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“Wouldn’t this be a cool place to grab a burger at lunchtime?” asks Tom Meyer, president of Clyde’s Restaurant Group. He’s leaning against a long wooden counter running the length of a massive window overlooking bustling 14th Street NW in downtown D.C.
We’re hanging out in the main bar area of The Hamilton, the Clyde’s group’s new sprawling 37,000-square-foot restaurant and live music venue that is scheduled to open for dinner service on Dec. 18 and stay open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with the lone exception of Christmas Day.
The decor of this harmonic and gastronomic behemoth is essentially summed up in two elements: (1) a veritable forest’s worth of shiny dark wood, and (2) a whole bunch of artworks depicting a whole bunch of birds, from handsome framed paintings of eagles and other winged creatures adorning the walls to whimsical geese mobiles hanging in the hallway.
I simply had to ask, What’s with all the birds? “I don’t have a real reason,” Meyer says. “I mean, they’re just kind of cool.” He later points out one creepy bird whose beady little eyes seem to follow your every move as you pass down the corridor.
The food, meanwhile, cannot be summed up so simply. The latest draft of menu offerings spans 14 pages, broken down by meal time and specific dining area.
A few notable bites: the place will serve sushi—-a first for the vast Clyde’s empire. At a 12-seat sushi bar, flanked by shiny statues of Japanese kitchen gods, former Zentan chef Jason Zheng will be dishing up stuff like sea urchin and Tasmanian ocean trout. Meyer seems pretty adamant about pushing the raw fish envelope and not just serving the same ol’ boring California and Philadelphia rolls. “I want him to really do hot shit,” Meyer says. “I want the live uni, I want the abalone, I want the toro.”
Patrons can also order a $14 bowl of house-made ramen noodles with pork belly, served up in hand-crafted bowls by a local artisan.
Another tantalizing menu item: hanger steak poutine, priced at $21 and made with house-cut fries and short-rib gravy, topped with slices of grilled beef.
One notable menu omission: no oysters to speak of. What’s the point? Heralded mollusk mecca Old Ebbitt Grill, another Clyde’s property, is right around the corner.
In yet another first for Clyde’s, the Hamilton’s army of servers (total workforce: around 300) will carry hand-held electronic devices to take your order, as well as tiny printers to run your bill.
Down an intricately sound-proofed staircase is where the music happens. The cavernous basement, which sort of recalls B.B. King’s Blues Club in New York, features a semi-circular stage and, of course, the most newfangled state-of-the-art sound system of the day. “It’s real high-tech,” Meyer tells me. “You know, sound travels not so fast, like the crack of a bat at a baseball game. But these speakers are timed so the sound hits everybody at the same time.”
Legendary gospel singer Mavis Staples will serve as the new venue’s splashy opening act on Jan. 19.
The concert hall component has its own separate menu, consisting of charcuterie, sushi, pizza, sliders and other finger foods. The room will offer table seating for 260 and bar stools to accommodate another 100.
Once it’s finished, the walls will be lined with portraits—-no, not more birds, thankfully, but rock stars. Meyer rattles off some of the names: Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jerry Garcia, Elvis Presley, Tupac Shakur, Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa, and The Ramones.
No Ian MacKaye? “I don’t know who that is,” Meyer says. “Who’s that?” [For the Clyde’s boss’ benefit, MacKaye is sort of the godfather of the D.C. punk rock scene.] “Is he alive?” Meyer asks. “Most of the people here are dead except for Dylan.”
Photos by Chris Shott