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Inside the rebranding of Morrison House’s new dining concept

From beef-infused Manhattans to walls aligned with literature of the past, Alexandria’s famed hotel introduces The Study.

The cocktail bar of The Study. (Photo courtesy of The Morrison House, Autograph Collection)

Stepping into The Study at the Morrison House, Autograph Collection is like stepping into the fantasy home you’ve always wanted—and that’s exactly the point.

As of last Thursday, May 30, the Morrison House rebranded its eatery to be what Assistant General Manager Koli Zeka likes to call, “a gathering place.” 

While the establishment serves food and drinks, it certainly isn’t what one thinks of when they think of a typical restaurant. The dim lighting, sounds of a piano streaming in from the bar (from Thursday to Saturday) and the modern, yet elegantly classic decor create a vibe of both comfort and curiosity at the same time, which is divergent of the spot’s predecessor, MoHo Kitchen + Cocktails. Plus, it’s hard not to be entranced by the quotes of literary icons like Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain that fill the walls.

“With The Study, what we’re really doing is we’re pushing that the cocktails are the big focus,” says head chef Peter McCall, who was brought on by Sage Hospitality three months ago. “Really I think that the difference is … it is quite a shift from this kind of, you know, small restaurant into a really cool neighborhood cocktail bar.”

The dining room of The Study. (Photo courtesy of The Morrison House, Autograph Collection)

The process of rebranding began about a year ago (last July) when Sage Hospitality initially acquired the Morrison House. In order to fully execute the envisioned ideas, though, the right people were needed for the job. Zeka, who has over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry here in the DMV area and McCall, who has served in a variety of kitchens across the country, were both brought to the team this past March.

Since they came on board, Zeka and McCall have worked together to create a cocktail program of six specialty concoctions. On a humid summer day, the go-to refresher has to be the Gin & Chamomile Milk Punch, made from chamomile tea-infused Hendricks gin, Elderflower liqueur, tings of lemon and lavender bitters. As for Zeka’s drink of choice? He goes for the Beef Tallow Manhattan every single time.

“You think, ‘You’re using beef tallow in a cocktail, how is that?’ But it’s such a unique cocktail; it has such a unique flavor to it that you want another one. And at the end of the day, that’s the whole idea behind a great cocktail,” Zeka explains.

For the Manhattan to come to fruition, bartender Cynthia Thomas, who has been with the Morrison House for over two years, follows a step-by-step process that leads to the creation: melt the tallow, infuse it with bourbon, place the liquid in a micron to remove all fat from the mixture, chill it and, finally, top it off with sherry water and apple bitters. The result is as delicious as it is detailed.

While the cocktail bar sets the scene, the freshly prepared food is what ties it all together. For McCall, the change in brand has given him the opportunity to get back in touch with his Southern roots by taking on a new, yet familiar approach to cooking.

“About probably five or six years ago, I really had this kind of homecoming to my style of cuisine,” says McCall. “After traveling all over and working in Michelin-star kitchens in London, and being in very kind of high-level fine dining, I really came back to the soul food that I grew up with.”

The menu is small-plate style with 12 items to choose from. While today it features Spice Grilled Spring Lamb that has hints of barbecue, next week that may change, as chef McCall selects his dishes based on what goods and produce are fresh at that given time. What will stay constant, though, are Mom’s Pimento Cheese and Anson Mills Cast Iron Cornbread, both of which are family recipes passed down from McCall’s mother and grandmother.

In addition to the rebranding of The Study, The Morrison House’s neighboring sister hotel, The Alexandrian, Autograph Collection, also just recently experienced a change in menu at its eatery, Jackson 20, with help from Zeka and McCall. In addition to new featured dishes, Jackson 20 will now be serving brunch daily. // 116 S. Alfred St., Alexandria

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