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Lunch in the Twilight Zone

The interior of Harry’s Restaurant

Disclaimer: for the first time in Independent history, the editorial staff would like to assure you that this review is not fiction or satire, and that the following events really happened to our news editor.

Harry’s Pub, located on 11th St. near Ford’s Theater and only a short walk from the White House, provides a charming and unique fusion of a classic American diner experience and a rip in the fabric of reality. I first learned about Harry’s on accident while following up on a job opportunity that turned out to be a movie-reviewing scam, and I had been eager to try it for a while. I walked in one wintry afternoon, greeted the waitress, and, when she did not prompt me, explained that I wanted a table for lunch.

“What for,” she intoned.

Her voice did not even inflect a question onto the end of her sentence. In retrospect, she may have been asking if I wanted the table for breakfast or lunch. At the time, however—after my soul returned to my body from the depths of purgatory to which it had been cast—I stuttered my way through some variant of “It’s snowing and I want lunch.” She then showed me to a booth, stuck a menu into my hands, plugged her phone into the wall socket beside me, and walked off, leaving it charging on top of my hat.

My first thought was that the restaurant might have been closed, and the waitress simply did not bother to tell me. I was the sole patron, aside from the waitress and three other waiters, who did not seem even slightly interested in me. I had plenty of time to admire the decor, which was a charmingly vintage red-and-white classic diner scheme that was just slightly… off. There was nothing glaringly wrong with the place, except for the sensation of tingling oddness that followed me around. It felt a lot like one of those dreams that you spend wondering why everything feels so strange, only to wake up and realize that everyone was naked or a dolphin.

Among the odd things I noticed, the special of the day was Chicken Tequila Soup. I must have read and reread that signboard ten times, wondering every time if I had misread “tortilla.” The restaurant was filled with tiny details as such—each innocuous on its own, but feeling increasingly unreal as they piled up. Over the bar, instead of basketball or CNN, one TV was tuned to a man making barbeque glaze out of coffee grounds. The other featured betting on virtual horse racing, starring halfway-rendered horses straight out of a nineties computer game. The horse that won—a detail I could not make up if I tried—was named “Big Po Po.”

Let me state outright: I truly did enjoy my lunch. I have no desire to slander Harry’s; the food was good. I did not have the chicken tequila soup, a decision which still haunts my mind in a way I cannot describe—like a phantom scar—but the meal I ate was probably among the better pastas I have had for twelve dollars in D.C. The food is midrange in price, and the menu overflows with variety. For a diner-shaped pocket dimension, Harry’s neither discriminates nor lacks in options. Harry’s also prides itself on appetizers, especially the many photos of popcorn that fill their website.

I left with a styrofoam box of tables scraps, wondering disconcertedly if I had just fallen asleep at a normal restaurant and managed to order, eat, and pay without waking from my dream. The box of Schrodinger’s Leftovers in my fridge, once I worked up the courage to open and reheat it, confirmed for me that my experience was real. Even now, I am unable to articulate exactly what about Harry’s disconcerted me so much. Every detail I write seems harmless enough, but I left feeling as though I had survived the food critic’s equivalent of a close encounter of the third kind.

Harry’s restaurant is a charming, reliably American diner experience which offers a diverse menu, affordable pricing, and vague feelings of existential dread. The dining experience is slightly odd, but the affordable menu options are more than adequate compensation. While not immediately convenient for the Georgetown student, Harry’s diverse spread commands a repeat visit—both to sample their diverse cuisine, and to confirm that I was not hallucinating my first visit. My family and friends still do not believe me; four out of five stars.

PC: Austin Stollhaus

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