At Edgar, only the decor is arresting
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
If it weren’t for two roadblocks, I could see myself making a habit of lunching at the freshly minted Edgar
Bar & Kitchen in the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel, a watering hole and restaurant named for one of the property’s best-ever customers: J. Edgar Hoover, the late, long-serving director of the FBI.
Just off the dashing main lobby, Edgar calls to customers with a warren of dining rooms made intimate with brick walls, leather booths and light wood columns. The hub of the interior, formerly home to the Town & Country bar, is a marble-topped counter ringed with stools.
Sticking point No. 1: The service. Does anyone at Edgar get training before they hit the floor? Greetings are slow to be made, bills can take forever to retrieve, calls to the restaurant go unanswered. When I placed a request for a glass of chardonnay featured on the menu, my server asked, “That’s a white, right?” Another afternoon, someone spilled water on the floor, a puddle that no one bothered to mop up for the hour or so we monitored it. The unsmiling staff appears to have been recruited from the Soviet school of hospitality.
Another obstacle to a patron’s happiness at Edgar: food that for the most part tastes as though it had been put together on an assembly line. Salads aren’t properly tossed; one bite delivers a mouthful of dressing, another is just naked spinach and arugula. Potato croquettes are a hot and gluey waste of calories. A strapping bowl of pappardelle is mixed with sauteed shrimp, zucchini and Parmesan shards: a dish that looks like a page torn from a hotel room-service menu circa 1998. The towering EBK burger packs in short ribs, blue cheese and soft onions. The stuffing can’t mask the reality: a boring patty beneath a dry bun.
A pleasant reprieve from the clinkers is the chicken potpie. An island of puff pastry sets off a creamy, sherry-laced moat of chicken, carrots and more. The dish is the sort of easy comfort that you imagine Hoover came to “Washington’s second-best address” for -- and that you know deserves more charming company.
Hotel bars nod to past with new approaches
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, February 22, 2013
Washington’s hotel bar scene has never been more eclectic. The plush-but-staid lounges such as Off the Record at the Hay-Adams and the Round Robin Bar at the Willard remain, but at new places, you’re likely to find rooftop pools or on-trend cocktails. Three hotels have recently given their bars complete overhauls.
Edgar Bar and Kitchen
Edgar, the Mayflower Hotel’s replacement for the vaunted Town and Country Lounge, is a world away from that dark, clubby watering hole. Opened in December, it’s decorated with shining green subway tiles, mirrored columns and a veritable museum of old bourbon bottles and crates. The huge circular booths can easily hold eight to 12 people.
The bar itself straddles two rooms, and the side closest to the door always seems busiest. If you go around to the other side, you’ll find more stools, first-come, first-seated booths, and a long, broad communal table that’s big enough to be a second bar counter. The space is wide open, but if you get stuck standing next to one of the columns at the corners of the bar, it’s tough to catch a bartender’s eye.
It’s hard to be at the Mayflower without thinking of much-loved bartender Sambonn Lek, who spent three decades there, wrote its menu of 101 cocktails and performed magic tricks to get strangers to chat with each other. Lek retired to Cambodia after Town and Country’s January 2011 closing, and although none of the remaining bartenders have his personality, they’ve worked there for 10 to 25 years. This makes it twice as frustrating when service goes missing, but it also means that if you’re yearning for Lek’s signature Sam I Am (Citron vodka, amaretto and cranberry), someone should be able to whip it up.
Asking for it isn’t a bad way to go, because Edgar’s new cocktail menu is pleasant but not really remarkable. The Pom-Blackberry Balsamic Bourbon is sweet and tangy, thanks to agave nectar and blackberry balsamic vinegar, but the bourbon gets lost. Better is the Pear Sidecar, where the combination of bourbon and rhubarb bitters keeps pear liqueur from being too sweet. Someone on staff must love the combination of gin and Chambord raspberry liqueur, because two of the nine drinks are built around it. Beyond cocktails, it’s nice to see a focus on local draft beers, including Flying Dog, Port City and 3 Stars.
To build buzz, Edgar is sponsoring a raft of happy hours: Free flatbread pizza and $3 drafts from 5 to 7 p.m. on Fridays, a free bottle of sparkling wine for groups larger than five after 5 p.m. on Thursdays, and half-off the whole bar menu from 8 p.m. to close on Sundays. I’d aim to make one of those on your first visit.
About the name: Former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover ate lunch at the Mayflower nearly every day. But since he doesn’t quite fit the younger, hipper image the Mayflower is going for, he’s not part of the design theme. But, there are busts of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in the dining room.