The Sad Story Behind Nathan's Exit

Owner inherited bad debts, high rent

Georgetown landmark Nathan's will close its doors July 12, owner Carol Joynt announced this week.

Nathan's, located at the socially pivotal intersection of M and Wisconsin streets, has been around for 40 years and houses "the only known talk show in a saloon." Joynt inherited the Nathan's in 1997 after her husband died suddenly.

As a TV reporter and producer -- at the time, she worked for Larry King Live -- Joynt had no idea how to run the bar and restaurant, especially because she inherited it with a strict lease, astronomical rent and mountains of debt. Along the way, she's chronicled her adventures in Swimming in Quicksand, her blog on the Nathan's Web site. 

"We hope over the next week you will find the time to come in and enjoy a last drink and meal with us," Joynt wrote in an e-mail Monday. "We wish we could give it away, but economic reality is that we need your dollars."

"I inherited Nathan's along with a mountain of debt, an IRS fraud case and a really tough lease. I didn't know how tough at the beginning. But then I didn't know much about anything at the beginning, except I wished to sell the place as fast as possible and escape with my life.

It was not possible. Once the dust settled on the IRS case and I was granted "Innocent Spouse" status by the IRS, I tried to sell the place. No one wanted it. 'Awful lease,' they said. 'Highest per square foot rent in the city.' So, I went to the landlords and begged for a new lease or for them to please take back the keys."

They wouldn't, or couldn't. The landlords haven't been able to sell the building, reportedly worth $18-20 million, and Joynt can't make rent anymore. Add in property taxes, back rent and a recession that hasn't been exactly friendly to the restaurant industry in general, and you get the picture.

Joynt said her next step will be making sure the Nathan's staff finds new jobs. And she's asking patrons to stop in before the bar's closing on Sunday and buy her a drink -- but you can drink it yourself, she says.

Sounds like a good deal to us.

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