A burger joint and upscale American dining room share space in the old George Washington University Hospital building. Photographs by Erik Uecke
PassionFood restaurateurs Jeff Tunks, Gus DiMillo, and David Wizenberg first hit the scene with DC Coast in 1998. Thirteen years and four restaurants later, they've nabbed one of the most visible spots in the city for their latest venture: District Commons and Burger Tap & Shake, a dual-concept burger joint and upscale American restaurant perched on Washington Circle.
We stopped in first to Burger Tap & Shake, which opened on Thursday to a now-familiar lunch scene: long lines of downtown dwellers anxious to try the latest burger.
"I'm afraid of the expectation a line creates," says Tunks. "When you're waiting an hour in line for a burger…" he trails off, but one can guess his next thought: it better be worth it.
One promising sign: everything from the pickles to the butter-drizzled buns is made in-house. The organic, dry-aged beef is ground in their kitchen too, on what Tunks says is a near-hourly basis.The most basic "six buck chuck" burger boasts "government" (American) cheese and traditional toppings. But for an extra two dollars you can upgrade to more elaborate creations. The Southern Comfort burger features fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese, while the Big Daddy is loaded with bacon, blue cheese, and mushrooms. Gluttony is further encouraged by the offer to add Texas-style chili or a fried egg to anything, and by the thick bourbon, rum, and vodka-spiked milkshakes. Those not looking for a belly-bomb experience can opt for chicken or falafel patties and Boylan's sodas.
Two flat screens, free WiFi, and 20 craft beers on tap all seem like encouragements to linger, but the bright, concrete-floored space isn't designed for a long stop. For that, head next door to District Commons, which features the same draught beers (plus 99 more in bottles), wine, and craft cocktails. Here, a red-accented bar area looks out onto an airy dining room, which is flanked by views of the kitchen. The menu is eclectic but accessible, with $12 bowls of red-curry mussels sharing space with $32 jumbo-lump crabcakes. Main courses of chili-glazed duck and salmon with truffle vinaigrette can be preceded by shareable platters of artisanal hams or chilled shellfish, and thin, wood-fired flatbreads topped with lamb sausage or smoked salmon and mascarpone cheese. When lobster rolls or oyster loafs show up on the dining room's daily sandwich board, they arrive at the bar in less-pricey slider form.
Around 10 PM (9 on Sundays), a family meal special becomes available. A cast iron bell signals the beginning of a late-night feast that might be Crisco-fried chicken or pupusas. Thursday is "TenPenh night," with Thai bento boxes dished out by a former cook at the shuttered pan-Asian restaurant.
Desserts are kid-pleasing throwbacks: funnel cakes, hot fudge sundaes, and rocky road ice cream with house-made marshmallows.
Burger Tap & Shake and District Commons, 2200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-408-0201 (Burger Tap & Shake); 202-587-5277 (District Commons).
Burger Tap & Shake is open Monday through Thursday from 11 AM to 11 PM; Friday and Saturday, 11 to 1 AM. District Commons is open Monday through Thursday from 5:30 to 10:30 PM; Friday, 5:30 to 11 PM; and Saturday, 5 to 11 PM. The bar stays open one hour after the dining room closes.