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You wouldn’t feel out of place if you wore a Santa suit with a whole smoked salmon in your scraggly beard at Winthorpe and Valentine’s Community, coming to Bethesda in late summer. The restaurant from Mark Bucher of Medium Rare is named after the lead characters in the 1980s cult classic, Trading Places. Often played on a loop on TV during the holidays, the life-swap movie stars millionaire investor Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) and street con artist Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy).
“It’s always good to tie into something,” says Bucher, who hails from outside Philadelphia, where the movie takes place. “I thought it was a hair obscure, so it might take people a few minutes to pick up on what the link is.” He’s particularly worried about the younger demographic. “Millennials will have no idea who Winthorpe and Valentine are; they’ll have to figure it out,” says Bucher. The movie theme was always part of the plan, but he didn’t emphasize it early on.
The biggest hints will be on the menu. Frozen concentrate orange juice will be listed at market price—a recurring joke in the movie. And the smoked salmon dish will be offered “Santa suit optional” in reference to the scene where a haggard Aykroyd boards a SEPTA bus with a whole fish in his Santa beard. Bucher will also pay homage to the Philadelphia-based film with a Philly cheesesteak, served as he says it should be: “The only option will be with cheese whiz and onion, no lettuce or tomato. Forget it.”
Beyond the Trading Places theme, Bucher wants to stray from the initial idea of an urban diner. “Through design, lighting, and music, we’re trying to get away from the diner image and go toward being a neighborhood hang spot,” he says. “It’ll be more clubby than a diner, but with food that’s comfortable, accessible, and reasonable. We’re not a Vegas nightclub, we’re not Tastee Diner, and it’s not Ted’s Bulletin.” He likened it to Stephen Starr’s Continental in Philadelphia.
Although Bucher initially told Y&H that the menu would be full of classics without twists, he now says his goal is to serve food that surprises diners. “Nothing you see at Community is the way you’d envision getting it at a local diner,” he says. “Everything is done my style with whimsy. The food should make you smile because there will be something unexpected.”
For example, the chicken pot pie will have a fried chicken leg sticking out. Bucher has tapped Todd Harrington, the former executive chef of Central in Las Vegas, to carry out his vision.
To wash down all this whimsy, diners will need strong drinks. Enter John Hogan, who is consulting on the bar build-out and drinks. “We’ll be doing classic cocktails with fresh ingredients and twists like foams and airs,” says Hogan, who’s also worked on the drink menus at Lincoln, Teddy & The Bully Bar, and Declaration. “We’re going to use some molecular techniques to match the food.”
The bar will feature a “cocktail hour happy hour” with classic martinis poured from shakers tableside and garnished with pickled tomatoes. “We’ll also do some young adult mocktails that are fun and whimsical, but play on the classics like shakes, malts, and cream sodas,” Hogan says.
Winthorpe and Valentine’s Community, 7770 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda