Ideally every neighborhood would have a cozy spot for sipping limoncello outside in summer, and cozying up by the fire with a bowl of pasta come winter. Now that’s a reality in Woodley Park with the opening of Bar Civita. The 80-seat restaurant from former Liberty Tavern head chef Liam LaCivita takes over the space formerly occupied by Murphy’s Irish bar. While the team freshened up the 76 year-old building with new paint and larger windows, key attributes remain in tact—including a wood-burning hearth, spacious bar area, and 40-seat patio.
The Irish/Italian mix is fitting for LaCivita, a blend of both nationalities himself by way of Pittsburgh. The menu reflects his roots, with chef-y riffs on meals he grew up eating; think Italian wedding soup—here with ramp and veal meatballs—or a version of his mother’s ragu, which LaCivita makes with slow-cooked lamb leg and neck, and tosses with goat ricotta, fava beans, tubular pincianelle noodles, and mint.
Pastas, or as LaCivita calls them, “modernized macaroni,” are made in-house. The same is true with complimentary fresh breads that arrive with roasted garlic butter; sausages such as the “Pittsburghese,” a veal-pork blend with bacon and Capicola; and charcuterie such as foie gras parfaits and sweetbread terrines. The overall feel is that of a gastropub, reflected by the portions on the menu. Almost all pastas and entrees can be ordered in half or full size, so diners can try a variety of dishes, drop by for a light bite, or fill up on a generous plate of sausage-sauced gnocchi or crispy veal and sweetbread parmigiana.
A long, 25-seat wood bar plays to the eatery’s name, separated from the main dining room so that drinkers can socialize freely—and Steelers fans can cheer in peace. Granted a long list of old-world wines is the focus over football-friendly beers, divided into playful categories like “chef whites”—LaCivita’s favorites—pasta-friendly “macaroni reds,” or “blue chip reds” for big spenders looking to drop $225 on a magnum of Duckhorn merlot. A dozen drafts and seasonal cocktails round out the mix, such as an Italian-style French 75 made with sparkling wine and limoncello.
The kitchen is currently only open for dinner, though LaCivita plans to launch brunch this weekend. Fitting for a place with Mom’s macaroni on the menu, the first service will begin on Mother’s Day.
Bar Civita. 2609 24th St., NW; 202-588-1211. Open for dinner Tuesday though Thursday, 5 to 10; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11; Sunday 5 to 10. Opening Sunday, May 10 for brunch.