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A Mediterranean Restaurant Rises in a Storied Georgetown Building Next Year

Owner Hakan Ilhan unveils Alara next March in the old Paolo’s space

D.C. restaurateur Hakan Ilhan, pictured at his year-old Il Piatto downtown, will expand his Georgetown portfolio next year.
Rey Lopez for Il Piatto
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

A treasured Wisconsin Avenue NW address that housed Italian darling Paolo’s Ristorante for over three decades will get a new life in early 2024 as a chic new Mediterranean restaurant.

Neighborhood favorite Paolo’s wrapped up a 35-year run in 2018.
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D.C. restaurateur Hakan Ilhan is calling his latest project Alara, which refers to a “beautiful water fairy” in Turkish mythology. Seasonal menus and wines plan to focus on the four coastal countries of Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, and Israel.

Turkish-born Ilhan inked the lease last week, pouncing on the opportunity to take over the iconic home of Paolo’s from 1987 to 2018 and a short-lived Latin eatery after that (1303 Wisconsin Avenue NW).

“It has a big history and a lot of followers. It’s a nostalgic space and so many in D.C. seem to know it,” Ilhan tells Eater.

He tapped Swatchroom to put together a modern Mediterranean look featuring a “small, cozy European feel,” he says, in a soaring space that carves out room for 120 across its full-service dining room and bar. Alara’s neighbor is focaccia sandwich slinger Dig, the NYC fast-casual import that debuted this spring in the cute little hut that formerly housed a portion of Paolo’s.

Alara plans to serve some best sellers found at Ilhan’s Turkish stalwart Ottoman Taverna in Mt. Vernon Triangle. Like his other establishments, expect a strong happy hour component and “very approachable” prices from day to night. The restaurateur’s citywide portfolio also covers Italian at upper Northwest’s Al Dente and Il Piatto downtown and French at nearby Brasserie Liberté in Georgetown.

The menu will kick off with a selection of meze and hot and cold dips like red pepper-and-walnut muhammara, followed by lots of meaty mains like lamb chops, Greek interpretations of seafood (branzino), and potentially Moroccan tagine. Brunch will go big on items like lamb sausage and egg Benedicts. He’s currently on the prowl for a head chef.

“I’ve always enjoyed Mediterranean food. It’s lighter and healthier and I think there’s a good market for it,” he says, adding Georgetown residents and visitors are “well-traveled and have to been to at least one of these countries.”

Meanwhile, Georgetown is gearing up to welcome a burger-driven brasserie in another familiar location. Deli Booeymonger recently wrapped up a decades-long run, and its quaint corner address turn into La Bonne Vache this summer with vet chef Rob Aikens behind the menu (3265 Prospect Street NW).