Bloomingdale’s Old Engine 12 restaurant enters a new chapter this month, swapping its clunky furniture for comfortable seating and refining its menu to include creative sharable plates and whimsical desserts.
The century-old firehouse (1626 North Capitol Street NW) was converted into a neighborhood restaurant space in 2013. Jenna Mack of Event Emissary, a local events industry vet, took the reins of the property at the start of the year.
After closing for a month to implement aesthetic and menu changes, the newly rebranded space — dubbed Spark at Engine Co. 12 — will begin serving jalapeno cheesecake push pops and hefty meat platters on Saturday, February 3.
Her initial idea to overhaul the restaurant as an evolving pop-up space fizzled out once she realized Old Engine already had a good thing going with its existing chef Peter Prime.
“I never wanted to own a restaurant,” she admits. “Then I tasted Peter’s food.”
Prime retooled the menu — which used to wildly oscillate between everything from pizzas to mussels — to reflect more of his Trinidadian roots, including fry bread and beef patties. Starters include avocado beignets and salmon tartare sliders, while some of his longtime hits like jerk chicken are staying put.
Mack had a lot of say on the desserts front, insisting on injecting some of her best childhood memories into the finale meal. While growing up in Connecticut, going to the fair and indulging in its silly fare was a big family affair, she explains.
The Urban Legend, her proud creation with Prime, includes banana beignets, rum and Coke syrup, and Pop Rocks (diners can pick their own flavor packet).
“I am the generation where there was the urban legend Mikey from Life cereal commercials drank Coke, ate Pop Rocks, and his stomach exploded,” she says.
Mack says an early favorite of her six young kids is a fudge apple that’s covered with crushed Atomic Fireball candy.
New cocktails also have childish twists, like the Atomichata (Malibu coconut rum, Pyrat rum, rumchata, Atomic Fireballs).
The building oozes history, with original nineteenth century wood flooring and exposed brick. To fit more people inside for private events, the main floor removed its brick oven used to make pizza and the second floor bar was removed.
Lingering is encouraged, and Mack says her goal is to get guests feeling like they’re hanging out with friends in a living room.
“It’s not about flipping tables. It’s about people enjoying themselves,” she says.
Specialty offerings such as grilled oxtail, jerk brisket, and cumin-spiced pork belly are meant to be shared and picked at (lots of paper towel rolls are at the ready at each table). The plan is to start with dinner service and add brunch in March. An outdoor patio should come online this spring.
The restaurant is projected to operate from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.
Status: Scheduled to open on Saturday, February 3 at 5 p.m. 1626 North Capitol Street NW; website.