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Barracks Row Is Getting a New Bar On Island Time

Tortuga is scheduled to replace Tio Javier on Monday, April 22 in Southeast

Tio Javier will close this weekend to make way for a new Caribbean-themed bar with a roof.
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Tio Javier’s owners are scratching its Mexican theme this month and reviving the space as a chill place along Barracks Row with Caribbean cuisine, rustic beach vibes, tiki drinks, and a massive rooftop.

Its new name will be Tortuga — the Spanish word for turtle — to encourage guests to slow down and soak up rays. Tio Javier will close after Sunday, April 14, to complete a quick week-long conversion (514 8th Street SE).

Hill Restaurant Group marketing and beverage director James Abbott tells Eater the rebranded venture — fully called Tortuga Caribbean Bar & Grille — hopes to open Monday, April 22, and at the latest on Friday, April 26, in time for Southeast’s Marine Barracks Parade that night. The tropical space will sport a whitewashed and driftwood look, with surfboards, neon signage, and bright colors and furniture.

The rooftop has quietly been built out already during the off season. Branded the Rooftop Turtle Club, the airy respite will be decked out with swaying palm trees and painted murals of its slow-moving mascot. Lounge sections atop the year-round rooftop will feature five fixed fire pits and tiki torches. Abbott says Tortuga will boast the largest commercial rooftop in the neighborhood, with capacity for 200 and seating for nearly half as many.

The goal is to encourage guests to “step away from the hectic city life and sit under the sun and enjoy buckets of beer,” he says.

Tortuga’s new logo

Expect nearly a dozen frozen drinks (think key lime coladas) on the roof, along with tropical rum runners and shipwrecks in the mix. “All day” IPAs by can and bottle will be also be served, he says. Along with five ceviches, the in-the-works menu will also feature fried plantains, octopus, and whole fried snapper.

Tortuga will be open for lunch, dinner, and brunch to start, “and if everything goes well,” Abbott says the team is considering adding breakfast during the week.

Tortuga’s chefs are Lauren Hunter and Brian Guy, who hails from the now-shuttered Chesapeake Room in D.C. Hunter comes from Florida and is well versed in underwater ingredients. Managing partner and hospitality vet Tom Johnson recently relocated to D.C. from the Florida Keys, where he’s a stakeholder in a revamped Morada Bay property.

His vast Hill umbrella portfolio in D.C. includes Hawk ‘n Dove, Ophelia’s Fish House, Orchid, Willie’s, Finn McCool’s, and Lola’s, which is getting ready to rebrand with more of a cocktail bar focus. Willie’s sports bar near Nationals Park just unveiled its new outdoor patio in time for baseball season.

Abbott doubts he’ll get the ANC to OK rooftop entertainment at Tortuga, but he’s shooting to have live music on the main floor (cue the steel drums). The overall playlist plans to go heavy on reggae with some Jimmy Buffet sprinkled in.

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