Many D.C. restaurants base their mystique on the VIP faces that fill the room. Sax, a new high-end eatery downtown, is attempting to go about this in a rather spicier way.
Guests at its opening parties last week were titillated — or horrified — by a series of murals and paintings depicting famous folk as lurid, sex-tinged caricatures.
(**UPDATE 5/26: Sax cleans up its art **)
There’s a George W. Bush dancing on the Oval Office desk in Texas-flag briefs, a bottle in his hand and a lady swinging from the curtains. There’s a Barack Obama smoking a blunt. There’s a Bill Clinton as a centaur, with a saxophone in his mouth and a Monica type on his back. (And, in another painting, with a blue-dressed woman huddling suggestively under his desk.) There’s a pope spanking a little boy over his knee. And is that supposed to be Anita Hill in a slinky red dress, giving a come-hither glance to a Clarence Thomas figure. . . who is hoisting what in the scales of justice?!?
“That is his manhood,” Sax owner Errol Lawrence calmly told us. (We’re told the scales thing is a reference to an ancient Pompeiian fresco of Priapus, if that helps.)
Lawrence and co-owner Nancy Koide (the team behind hotspots Sei and Oya) were “looking for scandal” to amp up the room’s rococo decor, opulent with red velvet, gold leaf, tufted damask and crystal. “And we realized we were standing in the middle of it” here in Washington, he said. They hired artists Balage Balogh and Melissa Shatto to execute their vision of Washington as Gomorrah.
Well, that’s one way to build buzz — or lose customers. Though the naughtiest murals are hidden in dimly lit back passages, they prompted a few guests to walk out. “I know that art sometimes can be controversial,” arts publicist Sandro Kereselidze told us. But “it was simply offensive and disgraceful.”
Koide acknowledges that Sax “is not for everyone” — like, say, families. But are they concerned that they’ll miss out on visits from the city’s top political folk? Lawrence shrugged and gestured to a team of lingerie-clad dancers undulating on a stage over the bar. “They can’t come here anyway,” he said.