It’s with a heavy heart that I share the news that The Uptowner Cafe, the independently-owned sandwich shop I wrote about so lovingly last month, has closed.
The writing on the wall was there for anyone willing to see it. The scarcity of business was the biggest hint that all was not well. Located directly below my office, The Uptowner was the kind of eatery where nary a frill could be found. It was a simple place that sold well-crafted, simple sandwiches. It was a favorite of mine and my colleagues partly because it reliable and cheap, but most of all because it was fast — this because there was rarely a line to wait in. On any given weekday, you were as likely to run into one of the 48 employees of Threespot as you were any of the other 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia.
The shop’s owners didn’t make much effort to market themselves. They had no Twitter handle. They were either ignorant of or didn’t care much for trends, nor for abiding by the health code, as it turned out. In a Columbia Heights neighborhood years past the arrival of its first gentrifiers, The Uptowner was an anachronism, and one couldn’t help but feel its days were numbered.
Still, when word trickled upstairs and around the office last week that the end had arrived, I had to see it for myself. Sure enough, the lights were off. Products pulled from the shelves. The contact paper menu that had been plastered over a large swath of shop-front window had been peeled away.
None of us knew about the health violations until after the lights had been turned out for the last time, but I don’t think it would have changed anything. Despite the moldy ice machine and the chicken thawed in the open air, only one of my colleagues ever reported getting sick after eating there. He happened also to be shop’s most vocal advocate.
We still don’t know for sure whether it was financial insolvency that ultimately closed The Uptowner Cafe, or if it was the expired business license, or the numerous health code violations, as has been rumored. Probably it was a combination of the three. Whatever the cause, The Uptowner is gone, and it will be missed. If there’s anything sandwich lovers can learn from its closing, it’s this: Find your your own Uptowner, eat there often, and encourage its owners to study their local health code guidelines.