A longtime player in the D.C. nightlife scene has plans to open a multi-level Southern restaurant with an airy second-story patio at the site of a former club in Adams Morgan.
Air Restaurant comes from Henock Andargie, who managed the Avenue in Mt. Vernon Triangle when it was an electronic music hotspot back in the mid-2000s. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he was part of the operating team at Northeast mega-lounge Bliss. Like most clubs, that’s temporarily closed.
The location of his latest lease (2473 18th Street NW) also used to house a club, commanding long lines to get in past picky bouncers during its heyday as Chloe at the peak of D.C.’s early 2000s nightlife boom. Air, of course, is going to be a different kind of business.
“It’s more or less [going to be] a Southern comfort brunch spot,” Andargie says.
Early menu ideas include chicken and waffles or biscuits for brunch and dinner mains like catfish and greens. The cuisine would fill a void in the neighborhood that was created when Southern Hospitality closed last summer.
Located above the new Sharbat bakery, Air will ask customers to climb up a set of stairs. Andargie compares the layout to Eighteenth Street Lounge, the Dupont Circle institution that closed this summer after a 25-year run.
Air’s ABRA application cites seating for 120 people on its second and third floors, and a summer garden off the second floor has room for 25 seated patrons.
“[It’s] a really cool outdoor pop out — it’s a cool surprise you wouldn’t assume is there,” Andargie says, pointing out views of the Line hotel nearby.
The pre-pandemic plan for the space was to push private and corporate events, “but I don’t see that coming back,” Andargie says. “They’re going to be few and far between. We were trying to figure out what will be the new norm.”
The ideal opening date isn’t until the spring, as “it wouldn’t be financially feasible to open earlier because of restrictions,” he says.
Andargie declines to name some of his culinary partners, saying they’re still employed at other restaurants. Drinkers can expect a Southern-influenced cocktail program and a “strong beer list.”
The restaurant world is in Andargie’s blood, he says. When his parents left Ethiopia for the United States in the 1970s, they opened an Ethiopian restaurant on 17th Street NW before operating barbecue places and delis throughout the 1990s. Now it’s Andargie’s turn to open his own restaurant, and he’s taking lessons learned from his family and hospitality background during an extremely trying time for the industry.
“Takeout has to be a component of the business model to survive. You have to be ready to flow with next new changes,” he says. “Ideally the game plan is to do a cool dinner and brunch spot and a place everyone can hang out at after all this.”