Food

Take a Look Inside DC’s New Neighborhood Italian: Bar Civita

Former Liberty Tavern chef Liam LaCivita opens a place for al fresco limoncello in summer, fire-side pasta in winter.
Take a Look Inside DC’s New Neighborhood Italian: Bar Civita
Bar Civita serves Italian-American dishes like this lamb leg ragu with house-made noodles in a cozy space. Photography by Jeff Elkins.

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.

Pick a spot in the light-filled dining room, or outside on a 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.

Many aspects of the 1930’s-era building remain, including a working fireplace.

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.

Chef-y riffs on home-style dishes include confited and crisped chicken with gnocchi and chicken jus.

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.

Almost all dishes can be ordered as half or full portions, so diners can share plates, have a light bite, or fill up on their own entree.

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.

A dozen drafts, Italian-inspired cocktails, and a list of old world wines can be found at the bar.

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.

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Anna Spiegel
Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.