Charlie Chaplin-themed restaurant threatened with lawsuit from late actor’s estate

The Chaplin is changing its name less than two months after opening due to the threat of a lawsuit from the estate of silent-film legend Charlie Chaplin. To avoid litigation, the Chaplin-themed Asian restaurant will now be called Chaplin's Restaurant & Bar.

"We thought it was the best way to cooperate," said co-owner Ari Wilder. Upon the advice of his attorney, and after consulting with other establishments named "Chaplin's" across the country, Wilder added the apostrophe and is awaiting feedback from the estate.

When Wilder, his brother Micah and their partners conceptualized the restaurant, they had planned to get approval from the estate, but the task was abandoned in the bustle of opening a restaurant.

A view of the interior of the Chaplin in Shaw (Maura Judkis/for The Post)
Chaplin's Restaurant & Bar. (Maura Judkis/The Washington Post)

"We kind of just dropped the ball on it," he said. "We had been advised in the beginning to contact the estate to find out if there were going to be any legal ramifications, but we never followed through."

No matter, he said. They had considered initially calling the restaurant Chaplin's, with an apostrophe, but went with the Chaplin at the last minute.

"It’s a ramen, cocktail and dumpling bar. It’s not like we’re a film studio," Wilder said. "It’s conceptually not that big of a conflict."

It's not just the name that's changing. The restaurant has hired chef Myo Htun of Wheaton's Ren's Ramen to head the noodle-and-dumpling-focused menu. He replaces chef Jeremy Cooke, who Wilder said only signed on with the project for launch, but not long-term.

Ren's is a sparse but beloved neighborhood institution that earned two stars in Tom Sietsema's 2011 Fall Dining Guide. At the considerably more ornate Chaplin, Htun has drastically changed the menu to incorporate more authentic Japanese fare. Gone are the summery salads of pickled watermelon or soba noodles and smoked lobster, replaced with small bites such as karaage (crispy Japanese fried chicken) and pork belly. Shoyu and miso ramen have replaced duck and mussel ramen.

One item that remains? The restaurant's dumpling shooters, which pair three dumplings, served in a rocks glass, with a whiskey or gin shot. Htun, who hails from Burma, began his new job last week.

Chaplin's Restaurant & Bar, 1501 Ninth St. NW. 202-644-8806.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.
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