Two-plus years ago, Jack Rose Dining Saloon owner Bill Thomas bought a set of buildings on a prominent Adams Morgan intersection at 18th Street and Florida Avenue, Northwest—just a few doors down from his whiskey bar. The two structures fell under historic designation, which made for slow progress transforming the corner into what he now envisions: a modern American restaurant, cocktail bar, and rooftop destination. Named The Imperial, the three-floor project is slated to open in late 2017.
“We want the space to be light-filled and beautiful, and [the name] The Imperial seems to encompass this whole vision of what we hope to be: one of the grandest spaces in the community and in the city,” says Thomas. “The kind of place you can roll in, grab a beer or sparkling wine with oysters, and feel totally comfortable—an elevated neighborhood spot.”
Permitting delays aside, Thomas also needed time to find the right executive chef. While Jack Rose has always served food, its identity is rooted in spirits—the bar has amassed over 2,700 whiskies since opening in 2011, the largest collection in the Western Hemisphere. The Imperial, to complement, is centered around food and executive chef Jon de Paz, who’ll head the kitchen at both concepts.
Though the Imperial won’t be fine dining, de Paz’s resume reaches into the upper-echelons of the national culinary scene. Born in Guatemala and raised in New Jersey, he started cooking out of necessity with his grandmother and decided to go professional by age 17.
“Culinary school helps a lot, but I didn’t have the financial means to do it,” says de Paz. “My mother always told me, ‘If you want to do something, you gotta just do it.’ So I had to suck it up and figure it out, and lucky for me, I got an apprenticeship at Le Bec-Fin.”
De Paz earned a cooking position at the famed Philadelphia restaurant (now closed), and then moved on to work a poissonier (fish cook) at The Peacock Inn in New Jersey. He then trained in top kitchens on both coasts, including Daniel, the French Laundry, and a two year stint at Manhattan sister restaurants Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad. Most recently, he came to DC as a sous-chef at the now-shuttered Shaw Bijou.
For the Imperial, de Paz plans to take his classic French training and apply it to modern American flavors. There will be a raw bar, or as Thomas jokes, “We will have some fresh seafood that happens be sitting on ice in a part of the restaurant.” Still the team is hesitant to pigeon-hole the concept or set a course for the menu this early on.
In the meantime, de Paz has already made changes to the seasonal menus at Jack Rose. Diners can find his style of cooking in dishes like sweet pea soup, poured table-side, or a Creekstone ribeye with potato pavé and bone marrow béchamel. A new rooftop grill menu includes more casual dishes like shrimp tacos and grilled pork cheek lettuce cups.
No matter what direction the Imperial’s cooking takes, you can count on good drinks. Jack Rose’s ambitious basement cocktail bar, Dram & Grain, will be moving to the Imperial under head barkeeps Andy Bixby and Benny Hurwitz. Similar to to Dram’s current setup, it’ll be housed in a subterranean space—though the new room is roughly three times the size. A more whiskey-focused cocktail bar will take Dram’s place at Jack Rose.
In addition to cocktails, bars on the Imperial’s other two floors will specialize in a curated list of wines from sommelier Zoe Nystrom and beer director Nahem Simon’s brews. Though Thomas’s first love remains whiskey, he’s engaging in a familiar process of collecting rare and vintage rums, brandies, Chartreuses, and other spirits—just don’t expect 2,700-plus bottles.
“We’re not trying to create some massive menu like at Jack Rose,” says Thomas. “The biggest thing I can do right now is listen. Sit down, take the team we’ve built, listen to what they need, and let them do what they do best.”
The Imperial. 2001 18th St., Northwest. Opening late 2017.