Timing has been the Achilles’ heel for Chef Matt Baker‘s fine dining restaurant, Gravitas. The restaurant took eons to open, largely because a wall collapsed. Baker signed the lease for the space inside the former Pappas Tomato Factory in Ivy City back in April 2016, but the Michelin-starred restaurant didn’t open until the summer of 2018.
Gravitas has been fully operational since, with the exception of its rooftop bar, The Conservatory. First announced in April, the intimate outdoor venue is now open. One might think Baker’s been foiled again by timing. Who opens a rooftop right when D.C.’s readying for its first frost?
“This will be a year-round bar,” he explains. It’ll be decked out with fire pits, fire towers, and mounted heaters. “I think the rooftop will actually benefit from the colder months because it’s really cool to be in an outdoor space while warm. Especially when it snows, to be inside a glass box of a bar and have snow all around you and foggy windows is awesome.”
That “glass box” is made of 100-year-old corrugated glass from Michigan and 100-year-old tresses from a barn. Each piece was hoisted by a crane onto the roof. A team has been assembling it since June. Between the seating inside the conservatory and scattered about the outside, the rooftop bar can seat about 50 people.
Baker’s multi-pronged approach to keep customers cozy also includes shawls and, eventually, an amuse bouche of chicken broth. “It’s a smell that takes over a room,” he says.
Partner and director of operations David Kurka says during the winter months the drink menu will have hits like egg nog, hot toddies, hot cider, and mulled wine rounding out the permanent drink list, which hones in on absinthe and gin cocktails, plus Champagne.
Pair these drinks with a separate Conservatory menu of raw bar selections and bar snacks that are stylistically similar to the food served downstairs at Gravitas, but at a lower price point.
“The biggest reason for me building The Conservatory is to double down on our footprint in Ivy City and create another place for neighbors to come to,” Baker says. It’s already a hit with Washington Mystics champion Kristi Toliver, who City Paper spotted enjoying Champagne with friends and family.
In the warmer months, the rooftop doubles as a fully operational garden maintained with the help of Up Top Acres. Right now the only things that are growing are beets, radishes, peppers, sorrel, and herbs like lavender and rosemary. Baker utilizes what he grows on the rooftop in his cooking.
The Conservatory is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 5:30 p.m. to close. There’s a weekday happy hour from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Musician Audrey Snow performs on Friday evenings starting at 7 p.m.
Baker says they may consider offering reservations for large groups, but The Conservatory will be largely be for walk-ins. Look out for ticketed cocktail parties on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Another way to enjoy the rooftop is through Gravitas’ “Date Night” package. Available on Wednesday and Thursday nights, customers who make this speciality reservation will start their evening at The Conservatory with glasses of Champagne and canapés before moving downstairs for a four-course dinner.
There is no elevator to get up to the rooftop, but Baker says accommodations can be made for guests to order off The Conservatory menu should they not be able to use the stairs.
The Conservatory, 1401 Okie St. NE; (202) 763-7942; conservatorydc.com