After weeks of negotiations, false starts and guessing games about future occupants, the Tapper Restaurant Group has finally sold Pulpo, its tapas emporium in Cleveland Park, to a neighbor in the same strip center on Connecticut Avenue. The owners of the Cleveland Park Bar and Grill will take over the space and turn it into a barbecue joint.
"It's just something we wanted to do since we moved to Cleveland Park," says co-owner Peter Balish who has operated the neighborhood pub for more than eight years with business partner, Jeff Holibaugh.
Even though they're both hospitality vets with more than 20 years of experience each, neither Balish nor Holibaugh have operated a barbecue restaurant before. As such, they're on a mission to find a consultant to set up their smokehouse. Balish calls it priority No. 1. The owners have already bought a high-tech smoker — an exhausted Balish couldn't immediately remember the brand — and now they're searching the region for a pitmaster who can properly install the machine and provide insights into the secretive, highly competitive world of American barbecue.
Like most 'cue joints in the area, with the notable exception of the Texas-leaning Hill Country, Balish and Holibaugh's unnamed smokehouse will likely offer barbecue from all major American regions: Texas, Kansas City, the Carolinas and Memphis. It only makes sense, Balish notes.
"We're not going to limit ourselves to one concept," he says. "The people who live in this city, they come from all over."
The joint will serve both lunch and dinner for sit-down guests, Balish says, but it will concentrate on take-out and curbside pickups as well. The owners are working to carve out a space in back for pickup orders. They're also looking to use the upstairs space for private events and Sunday football viewing. They've even planning a live music calendar, nothing on the Hill Country scale, but likely a couple shows a month, mostly country.
Balish expects a six-week build-out for the former Pulpo space. The owners plan to reconfigure the bar and add 16 taps, plus refrigeration for another 30 or 40 bottles, including brands available in the major barbecue hubs. They also plan to offer cocktails, though likely not the highfalutin kind with housemade bitters and infused spirits. Balish is thinking more along the moonshine level.
The owners hope to have their new business up and running by June. As for the name, they're down to two choices, Balish says.
"One has to do with my name and a weight issue," he says cryptically.