Two years after Shōtō brought downtown a high-brow spot to sample fresh fish flown from Japan, the modern izakaya’s new nightlife sibling is ready to share the spotlight in the back. The anticipated Arcade — arguably the most ambitious lounge D.C. has ever seen — pressed play last weekend, opening with big-ticketed table service and high-caliber DJs to match.
The sprawling time capsule of a space pays homage to circa-1970s Tokyo, when its rock-and-roll era rose to fame. Managing partner Arman Naqi’s vision for the Arcade came to light while wandering the flashing streets of Shinjuku and Shibuya, Tokyo’s two big entertainment districts dominated by neon-lit clubs, video game-enabled bars, and karaoke rooms. The Arcade is similarly situated in a back alleyway of sorts, found within Midtown Center’s courtyard off L Street NW (1100 15th Street NW). The mysterious setup shuts on and off quickly; it’s only open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Like its immaculately dressed neighbor Shōtō, named Eater DC’s 2022 Design of the Year, nearly every eclectic detail across the Arcade was sourced in Japan and sent to D.C. in shipping containers. That includes cedar wood paneling from the Akida forests; a blinking wall of Pachinko slot machines bought from a collector in rural Japan; street vending machines; a ceiling covered in retro doors that once entered real homes; and a big bonsai tree perched prominently in its terrace area.
“We’re transporting Washingtonians to another dimension,” says Naqi, which starts with “walking into a comic book.” Past a velvet-roped, security-clad entrance and into the reception area, guests are greeted with an immersive display of supersized cartoon drawings by a famous Japanese manga artist. Look up to see a ceiling dotted with graphic novels Naqi personally brought back in his suitcase.
Nearby bathrooms also provide plenty of eye candy. Accessed with a shake of a steel hand sculpture, the lavatory look includes stacked TVs with mirrored screens and symmetrical rows of 3D trinkets that represent Japanese good luck charms. The throwback vibe continues inside, where customers encounter walls of vintage boomboxes, more analog TVs interspersed with monitors, and classic cassette tapes framing a 360-degree bar.
Cocktails starring Japanese spirits ($25) embrace the Arcade’s old-school Nintendo and Sega undertones, with gamer names like Sonic (Roku gin, Nigori sake, lychee, lime) and Pikachu (Haku vodka, sakes, passion fruit, yuzu, lime). The dizzying drinking nucleus, with a futuristic bar top displaying a moving (and customizable) LED light show, plans to build an in-house bottled cocktail program labeled for the Arcade.
The Arcade is the latest member of London-based restaurateur Arjun Waney’s collective of brands that includes Zuma, a high-end izakaya scattered around the world, and 2-year-old Shōtō. World-renowned hospitality designer Noriyoshi Muramatsu of Tokyo-based Studio Glit is behind each luxe look.
Despite an aesthetic that begs to be Instagrammed immediately, guests aren’t encouraged to take photos inside; Arcade-branded black stickers are placed on cell phone lenses upon arrival. The speakeasy-style format strives to cultivate a “discreet hideaway where like-minded individuals can let loose without judgment,” says Naqi.
House rules also include a mandatory coat check. The policy, he says, is designed to keep patrons from losing jackets in the dimly lit lounge — and digitally connects each customer to their coat.
The incoming arrival of Ākedo next door will dress things down a bit. The fast-casual counterpart for the masses, set to debut by March 1, plans to offer lunch, dinner, and late-night sustenance by staying open one hour later than the Arcade. Shōtō’s corporate chef Alessio Conti will man a menu full of Japanese street foods (think sushi and poke bowls), with trendy Italian touches sprinkled in. Pizza, which continues to have a moment in Tokyo, will be joined by burgers and fries. “Basically an East-meets-West take on comfort foods,” says Naqi. As for the Arcade, food is limited to candy and gummy bears paired with premium bottle service.
Shōtō diners who want to keep the night going can inquire with the Arcade’s guests relations team to set up a table. “We want to make sure the evening is a seamless transition,” he says. The Arcade will eventually evolve into a more restrictive, membership-only model, he adds.
Last weekend’s opening already attracted some major names in house music, with guest sets from Ibiza’s resident DJ Carlita, Blondish (“who popped through on her way to Aspen,” he says), and Serge Devant. Depending on the level of talent on any given night, cover charges could surge upwards of $100. In-house DJs will also be in the mix.
“We’re building up a roster of eclectic DJs from all over the world,” he says.
The Arcade contributes to a growing restaurant-meets-nightlife nook in Midtown Center, with Grazie Nonna tacking on a vinyl DJ-driven counterpart in December.
Shōtō is no stranger to high-profile and celebrity guests, having hosted the Obamas, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, actress Issa Rae, and comedians Dave Chappelle and Kevin Hart, to name a few. He thinks the nation’s capital is ready for a late-night place like the Arcade, in part, because its clientele is already familiar with private lounges in cosmopolitan cities like Miami, Dubai, Paris, Vegas, and New York.
“D.C., we have said all along, is very sophisticated and well-traveled,” he says.
The D.C. native is the first to admit the Arcade is not for everyone, however, and he doesn’t plunk it into the overall “nightclub” category. By that he means there’s “no fist-pumping” or a dedicated dance floor. The only place to really sit is at one of its 35 tables surrounded in red leather banquettes.
Table service starts at $475 for spirits like Nikka’s vodka or gin, and many bottles hover around the $1,000 (and up) mark. The priciest by far is a $35,000 edition of 30-year Macallan.
“We are going to have a closed-door experience to many, but want our best patrons to feel comfortable and receive that hard-to-get product,” he says.
The Arcade’s plan is to reserve some off nights for curated pop-up events, hinting at springtime collaborations around the celebrity-packed White House Correspondents’ weekend and cherry blossom season.
So how, exactly, does one get in on Fridays and Saturdays?
“The whole thing is pretty much a private invitation,” he says. “Come to Shōtō for dinner and drinks and get to know me.”