After nearly five years of construction that merged three historic buildings in Adams Morgan and generated hype for the mysterious, papered-up white building at the bottom of the hill on 18th Street NW, Jack Rose Dining Saloon owner Bill Thomas finally opens the first piece of a nearby bar called the Imperial tonight.
The first-floor dining room will start serving a limited menu that will eventually feature everything from seafood towers and family-style sirloin steaks to extensive wines and vintage Armagnacs. A grand opening, set for Wednesday, November 13, will extend to a full-service rooftop bar with panoramic views and to a basement with a second iteration of a speakeasy-style cocktail bar, Dram & Grain, which moved over from Jack Rose.
The Imperial will reflect Thomas’s obsession with rare bottles. But unlike at Jack Rose, where the staff uses rolling library ladders to navigate the enormous whiskey selection, Thomas says he hopes the food at the Imperial will receive as much attention as the spirits.
Russell Jones, the head chef at Jack Rose from 2014 to 2016, returns to D.C. after a stint in South Carolina. His menu views Mid-Atlantic cooking through the lens of southern France, bringing on dishes like beef Wellington, braised rabbit with marrow-fat bean cassoulet, and steelhead vol-au-vent encased in puff pastry with leeks and sunchokes.
A small raw bar will offer seafood towers and “mostly raw” items like scallop crude and butter-poached cauliflower. Oyster mushroom agnolotti and beet carpaccio with blue cheese mousse round out some of the other vegetarian selections.
Thomas expects that the diverse menu and bar, featuring places to linger with a date or pop in for a quick drink, will help the Imperial play a versatile role in the neighborhood.
“We are expecting regular, multi-times a week people, whether they are coming for a glass of wine, for oysters, for dinner,” Thomas says. “We’ll always have that in the forefront.”
The bar at the Imperial is lined with bottles that Thomas picked up over years of sleuthing and collecting. He says he bought some nearly 15 years ago. The inventory contains more than just whiskey. Expect Italian Amari, vermouths, cognac, and other European categories to make their way in.
Sommelier Morgan Kirchner and beverages director Andy Bixby will head up the wine and cocktail programs, which feature sweet, fruity “cobblered” drinks alongside a reasonably priced menu of nonalcoholic choices like a rotating kombucha or house tonic.
“Imperial” is also a good way to describe the effort it took to finish the 5,500-square-foot project. Thomas calculates that it’s taken four years and eight months of work, which included restoring multiple historic (and heavily protected) storefronts into one business.
The Imperial’s three buildings are designated as “contributing buildings” inside a historic district.
“At that point, you can’t change the facade,” Thomas says. “Everything on the exterior is exactly the way it looked in 1920.”
That status become the source of construction and regulatory headaches. New stairs had to be built between mismatched floor plans at different elevations. But the result is a bright and airy first-floor dining room complete with marble tile and large bay windows opening out to the neighborhood.
Thomas, who lives in the neighborhood, says he and his partners took time to build the Imperial into something unique for the neighborhood.
“It’s the whole reason I didn’t lease the building to 7-Eleven,” he jokes. “I hate that. If you look at 14th and U, you’ve got a Subway on one corner and a Capital One on the other.”
The Imperial is located at 2001 18th St. NW. A limited dinner menu is now being offered, with a grand opening planned for November 13.