Mount Pleasant's Tonic restaurant and Last Exit cocktail bar closed suddenly on June 2 after more than a decade in business. The space will be occupied in August or September by an "organic bistro" called Goodall's Bistro, according to new owner Will Warren.
"It's gone a little quieter the last few years, and it didn't make sense financially to keep it open any longer," said former owner Jeremy Pollok, who opened the neighborhood bar in 2004 with partner Eric "Bernie" Bernstrom. Sister restaurant Tonic at Quigley's, located on the campus of George Washington University, will remain open.
The new owner is Will Warren, a first-time restaurateur and eight-year Mount Pleasant resident who plans to give Goodall's Bistro a focus on "organic, locally sourced cuisine," with healthier menu options, including multiple vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes. "I have friends who are vegan, who are into paleo and Crossfit, and who are gluten-free, and it feel like wrestling a bear to find a place that can deal with us all," Warren said in an interview this morning.
Before moving to Washington in 2000, Warren lived in Vermont, where he managed a cafe and started a catering company that focused on locally sourced ingredients. But he gave that up to work in D.C., and Warren has spent the last 14 years working in small business administration and managing Puppy Love, a pet-setting company.
Still, the idea of opening a locally-focused restaurant was in the back of his mind, as he watched friends open neighborhood spots, such as Room 11. Warren says he had opportunities to open a business elsewhere in D.C., but he was holding out for a chance to open on Mount Pleasant Street. "I really feel like the culture of Mount Pleasant is right for what I want to do," he said. "I see it happening in other places, but knowing my neighbors, I feel like the neighborhood is conducive to the idea. I like that it's homegrown in every way.
"When I moved in to the neighborhood, it was a lot of people in group houses. Now it's changing, and there are a lot more people with kids. People's tastes have refined as we're aging, but I don't see that reflected in the neighborhood. When I was young, it was a lot of fun to go to Tonic and eat tater tots, but I believe people want to eat healthier, less-processed food."
To that end, he is working with chef David Duffy, formerly of the vegan restaurants Cafe Green in Dupont Circle and Great Sage in Clarksville, Md., and Dannielle Sharkey, formerly of Tabard Inn. Nick Pimentel of Room 11 is taking a hand in designing the new space, which will open in segments: The former Tonic basement space will open first, after a "significant facelift," Warren said. "Three to six months down the road, we'd like to turn the Last Exit space into a cafe that's open during the day."
Tonic was a simple place, built around tater tots, taco nights and Michigan football games. After opening the basement-level Tonic, though, the partners expanded multiple times within the same building. They added an upstairs dining room with an extra bar; took over a restaurant across the hall from that dining room to create the Radius pizzeria (which was subsequently sold); and then took over the basement under Radius to build the speakeasy-inspired Last Exit cocktail lounge.
Pollok said that multiple factors contributed to the sale of the original Tonic: The decline in sales; Bernstrom's move to Italy two years ago, which left Pollok handling all the day-to-day affairs; and the vibe of Mount Pleasant itself. "The neighborhood has changed a lot, and I don't think Tonic kept up with the times, frankly," Pollok said. "We made some mistakes ... There's definitely an appetite for new businesses up there."
While the swiftness of the closure might shock regulars, Pollok is already moving on, talking about the frozen tiki drinks sold on the patio behind Tonic in Foggy Bottom. "This will allow me to focus on [Tonic at Quigley's], and allow me to watch my kids play soccer every once in a while."