When considering the stereotypical environment of a French bistro-style restaurant, a certain image immediately jumps to mind: tuxedo-clad waiters, massive wine lists, white tablecloths and an overall air of élégance that might be perceived as stuffiness in some circles. D.C. has plenty of these brasseries already. There’s a strong possibility you’ve spent considerable time in them. But that’s certainly not the aim of the upcoming Adams Morgan outfit Le Mont Royal, a fact readily apparent from the moment you lay eyes on the neon pink script now adorning the building’s exterior. Something this playful aims to upend the preconceived notions of what French cuisine could or should be.
Stepping inside Le Mont only furthered that notion. Upon entering the former Southern Hospitality (1815 Adams Mill Road NW) space, the garishly yellow walls and bright lights of that former restaurant were gone entirely, replaced with a vibe far more akin to what you’d find at a dive bar, albeit an extremely elevated one. What was once the hostess stand at the front is now a DJ booth that will host a set of turntables for esoteric records. Plush green velvet seating lined some of the wall space both upstairs and downstairs, accented by striking, marble-like table tops. On the first floor, across from banquette seating that will likely become an Instagram fixture, were several bar rails ready-made for patrons to lean up against. Hanging above it all is a disco ball, the final flourish in what partners Chas Jefferson (formerly of Cotton & Reed) and Bart Hutchins (formerly of Beuchert’s Saloon, who, full disclosure, I’m friendly with) hope will become just as much of a social space as it is a restaurant.
“I was super inspired by a place in Paris called Bambino,” Jefferson says. “Dude greets me at the door, puts his arm around me, and is like, ‘All of our tables are full right now, but if you want to just congregate over here at this drink rail, we’ll get you sat.’ This is at 10:30 p.m. on a Monday in Paris, a city that shuts the hell down except for clubs at like 9.” As such, the duo want Le Mont to have more of a community-style feel and are cultivating the space to match. “I hope somebody’s sitting at this table eating $200 worth of caviar and says, ‘Hey, didn’t I see you walking your dog this morning in the neighborhood?’ The [first floor] is designed to be able to move around and meet other people.”
The first-floor waitstaff comprises bartenders who were hired with an eye toward emotional intelligence and personality in the spirit of being able to foster conversations with and among future patrons. The hope for Le Mont is that you can show up and know at least someone in the space, even if they happen to be across the bar from you. Meanwhile, the upstairs area will feature a traditional seating arrangement, with another bar for those looking to forgo some of the liveliness downstairs.
As for the food and drink, the two want it to be as energetic and fun as the space. The menu aims to demystify and democratize the cuisine. Perhaps the most approachable example is a foie gras cream that’s stuffed into a Twinkie-like dessert. “It sounds insane,” Hutchins says. “’Cause something like 80% of the population has never tried foie gras, and if they have, it was in a super fine-dining setting. So you’re like, okay, I know what this [pastry] is. What’s it like when I do this with [cream]? What happens when you put it together?” Other bistro classics, like steak frites, escargot and bone marrow, will receive revised, approachable spins.
Jefferson says that the bar menu is meant to flow in a similar way, tied to an existing reference point but unique in its approach. Montreal is another touch point for the duo, so anticipate maple syrup Old Fashioneds and other similar spins on classics. As Jefferson mentions the drink, I can’t help but ask about the current ubiquity of the espresso martini. Hutchins excitedly tells Jefferson to mention their plans: Le Mont will feature the drink on tap, thanks to a nitro cold brew line which will give the drink a Guinness-like effect and will be topped with a hickory foam, as a nod to the United States’ northern neighbor.
Le Mont Royal takes its namesake from a small mountain just outside the city of Montreal. The restaurant sits atop the 18th St. NW hill, the closest thing Adams Morgan has to a mountain, with its bright neon signage doubling as a peak for those curious enough to step through its doors. If Jefferson and Hutchins have their way, a party worth the hike awaits when it opens later this fall.
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