Industry night at Graffiato: Top chefs and bartenders take over Mike Isabella’s restaurant


Mike Isabell, far right, hosts chef and bartender friends to feed curious crowds of onlookers at Graffiato’s Industry Takeover Night. (Photo by Brian Oh/Courtesy of Graffiato) (Brian Oh/Courtesy of Graffiato)
November 27, 2013

On the first Monday of the month, Graffiato throws a party called Industry Takeover Night, a nondescript title that could well refer to line cooks and bartenders getting together for drinks on their off night.

Instead, the party is an utter madhouse: a “Top Chef” fan’s dream combination of delicious food, celebrity chef spotting and great cocktails, with a healthy bit of philanthropy on the side.

The formula is simple: Isabella hands over the first floor of his Italian-inspired restaurant to a renowned chef — maybe Edward Lee of Louisville’s 610 Magnolia, Scott Drewno of the Source or “Top Chef” favorite Jennifer Carroll — and lets them cook whatever they want. At the bar, you might find Todd Thrasher of PX or Derek Brown of the Columbia Room shaking up original cocktails. Customers pay $10 to get in, half of which goes to charity (Monday’s event will benefit Martha’s Table), and get all the food they can eat, or at least grab from trays that are passed around the room. Cocktails, draft beer and prosecco sell for $5 each.

“I like to party, and I like to hang out with my friends,” explains Isabella, who says the event’s genesis was “How can I . . . party with them, and eat their food, in my place?”

When Victor Albisu of Del Campo was the guest chef in August, he handed out dry-aged tomahawk steak chops, a move Isabella called “nuts.” (At Del Campo, a tomahawk rib-eye for two goes for $98.) Drewno, who whipped up beef tongue hot pot and lettuce wraps with Toki Underground’s Erik Bruner-Yang in February, brought in 24 Peking ducks to use in his recipes.


Graffiato owner Mike Isabella and fellow "Top Chef" alumni Jennifer Carroll at the restaurant's March 2013 Industry Takeover Night. Carroll was the evening's guest chef. (Photo by Brian Oh/Courtesy of Grafiatto) (Brian Oh/Courtesy of Graffiato)

For some, the best part may be getting to watch up close as the chefs prep the dishes in Graffiato’s open kitchen — and then gawk as they socialize with (and trash talk) each other. Other A-list chefs and bartenders show up, to mingle and grab food with everyone else. “Chefs are like rock stars now,” Isabella says. But at Graffiato, instead of being a mysterious presence in the kitchen, “we hang out, we do shots, we’re high-fiving, we party, and then we close the place down at 2 or 3 a.m.”

The growing buzz around Industry Takeover Night is reflected in the crowd around the bar and also in the lines outside; in November, some people waited at least 20 minutes to get in. Isabella says that’s going to change in January, when he hosts a blowout to celebrate the event’s first anniversary. Both floors of the Chinatown restaurant will open to make more room for the invited guests: return appearances by Drewno, Albisu and Carroll, and debuts by former Bourbon Steak chef Adam Sobel and “Top Chef” runner-up Angelo Sosa.

“Victor and Scott are two of my best friends in the city,” Isabella says. “Adam is coming back from San Francisco to join the mayhem. . . . Not only are they chefs, they’re party animals.”

That should suit the vibe perfectly.

Industry Takeover Night

Graffiato, 707 Sixth St. NW.
202-289-3600. www.graffiatodc.com.

Next event: Monday at 10 p.m. with chefs Greg Basalla of Boqueria,
Josh Brown of Level in Annapolis
and Eli Kirshtein, a former “Top Chef” competitor opening a restaurant in Atlanta; and bartenders John Miller and Andrew Fox of Level.

Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.
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