A restaurant specializing in fancy spins on Southern comfort foods will reactivate the downtown space occupied by Richard Sandoval’s recently-shuttered Toro Toro. Kitchen + Kocktails by Kevin Kelley (say that five times fast) is set to open in early summer off Franklin Square (1300 I Street NW) and will be Kelley’s third U.S. restaurant of the same name.
“A number of customers have been asking for years for us to open in D.C., and we never forgot those requests,” Kelley tells Eater. “I fell in love with the centralized [restaurant] location and even had the pleasure with dining at Toro Toro on their final night.”
The 7,500-square-foot, two-story replacement with room for 175 will import favorites from Kelley’s other locations in Dallas and Chicago, which includes fried lobster tail-topped shrimp and grits and braised oxtail for brunch. Other dishes making their way to D.C. include fried chicken and waffles, Caribbean jerk lamb chops, jumbo lump crab cakes served with smoked aioli, and blackened or fried catfish.
Potentially not making the transition, however, is its strictly-enforced dress code. In Chicago and Dallas, guests are barred from wearing tank tops, flip flops and slide sandals, among other items.
“We want our guests to look in the mirror, feel great about themselves, and join us for food and fun,” says Kelley, when asked about whether D.C. should plan to dress accordingly. “We are opening to serve D.C. and to be respectful of our guests, which ultimately means we will see what the market wants before establishing a firm dress code.” In short, time will tell.
Kelley promises a “very Instagrammable” experience across each remodeled level. Look for two full-service bars upstairs and a 36-seat private dining room dubbed the “Asset Lounge” framed with portraits of prominent Americans around its chic, all-black interior.
Kelley’s extensive drink selection uplifts Black-owned spirits such as D’usse cognac, Uncle Nearest whiskey, and SweetBeat vodka. Several frozen drinks are served out of repurposed liquor bottles, like the frozen D’usse cocktail blended with peach juice. An aptly-named “True Flame” is made with rum set ablaze when brought to the table, and an equally theatrical “Gold Fashioned” is unveiled in a cloud of smoke.
Kitchen + Kocktails by Kevin Kelly will be open from Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m., and 11 a.m. until 11 a.m. on the weekends.
Kelley plans to let the D.C. market dictate whether a dress code policy will be enforced. Following public backlash, Atlas Restaurant Group decided against having one for its debut D.C. restaurant Parlour Victoria in the nearby Moxy hotel.
“We are always mindful that many of our guests are ladies and our dress code is going to be driven by respect for them and for others,” says Kelley.
—Tierney Plumb contributed to this report