A lot has happened over the years at 1338 Wisconsin Avenue, Northwest. The Georgetown space was built in the 1820s and then operated as a grocery run by the Donahue family. Fast forward to the early 2000s, the era of Smith Point. The velvet roped, members-only nightclub was famous (and infamous) for Bush twin bashes, a severed finger lawsuit, and countless Late Night Shots hookups. Owner Bo Blair put the prep palace up for sale in 2017, which brings us back, full circle, to its current iteration: Donahue. The luxe Champagne, cocktail, and dining lounge just opened courtesy of two Fabio Trabocchi Restaurants alums, former beverage director Luca Giovannini and sommelier/cellar master Cesar Varela, as well as restaurateur Noe Landini (Bar Deco, Junction Bakery & Bistro, among others).
For all the bubbles and burrata on Donahue’s upscale menu, the team says they’re not trying to create Smith Point 2.0.
“We don’t want to be a speakeasy—we went the opposite direction with a modern, minimalistic design, more of a chill-out lounge,” Giovannini says. The space, when fully open and at capacity, consists of a bar area, dining room, and lounge. A patio set with more lounge furniture is slated to open later this spring. “We want try to bridge the gap between a restaurant and a club for grownups.”
So what are the older club kids drinking these days? Giovannini, who Georgetowners may recognize from years at Fiola Mare, created a list of $14 cocktails that’s heavy on rums, tequila, and mezcal, as well as modernist mixes like the Donahue, with rose-infused vodka, rosé vermouth, lemon, Champagne, and “rose air.” Meanwhile Varela, who most recently lead the wine program at Del Mar, created a list that centers around sparkling wines and Champagnes that range from a $14 glass of rosé bubbly to $300 bottles of Rare Champagne Brut. Late night shots have been traded for “chambongs” anytime—yep, that’s a Champagne bong, much smaller and arguably classier than its beer cousin (also: very popular on Insta). “We know it’s trendy, but that’s what we’re going for,” Varela says.
Before customers chambong the night away, they can down caviar, crudo, and truffles. Junction chef James Duke, who also worked at the Salt Line, helped design a seafood-centric menu with a modern raw bar serving plates like salmon collar or shrimp/king crab crudo alongside shellfish plateaus. A “gourmet table” section highlights luxuries like caviar service and hand-carved Cinco Jotas Iberico ham that’s aged 36 months. Veteran DC chef Antonio Burrell (Masa 14, Republic Cantina) oversees the kitchen, and the shortlist of New American dishes includes burrata with trout roe and English pea foam, king crab and asparagus tortellini, or seared foie gras.
Currently, Donahue’s capacity and hours are limited by DC Covid regulations, though the team—who possess one of Georgetown’s few tavern licenses—eventually want to draw a post-dinner crowd until 2 AM or later. That may mean a mix of new faces and those looking to reclaim their Smith Point youth.
“It [Georgetown] is like a small town in Italy,” says Giovannini, who says members of the Donahue family were some of the restaurant’s first customers. “We have a lot of support and lot of nostalgia.”
Donahue. 1338 Wisconsin Ave., NW. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 5 to midnight.