Since the modern diner trend took off a few years ago, we’ve seen a whole spectrum of places within the genre, from vegan diners to retro diners to diners with small plates. But Gatsby—which opens just outside Nationals Park in Navy Yard on Thursday, April 8—is the first we’ve encountered with Art Deco-inspired decor and fancy Champagne. Its meant to evoke the American diner’s 1920s roots, and also, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
The two-story, 308-seat restaurant comes from Knead Hospitality + Design founders Jason Berry and Michael Reginbogin—the team behind a quickly growing empire of eateries including Succotash, Mi Vida, the Grill, and DC-area branches of New York-based Mah-Ze-Dahr bakery. In addition to having its own adjoining version of the popular West Village-based confectionary, Gatsby will have a dessert program designed by its founder, Umber Ahmad—a first for the lauded pastry chef. Like a lot on Gatsby’s menu, sweets riff on Americana staples like lemon meringue pie, a hot fudge sundae with homemade ice cream and Spanish peanuts, or Oreo-crusted “heavenly cheesecake” with fresh fruit.
“It’s very challenging to create a menu where everyone has had a tuna melt or meatloaf,” says Berry. “How do you take something that everyone has an opinion on and make it as good as their memory, if not better?”
One potential way: make it meatless. Chef Lisa Odom (formerly the head chef at Succotash National Harbor) serves a wide-ranging menu that includes several vegan options such as avocado-Caesar salad or celery root “steak”—a dish that Berry argues is better than the popular cauliflower entrees. The celeriac is roasted, braised, seared, and served with celery-root puree and roasted beets.
If a celery root steak isn’t calling your name, there’s also a bone-in ribeye or a country-fried steak with mushroom gravy. And of course, Odom’s menus touch on a lot of greatest diner hits: chicken pot pie, meatloaf, double smashburgers, or an all-day breakfast platter with pancakes, eggs, and Nueske’s bacon. Daily “blue plate” specials such as fried chicken, lasagna, or a Thanksgiving platter with turkey and stuffing will be served at a discount during happy hour, then through the evening until they sell out.
The team hopes to draw a pre-game Nationals crowd with a substantial list of beers, as well as wines that run the gamut from a $40-something Sauvignon Blanc to a $600-plus celebratory Champagne. Sip them on an 80-seat patio or—when Covid regulations allow—a large interior bar.
Cocktails run classic (i.e. Manhattans, bee’s knees). There are also some modern inventions that the team is hoping to revive: “Cocktails that were at some point were really good, and then at another point became really bad,” says Reginbogin. Think white Russians—here they’re infused with Chai—frozen grapefruit daiquiris, or appletinis with vodka, sour apple liqueur, house-made apple shrub, and lemon. Gentleman Jack gets a Coke reduction instead of soda, plus an infusion of chilies.
“The menu is all reimagined classics,” says Reginbogin. “It’s nothing you haven’t seen or tasted, but you’ve never seen or tasted it the way we’re doing it.”
Gatsby. 1201 Half St., SE