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All-Day Breakfast, Southern Desserts in the Works at Chinatown’s Crimson Diner

Companion rooftop, whiskey bar concepts will follow

A rendering of Crimson Whiskey Bar.
[Pod DC]

Nightlife impresario Ian Hilton has a lot on his plate at the moment — including the three restaurants slated to open in the coming months at the just opened Pod Hotel in Chinatown, the project slotted for The Wharf complex, and the outdoorsy place he and brother Eric Hilton are developing on Ninth Street NW — and he’s fine with that.

“I like these little expansion spurts,” the co-creator of local establishments ranging from cocktail haven The Gibson to soup dumpling-slinging Ten Tiger Parlour told Eater about the flurry of activity he’s currently engaged in. By his account, the last major project he undertook was bringing Bar à Vin to Georgetown last spring.

Which is why when the Pod people reached out with an offer to try something different, the time seemed right to jump back into it.

Per Hilton, Pod originally told him they didn’t want a tenant but rather a management company “which we’re not.”

“It’s not our typical arrangement,” Hilton said of the comprehensive deal the brothers cut to bring to life a diner (with attached coffee shop), whiskey bar, and rooftop deck all under one roof. “It just so happened they had three food and beverage spaces.”

Crimson Whiskey Bar is expected to occupy approximately 9,000-square-feet. Crimson Diner, though less than half that size (about 3,500 square feet), is designed to be “that comfortable spot hotel guests can find their way into,” Hilton said. An embedded coffee bar — “You basically go through the coffee bar to get into the diner,” Hilton said of the complementary operation — will feature select java from Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Company in Richmond, Va., and is meant to appeal both to hotel guests and passersby.

The Hiltons have tapped Nicholas Hellberg, an alum of the Michael Schlow family of restaurants, to serve as bar manager at Crimson Whiskey Bar. “We’re building a pretty large list of moonshine cocktails,” Hilton said. He anticipates having between six and 10 specialty drinks spiked with the neutral spirit, but “dozens” of moonshines to choose from.

Hilton said Crimson Diner is expected to deal in boozy milkshakes as well as standard cocktails (Old Fashioned, Manhattan). What’s most exciting, he said, is the slate of “luncheonette cocktails” he’s hoping will ultimately supplant the fabled three-martini lunch.

“I like drinking during the day,” Hilton told Eater.

Lawrence DiJoseph, an alum of the now-defunct Chez Billy in Petworth, has been tasked with developing the menus for all three establishments. Hilton said the rooftop crowd should expect to snack on oysters and charcuterie, and he anticipates sharing pub grub from the diner with the whiskey bar.

According to Hilton, DiJoseph is sticking with Southern cuisine for the diner, which is expected to serve breakfast all day. Some of Hilton’s favorite offerings include corned beef hash with poached eggs and hollandaise; fried catfish and grits; and a Monte Cristo flanked by red currant jam. Desserts range from banana pudding to apple pie topped with either a slice of sharp cheddar — “The way I’ve always eaten it,” Hilton shared — or vanilla ice cream, though he noted that apple won’t be featured at the outset (two other fruit pies are up first).

The coffee bar menu will focus grab-and-go items, including house-made biscuits accompanied by apple butter, jam, breakfast meats, eggs, cheese, and more.

Hilton pegged the Crimson Diner opening around June 1. He said Crimson View and Crimson Whiskey Bar would likely follow in July and August, respectively.

The diner is projected to make food from 7 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday, and from 8 a.m. to midnight on Sunday. Alcoholic beverages are expected to flow nightly until at least 2 a.m.

When it does come online, the whiskey bar is expected to operate daily from 4 p.m. until at least 2 a.m. Rooftop hours remain in flux.