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Bill Thomas is branching out for the first time since he opened Jack Rose Dining Saloon in 2011. After years of major construction, his next venture, a few doors down in Adams Morgan, is set to debut in phases in early 2019. The Imperial, a three-floor corner restaurant and bar, is in many ways the ying to Jack Rose’s yang. Unlike the dark and cozy bar known for its whiskey library, The Imperial will put food first in a brighter setting replete with marble and tile that almost have an iridescent quality thanks to the light streaming in through bay windows.
Thomas converted three former businesses into The Imperial right where 18th and U streets NW converge with Florida Avenue NW. The 5,500-square foot project is Thomas’ love letter to the neighborhood he’s lived in for 20 years. “It’s one of the best crossroads in the city in terms of diversity of clientele,” he says. “I love the urban feel of the corner. I love that I saved it from becoming a bank, 7-Eleven, Smashburger, or Five Guys.” Thomas says he received a steady stream of offers on the property, but wouldn’t budge. He fancies the dual fishbowl effect—diners can watch the bustling intersection, while the community can see in.
The first floor boasts a 40-seat dining room,10-seat main bar, and eight-seat cold bar. At the latter, customers can watch chefs shuck oysters and plate non-traditional raw bar offerings including sashimi, crudos, caviar, and ceviche. Thomas brought Chef Russell Jones back to D.C. to lead the kitchen. He was the former chef of Jack Rose before he left to cook and start a family in South Carolina. Chef Jon de Paz was initially slated to be the chef, but Thomas says he didn’t expect staff to put their careers on hold while construction dragged on and he’s delighted to have Jones back.
Dishes are still under development, but Jones plans to showcase Mid-Atlantic ingredients with a strong focus on seafood and vegetables through the lens of southern France. There will also be dry-aged steaks and house-made pastas, rounding out a menu that has something for everyone. The Imperial will eventually serve dine-in or takeaway lunch at the bar and on the two-tier rooftop. “It’s going to be super simple, but I want them to be damn good sandwiches and salads,” Jones says.
In addition to the rooftop, there’s a third component of the new restaurant. Thomas is grafting the location of Dram & Grain from the basement of Jack Rose to the downstairs at The Imperial, more than tripling the cocktail bar’s capacity from about 20 people to as many as 75. Reservations and walk-ins will be accepted and there will be both a cocktail tasting menu and an a la carte drink menu. Included in the increased seating capacity is a 24-seat room with a gas fireplace that can be reserved for private events.
Bartender and creative director Andy Bixby will continue to lead the charge. The Imperial’s beverage program spotlights vintage spirits. Thomas says he’s amassed 400 bottles including eight decades of Chartreuse, pre-embargo Cuban rum, centuries-old California brandy, and more.
Thomas says he feels like he’s opening a “D.C. joint” with D.C. talent that he hopes has longevity. “The neighborhood is fulfilling what we’ve laid the infrastructure for over the past 20 years,” he says, encouraged by newcomers like The Line Hotel and Tail Up Goat. The owners of the latter are opening a second business in the neighborhood that’s a little more casual called At Reveler’s Hour. “I think it’s the best neighborhood in the city. It’s never lost its way.”
Dram & Grain is poised to open first in January. The rooftop bar will follow, making the dining room the last space to open to the public.
The Imperial, 2001 18th St. NW