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Walter Gagliano is an interior designer who has designed 25 restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area. Tonight, he’s accompanying Young & Hungry columnist Tim Carman on a whirlwind architectural tour of District eats to reveal which offerings are hot and cold, off the menu.
Policy, 1904 14th St. (202) 387-7654
Cold: Policy’s unmarked entrance can make Policy’s first impressions a bit unmemorable. “When you first walk in, it’s a little cold,” says Gagliano. “There are chartreuse-colored walls, a utilitarian stair-case, and a hostess stand on the inside—-it’s like you’re going into a closed nightclub. It gives no impression at all of what you’re walking into. It’s a shame, becuase once you walk in through the second door, it all becomes very cool.”
Hot: Policy’s decades-spanning pop design appeal is beyond eclectic—-it’s clashing. To Gagliano , that’s a good thing. “The more clashing the better these days,” he says. A stroll through policy’s restaurant, bar, and lounge areas conjures up a lot of culture clash, from “Rat Pack Las Vegas to “80’s glam” to “the Sputnik-glam of the 50’s and 60’s,” Gagliano says. Thankfully, everything is “filtered through a 21st-centure sensibility,” he says. “There is nothing undone here. It’s very designed. It’s all very different, but all very controlled. I mean that in the best way.”
Once past the entrance, guests are greeted with a dining room that could be home to both Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, Gagliano says. “You walk into a room that’s almost totally black with red accents and reflective surfaces that stop it from being dungeon-y,” Gagliano says. The inviting lounge area also plays with dark glam, in red patent-leather and black crocodile-like apholstery that Gagliano calls “very 1959 Cadillac.” Upstairs, says Gagliano, “it’s not a restaurant anymore—-it’s a club.” A staircase leads to loungy booths, chain-mail curtains, crystal chandeliers and New York-style subway graffiti gracing the walls. “It has a very high-energy vibe,” Gagliano says, one that might even outshine Policy’s downstairs set-up: “It looks like it should have its own name.”
Like Cork Wine Bar, Policy flirts with “cold” again with its lighting scheme—-what Gagliano calls “weird little glaring headlights” that he suspects “could make customers feel like a deer-in-the-headlights.” Policy softens the glare “by adding an incongruous element to each table—-fresh flowers in small vases to block and diffuse the light,” Gagliano says. The floral displays prove a potent counterpart for the road-kill lighting: “It works pretty successfully,” he says.
Reporting by Tim Carman