Monday, October 20, 2014

Washington Social Diary

On Saturday, October 25 this field at beautiful Rappahannock County farm, Stone Hill, will be swarming with revelers at the Halloween Spectacle.
by Carol Joynt

The buzz in Georgetown is about a new French restaurant, Chez Billy Sud. And for good reason — it’s the chicest little thing.  It is an adaptation of the original Chez Billy in the city’s Petworth neighborhood, also quite wonderful. Where Chez Billy is dark and moody, recalling Left Bank greats such as Brasserie Lipp, Chez Billy Sud has a cheerful lightness that dims to alluring after sunset, owing to its pale pistachio walls, cream molding with gold leaf, a petite white marble bar, polished floors and, happy to report, table cloths; in fact, white table cloths. It would be at home on a side street off the Avenue Montagne. What both Billy’s have in common, beyond the good looks, though, are good food, good prices and good wine lists.

Chez Billy Sud on 31st Street in Georgetown, just below the C&O Canal.
They also have ownership in common, brothers Eric Hilton and Ian Hilton, who already are legendary in the DC nightlife scene for having created some defining bars, including The Gibson, a speakeasy, and Marvin, as well as Brixton and El Rey. Eric has another interesting item on his resume, too, and it’s not insignificant. He’s the other half of Thievery Corporation (with Rob Garza), the Grammy-nominated, jazzy, poppy, dancey sound that’s known well beyond the borders of Washington DC. Their 7th album is “Saudade,” a bossa nova ode to the magnificent Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Eric seems to love, and to love to pay tribute to, his heroes. Marvin is named after R&B icon Marvin Gaye, who was born and raised in DC, and his April 2 birthday is celebrated at the bar each year.

This past week, Eric and Ian hosted an opening night party at Chez Billy Sud — thanks to mild autumn weather it was indoor and outdoor Champagne and canapés — and then the next night opened for regular service. By Friday night they were packed.

Word of a new spot spreads fast in Georgetown, which once was the city’s restaurant and bar hub but lost that claim to fame over the last 25 years. Chez Billy Sud brings promise, just as the opening earlier this year of Fabio Trabocchi’s waterfront Fiola Mare, and the expectation that the Capella hotel will soon reinvent its dining room with the announcement of a new chef, new menu and new point of view. Capella is across the street from Chez Billy on 31st Street, with Fiola Mare just down the hill from both.
Reconfirming reservations for Chez Billy Sud's first Friday.
Bright & cheerful.
The petite bar is in the back of the restaurant and good for drinks  before dinner or drinks in general.
When the lights dim the candles are lit and the mood becomes alluring.
Andrew the bartender is at Chez Billy Sud after three years in Austin.
Maybe the Hiltons and Trabocchi will attract more owners and chefs and chef/owners to the 18th and 19th century buildings and hotel spaces of Georgetown. It would be a delight to see offshoot gems from the likes of The Red Hen, Toki Underground, Woodberry Kitchen, Table, Rose’s Luxury; the fried chicken and biscuits from GBD; maybe a Hill Country; and wouldn’t it be just right if someone set up Michel Richard with a pop-up back here in the neighborhood where he climbed to the top of the charts with the late Citronelle.

I can be a creature of habit with bistro food and, so far, my choices from the Chez Billy Sud menu have been the salads, the Soupe de Poisson, Moules Frites and Steak Frites. There’s also duck confit, Boeuf Bourguignon, quenelles, sea scallops, pan roasted trout. The desserts include classic Tart au Pommes, Profiteroles and a Delice au Chocolat of hazelnut crunch, bitter orange ganache and passion fruit.  The bread and butter taste of France, too.
Entrepreneurs and brothers, Eric Hilton and Ian Hilton, at the Chez Billy Sud opening party.
The Hiltons know that their bar and restaurant fans were surprised by the choice of Georgetown for a second Chez Billy. It’s your grandmother’s neighborhood, after all, and not the least alt. But they wisely don’t see it only that way. At the opening party Eric talked about growing up in DC, coming to Georgetown to party in the 80s, and now, all grown up, appreciating the charm and sweetness of the old seaport village.

The advantage of Georgetown for restaurants and bars are commercial streets busy with foot traffic; tourists, for which it is still a mecca; and the neighborhood residents, who when they love a place become passionately loyal. Just ask owner Martin Lumet at the nearby rustic French, La Chaumiere; open now almost 40 years.
Eric Boehk, Reg Leichty, and Greg Meed in the garden of CBSud.
Avery Valentine, Lisa Clar, and Chris Duffus.
Jessica Gibson, Pamela Sorensen and David Cronin. Jeff King and Erin Corddry.
Eric Hilton, Tom Snedeker, and Camille David.
Matt Dornic, Rachel Cothran, and Kyle Volpe.
Christi Schlesigner, Anthony Lanier (who did not let knee surgery keep him away from the CBSud party), Natalie Park, Victoria Michaels, and Liz Wineriter.

What you do in Washington at this time of year — mid October — is stop whatever it is you are doing, hop in a car, and take a trip out to the Virginia countryside to relish autumn. I did just that the other day with a friend, Myra Moffett, to visit another friend, John B. Henry, on his beautiful Rappahannock County farm, Stone Hill. When we arrived we found John up to his knees in mud, digging out stones for the amphitheater and coliseum he is building. It is a wild and ambitious project, awesome in scope, and to be expected from John. When its completed, built from boulders and stone, it will be a true amphitheater and coliseum.
John Henry in his Congo-sourced Halloween face.
John Henry has many loves: his wife, writer Ann Crittenden, Celtic lore, and his stones. Before the coliseum project, he built by hand the rolling, endless stone walls throughout his property, and the sheep follie. He also likes to design. The home on Stone Hill is a gallery of his creations, including old Champagne racks converted into sliding shutters, a guest bathroom sink created out of found wood.

John has an admitted addiction to spectacles, too. He’ll travel the world to find them, but the good news for Washingtonians is he creates his own Halloween spectacle each year on Stone Hill. At the risk of sounding like Stefan, it has druids, Roman soldiers, a Celtic astrological rapper, bagpipers, roaming farm animals, tribal rituals (in the past a “virgin” sacrifice), loads of fried chicken, and a bonfire that he estimates costs him $10,000 to create each year. He doesn’t mind. It’s one of his loves.
A hand made quarry stone wall appears to run all the way to the Blue Ridge.
The Halloween spectacle this year is this Saturday, October 25, and it is expected to draw more than one thousand. Here’s the news: you’re invited, too. “You can’t have a spectacle without a multitude,” John Henry says, “therefore open to anyone with a spectacle-deficit.” Shoot an email to him at “Halloween Spectacle” for directions. It’s about 1 hr 15 mins drive from the city. But you must come wearing a costume. Check out a past Halloween spectacle captured in this video by National Geographic photographer Bruce Dale.
Autumn color at Stone Hill.
John Henry makes an important distinction between field stone and quarry stone. These are quarry stones.
The sheep follie is designed for creating sheep babies, but it is also an impressive accomplishment of hand-built quarry stone walls.
Another John Henry made wall.
Myra Moffett and John Henry, walking the woods to pick up sticks for the Halloween bonfire.
Mushrooms, striking a pose.
Tracks in the field grass from a farm vehicle.
John Henry calls this rarity his "slingshot tree."
Myra Moffett wonders at the sliding shutters designed from old Champagne racks.
John Henry found this piece of wood in Rock Creek Park, brought it to Stone Hill and created a sink.
One of the Stone Hill stone porches.
Clouds cap the distance Blue Ridge.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Party photos by Alfredo Flores.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt