The brothers behind some of DC’s most popular hot spots are crossing the river with at least three new projects.
Over the past two decades, the Hilton brothers have steadily become one of the strongest hospitality groups in DC. It started in 1995 with Eighteenth Street Lounge, the scene-defining Dupont Circle nightclub that was an organic outgrowth of Eric’s DJ work with pioneering electronic collective Thievery Corporation. After partnering with his younger sibling, Ian, the duo began growing an expansive portfolio of more than a dozen hot spots, now including French bistro Chez Billy Sud in Georgetown, U Street corridor craft cocktail bar Gibson, and Satellite Room, a boozy diner around the corner from the 9:30 Club. Though the concepts run the gamut, they adhere to a winning formula blending accessibility, affordability and understated cool.
The Hiltons believe that successful equation will serve them well as they look to make serious inroads in Northern Virginia by opening three new establishments in quick succession. The expansion is driven by their view that the DC restaurant and bar scene is oversaturated and at the beginning of contraction. “It’s the nature of the boom and bust cycle,” says Eric. “We love DC and will always be a part of the landscape, but there isn’t much for us to do there. Instead of sitting on our hands, we looked at NoVA. It’s growing as fast as DC, but there’s more opportunity there for us.”
Plus, the brothers feel they already have a following here. “There are a lot of NoVA-ers in some of our places on the weekend,” says Ian. “People like to stay local during the week though, so we’re giving them an option to dine with us then.”
First up, the brothers plan to unveil Parc de Ville in Mosaic District this October, followed up later this fall by the 50-seat Café Colline in Ballston. Café Colline will be a quick walk from Ian’s home in Donaldson Run (Eric resides in Adams Morgan)–a sister spot to Chez Billy Sud focusing on French favorites and some lighter fare.
Parc de Ville takes over the space once home to RJ Cooper’s Gypsy Soul and Mike Isabella’s Requin, though the Hiltons are completely renovating it. “It was an abomination of restaurant design,” says Ian. “The location is great, but we had to tear up the floor and start from the ground up, though we did have a nice kitchen to work with.”
For the first time, guests will have access to the roof deck, to be unveiled next spring when the weather warms. Chez Billy Sud’s chef, Brendan L’Etoile, is still working on the menu, which will be packed with familiar French crowd pleasers and designed so guests can either have a couple of light bites or a full-on three-course dinner.
Early next year, the restaurateurs aim to roll out another outpost of El Rey, their popular U Street taqueria, in the Ballston Exchange development. The 5,000-square-foot eatery will feature a similar menu to the original, but with an expanded draft beer list.
Fellow restaurateur Teddy Kim, principal of Avanti Holdings Group, which owns Chop Shop Taco, Pendleton Carryout Co. and The People’s Drug, all in Old Town, says the Hiltons will do well in the new territory.
“Throughout their experiences, they have developed a top-notch product that is still in tune with the locals who live and work here,” he says. “They know what vibe works. You can feel it, but you can’t always describe it.”
He’s looking forward to the brothers’ concepts jostling for diners’ and drinkers’ attention. “The more the merrier,” says Kim. “We want even more stuff to come over here. Competition breeds innovation.”
The Hiltons are happy to oblige. This is not the end of their growth on this side of the Potomac. They have taken over the space next door to the forthcoming El Rey with an eye to debuting a completely new concept around the same time as the taqueria. And there’s potentially another venue—perhaps another El Rey—headed for Falls Church.