Michael Schlow’s The Riggsby Serves D.C. Contemporary Nostalgia
Last week, acclaimed chef Michael Schlow opened the doors to one of the Washington, D.C.’s hottest new restaurants, The Riggsby. Set inside The Carlyle hotel in Dupont Circle, The Riggsby is the Boston-based restaurateur’s second venture in DC (his first, the popular Tico, opened just one year ago on 14th Street).
While Tico was a spinoff of Schlow’s Latin-influenced restaurant in Boston’s Back Bay, The Riggsby is a totally new concept. “I wasn’t sure we could build a restaurant here,” Schlow says. When he first toured The Carlyle’s restaurant space, he only saw low-ceilinged meeting rooms. There was no obvious space to put a bar or clear way to design the dining room. But then he realized that this intimate space felt a bit like some of the restaurants he’d visited as a child, places that were smaller and informal. And so, he says, “I landed with something that is a little bit lost in time.”
Schlow describes the Riggsby’s menu as “a throwback to a time where the cocktail party was how people socialized.” But it’s a throwback with a twist: While revelers of his parents’ era might bring onion dip or stuffed mushrooms to a party, the bar snacks at The Riggsby include homemade potato chips with green onion dip, and the mushrooms are chorizo-stuffed. The Riggsby also offers a list of classic cocktails, from the negroni to the Harvey Wallbanger, as well as its own creations. The Mule on my Mind, a take on the Moscow Mule, adds vodka, creme de peche, falernum, and ginger beer to the variation.
Since Schlow has a slew of other restaurants to attend to in Boston, Los Angeles, and beyond, former J+G Steakhouse chef Philippe Reininger is manning The Riggsby’s Kitchen. Reininger and Schlow devised a “supper” menu (entrees $19 to $38) that plays up the nostalgia that Schlow felt about the restaurant space, but the same kind of updated throwbacks seen in the lounge. You might get oysters mignonette, a chopped salad with house made thousand island dressing, roasted chicken with broccoli rabe, or a barrel-cut New York strip filet served with “super frenchy” béarnaise sauce and fries. “It’s not going to challenge you with newfangled foods or molecular gastronomy,” Schlow says. “Those are wonderful restaurants; this is the complete opposite of that.”
The Riggsby is also the complete opposite of Tico, Schlow adds. While Tico embraces the communal dining ethos through its menu of shareable small plates, The Riggsby is designed to feel comfortable and lived in. “The communal part of the dining here is not necessarily about sharing the food, but about sharing your night with each other,” Schlow says.
To that end, Schlow brought in Brian Miller from the Edit Lab at Streetsense—the design firm responsible for some of D.C.’s most stunning restaurant interiors, like Daikaya and Red Hen—to create a dining room inspired by those of Schlow’s childhood memories. Enter through a door shaped like a keyhole, walk across the chevron wood floor, and sit in the lounge, whose emerald walls are punctuated with a brightly patterned custom wallpaper designed by the artist Adrienne Schlow (Michael Schlow’s spouse).
Though some of these touches are nods to supper clubs of the past, Schlow was careful to make sure they still made The Riggsby feel like a neighborhood restaurant. “I don’t want it to feel campy or kitschy in a contrived way,” he says. “I wanted it to feel like it has always been here.”