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Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab: A refined restaurant with a 'wild side'

Friday - 1/17/2014, 3:33pm  ET

Rebecca Cooper, Washington Business Journal

Even if you're heading back to the dining room or upstairs for a private party, the grandiose bar at Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab in downtown D.C. begs you to stop and take it in.

Built in a former banking hall, the 14,000-square-foot restaurant features 30-foot-plus ceilings held up by ionic marble columns. Arched floor-to-ceiling windows light the space, with help from custom wrought iron chandeliers, and large rounded leather booths ring the bar, which seats 100.

The restaurant, one of the largest restaurants in D.C., is the first restaurant in D.C. proper for Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, which owns dozens of restaurants around the U.S.

Lettuce Entertain You has a partnership to open its Joe's modeled after the original Joe's Stone Crab in Miami, with whom they have a partnership. D.C. is the third Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab in the country, following locations in Las Vegas and Chicago.

"This one has the best bar out of all of them. We were lucky enough to have a great space," co-founder and Chair Rich Melman said during a Friday tour of the space, which is expected to open to the public Jan. 31.

The team knew they wanted to eventually bring Joe's to the East Coast, said Managing Partner Mike Rotolo. The decision came down, naturally, to New York or D.C.

So why D.C.?

"New York was the other choice. But we would find a location but we didn't like the space. Or we would like the space but we didn't like the deal," Melman said. "We looked for probably about two years. But we are not public, we're not under pressure to grow."

The choice for D.C. became clear when Melman saw that Chicago-based John Buck Co., which owns the former American Bar Association headquarters at 750 15th St. NW, had space to lease. Buck owns the building in Chicago where the first LEYE location of Joe's opened 14 years ago, so the two had a history.

The company built a mezzanine level in the restaurant to accommodate four private dining spaces — one that can seat 120, one that can seat about 30 and two smaller board rooms. The dining room behind the bar seats approximately 200 and also has a bar.

Despite its grand appearance, Joe's isn't meant to be another stuffy fine dining restaurant, Melman insists. The food includes hamburgers, fried chicken and eight different types of potato sides — not to mention a dessert list heavy on classic American pies such as Boston creme and key lime.

"We want to be able to give the experience of fine dining in service and food, but with none of the negatives people associate with it," Rotolo chimed in.

Melman expects to do a brisk bar business, in addition to business lunches, dinners and private events.

"There are all these little nooks and crannies. Places for a business lunch, corner booths for a business meeting. If you want to be raucous out in the bar, you can do that," he said. "It looks proper, but it's really kind of wild underneath."

© 2014 American City Business Journals, Inc.

Tags: restaurantsd.c.joe