UPDATE OF 1/5/14
You are welcomed to read this whole post, meaning various "updates" below, but the answer is now clear: Citronelle is gone and gone for good. It's former Georgetown home, The Latham Hotel, in disrepair and in need of rehab, reportedly will be or was sold to a group who plan to create "tiny" apartments (a trend started in Japan). This supposedly means apartments of 250 to 400 square feet. Maybe it will be mixed used, and maybe that will include a restaurant, but there's no indication it would be the late, great Citronelle.
As for chef Michel Richard, he headed to New York and opened a restaurant in the old Le Cirque space at the Palace Hotel. Read the clever review of Villard Michel Richard by Tom Sietsema in The Washington Post. He notes that Richard is "mulling" another run in Washington. We'll see. Hope so. We wish him success up north but few DC chefs go to NY and succeed. It's a tough and unfriendly market. They usually come back to DC and an enthusiastic reception. For now, we have Central, Richard's bistro on Pennsylvania Avenue. It's an excellent concept. (Would love to see the same in Georgetown.) Most of all (and I'm not alone in this) it would be awesome to have a revival of the Citronelle bar. A great gathering spot and the best bar menu ever. The very popular bartender, Angel, is now at the bar of the Capella hotel, only two blocks over on 31st.
Again, everything below was written much earlier. I could delete, but maybe you'll find it interesting.
UPDATE: Yesterday, Saturday, I talked to a man who told me an interesting story. He said he was friends with a woman who represented a company that wanted to buy The Latham Hotel a few years ago. Her company spent a year doing their due diligence, he said, surveying the building from top to bottom and to each corner. At the end, they walked away, because they felt the foundation was in "questionable" condition, that the hotel would need a wildly expensive structural renovation. Granted this is hearsay, but it backs up some of the other scuttlebutt out there. He said the last time he talked with the woman she said, "the building needs to be torn down." That's funny, because it's not that old. About the same age as The Four Seasons, meaning circa late 70s, early 80s. I remember when there was a gas station in that location. But there's nothing new about relatively new buildings in DC aging too fast.
One block over, the Capella Georgetown hotel is going up at seemingly record speed. Their target opening date is January 2013, which makes sense: Inauguration! What interests me is the planned rooftop pool. I've never understood why all Georgetown hotels didn't build with rooftop pools. It won't have a lot of rooms and they will be expensive. At the sister hotel in New York, The Setai, room rates today begin at $545 for a standard. Earlier there were rumors that Citronelle would move to the Capella, but they got shot down by Michel's very own people.
And then there's the dear old Monticello, in the same block as The Latham. It is undergoing a major renovation and hopes to reopen in December in a much more upscale mode. I say hooray all around. Maybe this competition will inspire The Four Seasons to soften its edges and The Ritz to step it up with their handsome public rooms and the potential for a statement restaurant, which is the piece that's missing in Georgetown's most authentic feeling and best looking hotel.
UPDATE: Tuesday I received this email from Citronelle: Hey Carol, Saw your Tweet about Citronelle this morning. Please let me refer you to Chris Daly, of Daly Gray Public Relations, who handle the communications for the Latham Hotel. Also copied here is Michael Damian, the General Manager of the Latham Hotel. They may be able to give you more information about the status of the building.
I replied: I want to see the "extensive flooding" damage. Can we make a date?
I'm still waiting for that date.
Also, an FB'r wrote to say she'd heard Citronelle signed a deal to move to Washington Harbor. My initial reaction? If true, ugh, because Washington Harbor has never amounted to much, especially in the culinary department, except for the brief time Warner Leroy was there. It's a meat market. Beautiful views wasted on barely average restaurants. That said, in the right space, removed from those other places, Citronelle could give the waterfront some high end cred.
What happened to Citronelle restaurant, now closed and in a closed hotel? That's a very good question, and I've been asking a lot of people if they can give me any intel. It's just too strange a situation to be exactly as it's being sold to the public - plumbing issues. Something else is going on, but what? It's a culinary mystery in need of a foodie sleuth.
The public word is a flood. The management company's website refers to "extensive flooding." A flood can close a kitchen for 24 to 48 hours. We had one at Nathans in a monsoon-like storm, when water backed up in the streets and then spilled into our basement, 4-5 inches deep. We had the water out in a day. Kitchen staffs are good about getting floods cleanen up fast. There are companies that do that, too. Carpet can be pulled up and replaced in a week. If the floor underneath needs fan drying, add another week.
However, I peeked in the street level windows of Citronelle, aiming my eyes down at the lower level kitchen and dining room. It looks like it would look if it had just been closed after dinner service and everyone went home. Completely normal. The carpet looks fine. It certainly has not been torn up. Nor were there signs of water stains. What I could see of the kitchen also appeared routine. Realistically, it would have had to have been one helluva flood to make it up the stairs to the bar and then up a few more stairs into the lobby of The Lapham and then up another set of stairs to La Madeleine. This flood would have been epic. It would have made the news.
If only in Citronelle, why close La Madelaine and the whole hotel???
Here's all I know: the closing was sudden and all-encompassing: the Latham Hotel, Citronelle and La Madelaine. Closed. On the spot. The closing was announced same day to staff, and the announcement came from the hotel management company, not Michel Richard (which makes me think he may not have been too happy about it). The hotel is for sale, and has been for a while. Staff were given 2.5 months pay, but no guarantees of jobs ... now or in the future. While there had been some talk of water issues, none of it ever seemed big enough to warrant the equiavlent of a midnight closing, according to some who worked there. (Note: Most restaurants in older buildings have water issues.) Midnight closings happen to fly-by-night and sketchy bars and restaurants, not to one of the city's most acclaimed.
In other words, if you are a hotel management company, and there was a serious water issue, and your jewel in the crown is one of the city's top restaurants, wouldn't you roll out the closing? Provide some substantive information. Not just DO IT? And wouldn't you make sure there was a suitable perch for the restaurant while repairs were underway, especially since the estimate is at least 6 months of repair work.
This reminds me of Citronelle rumors I reported a few months ago, that Michel was looking for a new location. I wonder if A is related to B? It may be that Michel knew this was coming and wanted to try to get out before the guillotine fell. When I asked if Citronelle would, in fact, be reopening, I was told not at The Latham. I would have to hear that from Michel to believe it 100 per cent.
Employees say there was no discussion of a re-opening in six months. The general manager, Jean-Jacques, is reporting for work at Michel's restaurant in Atlantic City. I popped into the Daily Grill yesterday to say hello to Angel, one of Citronelle's bartenders. There wasn't much he could tell me beyond what I already knew, but I'm hoping someone will come along with helpful information.
Why? Because I really liked Citronelle bar, and having it closed is a big loss for Georgetown. There is no comparable.