As with well-known sibling spot Jack Rose Dining Saloon, located just a couple of doors down in lower Adams Morgan, it’s tough to tell whether The Imperial is chiefly a bar or a restaurant. Both personalities assert themselves strongly at the newcomer, reflecting co-owner Bill Thomas’ love of rare and vintage spirits and his ability to recruit solid culinary talent.
He has also relocated the wildly popular speakeasy, Dram & Grain, from the basement of Jack Rose to a subterranean home at The Imperial. Make a reservation through Resy to hit the experimental cocktail bar, cozy up near the gas fireplace and order something fun like the bright green Teahouse Tipple, a blend of gin, nigori jasmine rice syrup, matcha tea, lemon juice and a yuzu-cocchi espuma.
Echoes of Jack Rose can also be found on The Imperial’s dinner menu since chef Russell Jones cooked there from 2014 to 2016 before heading to South Carolina. Here, his most successful dishes include an earthy beet carpaccio with blue cheese mousse and fresh herbs; steamed local oysters with a tomatillo mignonette and serrano peppers that bring a tingly green heat; and a luscious beef Wellington cooked to a gorgeous pink, surrounded by puff pastry and served with a not-too-rich black truffle jus. These dishes are reason enough to enter the doors and bask in the competent, friendly service.
The kitchen did still have some kinks to work out when we visited—particularly with a dry, undercooked bucatini dressed with anchovy, bread crumbs and a quail yolk that did little to bring much-needed succulence. Another dish that wasn’t up to snuff was a bowl of saffron shrimp over farro that lacked seasoning, including the promised saffron. The puff pastry atop a honeycrisp apple pie wasn’t baked long enough and couldn’t entice us to go in for a second bite.
With so many hits though, the misses felt more like a kitchen gaining its sea legs rather than one that’s about to sink. We’ll be back to sample the raw bar and the fried chicken that was unfortunately sold out the night we visited—and to check out the two-tiered rooftop bar that will open once the weather warms.
The Imperial parts ways with Jack Rose most noticeably in decor—while Jack Rose is dark and broody like the whiskeys it showcases, The Imperial is as light and bright as its Spanish-inspired gin and tonic sprouting a garden’s worth of herbs and citrus.
Despite the hiccups, you’ll feel lighter and brighter after spending an evening there.
The bright, modern decor featuring punches of aqua and chartreuse, atomic-inspired silver pendant lights, blond wood accents and marbleized tabletops that all add up to lend the feel of a Parisian cafe of the future. The space skews cool and chic, but the service is warm and welcoming.
Beet carpaccio with blue cheese mousse; steamed local oysters with tomatillo mignonette; beef Wellington with truffle jus. // 2001 18th St. NW, Washington, DC; Open for dinner Monday–Saturday; Starters: $2.75-$144; Entrees: $17-$59
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Chef Alfredo Solis replaced his Cuban spot with a coastal Mexican concept called Anafre, serving dishes like grilled oysters with crab and jalapeño butter. // 3704 14th St. NW, Washington, DC
ABC Pony from celebrated DC chef Erik Bruner-Yang makes an unlikely yet very tasty marriage of Asian and Italian flavors. // 2 I St. SE, Washington, DC
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