New act in town does it all
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, Jan 27, 2012
The Hamilton, the gigantic new restaurant/bar/nightclub from the owners of Clyde's and the Old Ebbitt Grill, may remind you of that classmate you always hated in high school - you know, the girl who could speak three languages, was captain of the track team, played violin in the all-state orchestra and still found time to star in the spring musical.
No matter where you begin with the Hamilton, it seems like there's always one more thing to brag about: the vast high-ceilinged dining room flanked by two perpetually humming marble-topped bars; the supper-club-style concert hall in the basement; the fresh fish flying out of the sushi bar; the cocktails made with small-batch spirits; the prime location at 14th and F streets NW.
The music hall is more Birchmere than Fillmore, with long communal-style tables radiating out from the stage, and two elevated areas with bars that offer great views. (All seats are first come, first served, so arrive early if you want to sit down front.) The seats are comfortable, and the sound system is punchy.
Local blues, swing and R&B performers feature heavily on the schedule. Tonight's bill features the Tommyhawks, and boogie-woogie queen Deanna Bogart drops in Feb. 3. The lineup of national acts is all over the map: Upcoming dates feature the New Orleans grooves of Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk (Feb. 11), '60s singer Chubby Checker (Feb. 14) and '80s hit-maker Eddie Money (Feb. 19).
Tickets are generally $15 for local musicians, and many of the bigger shows have a two-tiered pricing structure; you’ll generally pay $10 more for a seat at a table than for “standing room” at one of the two bars. (Starting February 12: A weekly Sunday gospel brunch where the $25 cover includes live music and a breakfast buffet.)
Upstairs, the main bar is immediately identifiable as a Clyde's bar - the signature mix of clubby wood-paneled steakhouse, '70s fern bar and Grand Central Station waiting room. It has a classy feel, from the tiled floors to the enormous mirrors to the plate-glass windows looking onto the downtown sidewalks. All those hard surfaces also mean there's an ungodly clatter at happy hour - be prepared to shout across the table on Friday evening, if you can even fight through the crowds to score seats.
The menu goes beyond the usual Clyde's burgers-and-raw-bar menu, though I have an affinity for the sliders, an impressively stacked tower of White Castle-size burgers surrounded by potato chips. But you should dive into the sushi menu - prepared by former Zentan sushi chef Jason Zheng - for the fire cracker roll (fried shrimp, spicy pieces of jumbo lump crab) or the impressive charcuterie selection.
For your glass, there are 20 draft beers, 20 wines by the glass and a cocktail menu where such small producers as Tito's Vodka, Willett bourbon and Silvertip gin get star billing on their own and in original concoctions. The spicy combination of Rowan's Creek bourbon, raw ginger juice and a hint of orange make Up Rowan's Creek a great after-dinner drink, while the Aaron Burr, with bitter amaro, sweet vermouth and Leopold's Gin makes for an enjoyable aperitif. (Yes, history buffs, I also questioned naming a cocktail after the vice president who killed restaurant namesake Alexander Hamilton in a duel.)
One thing the Hamilton is not: cheap. I dropped in one night and had a pint of beer, a grilled cheese sandwich (with no sides included) and an after-dinner drink from the "Specialty Artisanal Bourbon and Rye Cocktails" menu. Once tax and tip were added, the total was more than $35. Pint of Guinness after work? That'll be $8.80. Glasses of wine are mostly $9 to $11, cocktails are in the $12 to $14 range. Appetizers and bar snacks cost about $6, though a plate of fried chicken wings and a sweet mumbo sauce is only $7.