Nine months after opening his first restaurant, Graffiato, Chef Mike Isabella is forging ahead with his Georgetown restaurant, Bandolero. This, his second restaurant, will fill the space at 3241 M St. vacated by Hook after a fire in summer 2011.
In a recent interview with Georgetown Patch, Isabella said about the decision to create his second restaurant so soon after his first, "The momentum keeps me going. ... I need to be kind of put in situations where I'm constantly busy and stressed out." Opening two restaurants in high-traffic neighborhoods (Georgetown and Penn Quarter) within a year of one another fits that need.
While Graffiato, the Penn Quarter home of his first venture, caters to Italian flavors, Bandolero will be entirely Mexican-inspired. Both honor a commitment to source locally as many ingredients as possible.
The former Top Chef star said of his future Georgetown spot when he saw it years before it was his own, "I thought this was one of the most prime spots in D.C. Period."
Isabella said he feels "lucky" to have happened upon the opportunity to take over the space after the fire. He was walking down M Street after setting up an appointment at Jinx Proof to work on his latest tattoo — he aims to have a tattoo inspired by each of his restaurants — when he happened upon Jonathan Umbel. Suddenly having a Georgetown space of his own became a reality.
"I have a couple of concepts in my pocket that I’ve been waiting to roll out," he said. "This one came a little sooner than I planned."
Isabella cannot seem to stand still as he describes how the space, currently very much under construction, will soon transform into the concept he has envisioned.
One minute he is hurrying down a flight of stairs to what he plans to have as an informal lounge area for those waiting for a table. The next he is back up the stairs and already in the kitchen talking about removing refrigerators, replacing skylights and installing new ranges.
His enthusiasm continues to build as he describes his design scheme, his concept for the space.
"When you go around the city [to places] like Rosa [Mexicana], Oyamel, you go to New York: everything is colorful," he said.
That's not for him. "I really wanted to go old world. I wanted to go day of the dead. [When] you think day of the dead, you think cemetery."
He plans to have cemetery gates suspended from the ceiling, black decor, low-lighting, candles, mismatched light fixtures and more.
But he's not entirely disguising the historic Georgetown building. In the process of renovation, he discovered a brick wall with the logo of a hardware store that once stood next to his soon-to-be restaurant.
When asked if he'd be leaving the wall and its ad exposed, he said definitively, "Ohhh yeah."
"I wanted to give it a little Graffiato feel, with the old brick walls with the paint on them" to maintain some consistency, he explained.
Other similarities between Bandolero and Graffiato? Prosecco on tap and hand-made tables. Isabella's father-in-law will make several of the tables at Bandoloero just as he did in Penn Quarter.
"He does it for a hobby," the chef said. "I think he’ll probably build them for most of my restaurants."
He hopes to have as many as 180 seats in the more than 5,000 square-foot space. Guests can look forward to a wall of tequila lighting the back of the bar with a "golden" tint. The drink menu will include at least 10 different margaritas, many tequila-based drinks and a variety of other cocktails.
As for hours, Isabella brags, "It’ll never shut down. You can get tacos, margaritas all day long."
He hopes to cater to tourists, college students, neighbors and industry people alike.
Having scoped out the local dining options, Isabella knew almost immediately that Mexican-inspired was the way to go for his Georgetown venture.
Bandolero does not have an estimated opening date or even month, but Georgetowners with a penchant for Mexican can hope that spring 2012, really means spring 2012.
"I knew that's what I wanted to go for and I feel like it will be a great hit," said Isabella confidently.