WASHINGTON -- If the next snowpocalypse hit without warning and we all had to shelter in place, then the lucky 1,000-plus chowing down at The Hamilton could settle in happily for quite some time. The soon-to-open eatery, the latest from Clyde's Restaurant Group, could well be the city's largest at 37,500 square feet. It begins service Dec. 18.
Clyde's President Tom Meyer took The Huffington Post on an ambling tour through the massive property, which feels more like a small city than a restaurant. In all, there are about 400 restaurant seats spread out over five bars and six dining areas, 80 more seats in an upstairs loft area with standing room for 100, and 260 seats downstairs in a concert venue space, which also holds 100 bar stools.
The Hamilton will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week except for Christmas, a rarity in a city where public transportation closes down at midnight on weeknights. Meyer doesn't expect the place to be hopping at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday, but he's confident that The Hamilton will be a success.
"I'd be dumb if I wasn't nervous," he said. But the way Meyer sees it, he's not just creating another restaurant; he's providing a service. There's nothing in the area that caters to the late night set (Meyer envisions lawyers burning the midnight oil and restaurant and hotel workers fresh off their last shift) and no place that offers both entertainment and quality food and drinks.
But how can a place this large exist? Most recently, the property at 14th and F streets NW was a Borders bookstore, part of the chain that declared bankruptcy earlier this year. Before that, it was the flagship location of the legendary Garfinckel's department store, which ceased operations in 1990. But both companies used the lower level for storage, making The Hamilton the largest operation ever on the premises.
Even for a successful restaurant group like Clyde's, the rent at The Hamilton must be considerable. When asked how he's affording payment for such a huge place at such a desirable location, Meyer was tight-lipped, offering only, "We got a very fair rent deal, I'll say."
To help streamline service, nearly all of The Hamilton's 300 (holy cow!) employees will carry wireless electronic devices to take orders and portable printers to print bills on the fly. The kitchen will be paperless, with orders punched into an electronic system that should prevent dishes from getting lost in the mix.
As for the food, a lengthy list of offerings -- with separate menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night, brunch and downstairs in the club -- includes some eye-catching numbers distinct from the mainly American contemporary vibe. Former Zentan chef Jason Zheng will serve up Japanese-inspired fare at a 12-seat sushi bar on the main level.
Downstairs in the concert area, there are still more surprises. Meyer anticipates having shows there nearly every night, with tickets priced anywhere from $15 to $40 and acts running the gamut from comedy to blues to jazz to rock. There'll be a gospel brunch on Sundays, complete with a choir and a Southern-themed menu.
Sushi, gospel brunch, 24-hour service -- what doesn't this place have? And can it possibly succeed?
"I want to create something fun, and hopefully people respond," Meyer said. "If they don't, I'm fired."