Grand Duchess, the low-key Adams Morgan cocktail bar that opened in 2017 with cheap Old Fashioneds and a short list of grilled cheese sandwiches, is now a bonafide restaurant serving pastas and seafood dishes from a Fiola Mare alum.
Chef Enoc Lopez, who also served as head chef at Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown, joined the team last year and was preparing to roll out a full menu before the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the bar adapted to restrictions triggered by the public health crisis by hosting a takeout hoagie pop-up with assistance from Lucky Buns owner Alex McCoy.
“We always wanted to round out the experience with great food, and it’s been a long, wild ride to get to this point,” co-owner Vinnie Rotondaro says. “It’s been a brutal year but we made it through and the team is intact.”
Starting this month, Lopez began sending out creamy chicken rigatoni, shrimp scampi, and pan seared gnocchi with nut-free pesto. A pair of plump crab cakes — a hot commodity disappearing on D.C. menus this summer amidst soaring prices — are also on board ($24). “It’s definitely a fan favorite around here so he wanted to put it on,” Rotondaro says.
The co-owner sums up the menu as “eclectic” American. Creative starters include a Philly cheesesteak empanada stuffed with shaved ribeye, ‘whiz, and masa. Matzo-breaded chicken tenders come with a hot honey mustard. The bar will slowly roll out steaks, too, like a New York strip served with truffled fingerling potatoes and olive tapenade.Desserts include a cannoli and mini cheesecake tower.
“In the end [Lopez] is not trying to do something big and fancy,” the owner says, “He has a great ability to take something simple and make it flavorful. It fits right into what is cool about the Grand Duchess — it makes you feel at home.”
Partners Rotondaro and Rory Adair pay homage to the space’s former life as a row house that dates back to 1890 with decor like a powder blue couch, candle-filled fireplace, vintage jukebox, and bookshelves near a bay window. Before Grand Duchess, it was Pharmacy Bar — a cult cocktail spot that closed in 2014 — and the owners converted one of its pill-encased tabletops into wall art.
“Me and Rory are the classic two dudes who wanted to open a bar on a budget,” he says. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We love amaro, and that is going to vibe a lot more with the food.”
Longtime hits like a Negroni and combos of Narragansett and Old Overholt Rye join new additions like a frozen Miami Vice — a swirl of pina colada and strawberry daiquiri.
“It’s brutally hot right now and that hits the spot,” Rotondaro says.
The bar took a hiatus soon after opening to tend to an occupancy issue: There was only one bathroom on site, which meant only 15 patrons were legally allowed inside the 1,200-square-foot space at any given time. Now there’s a second toilet and room for 48 people. One perk of the pandemic was capitalizing on a winterization grant with a new 14-seat patio out front.
Grand Duchess is open Wednesday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to midnight (and later on weekends), with a kitchen closing at 11 p.m. during the week.