An airy taco and tequila bar lined with racy oil paintings from a big name out of Miami is scheduled to open in Navy Yard next week.
Miguel Paredes, an in-demand graffiti artist with more than 81,000 Instagram followers, painted a large series for Él Bebe, the forthcoming restaurant from the Metropolitan Hospitality Group that runs the local chain of Circa bistros. Paredes is a big exhibitor at Miami’s annual Art Basel — a celebrity-packed festival that highlights a who’s who in modern art.
The artist is also close friends with Circa director of operations Aaron Rentfrew, a Miami hospitality alum who personally drove a truck carrying the colorful cargo 15 hours north to D.C. One commissioned piece integrates tattoos sported by different members of the MHG crew.
“I reached out to the wives and significant others [for tattoo photos] and emailed the artist secretly,” president Matt Carlin says. Carlin surprised his team with one of the personalized paintings hovering above a jalapeno-hued corner booth at Él Bebe.
Design firm Gensler created a space that encourages drinking and relaxing across the entire 3,600-square-foot restaurant, which compiles bits and pieces of MHG’s favorite hangouts in Florida and Cabo San Lucas.
Él Bebe will open at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, February 26. There will be no reservations. Happy hour (4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays) will span across the whole venue. Roll-up garage windows will reveal a 15-seat al fresco addition in the spring.
Inside the 75-seat space, flickering cathedral-style lighting fixtures and reclaimed wood beams hover above diners. Less elegant is a cursive neon sign near the bar that spells out, “Tequila yes, you maybe,” which could sound either flirty or gross depending on who’s doing the talking.
“After a long day of hard work maybe you want a shot of tequila and figure the rest out,” Carlin says.
Executive chef Javier Loayza’s incoming lineup of tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas and burritos will land on wood tables singed with a torch.
Happy hour calls for $2 chips and salsa; $4 Tecates and Coronas; and $6 classic and frozen margaritas. When lunch joins the mix in March, happy hour will begin at 2 p.m. A 16-ounce can of Tecate with shot of tequila will cost $9 all day.
If the vibe seems different than MHG’s existing portfolio of casual bistros, it should.
“We want Él Bebe to be cool, fun, sexy, and kickass,” he says. “We are trying to make everything different from Circa.”
There is some literal overlap with its next-door neighbor, however. Él Bebe will share the same bathroom with the latest Circa location, which debuted about a week ago.
“We’re not sure if it’s the best or worst idea,” jokes Carlin.
Carlin hopes MHG’s foray into Mexican food will have legs. He envisions Él Bebe growing into something bigger — potentially a scalable fast-casual chain or larger full-service restaurant.
MHG had time to mull over the inaugural location’s look inside the Skanska-constructed building, having signed the lease more than two years ago.
Throwback-looking flatware depicts “stuff found in your grandmother’s house,” he says, while drinking vessels go the modern route. Think pineapple-shaped glasses and coffee mugs with faces baked into the cup.
Él Bebe is expected to stay open up to midnight during the week and 1 a.m. on weekends, depending on demand.
Circa is expected to debut lunch by March 19, following by Él Bebe by March 27, with an awning soon covering both. The Miami-based artist will help weave a similar look between both spaces with three horizontal pieces at Circa that feature cherry blossoms.