Photo of Michael Babin by Darrow Montgomery
Photo of Michael Babin by Darrow Montgomery

The area of Capitol Hill surrounding the Potomac Avenue Metro station isn’t a dining hub compared to other D.C. neighborhoods. Save for expert sandwich slinger Mangialardo’s, dive bar Trusty’s, gin watering hole Wisdom, and La Lomita Latin restaurant there isn’t much.

That will change when Neighborhood Restaurant Group (NRG) opens a multi-restaurant dining hub in a new, mixed-use community going into 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. SE.

“It’s a neighborhood I’ve been looking at for a while,” says NRG owner Michael Babin. “The people I know there hate that they have to go to another neighborhood to go out in the evenings, food-wise.” He’s partnering with CAS Riegler Companies and May Development on the project.

Washingtonians know NRG from the nearly 20 restaurants, bars, and shops they operate in the region including Iron Gate in Dupont, EatBar on Barracks Row, Vermilion in Alexandria, Hazel in Shaw, The Sovereign in Georgetown, and Rustico in Ballston. Babin thrives on being one of the first to go into a previously underserved neighborhood.

Evening Star [Cafe] went into a neighborhood like that,” Babin says of his Del Ray dining room. “It’s not easy always. There are aspects to doing that that are tricky, but it’s sort of a comfort zone for us.” Birch & Barley and ChurchKey were among the first to take a chance on 14th Street NW and Bluejacket was an early tenant in the rapidly developing Navy Yard neighborhood. 

Few specifics are known about which restaurants will fill the 12,500-square-foot ground floor space except that Beer Director Greg Engert will have beer bar with indoor and outdoor seating and there will be a high-end coffee shop.

Expect about five restaurants and two bars or coffee shops in total. Some will be NRG-branded concepts Washingtonians are already familiar with, others could come from chefs or restaurateurs outside of the group. Babin is counting on neighborhood residents to speak up about what they’re looking for that they don’t already have. 

“We’re creating a whole ecosystem that you’d otherwise have to find by moving locations,” Babin says, noting a trend where diners like to string together meals of small plates at two or three restaurants in one evening. “We want it to be a place where, if you live around there, it’s your clubhouse,” he continues. “A place you come to when you can’t decide where you want to go because when you get there, you’ll have a lot of options.”

A couple could potentially order food from two different restaurants but sit together in one of several common areas. But Babin says don’t call it a food hall. He assigns the term to a place that’s most active during the day where there are artisans selling crafts and produce and other stands for purchasing food to take home and cook. That’s not the case for 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. SE.

The closet thing District denizens could compare the forthcoming project to is the multi-restaurant Isabella Eatery going into Tysons Galleria from Restaurateur Mike Isabella. At the mall there will be consolidated versions of some of his top restaurants including Arroz and Requin, plus a few newcomers including bars and a steakhouse. 

Babin expects the multi-restaurant concept to open in about two years. There will 160 apartments directly above, ranging from studios to three-bedrooms.