Earlier this month, a work of street art by Banksy, the clandestine graffiti god, sold in London for more than $1 million at an auction. Across the pond, select area restaurateurs have tapped local artists to bring the same irreverent art form into their establishments to complement the cuisine. “It shows we’re not a bow-tie-and-white-glove restaurant,” says chef-owner R.J. Cooper of Rogue 24, where the walls are spray-painted with, among other things, images of the tattoos of the original staff. Here are four eateries where the vibrant swoops, swirls and sketches adorning the walls enhance the equally enticing menu in your hand.
1. Taylor Charles Steak & Ice
1320 H St. NE; 202-388-6880, steakandice.com. (Union Station)
The menu at this H Street cheese-steak joint, pictured above, has a thick Philly accent, with Cheez Whiz, grilled onions and fruity Italian water ices making an appearance. The homage to the City of Brotherly Love doesn’t end there: On the walls you’ll find the graffiti likenesses of 76ers legend Dr. J, the SEPTA logo and the Philadelphia Gas Works building. The sprawling work was done by artists Brandon Hill and Peter Chang of D.C.’s No Kings Collective. Streetlights and manhole covers were also imported from the city and hung on the walls. “The idea was to bring the outside inside,” says co-owner Casey Patten. “We wanted the space to have an edgy, dark side to it, like you were out in the streets.”
2. Rogue 24
922 N St. NW; 202-408-9724, rogue24.com. (Mt Vernon Sq)
As the name implies, this laboratory of modernist cuisine has a rebellious nature. Outside the eatery, admire graffiti works by local tagger Kelly Towles, including a zombified Don Quixote on his undead horse, Rocinante. The constantly evolving molecular gastronomy-centered menu is just as quizzical: You might dine on edible dirt one day, cucumber meringue or sea foam the next. In between bites, take a look at other curious pieces by Towles, including an outline of an anvil on the office door to symbolize hard work and a mustache and a roll of toilet paper on the door of the men’s room.
9712 Traville Gateway Drive, Rockville; 301-424-8650, quenchnation.com.
It’s not often you hear the following when you dine out: “Dude, you have got to check out the art in the men’s room.” The gentlemen’s commode forgoes the typical potty-mouth wall markings for a masterfully painted purple-haired woman by bar manager Matt Allred. “We’re trying to replicate a San Francisco or Brooklyn bar in the middle of the suburbs,” owner Michael Holstein says. “We tried to carry that goal across the whole restaurant, from the menu to the interior to the drinks we serve.” The edgy art certainly offsets Quench’s strip-mall location, where you can find decadent dishes like peach bourbon-glazed brisket and duck tacos with pickled fennel and Korean mojo sauce.
1904 14th St. NW; 202-387-7654, policydc.com. (U Street)
The cocktails at this vibrant late-night lounge on the U Street corridor are prismatic with yellow lemon wedges, wheels of verdant cucumber, plump red berries and emerald herbs. The walls follow suit. Graffiti artist Andrew Funk created a number of multihued murals featuring a butterfly-loving ingenue, President Obama, the Jefferson Memorial at sunset and a nonsensical jumble of letters. “We’re all about being free, open, going against the grain and doing what you want to do,” general manager Tiffany Penn says. “The artwork is a reflection of that philosophy.”