There were more than 20 awards given out last month at the night of the RAMMYs, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s annual salute to the restaurant and hospitality industry. But only one was presented by the mayor of Washington, D.C.
For Tony Cibel of Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place at Washington Harbour on the Georgetown waterfront, it felt familiar to be with the mayor; he’s known them all. As Mayor Muriel Bowser placed the 2018 Honorary Milestone RAMMY Award — given to “Tony and Joe’s, a Georgetown dining staple celebrating 30 years” — in his hands, two former mayors, Anthony Williams and Vincent Gray, looked on.
“I love this city,” says the grateful 81-year-old Cibel. “We’re here for our customers and the community. I feel good.” And he means it.
Native Washingtonian Cibel has been a player on the restaurant scene since the 1970s with other places: the Dancing Crab, Nick’s Riverside Grille, Kaufmann’s Tavern, Cabanas and the Rockfish. He’s a family man — his sons Nick and Dean and their cousin Greg Casten are part of the operation.
Tony and Joe’s was hit hard by the devastating April 2011 flooding of Washington Harbour,but came back stronger. “The post-flood redesign truly puts the word ‘tony’ in our name,”they like to say. “Sweeping floor-to-ceiling windows allow diners to enjoy panoramic views from every seat in the house. To one side, take in the Potomac River and Kennedy Center. To the other, enjoy the Washington Harbor’s Las Vegas-style fountain.”
After 17 months closed down and nine months of a $4-million reconstruction, Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place and Nick’s Riverside Grill reopened in 2013. Today, they are joined by Sequoia, Farmers, Fishers and Bakers, Bangkok Joe’s, Fiola Mare and the soon-to-openGuapo’s. Tony and Joe’s is the longest-lasting eatery at the mixed-use complex. With its dockside view of people, boats and the river, the restaurant pioneered the use of waterside outdoor space in the District. Early on, Phyllis Richman of the Washington Post called Tonyand Joe’s “a contender on the waterfront.”
The tale of Tony and Joe’s is a part of Washington restaurant lore, going back to Oct. 9, 1987. The key figures were all friends: developer Herb Miller, who envisioned a city mall (The Shops at Georgetown Park, now defunct) on M Street and the urban waterfront design that would become Washington Harbour, plus his old friends Tony Cibel and Joe Rinaldi, who owned the Dancing Crab, a seafood fixture in Tenleytown.
There’s no doubt that Cibel and his friends had connections all over the city. One was Marion Barry, not yet mayor, whom he met in 1969 while operating Barrel House Liquors on 14th Street. At a Tony and Joe’s party, Barry, just a few years before his death, became a late-night crooner, to the surprise of guests.
And Cibel’s favorite dish at his own restaurant? The crab cakes, of course.