Because the National Park Service, which owns the Mall, hates fun.
Seriously. Fun activities prohibited by law without permits on Washington’s Park Service-owned land include organized games, swimming and bathing, and flying model planes. The play-it-safe ethos extends to food and beverage vending, too. All the rights reside in a single concession contract, held since 1986 by a nationwide company called Guest Services International. The deal doesn’t give anyone much incentive to innovate.
But this might change. The 25-year deal is currently running on one-year extensions. A new contract could feature requirements for more and better food offerings; a 2010 plan calls for redesigned cultural event spaces, too. Meanwhile, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is prodding the Park Service to encourage more music on the Mall during lunchtime. It won’t be Bryant Park anytime soon, but your kids might at least be able to get a milkshake.