking the information about Allen. It was coming to him from people who knew Allen.

On December 12 I posted this information on my personal blog:

“This is what I've heard about the alleged third crasher. That he moves in or around the edges of a special social circle. That he ran swingers parties in Mount Pleasant, Md., had a private ‘swingers’ club, but then converted it into a charity program for disadvantaged children. He changed the clubs web address from a dot-com to a dot-org. However, there's some who believe he may still be in the swingers business, but no one knows for sure. He's said to be a friend of Debra Lee and other well placed and influential individuals, some connected to the Obamas. I've been invited (through a friend of a friend) to a New Year's party being hosted by his partner. The mystery man intersects with the Salahis in that the three of them have the same lawyer, or are friends with, Paul Gardner. It's interesting but is it anything more than coincidental?”

Yesterday morning, Ronald Kessler, a journalist and expert on the Secret Service, reported that the Secret Service had confirmed there was a third crasher, who they called an “uninvited guest.”

Late Monday evening The Washington Post reported, “A congressional source, who was granted anonymity to speak about the ongoing investigation into porous security at the White House, identified the man as Carlos Allen, a D.C. party promoter who runs an event space in Mount Pleasant. Allen came to the state dinner, made famous by gate-crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi, with the Indian delegation.”

I’ve since been told the House Homeland Security Committee, the same committee that has subpoenaed the Salahis for a hearing later this month, would also like to hear from Allen.

I should repeat what I’ve written before: it’s the story that won’t go away.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C. Visit her at: caroljoynt.com.