The foot of Franklin Park is now home to Brennan’s Bar and the Carlyle Room, a sophisticated two-part project that feels like it’s pulled from a bygone era.
The ambitious downtown venture is breathing new life into the 12,000 square foot space formerly occupied by Pennsylvania 6 (1350 Eye Street NW). Upon entry, curved Carlyle Room signage dotted with silver stars leads the way to a marble-clad room topped with a white table dripping with sparkling chandeliers, where an extravagant surf and turf menu is accompanied by live music. a few evenings a week. . Up front, the European-style brasserie Brennan’s Bar is a more casual all-day affair that opens at 11 a.m. daily.
The distinct spaces with separate food and drinks share the same elegant, art deco vibe that its owner Brennan Reilly loves. He opened the original Carlyle Club in Old Town in 2007 and decided to move the entertainment venue to the tourist heart of DC. The reboot makes room for a new sister bar that spans Eye Street NW.
Brennan’s Bar’s tote range ranges from Parisian classics like bouillabaisse, croque monsieur, French onion soup and puffy gougères to favorites across the pond like beer-flavoured fish and chips , rare crab toast, sticky toffee pudding, and Scotch eggs with piccalilli. Versatile bar snacks also include fried chicken wings with kimchi barbecue sauce and vegetable bruschetta. Hearty entrees include filet mignon, New York strip, and grilled half-pound or one-pound lobsters (plus a lobster roll). Appetizers are $15+ and entrees start at $6, with happy hour coming soon.
“Joe’s [Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab] or Old Ebbitt is the style we’re looking for,” COO Fergal Dooley told Eater. “Not your typical American food but not that far off.”
For example, there are three types of burgers made with ground beef, impossible meat, or shrimp patties.
The bar plays lots of national bourbons, Irish whiskeys and unique gins like Bertha’s Revenge in small batch made with cow’s milk whey. Revisited classics include an Old Fashioned topped with homemade Guinness syrup. A “DC Sour” includes whiskey, homemade sour mix, simple syrup, egg whites, and red wine float.
“We’re not changing the world, we’re just taking ingredients that people love and making them something different,” Dooley says.
Executive chef Ibrahim Koroma, a 12-year-old Carlyle vet from Sierra Leone, continues to run the kitchen at his new DC address.
“He’s thrilled because he hated sitting still during the pandemic,” Dooley says.
Brennan’s is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 p.m. Sunday. Carlyle Room is open Wednesday through Sunday nights to start, with shows starting around $30. The featured acts, which span a range of genres like jazz, oldies, Motown, big band and R&B, aren’t your average reservations. On Wednesday, July 27, the former singer of the Temptations and the Four Tops takes the stage.
The dinner theater kicks off with entrees like beef carpaccio, Rockefeller oysters and stone crab claws. Main courses like Beef Wellington, Chilean Sea Bass and a tenderloin and lobster duo are accompanied by a choice of sides like heirloom carrots, fingerling potatoes or truffled mac and cheese. Guests, who can order anytime during the show, must spend at least $25. (And that’s easy, considering entrees are $12+ and entrees start at $29.) A two-pound grilled lobster ($79) is for the ultimate supper club spender. An extensive wine list is quite reasonable, around $12 by the glass and $40 by the bottle.
The weekend jazz brunch will join the mix in September once residents return to town, Dooley says. The Irishman worked as a hospitality consultant in London before moving to DC five years ago to renovate the restaurant programs at the Dupont Circle Hotel. Brennan’s plans to roll out a “Wellington Wednesdays” special inspired by the one served at Holborn Dining Room, a former British brasserie-turned-chic that Dooley helped open under celebrity chef and cookbook author Calum Franklin. (DC will have another Beef Wellington destination this fall when TV chef Gordon Ramsay plants a Hell’s Kitchen on the wharf.)
Some members of the opening team have tricks up their sleeves. General Manager Nathan Coons is also a trained chef and plans to help in the kitchen. And Carlyle’s in-house band is made up of local singers and paid live production professionals.
Owner Reilly, who was once a longtime lawyer, fell in love with all things Art Deco after frequenting New York landmarks like the century-old Plaza Hotel. Chevron-shaped wallpaper, bright sconces and rug patterns, soft draped curtains, antique mirrors, and vintage posters and plates displayed on the bathroom walls all contribute to a Roaring Twenties Great Gatsby look.
To celebrate the next era frequently featured on stage – when crooners like Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke and Buddy Holly all rose to fame – mid-century modern accents include framed advertisements on TWA flights and the Pepsi vending machine from the 1960s. 1950 from Reilly which is still in mint, brilliant blue condition.
Office building tenants have their own interior entrance into Brennan’s, which directly faces newly maintained Franklin Park and The Washington Postseat across the road.
The Carlyle Hall can accommodate approximately 180 people each night and up to 240 people for private events and weddings. There’s apparently no bad seat in the house at the curtain call, but guests can choose a specific seat online in advance, just as they would for a modern movie outing. The seating arrangement includes two-, four-, and six-deck tables and booths. In true supper club fashion, chances are you’ll mingle and mingle next to strangers.
“It’s pretty fun,” Dooley said. “I think we offer something quite unique.”
Carlyle had 140 covers for its unannounced opening night in mid-July, Dooley said, many of whom were Old Town regulars ready to return for the rematch. A business model that would have been impossible just two years ago seems to be back in full swing.