The people working behind the bar here aren’t mixing drinks and opening tabs – not yet. They’re sawing things, peeling off painters tape and searching for the water shut-off valve in hardhats and tool belts.
An electrician is making the final touches to 28 loud speakers and 6-foot-tall subwoofers, and someone is installing a photo booth. This construction zone will soon transform into Grand Central, the newest bar to hit Adams Morgan and promises the whole package: bar, lounge, club and VIP service.
The masterminds behind Grand Central are like yin and yang. Andrew Seligman, 29, a GW graduate student who says he isn’t much of a bar hopper, takes care of the finances and Brian Vasile, 32, former general manager of Tom Tom, a popular club in Adams Morgan, covers the operational side of the business.
“We wanted to offer something no other place has. Most bars in Adams Morgan are somewhat worked through or rundown and are the same old places. Here there is a different element,” Seligman said. “It’s a bar and hangout. A place where you can drink, talk, listen to music, dance – everything in one.”
After six months of scouting for the perfect location and nine months of construction and renovation, Grand Central will swing open its doors Friday and have its official grand opening party on April 4.
Everything inside Grand Central is designed to evoke the classic feel of the famous Grand Central Station of 42nd St. and Park Ave. in New York City. One half of an 11-foot arch is built into the ceiling, the other half is generated by its reflection in the mirrors behind the bar. Coiffeurs, reminiscent of those in Penn Station or the Jefferson Memorial, cover the walls of this three story space, echoing the idea of Grand Central.
Red oxblood paint covers the leftover wall space, because as the designer, John Hutson of Lyric Design said, “people look good in red,” and when you go out you want to look good.
“There’s nothing like this in D.C. We wanted to take people to another place,” Vasile said.
Grand Central, next door to The Diner, is located at 2447 18th St. in the building that used to be Fasikas, an Ethiopian restaurant. A fire destroyed the restaurant and left nothing but a shell for Seligman and Vasile to work with. They started from scratch and put their own twist on the interior and bought the business from Fasikas, which included the liquor license and the lease.
On the main floor there are two oak bars. Bottles of liquor will glow on display once the bar opens, lit up with amber light to evoke a fireplace feel. The downstairs bar was designed to have a Boston bar feel, said Vasile, and there will be two 42-inch plasma screens above the bar and 32-inch LCD screens on the second floor bar.
There will be at least six bartenders on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and at 5 p.m. every day will be happy hour. The bar has eight beers on tap and 10 bottled plus a full bar, which costs around $12,000 to stock.
“We’re shooting for the 21 to late 30s crowd. We’re not trying to be pretentious or stuck up. We want it to be fun and different and for people not to feel like they are in a cramped, dirty Adams Morgan bar,” Seligman said.
On the left as you enter are stairs that lead to a harlequin-style black and white tiled floor, and the ceiling and walls are painted a deep red color. The ceiling was given a coat of glass-finished paint that allows the light to bounce off the floor.
Tables fill the space, but once the kitchen closes at 11 p.m., it will become a dance area with exposed speakers and a DJ, the owners said. The menu, designed by a chef from Clyde’s, a popular restaurant in Georgetown, is American bistro with a modern twist. Seligman and Vasile are also applying for permits from the D.C. government to host brunch and lunch hours, and they hope to accept GWorld in the near future.
As you walk to the staircase that leads to the mezzanine there is a photo booth. It takes credit cards and costs $3 for eight pictures. The coiffure pattern repeats upstairs on the mezzanine lounge area where there are two bars and space for a second DJ.
There is also a private VIP room on the mezzanine. It is designed to evoke the feeling that you are on the 40th story of a skyscraper looking out on the rest of city. Unlike most clubs where you have to buy a table if you want privacy, parties of 20 to 30 people can get an entire room at a price comparable to what most clubs charge for a table, Seligman said.
For the smokers, there is a patio out in front, so even though D.C. has gone smoke free, customers at Grand Central will have a place to smoke. Many bar owners have complained that Smoke Free D.C. has harmed their businesses, but Seligman isn’t worried about people going to Northern Virginia.
“Northern Virginia is nice, but D.C., it’s the capital, the center of nightlife,” he said. “Everyone knows Grand Central in New York, it’s at the center of everything, and we’re right here at the center of the block.”
The bar cost around seven figures to start up. Seligman had money from his investments in Foggy Bottom real estate. Vasile also put money into the business. They took out loans, charged credit cards and borrowed from anyone and everyone they knew.
“I sold everything for this,” Seligman said. “With any bar or restaurant there is some sort of risk, but I figure I’m still young and can take those risks.”
Seligman and Vasile worked to eliminate most of the risks. Vasile brings his years of experience plus he knows a lot of the frequent visitors to the Adams Morgan bar scene from his time at Tom Toms. Also, they hired experienced staff, which is important for any good business, Seligman said.
He said, “We have a 12-year lease, so we expect to be around for a long time.”