Anticipation for Chez Billy, the latest project from Ian and Eric Hilton (Marvin, BlackByrd Warehouse, the Gibson, etc.) has been building for months, and Stephanie, Lavanya and I weren’t disappointed: it looks like this is going to be a real game-changer for Petworth. The neighborhood’s bars are fun — especially the huge back patio at DC Reynolds — but don’t seem likely to be destinations for people from outside the immediate area. We’re pretty confident that Chez Billy will.
The historic building — a popular destination for notable African-American entertainers and politicians in the ‘50s and ‘60s — has been given a loving renovation by the Edit design team (the architects behind a number of its sister restaurants). The main bar is a dramatic space: With chandeliers hanging overhead, second-floor balconies look on to the space below. (The tables on those balconies are going to be the most desirable real estate in the building on weekends.)
What’s interesting about Chez Billy is how the large interior, which covers two adjacent buildings, is divided into more intimate spaces: A heavy wooden bar is faced by a long drink rail that’s split into smaller areas with chest-high pillars; a nook that’s tucked into the back of the building has a handful of high four-top bar tables. There’s a dining room with terrazzo floors and heavy wooden booths; an upstairs bar room that has an original fireplace and couches; and a second-story back deck that overlooks the large patio that will open May 1. Flickering candles and low lights set an intimate mood throughout.
One surprise: Ian Hilton says he doesn’t expect Chez Billy to be as DJ-focused as their other operations. You’ll hear funk and R&B, but don’t expect a dance floor and a central DJ booth.
Price points are roughly the same as Marvin and Blackbyrd: $12 for the house cocktails, including a very good sazerac, kir royale and the Delicious Sour, made with Calvados brandy, peach liqueur, soda water and lime. The light, mostly European draft beers (Hofbrau hefeweiss, Gaffel Kolsch, Kronenburg) cost $6-$7, with bottled beers also around $7. There will be a happy hour, but prices and format haven’t been finalized yet.
While Chez Billy has a full French-inspired menu (think charcuterie plates, steak frites, moules, roasted bone marrow), the dining room is small enough that it’s not going to be the central destination for eaters. Instead, there are plenty of other places to sit and nosh: The two-person tables on the balconies, the bar rooms, even the bars themselves.
Also making its official debut this weekend is the new courtyard behind Town Hall in Glover Park. (The seven-year-old restaurant took over the former Blue Ridge restaurant in January.) It’s by far the largest outdoor space in the neighborhood, with tables shaded by umbrellas, a long L-shaped bar covered by a roof and plenty of greenery — it’s definitely an inviting place to spend a lazy weekend afternoon, let alone stand around with a beer on a warm summer night. (There are no TVs outside yet. If you want to watch the Nationals, head inside for your choice of 13.)
Brunch is above average, with lots of egg dishes, including chorizo and huevos rancheros, and a killer bloody mary. I have to say, though, that after eating, I was more than ready to head up to the second-level sun deck, where a row of comfortable lawn chairs is arranged to catch some afternoon rays. With a pint of summery Bell’s Oberon in hand, I could have stayed there all afternoon.
That’s not to say that Town Hall is only a destination for sunny days or temperate nights — the remodeled building is full of sofas, a pool table, cozy nooks and rooms where it’s easy to hang out with a group of friends. But when the weather cooperates, I won’t be surprised if there’s a line of people trying to enjoy the courtyard.