Sign of the Whale will make (another) triumphant comeback to Dupont Circle next year. This time, the rowdy bar plans to reemerge as a polished, grown-up destination with a candle-lit lounge, small plates, and self-pouring sake dispensers.
The two-story hangout that catered to college students, interns, and pretty much anyone craving a cheap drink, closed this summer for the second time in three years. The landlord went to the market to gauge interest in the space at 1825 M Street NW, and the chosen tenant is the team behind Nero — the alluring wine bar nearby on Connecticut Avenue NW. In its first year of business, Nero has garnered a following with its self-dispensing wine machines, dim, date night-friendly atmosphere, and an Indian-meets-Italian menu filled out by samosas and pizza.
The food at Sign of the Whale 2.0, also manned by Nero chef Andrew Holden (Cedar Knoll in Alexandria), will feature another a curious combination: Japanese and Southern food. Along with sushi, sashimi, skewers, ceviche, and small plates, the in-the-works menu will have fried chicken and fried fish.
At Nero, a row of Wineemotion temperature-controlled machines offer 2, 3, or 5-ounce pours accessible via a card bought from the bar. Those installed at Sign of the Whale will be largely filled out by hot sake bottles.
Wines that aren’t available at Nero, including Portuguese and South African labels, will be featured at Sign of the Whale. About double the size of Nero, Sign of the Whale covers 220 seats and two bars with 20 tap lines.
A complete renovation is under way, which includes covering its blue facade with a sleek white paint job. Sign of the Whale’s sports jerseys on the walls will obviously go, and only two or three TVs will stay behind. The motto is “Sign of the Whale is growing up.”
Candles dripping wax and clusters of large cinematic lights hovering above a new copper-topped bar will illuminate the space. There will be lots of soft couches and a high-end sound system.
Lunch and brunch will start out of the gate. The plan is to open the last week of January, around the same time Nero plans to unveil Zeno — a swanky drinking den in its basement with room for 25 to 30 people.