Gritty, Sexy, $13 Million French Bistro Pastis Opens in Union Market Today

Stephen Starr and Keith McNally bring their popular Meatpacking District bistro to DC.

The bar at Pastis DC. Photograph by Rey Lopez.

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Pastis. 1323 Fourth St., NE.

Stephen Starr, along with fellow restaurateur (and Instagram provocateur) Keith McNally, debuts another buzzy French restaurant in DC today. But maybe don’t call Pastis in Union Market “Le Diplomate East.”

“I don’t like that,” Starr says when I mention the nickname floating on social media. “It has its own identity. It really is different, and it feels different. He calls Pastis “the grittier little brother.”

The restaurant shares a timeless Parisian vibe and elevated bistro menu with its New York flagship (and newer location in Miami), though the DC locale will have its own identity. McNally opened the original Pastis in New York’s Meatpacking District in 1999, attracting a fashionable who’s who crowd in the heyday of its 15-year run. In 2019, McNally ended up partnering with Starr to revive the restaurant, which they opened around the corner from the original location. “My ideal clientele would be layabouts, prostitutes, and ex-cons, but we’ll probably attract models, writers, and a few judges,” McNally told the New York Times at the time.

Steak frites. Photograph by Rey Lopez.

The DC menu pays homage to the original Pastis by bringing back some of its American and Eastern European dishes. For example, you’ll find Caesar salad, wiener schnitzel, potato pierogies, and chicken kiev on the Union Market menu. Popular classics will also carryover, including steak frites, escargots, onion soup, and duck confit. Starr says the steak sandwich is a signature dish from the original Pastis.

The dining room of Pastis. Photograph by Rey Lopez.

Starr says Pastis cost $13 million. He doesn’t like describing his dining rooms—”just go see it”—but expect burgundy banquettes, a tin ceiling, and distressed, hand-painted mirrors. “It’s gritty and sexy at the same time,” he says.

At his buzzy New York restaurants Balthazar and Minetta Tavern, McNally is known to share candid managers’ reports about VIP guests and diners behaving badly on Instagram. He famously called out talk show host James Corden for allegedly abusing the staff at Balthazar, setting off a multi-day news cycle of blame, bans, and apologies. So, has Starr talked to McNally about whether he’ll continue to spill the tea in DC?  “The nature of my relationship with Keith, I really don’t want to go into detail on,” Starr says. What he does offer: “These are totally his designs, his vision. From a cultural standpoint, he gives us his input and opinions on what we should do—anything to do with the way the brand is presented, whether it be the uniforms for the hosts and servers to certain hospitality points.”

McNally did not respond to an interview request, though he recently posted that he is recovering from a kidney stone procedure in London. He is slated to open a location of Minetta Tavern in the Union Market District this year.

Meanwhile, Starr is continuing to expand his DC imprint. The restaurateur says Le Diplomate is his top-grossing restaurant (neck and neck with Makoto in Miami), and DC has become the city with the greatest growth for his Philly-based group. “Washington is an unbelievable market that’s underserved. It has all the elements of a big city. Plus, it’s the center, of course, of the government of the United States. And I just think it’s terrific for our company,” he says.

Osteria Mozza—his Georgetown Italian restaurant and market in partnership with famed California chef Nancy Silverton—is now slated to open at the end of June. Starr is taking over the historic Occidental at the Willard InterContinental hotel for a glam, classic American restaurant with tableside service and great martinis. Designed by San Francisco designer Ken Fulk, the dining room will “feel like you stepped outside of a 1940s movie.” The Occidental—he’s keeping the name—aims to open late next year, in time for the presidential inauguration.

“If there was ever a power place in Washington—there are none really—this is going to be the place,” Starr says.

So, um, he doesn’t think DC has any “power” spots?

“Maybe Le Diplomate is, the [Old] Ebbitt Grill… but not like this going to be,” Starr says. “A place where senators and congressmen and people in power go to lunch and dinner. You know, it’s a movie. Part of it’s true and part of it’s mythical.”

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.