Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Hamilton in DC

The new hot spot : The Hamilton is named for early American statesman Alexander Hamilton.
The Hamilton: DC's new restaurant is always open, even for the birds
by Stephanie Green

The "power lunch" is slowly easing its way out of the Washington lexicon. In fact, it has a sort of 90's nostalgia to it, so I am loath to use it anyway. Life in the Obama era is more mobile, social, and eclectic, thus every new bar and restaurant yearns to be christened the "power spot" du jour.

Business (aka "politics") can be done over social media, drinks, brunch, breakfast, or in the wee hours over a very strong cup of coffee.

You need a place to convene outside the office, but where do you go during the odd hours? Enter The Hamilton, Washington's new 24/7 restaurant.
Hamilton's main bar.
The friendly staff behind the bar gives the place "an everybody knows your name" sentimentality.
Pouring a pint for lunch.
Wide Screen TV's have coverage of sports, and of course, 24 hour news.
On a recent lunch date there, I struck up a conversation with the bartender at one of the restaurant's three bars about the large screen TV's. "ESPN?," I asked in the middle of a heated presidential primary.

"I'm sure we will get it over to CNN soon," he reassured me.

"More locals or tourists?"

"Mostly locals so far."

That's exactly what The Hamilton is hoping for.
Alexander Hamilton's portrait holds court in the Hamilton's entrance area. The Aaron Burr cocktail, in honor of Alexander Hamilton's deadly foe.
Unlike DC's other 24/7 restaurant, The Diner, in Adams Morgan, The Hamilton is an upscale dining destination, neighborhood bar, and nightclub: the holy trinity for lobbyists with deep expense accounts. The Hamilton's 37,000 square feet are stationed on the corner of 14th and F in the heart of the city's booming Penn Quarter neighborhood, (not coincidentally) close to The White House and K Street.

The word is on the street, and the power brokers have descended on this place, which, by the way, has little doors on the booths to seal its guests in privacy while dining.

On my second visit to The Hamilton late one Wednesday night, I spotted Rep. Joe Crowley, a Democrat from New York, leaving after dinner with his wife; a young White House staffer, a former NBA star, and a stage actor portraying Abraham Lincoln at the nearby Ford's Theater.
Rep. and Mrs. Joe Crowley of New York at The Hamilton for a romantic meal a deux. Hail to the Chief! Actor David Selby, who plays Abraham Lincoln in the show Necessary Sacrifices at nearby Ford's Theater, stopped by for dinner after the show.
Power players Sinclair Cooper and Michael Hutton meet for a late night drink.
It must be the grand, yet inviting atmosphere that appeals. The first floor reminds me of a cross between the "Cheers" set and a high-end hotel lobby. Dark wood, shiny floors, and friendly, but slightly underfoot staff standing around waiting to attend to you.

I was especially charmed by John Grace, one of the managers whose Irish brogue only enhances the Hamilton's hospitality. My dining companion very astutely noticed the portraits and sculptures of birds at The Hamilton. Everywhere.

Of course, the picture of Alexander Hamilton, the star-crossed early American statesman, holding court near the front entrance seems fitting, but birds?
Birds are featured prominently as part of the restaurant's decor.
Owls, and parrots, and herons! Oh, my!
The decorator of The Hamilton was inspired by John James Audubon's Birds of America.
According to the promotional materials I received, The Hamilton's décor is "both a celebration of nature and homage to winged vocalists. Our collection includes original works and limited edition prints of some of the world's most renowned artists."

I rather like it.

Throughout the first floor, I see Audubon prints from his first edition of Birds of America, and "bird imagery" from Hunt Slonem. Owls, parrots, and herons give the place a charming serenity.
The Hamilton's main dining room with plenty of light and views of downtown Washington.
Comfortable seating and crisp white table cloths are signatures of the Clyde's Restaurant Group. Washington insiders will appreciate this nod to our beloved cherry blossoms.
Waiter prepares table for guests.
A group of colleagues is drawn to The Hamilton for a lunch date where the doors on the booths close to ensure privacy.
The more casual dining area for a quick lunch or late night snack.
White House staffer Kyle Lierman dines with a friend.
Now to the heart of the matter: the food. My friends and I started out with basic starters. Sliders and sushi from The Hamilton's sushi bar (yes, this place even has a sushi bar). For my main course, I tried the sweet potato gnocchi followed by an assortment of ice cream flavors for dessert.

The refined palette will appreciate The Hamilton's cheese menu featuring big woods blue, Mont St. Francis, Grayson, and Cave Aged Marisa all served with walnut raising bread.
The menu has a wide array of all-American and continental cuisine.
Their other appetizers (which could suffice for lunch) include lobster bisque, Rhode Island squid, and chicken liver mousse, or if you're an all-American girl like me, you can go for the sliders.

Salads, sandwiches, and pasta options round out their luncheon possibilities. Breakfast fare ranges from classic Americana ("The Elvis": French toast, bananas, peanut butter bacon) to the continental ("Croque Madame": two fried eggs, French toast, Gruyere cheese, glazed ham, Mornay sauce).
The sushi bar.
A plate of sushi, sashimi, and maki on its way out.
Sliders are a favorite (mine, too) on the menu.
Vegetarian Gnocchi with cheese and pine nuts.
Duck carbonara with a fried egg surprise.
Sinful! The Hamilton's $17 banana split.
In keeping with its 24/7 branding, The Hamilton has a special "after midnight" menu with a fun amalgam of its breakfast, lunch and dinner confections.

Although The Hamilton's food may be a little heavy on the cholesterol, it's light on the budget. You'll be hard pressed to find an entrée more than twenty dollars.

Downstairs, I checked out what The Hamilton calls its "Hamilton Live" section, a subterranean night club with portraits of pop stars, another bar, and seating available for hundreds.

This has a completely different generational appeal.
The downstairs bar.
John Lennon and Bob Dylan are two of many stars on the wall in the nightclub, a reminder of the ever endearing confluence of politics and pop culture.
I liked the bright blue stage lights illuminating an irreverent portrait of Alexander Hamilton in Blues Brothers shades, the grand piano, and the circular structure of the seating around the stage. The Hamilton folks say that they plan to recruit top talent to play at "Hamilton Live" to create "a next generation live music venue with nightly entertainment."

This new dining with entertainment experience is no lark. It's the brain child of Brian Stickel, a chef and restaurant virtuoso with a 13-year career with such restaurants as Georgetown's 1789 and other eateries within the Clyde's Restaurant Group, the owner of The Hamilton.

The Hamilton

600 14th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20005
near Metro Center
Photographs by Stephanie Green. Follow Stephanie Green on stephlgreen