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In mid-2014, Noe Landini, owner of Old Town eateries including Landini Brothers and Fish Market, took a trip to D.C.’s Chinatown to help a friend tour potential properties for a new business. On their list was the historic Bulletin Building, a four-story limestone structure across from Verizon Center built in 1928 to house a printing press.
But it was Landini who fell for the property: Its industrial look had a certain charm, and the four art deco reliefs on its façade reminded him of his other home in Miami.
He bought it on the spot.
“It had great bones, it had great history, and it was in a great location,” Landini says. “And I just thought to myself, there was a lot of opportunity there to do something spectacular.”
Fast forward roughly a year and a half, and that property has been transformed into Bar Deco, Landini’s first venture in D.C. Currently in soft-opening mode, Landini expects an official opening in mid- to late-October.
The 8,000-square-foot restaurant seats 331 guests on its four stories, which include a 50-foot bar and a rooftop patio. Though the project required a number of modern renovations to the building—installing an elevator, among them—its ’20s vibe remains. Every detail is a nod to the building’s historic past, from brass gaslights set above the bar to the main dining room’s crumbling brick walls.
It’s an elegant change for the building, which counts Coyote Ugly and nightclub Muse among its former inhabitants.
Keeping with the Americana theme, everything on the menu is locally sourced and made from scratch, Noe says. Entering the building, guests are immediately met by the aroma of smoking meats, courtesy of an enormous smoker in a show kitchen across the room. On the menu: jazzed-up classics, like mac and cheese topped with crumbled Goldfish and a Caesar salad dressed with smoked white anchovies.
The drink menu follows a similar theme, with cocktails like the Deco Old Fashioned, served with muddled orange, cherry, and Angostora bitters, and The All American, made with house-made bacon-infused bourbon, homemade bitters, maple syrup, and a bacon garnish.
The concept, Landini says, is a “familiar” menu that won’t intimidate guests, but still packs surprise in the details.
“These are the dishes that I think are approachable and that I think people want in this area,” Landini says. “And we sat down and we said, ‘How are we gonna do them, and what twists are we gonna put on them?’ And we literally, like mad scientists, went through it dish by dish.”
It’s no simple production. Chef Steve Rosenthal, who’s also worked at José Andrés’ Minibar and Park Tavern in Navy Yard, says he spends between 14 and 18 hours per day smoking sausages, whipping up house-made condiments, and baking fresh bread.
“I set up a little bed in the bathroom,” he jokes.
Rosenthal’s favorite dish? The smoked pork ribs, served with crumbled blue cheese and a house-made barbeque sauce that the chef describes as “a mixture of North and South” with both sweet and tangy flavors.
“I have this weird passion with pigs,” he says about the dish, laughing. “If you don’t eat bacon, I just can’t trust you.”
Leaving the restaurant, guests can’t miss Landini’s final tribute to the Bulletin Building’s history: an enormous mural that spans the entire wall on the left side of the building.
Next to the restaurant’s name, painted in fading blue block letters, the mural pictures an eagle, a printing press, and the month and year the building was constructed—July 1928.
“It tips its hat to the history of the building, the history of the neighborhood and Chinatown itself,” Landini says.
Bar Deco at 717 6th St. NW. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-2 a.m.; closed Sunday. bardecodc.com.
Photos by Tatiana Cirisano