Chaplin’s, Shaw’s two-story whimsical playground for ramen, dumplings and cocktails, has an aggressive expansion plan: opening a brand-new restaurant and bar on its roof.
The entirely separate 4,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor space — which is at least a year away from breaking ground — would focus on sushi and yakitori, the team tells Eater.
“We want it to be cozy and an inviting aesthetic but energetic and bustling like Chaplin’s with a cool cocktail program,” co-owner Ari Wilder says.
His 1930s-inspired restaurant, an ode to the silent film era in Japan, just celebrated its third anniversary at 1501 Ninth Street NW. The corridor has seen a surge of activity since, including new arrivals such as wine bar Maxwell Park and neighborhood eatery IMM Thai.
There’s a few hurdles to overcome before any demolition can begin; buying the adjoining building from the landlord, primarily, and then re-zoning the currently existing condo into a hospitality venue. The Chaplin’s crew applied with the zoning department a year and a half ago, seeking to convert the entire building from mixed-use to commercial. They’ll inch closer to a potential approval before 2017 wraps, via a meeting in front of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission.
The condo-turned-bar plan recently came into heightened focus mostly because another one didn’t; the team wanted to open a quick-service, all-day breakfast cafe called Shawshank Diner across the street. Structural issues caused them to scrap those plans.
“It’s another thing the neighborhood needs, it was just the wrong location,” says Wilder.
The proposed sushi joint’s blueprints hint at the possibility of private rooms for late-night karaoke and a garden terrace-style rooftop bar with tables. About 40 people could fit inside, with 60 outside. Moving forward on the restaurant is contingent on what the city requires, which could mean erecting a whole new stairwell and wrestling with HVAC-related issues.
“If we have to invest too much money we many not do it but we definitely prefer to spend money on our own building than on someone else’s,” WIlder says. For now, the sushi spot isn’t named and doesn’t have a chef attached.
There’s one major improvement that’s much closer to coming to fruition: enclosing Chaplin’s 100-seat patio so that it can stay open year round. Wilder says that renovation is nearing the green light to start construction; the structure will be made of black steel, glass and wrought iron detailing, accented by hanging plans and foliage.
There’s also immediate changes to report at the restaurant. An innovative cocktail menu hits the bar this week, with one experimental gin cocktail dubbed “Laughing Gas” carrying a disclaimer: its garnish numbs the senses.
“We are selling an experience,” says co-owner Micah Wilder. “It knocks out your palate and people are laughing and in tears.”
The team is also mentally preparing for an unwanted anniversary this month: the death of co-owner Armin Amin-Toomaji, who passed away tragically while crossing the street a year ago. Ari says Amin-Toomaji was the first person he tended bar with back in 2002, and pictures and plaques commemorating him remain plastered around the restaurant. They also celebrated Amin-Toomaji’s birthday in June and remain close with his family. The late restaurateur was mentioned alongside other local greats who died over the past year, including restaurateur Michel Richard, July 30 at the 2017 RAMMY awards.
Last Monday night, the place was packed for Ari’s birthday celebration, which doubled as a party to test the new cocktail menu. The large drinking crowd was especially meaningful, considering it was the night after the RAMMYs.