All photos Laura Hayes
All photos Laura Hayes

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Ian Hilton doubts there’s enough Krazy Glue to keep Crimson Diner‘s lone David Bowie plate safe from sticky fingers. See if you can find it when you visit the all-day comfort food spot starting on June 26. If Bowie were still with us, he’d probably fancy the place because it’s got a lot of style, unconventional art, and eye-popping color.

The 85-seat diner is the first restaurant to open inside Chinatown’s new Pod DC Hotel. Next up will be the rooftop bar in July and the basement whiskey bar to follow in August. Chef Lawrence DiJoseph is in control of what comes out of the kitchen at all three locales.

The fourth-generation Washingtonian is excited to bring back dishes like the Monte Cristo sandwich ($14), a take on Steak Diane dubbed Steak Jolene after the Dolly Parton song ($23), and hot fudge ice cream cake ($10).

DiJoseph is especially proud of his Veggie Burger Deluxe that combines beans, farro, and chickpeas for a satisfying, meat-free sandwich. Christmas at the chef’s house never went without ambrosia fruit salad, so find the fluffy concoction on the sides menu. See the full menu below.

Almost everything will be made in house from scratch, including biscuits that will be available for dine-in guests and on-the-go for those swinging by the swanky coffee bar that serves as the threshold of the restaurant. Lead baristas for the diner traveled to Richmond Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. for a training course on how to best serve their beans.

Those looking for a different kind of buzz can turn to a cocktail menu starring a line-up of boozy milkshakes in flavors like brandied butter pecan for $10 each. A standard Old Fashioned also costs just $10 on a menu of classic cocktails and twists on classics that nod at the South like a Sweet Tea Rickey. There are also a series of “Liquid Luncheonette” cocktails that feature higher-end spirits the beverage team is crushing on like One Eight Distilling’s Rock Creek whiskey. Beer and wines by the glass will also be offered.

While the diner is the first to open, Ian Hilton who is operating the food and beverage concepts with his brother Eric Hilton and Modus Hotels, says the basement informed the overarching theme. “We knew we wanted to make it a hospitable, Southern whiskey bar concept with lots of nooks and spaces to chill out with friends,” Ian says. “Then we asked, ‘What’s a really good concept for the main floor that the hotel guests will like and hasn’t been beaten to death in the city?’” And they decided on the updated diner.

Ian says they’re focused on hospitality, but not “folksy service and not Gone-With-The-Wind Southern charm,” as he calls it. While he promises servers won’t drone on giving dissertations about ingredients, he wants customers to feel like their caretakers could wait tables at fine dining restaurants.

One challenge is staffing an operation that’s open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., daily. “Having to piece together four shifts in this full industry employment situation was not easy,” he says.

Crimson’s coffee bar will open at 6 a.m. and the diner will open at 7 a.m. Weekends they’ll definitely stay open through 2 a.m., and they’ll feel out demand on week nights. 

June 26 is the official opening date but curious customers can sneak through the hotel entrance starting on June 23 to give it a try. 

Crimson Diner, 627 H St. NW