Architect Eric Gronning has designed and built a lot of restaurants, but Maple, which he opened this month alongside his wife Lori Robertson, is the first one that he's owned. The couple lives around the corner from the 34-seat wine bar, and they say Columbia Heights-whose denizens crowd into nearby hotspots Room 11, Meridian Pint, and Red Rocks-was lacking a wine-focused spot for people in their thirties and beyond.
"Our friends own the building. The lease became available, and we fell into it," says Gronning, who has designed decors for Jack Rose Dining Saloon, Marvin, and Cork Wine Bar. In fact, Cork owners Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts helped develop Maple's menu of mostly Italian wines, available by the bottle, glass, and half glass (2.5 ounces).
Gronning says the design was created around the large piece of wood atop the long bar lining the narrow restaurants--the slab was leftover from a project for his furniture manufacturing business. Seats on both sides turn the bar into a sort of communal table at the end; when the restaurant is busy, servers treat the area like any other table. Everything in the restaurant--tables, chalkboard walls, bar stools--was custom designed. The only exception are the chairs, which were purchased. "The materials speak for themselves," says Gronning, who wasn't intimidated about the idea of operating his own restaurant. "I knew how to build it; that's the hard part.
Felix Gonzales, Gronning's uncle, is in charge in the kitchen, creating straightforward plates like linguine puttanesca and bruschetta with eggplant caponata and goat cheese. "We're sourcing locally as much as we can," says Robertson, adding that the restaurant will debut brunch in about a month. The menu is still in the works, but she said dishes would likely include an egg and cheese panino.
Stop by after work for happy hour from 5 to 7, when Gronning and Robertson offer a $3 discount on select wines. It's already becoming a popular stop for neighborhood regulars, who are happy to see more businesses flocking to this ever-more-lively swatch of 11th Street, Northwest.
Maple. 3418 11th St., NW, 202-588-7442; dc-maple.com. Open Sunday through Wednesday 5 PM to Midnight and Thursday through Saturday 5 PM to 1 AM.