Alexandria, VA – Roseanne “Rosie” Karaffa began working at Ramparts Bar and Grill in Fairlington 23 years ago because fellow longtime Ramparts staffer (now 27 years) Linda Farmer asked her what she was doing on Mother’s Day. Rosie had lost her only child Nathan to a sudden illness the previous year. This would be her first Mother’s Day without him.
Rosie couldn’t refuse Linda’s offer. Serving other moms and their friends and family celebrating a Mother’s Day brunch in the Ramparts dining room might not be most women’s first or last choice, but Rosie didn’t see it as an awkward way to get through that first Mother’s Day without Nathan. She was simply lending a hand. She said yes to help Linda out and Linda rescued her right back.
“To this day I tell people that Linda Farmer saved my life by reaching out during that very devastating time,” Rosie says. She continued to accept catering gigs, serving at the Torpedo Factory and places around DC while continuing to teach fulltime in Fairfax County. And Rosie was a regular patron at Linda’s bar. She had come to know the entire staff, management, and owners well. Her indomitable good nature and beguiling smile ingratiated all, from the casual customer to the most territorial barfly.
Soon Rampart’s principal owner, Robert Zimmerman, offered Rosie the job of helping to build bar business in the newly renovated dining room, working 4-5 nights part time while she worked fulltime teaching civics, economics, and special ed at Hayfield High in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, where she has been for the past 38 years. Rosie began to woman the sports bar on Sundays, hosting the big crowds on Skins Sundays and throughout countless Caps playoff heartbreaks for about seven years.
When new ownership took over, Rosie was offered the Monday Half-Priced Burger Night shift. Never one to balk at a challenge, Rosie jumped into the reputedly low-tab/low tip evening, turning it into one of the busiest nights at the bar. The wait for a stool at Rosie’s bar during dinner hours could be three deep. Servers running food from the kitchen through to the dining room dodged patient patrons, Pinot swirling in hand, eagerly awaiting their turn for a seat. Monday’s at Rosie’s bar was the place to be.
Rosie fondly recalls working with legendary Alexandria restaurateur “Mango” Mike Anderson. Mango Mike bought Ramparts in the summer of 2002 and immediately made improvements to the two-decades old bastion of the Fairlington neighborhood. “Mike was the best boss. He was kind, patient, always so generous. His lavish staff Christmas parties made us all feel his gratitude for our hard work and dedication. It’s no wonder he makes a success of everything he touches.”
Rosie recalls that at the time Mike was revamping Ramparts in 2002-2003, he gave some thought to trying out Carolina-style barbecue in the dining room, believing that it was something that would be popular in Alexandria. Hey all y’all — ya think?
Thirty-eight years in one career with 23 years moonlighting at another is a legacy. In her tenure at Ramparts, Rosie has had occasion to fix drinks for former Speaker of the House John Boehner, serve half-priced burgers and beer to former Lt. Governor and current Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam, and regularly fixed the towering to-go orders of former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. But at Rosie’s bar, famous, infamous, or unfamiliar, richer or poorer, younger or older, people were all the same. And all were treated with patience and a smile.
Rosie grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, z- a proud graduate of Ohio State University. She began teaching special education at the high school level in 1980, then moved to Virginia, married, and had her son Nathan Charles Hurley, raising him in Del Ray, where she still lives today. Nathan, who died at age 14, went to middle school with Bee, Ramparts’ general manager today. Nathan’s grave in Alexandria’s Ivy Hill Cemetery is a classic obelisk standing as a sentinel on the hillside adjacent to where beloved music teacher Ruthanne Lodato is laid to rest. Rosie, recalling Nathan’s love for music, thinks that’s pretty much heaven sent.
The plan was that 2020 would be Rosie’s last year of classroom teaching. But when Gov. Northam issued stay-at-home orders on March 30, COVID-19 put an abrupt end to the brick-and-mortar school year and closed Ramparts. Still, Rosie stayed well-occupied, if not busier than ever, with distance learning lesson preparation, testing, grading, evaluations, and report cards.
When asked what she misses most about work, Rosie admits that teaching is not what it used to be. She was ready to move on when her 38-year teaching career comes to a virtual end last month. She says that what she missed most during quarantine, both at school and at Ramparts, is all the wonderful people she has encountered over the years, developing strong ties and everlasting friendships.
Life is about change, and how we prevail despite hardships and heartbreaks is oftentimes a mystery. There’s an old bartender credo: That which does not kill us makes our drink stronger. We have all wondered in the past months how we would get through this. We are told together we are stronger alone. Linda Farmer surely knew that, and Rosie heartily agrees.