For D.C. restaurants, the RAMMYs are kind of a big deal. Presented by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, the RAMMY awards honor the best restaurants, chefs and staffs around. Winners will be named Sunday in 13 categories. One of the most challenging categories to be nominated in is “Best Neighborhood Gathering Place.” That’s because votes — cast online by the public — are based not just on food quality but also on atmosphere, service and community involvement. This year’s nominees:

Bar Pilar is one of the most popular neighborhood watering holes. “It was my favorite bar before they gave me the keys,” says manager Said Haddad. He says Pilar is successful because it “stays away from flashy gimmicks and advertising.” That simplicity resonates with customers. “It’s pretty low-key,” says Jeremy Flattau, a Washington native. His friend Elisa Rothenbuhler agrees. “I like the decor. And it’s not too loud, with people yelling everywhere.” Pilar’s menu encourages a communal vibe, focusing on shareable small plates. Popular dishes include tender prawns, succulent pork and rare mushrooms with leeks. “It’s a lot of people’s favorite bar to drink at,” says Haddad. “We never close early. And during the blizzard, we were open every day.”
» 1833 14th St. NW; 202-265-1751. (U Street)

Palisades nominee Kemble Park Tavern woos neighbors with the promise of relaxation. “It’s like a second home to people who don’t want to go home right away,” says manager Hicham Bennani, who points to cushy chairs and comfort foods, including thick steaks, enormous burgers, and fries, fries, fries. Bennani also talks up Kemble Park’s individualized customer service. Not only do servers and bartenders remember everyone’s “usual,” he says, but they also accommodate special requests. The staff has in the past specially ordered individual bottles of scotch and bourbon for patrons. The restaurant also caters to families, with events such as magician Sundays when kids eat free.
» 5125 MacArthur Blvd. NW; 202-966-5125.

Belga Cafe also opened its doors during “Snowmageddon.” Chef-owner Bart Vandaele, who lives five blocks from Belga, had a hand in making 8th Street SE the hub that it is today. “We were the groundbreakers on this street seven years ago,” he remembers.

One regular, Cissy Webb, calls Vandaele “a pioneer in the late stages of local restaurateuring.” Webb, who owns Frame of Mine, joined her neighbors at Belga during the snowstorm this year. “Hill residents are very loyal and supportive of local business,” she explains.
» 514 8th St. SE; 202-544-0100. (Eastern Market)

EatBar‘s staff describes the gastropub as a friendly place where everybody knows your name. “I come here to meet friends,” says regular Saadana Sakri, who lives nearby. He praises the food, mentioning that he often orders the baby burger. The baby burger is so popular, says manager Matt Molaski, that it’s the one menu item that has stood the test of four years and three chefs.

Chef Barry Koslow says EatBar has something for everyone. Menu items range from “one-biters” to entrees to meats/cheeses to eclectic wines. Pub events range from Classic Cartoon Brunch to costume movie nights. Bartender Carleton Jenkins says variety is what keeps people coming back. “We’re people’s first spot before they head out and their last stop before they head home.”
» 2761 Washington Blvd., Arlington; 703-778-9951. (Clarendon)

On 14th Street, Cork Wine Bar strives for comfort. Owners Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts, who’ve lived in the neighborhood for about 13 years, say Cork is a hangout for various age groups. While many patrons are young professionals, others have lived in the community for decades. And younger patrons, Gross says, often bring their parents to Cork. “That’s a testament to how comfortable folks feel in our space.”

“On any given night,” she adds, “about a third of the restaurant is taken up by regulars.” But it also attracts Washingtonians from other neighborhoods. Gross and her husband say they’re proud to be nominated as neighborhood representatives alongside Bar Pilar. And Pilar’s staff agrees: “We’re friends; we’re family,” says manager Haddad.
» 1720 14th St. NW; 202-265-2674. (U St.)

Written by Express contributor Suemedha Sood
Photos by Suemedha Sood for Express