Lively Bar Spero Coming Soon With Seafood-Centric, Wood-Fired Cooking

The latest from Reverie chef Johnny Spero aims to be a high-energy addition to Capitol Crossing.

Expect hyper-seasonal seafood from Bar Spero. Photo by Casey Robinson.

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Chef Johnny Spero describes his Georgetown tasting menu restaurant like the instrumental rock band Russian Circles—”it’s kind of like heavier guitar tones and ambient.” By comparison, his forthcoming restaurant Bar Spero will be more like the Philly band Soul Glo—”loud as shit and kind of fast.”

“Reverie is a little more subtle. I wanted Bar Spero to be the opposite, because that’s kind of me. I’m a little bit of both,” Spero says. “I can be kind of buttoned up, but I’m usually a little bit loud.”

The restaurant, opening in the Capitol Crossing development mid-to-late summer, draws inspiration from the fast-paced, high-energy dining that Spero fell in love with while living in Spain’s Basque country. The moniker Bar Spero mimics restaurants in downtown San Sebastian—Bar Nestor, Bar Ricardo—named after their chefs.

Maine scallops dressed with olive oil aged in a sherry cask, preserved citrus, and nasturtium at Bar Spero. Photograph by Casey Robinson.

That doesn’t mean it’s a Spanish restaurant, though Spero’s style of cooking and approach to sourcing quality ingredients are influenced by his experience in Spain and working for the likes of famed Spanish chef José Andrés at Minibar. What you will find is a seafood-centric menu with raw bar and wood-fired hearth cooking.

“A lot of the focus is looking to find the best seafood and that might mean that it’s only around for two weeks, like these little baby squid that we can find and then it’s gone,” Spero says. “We work really close with the fishermen up in Maine. They might be able to send us one or two live spider crab every couple days, and we’ll focus on having that.”

You can also expect to find a rotating selection of oysters on the half-shell (as well as roasted on top of coals), fresh sea urchin (when in season), and live baby Maine scallops dressed simply with olive oil aged in a sherry cask. Spero doesn’t like to serve mussels in the shell (“it’s a weird thing of mine”). Instead, he’ll finish plump mollusks over the hearth and serve them with guanciale, lardo, melted leeks, and a cream “burned with some of the embers.”

Bar Spero’s whole grilled lobster brushed in brown butter with a dressing of tomalley (lobster guts) and herbs. Photograph by Casey Robinson.

Other highlights: a whole grilled lobster and a whole roasted Spanish turbot, which Spero calls “THE greatest flat fish.” The latter will be served with a rich Basque-style pil-pil sauce (olive oil, garlic, chilis) amped with kombu and bright herbs. Not into fish? Spero will serve pork in varying preparations (bone-in loin one day, crispy-skinned belly the next) from Shenandoah Valley’s Autumn Olive Farms. For dessert: a Basque cheesecake turned into an ice cream cake.

Bar Spero basque cheesecake ice cream cake
Basque cheesecake, but ice cream. Photograph by Casey Robinson.

The bar is the beating heart of the sleek 120-seat space, but with a bar menu meant to accentuate the food. The minimalist drink list will feature Euro-centric wines, sherries, and vermouths plus elevated classic cocktails and some regional draft beers. Spero doesn’t drink, so he’ll make sure to have non-alcoholic options too.

“We want a packed bar every night,” Spero says, “and the dining room kind of surrounds that.”

A rendering of the oak-paneled bar at Bar Spero.

Bar Spero. 250 Massachusetts Ave., NW.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.