The Avenue, a 6,000-square-foot nod to its placement on upper Connecticut Avenue (5540 Connecticut Avenue NW), serves up baby back ribs, poutine, and crab balls in a patriotic-themed setting designed by his good friend Maggie O’Neill of Swatchroom (the designer behind Shaw newcomer Morris).
The native Washingtonian admits to being a little biased in picking the Avenue’s location (he lives steps away with his four kids and wife), but insists there’s a need for a “catch all” bar that features a few added bonuses: a recently-renovated upper private event space for 100, a parking lot for 60 out back, and a kid-friendly, downstairs den with a projector for a “Murray Monday” movie series featuring flicks starring comedic legend Bill Murray. He hopes to draw the foodie actor there one day via a social media campaign.
“I grew up on ‘Cheers’ — that’s why I am in this business. Sam Malone is a hero of mine,” says Walsh. “Come here, watch the game and bring your family.”
Walsh has eyed the three-story property, formerly a Chinese restaurant and upstairs office space, since 2009. In December 2015, he finally closed on the site.
The Avenue is a little over a week out from its grand opening to the public, and there’s still more to be done before it’s fully finished. A hole will be cut out of one wall to allow direct access to its upstairs event space, which is going for a cozy living room vibe accented by “Ferris Bueller” and “Caddy Shack” posters and some great finds by his Craig’s List-obsessed wife. Former church pews are used for seating, and a huge magnetic Scrabble board on the wall invites drunk wordplay. The upstairs space is projected to open on Thursday, March 1, and a 30-seat outdoor patio will open up come spring.
As co-owner in Town Hall, he’s got experience drawing a hyper-local crowd — and he’s no stranger to taking a chance on a neighborhood that some restaurateurs would run from.
”When we opened Town it was full of 23-year-olds working on the Hill. It was very preppy with nothing there,” he says. While he doesn’t brand the Glover Park mainstay as an official “sports bar” per se, “we have good food and straddle that fence well.”
Investing decades into the restaurant business has taught him that food should be foremost (among other tips like don’t make bar seating too comfy, in order to deter bar flies). The kitchen is huge with the capacity to handle up to 700 covers a day.
“We are going to own brunch,” Walsh says. “There’s three churches on the circle.”
Walsh started out in the business at age 15 by bussing tables at Hunter’s Inn in Potomac, Maryland, followed by menial stints at Bethesda Crab House and the now-shuttered Third Edition. He met his wife at Adams Mill in 2003 at a time he was pondering a cushy career in the then-lucrative mortgage world in order to raise enough money to open his own restaurant.
As it turns out, he found the capital within his first vocation. Based off an impromptu interview one night at a bartending contest at Rumors in 2004, he was cast as a contestant on a cheesy dating series called “The Joe Shmo Show” — considered a pioneer in the reality TV craze.
“Was I the brunt of a joke and did 4.5 million people laugh at me? Yes,” he recalls.
Walsh ended up winning and dumped the whole $100,000 payday into Town Hall and T.S. Muttlys, signing letters of intents for both on the same day in 2004. He figured one would fall through, but he ended up making both work.
The strip The Avenue sits on is experiencing somewhat of a restaurant renaissance as of late. Last spring he bought longtime Italian eatery Arugula, and while he plans to keep the menu in place, he wants to breathe new life into the space. And a D.C. coffee group just closed on a site north of The Avenue.
He’s also got a two-year-old roving catering company called Capital Crab (its truck is parked out back) that works with East Coast and Louisiana purveyors to throw parties heavy on corn on the cob, crab mac and cheese, crawfish, and oysters. He integrates lots of its fare into The Avenue’s menu, including a spice blend featuring mustard seed and salt which he says is “100 percent” a competitor to Old Bay; the house seasoning is designed to be sprinkled on everything from shrimp to mac and cheese.
Walsh says he’s currently looking for a brick-and-mortar spot for Capital Crab in hopes of opening up something new next year.
“There’s not many crab places in D.C.,” he says.
Status: Certified open. 5540 Connecticut Avenue NW; website.