It’s no coincidence that Union Social, the newest concept from Wooden Nickel Bar Company restaurateur Reese Gardner, looks out at the nearby NoMa Metro tracks from its floor-to-ceiling windows. Every detail of the restaurant draws inspiration from the District’s transportation system: From the white and yellow subway tiles that line the walls to the train-themed cocktails on the menu.
The idea came to Gardner out of the industrial feel of the 5,600-square foot space and its location near the Union Station and NoMa Metro stops. “Being so close to the Metro, we really just incorporated a lot of things we saw there daily,” Gardner says. The finished look is designed by Maggie O’Neill, who also worked with Gardner on Irish Public House and Copperwood Tavern, and includes framed street maps, crosswalk-themed wallpaper, and even a full-sized stoplight.
The cocktail menu adds to the theme, with drinks like the Redline, a sour made with peppercorn-infused tequila. The Angel’s Seat, a citrusy cocktail with Angel’s Envy bourbon and a rosemary sprig garnish, gets its name from a slang phrase for the second level of a caboose.
While the design and drink menu nod to the “Union” (as in Station) part of the restaurant’s name, chef Randy Mosteller (formerly of Bethesda’s Redwood) says the food speaks to the “Social” side.
The bulk of the menu is meant for groups, with shareable plates like “social dips” and long breads baked in-house. A rotating menu of six “local meals” sourced with ingredients from farms in Maryland and Virginia provide heartier plates. On the list: a brined pork chop dish finished with maple mustard and sweet potato puree, seared branzino with clams soaked in saffron broth, and lamb meatballs served with lemon herb ricotta.
Also on the menu are oysters sourced from Rappahannock Oyster Co.; a variety of classic soups and salads (think french onion and kale caesar); and comfort foods like fried Brussels sprouts topped with bacon, truffle mac and cheese, and mashed potatoes with boursin cheese.
The menu will change seasonally based on local offerings. The restaurant, which opened its doors last week, will add a brunch menu this weekend, including dishes like French toast with orange honey butter, a short rib Benedict, and blueberry ricotta pancakes.
Meanwhile, a table-service bar toward the back of the restaurant leaves bartenders at the main bar free for more interaction with customers. Gardner says the setup is part of the restaurant’s so-called “social” emphasis, which is enhanced by several long tables meant to seat multiple parties.
“We want people to walk in and instantly create a relationship with not only the staff, but maybe it’s the person sitting beside them, or the person that they’re going to meet after dinner for drinks at the bar,” Gardner says. “I think that’s what D.C.’s about.”
Union Social, 100 Florida Ave. NE; (202) 652-1844; unionsocialdc.com
Photos by Tatiana Cirisano