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Inside the Cemetery Gates of Mike Isabella's Bandolero

[Photos: R. Lopez]

Six months and two pop-up previews after first announcing it to the world, Mike Isabella will open his new Mexican small plates restaurant Bandolero on Thursday evening. And, just as advertised, this spot is putting a dark spin on its Day of the Dead theme with cemetery gates separating dining areas, animal skulls on the walls, dark lighting and tombstone-shaped arches behind the bar. The menu will look familiar enough to anyone who attended one of the Bandolero pop-ups either at 918 F Street or Tackle Box. And, red alert: Margaritas on tap, everyone. Margaritas on tap.

While Isabella wanted to go with a Day of the Dead theme for a Mexican restaurant, he didn't want to do it the way it's often portrayed: dancing skeletons, bright colors and all that. So a cemetery theme is carried out throughout the restaurant. The only skeletons in sight are animal skulls. The lighting is dim — be careful walking upstairs after you've had one too many margaritas — coming from chandeliers made to look reclaimed. The fences that separate dining areas were once actual cemetery gates. They're getting in some church pews for seating, too.

Beyond that, chairs and linens are intentionally mismatched, and there are a couple of leather couches on the second floor to mix things up a little. As with Graffiato, Isabella once again enlisted his father-in-law to make the tables for the restaurant. While the exposed brick walls are mostly left untouched, the entrance bears a chalked and soon-to-be painted mural of a bandolero.

The bar showcases its liquor in crates that Isabella says are supposed to evoke those that the Aztecs and the Mayans used to transport alcohol. And just as Graffiato's big thing was prosecco on tap, Bandolero is going one step further and tapping margaritas. Quote Isabella: "We tap everything." He notes that when he helped open El Vez in Philadelphia the staff couldn't keep up with making margaritas, hence the inspiration for putting it on tap. It'll be made fresh daily in five-gallon kegs that were used in the 70s and 80s for soda and now are often used for homebrewing.

Much of the menu — already available online — is similar to what's been available at the Bandolero pop-ups: sikil pak, Mahi Mahi tacos, taquitos, chilaquiles, mole negro and more. They're doing the full menu in the bar area and a late-night menu of dishes like guacamole, dips, taquitos and tostados. Bandolero is just starting out with dinner service, but will eventually add brunch on Saturday and Sunday and then gradually begin serving lunch. Reservations are already available and, unlike Graffiato, both levels of the restaurant are fair game. The plan is also to hold a substantial number of tables for walk-ins, too, given Georgetown's foot traffic. If you go, please be sure to send the early word this way.

· Bandolero [Official Site]
· All Previous Bandolero Coverage [-EDC-]

Bandolero

3241 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20007

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