One of the bars at the Hamilton, set to open on December 15. Photographs by Erik Uecke
“Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds,” says Tom Meyer, president of the Clyde’s restaurant group, paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson.
It’s rare you get an Emerson quote on a pre-opening restaurant tour, but then the Hamilton, Meyer's soon-to-open dining, drinking, and live music emporium, is not exactly like other restaurants. Meyer snagged a 37,000-square-foot space in the Hamilton Square building (formerly a Borders, and before that, Garfinckel’s department store), tucked conveniently between Penn Quarter and the White House. Instead of cloning nearby Old Ebbitt Grill, 1789 in Georgetown, or Clyde’s (of which there are already seven), Meyer is adding a fresh face to his 15-member restaurant family: a concert venue–cum–destination restaurant, open 24/7 with menus for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, post-midnight, and around-the-clock sushi service.
The same offerings are served throughout the expansive street-level floor, which houses four adjoining dining and bar areas. Solid dark mahogany and oak paneling, sable leather booths, and a menagerie’s worth of authentic Audubon paintings from Chicago’s Field Museum give the feeling of an elite old club, complete with “snugs” (booths with saloon-like doors that swing shut for semiprivate dining).
Chef Brian Stickel, a former 1789 sous chef (in the Ris Lacoste years) and head toque at various Clyde’s locations, has compiled a lineup that’s reminiscent of Blue Ribbon. That iconic New York late-night hangout is known for a menu where pu pu platters share space with paella and roasted bone marrow; at the Hamilton, the latter is listed alongside pork-belly ramen, a chilled Maine lobster roll, house-made pastas, and a full-fledged sushi menu. Stickel is joined by sous chef Travis Olson (a former 1789 pastry talent), and the pair plan to make as much in-house as possible, from pickles to salsas to terrines—par for the course in many eateries, but more unusual in a 24/7 concept with well over 800 seats.
Meyer is an avian enthusiast (he owns a parrot, Mr. Peepers), and colorful toucan paintings from artist Hunt Slonem perch in the “arboretum room,” one of the four ground-floor dining spaces. Down in the subterranean music hall, images of birds give way to portraits of famous musicians (Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bobs Marley, and Bob Dylan). Four tiers of cushioned seats and tables ring a half-moon stage, which is already booked for national and local talents such as Dave Mason and Chick Corea. Here, you can sup on what the kitchen calls “quiet food” (pizzas, sushi, and other edibles that don’t require clinking silverware), or linger in one of two elevated bars for American craft cocktails, beer, and wines. Meyer estimates that tickets will range from $10 to $200 depending on the act, all purchasable last-minute upstairs through bartenders or automated kiosks (some acts can be caught for free on the bar’s HD screens).
The Hamilton is tentatively set for a December 15 opening, and will roll right into 24/7 service (closed only on Christmas Day). In the meantime, there’s a 300-member staff to train, a menu to finalize, and more acts to book. As Emerson once wrote, “With consistency, a great soul has simply nothing to do.”
The Hamilton. 600 14th St., NW; 202-787-1000. Open Monday through Sunday, 24 hours (check the Web site for meal service times).