If you drove through Arlington this past weekend, you may have noticed a peculiar site: four large spotlights dancing in the evening sky. The scene resembled something from a Hollywood premier, but in actuality, the premise was quintessential Northern Virginia.
The lights coming from the corner of Clarendon Boulevard and North Highland Street weren’t remnants from DC’s Fashion Night Out, but rather a new restaurant and bar.
This weekend marked the first weekend the new American Tap Room was open. The small chain took over the space previously occupied by Sette Bello and, within a week, has carved out a niche in the crowded Wilson Boulevard Entertainment Corridor.
American Tap Room opened its original location a few years back in the Reston Town Center and recently expanded to Bethesda. The Clarendon location is now the restaurant’s third space. All three eateries are dedicated to American culture past and present, offering an old-style tavern feel dedicated to modern concepts.
In Clarendon, management completely revamped the space they bought, creating a locale unlike anything the area has seen.
The exterior of the space is fresh and bold after receiving a totally new façade. Grey mullions and windows have been replaced by bright, intense red walls and wooden doors, meant to convey a 19th century feel to a restaurant that exists in the 20th century.
It’s designed to get noticed. The new American Tap Room is not shy. At Sette Bello, the signage was large, but obscure and impossible to see while cruising down Clarendon. That is no longer the case, with a massive “American Tap Room” marquee added above the entrance, as well as a fire pit above the main doors that rages every hour of the day.
Much like the exterior, the interior also tries to create a two-toned feel by blending past and present.
In the main entrance resides a baby grand piano and high back leather chairs. But take a seat at the bar, which is inlaid with thousands of pennies, and you’ll see modernity in action. The back of the bar is ringed with flat-screen TVs packed so tight they almost touch. And when your bartender hands you a menu, see it change from dark to light. Yes, the menus are actually on LED screens, which brighten when they are flipped open. In fact, they look like large Kindles.
The menu, despite the gimmick, is not designed to take away from the kitchen, which takes American cuisine and gives it an American Tap Room twist.
Appetizers range from traditional to unique, with chicken wings having a place next to deviled eggs and ceviche. The entrees follow a similar trend, with the familiar coexisting with the far out. A group of four diners could easily share dishes as comfortable yet disparate as hamburgers, Greek pizza, roasted chicken and lobster macaroni and cheese.
All the meals are cooked in the spacious open kitchen, which draws your eyes in with a stunning bronze hood.
Food aside, what would a tap room be without beer? American Tap Room takes its suds easily as seriously as its food. The restaurant constantly rotates selections, but on draft right now, visitors can find 35 beers, from the local, like Virginia’s Starr Hill Northern Lights, to the distant, like Germany’s Paulaner Hefeweizen
And the draft list is dwarfed by the bottle list, with 39 domestic beers served and well as fifteen international imports.
So, if the lights from this weekend didn’t send you immediately toward American Tap Room, find time soon to see this new standout in the restaurant scene.
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