When they hear about his plans to open the Royal at 501 Florida Ave. NW, the first thing people ask restaurateur Paul Carlson is not about the food, or the cocktails, or the coffee he plans to serve all day. It's about the building. Specifically, its Grimace-purple brick exterior.
"Will you please paint over that?" said Carlson, in the voice of his well-meaning friends.
He's planning to -- but he doesn't know what color it will be yet. "I'm leaving that up to my mother. She's got great taste," he said.
That's because the Royal, which takes its name from the former Royal Liquor Store previously at that location, will be a family affair. Carlson is opening it in LeDroit Park, blocks from where his parents and sister live, and close to his other venture, Vinoteca.
The menu will be inspired by the food of his Colombian heritage. His is a quintessential D.C. story: His father, a foreign service officer, met his Colombian mother while he was working in her country, and after a globe-trotting childhood, Carlson, his parents, and his sister, Katrina, settled in the District. The four will be working together to open the restaurant.
"We wanted to incorporate food that was representative of what our family likes to eat, our family's comfort food," said Carlson. That means guests can expect dishes like arepas, empanadas, blood sausage and plantains, among other Colombian-inspired plates. Much of the menu will be cooked by chef Lonnie Zoeller on a newly-installed wood-fired grill. He also plans to source unusual ingredients, like lulo, a fruit that shares qualities with oranges and passion fruit, which he'll use for juices and cocktails.
Many of those dishes will be available all day. Carlson intends for the Royal to be an all-day affair, beginning each morning with breakfast and coffee by Counter Culture. He'll serve lunch, and he anticipates that neighborhood teleworkers will come in to take advantage of the free WiFi in the split-level space. D.C. has always had a dearth of all-day restaurants, and Carlson wanted to fill that gap.
"In neighborhoods like this, where we're not surrounded by office buildings -- we're more residential-based -- [there have] always been more nighttime establishments," said Carlson. "I think the thing that has triggered it a little bit is telecommuting, or working from home. There's artists, there's writers... I think that nowadays, you're starting to hear about a lot more places open daytime to nighttime."
By happy hour, the Royal will turn up the music and shake up the cocktails. Horus Alvarez will head the beverage program, which will also feature South American wines and shaved ice cocktails made by a vintage ice shaver Carlson sourced from Guatemala. But the main focus will be on vermouth, which will be on tap.
"It's one of those things that just doesn't get a lot of chatter from people," said Carlson. "It's one of those spirits that's always been used as an additional ingredient in a cocktail, but never really used as its own individual spirit."
The Royal, which will seat 50 people, will open mid-May.
The Royal, 501 Florida Ave. NW. Metro: Shaw/Howard University.