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Posted at 12:38 PM ET, 10/19/2010

New on the scene: Pizzeria Paradiso and Tonic Up Top

By Fritz Hahn

The dining room at the new Pizzeria Paradiso in Old Town is more spacious and airy than at its sister restaurants. (Fritz Hahn - The Washington Post)

Last night, I went to check out two new bars: Pizzeria Paradiso's Old Town location, which officially opens Wednesday as the local institution's first venture into Virginia, and Tonic on Top, a reinvention of the Mount Pleasant watering hole's upstairs restaurant. (Wait, you didn't know there was one?)

Jump to the review and photos of Pizzeria Paradiso and Tonic Up Top.

Pizzeria Paradiso already seems at home on the lower half of King Street. If you've been to the Georgetown or Dupont Circle branches, it's all going to seem awfully familiar: Bright yellow walls, the smells of slightly charred pizzas coming out of the wood-burning oven, the impressive selection of draft beers listed on a chalkboard. Here, though, the soaring ceilings and wall of glass give the main dining room an airy feel, and tables are set further apart, so you don't feel like you're forced to listen to neighboring conversations -- a common occurrence in the Georgetown restaurant.

The bar also seems like a separate entity here, instead of the congested waiting area found in Dupont. It's back behind the largest part of the dining room, screened off by a large gas fireplace. (That should be great in the winter; there's already a rocking chair beside it.) It's not a huge space (there's about a dozen barstools and table seats for eight), but it's going to be a nice place to grab a beer while strolling around Old Town.

Speaking of beer, there are 14 drafts and one cask ale, all quality choices. In a nod to Old Town's glut of Irish bars, there's Porterhouse Red Ale, a pleasantly malty Dublin microbrew, but no Guinness, Harp or Smithwick's. Instead, you'll get an ever-changing lineup of American microbrews and Belgian standouts. For the opening, at least, the selection includes the hoppy Bluegrass American Pale Ale from Kentucky, Stoudt's Pils, Stone's crushingly hoppy Ruination IPA, the Belgian-style Allagash Tripel and Glazen Toren's orangey Jan De Lichte wit bier. The cask is Loose Cannon IPA from Baltimore's Heavy Seas brewery. Most cost between $6 and $8.

The rear of Pizzeria Paradiso's dining room overlooks an open kitchen and wood-burning pizza oven. (Fritz Hahn - The Washington Post)

A tiled fireplace separates the dining room and bar area. In cooler weather, the rocking chair in front of the gas flames should be the most popular spot in the house. (Fritz Hahn - The Washington Post)

As at other Pizzeria Paradiso locations, draft beers are listed on a chalkboard menu. (Fritz Hahn - The Washington Post)

Monday marked the grand opening of Tonic Up Top, the second-floor dining room-turned-bar at Mount Pleasant's Tonic. If you're thinking "What dining room?" then you're not alone, says owner Eric "Bernie" Bernstrom. While the brick-walled basement bar is often bustling on both weeknights and weekends, the more conventional upstairs space, with its yellow-and-blue color scheme and framed prints, was often empty. So, Bernstrom says, the owners decided to make it an extension of the downstairs space.

That meant removing all the plaster on the walls to show off the bricks, putting a small bar into the bay window, hanging flatscreen TVs on the walls -- five now, two more on the way -- and exchanging the dinner tables for raised banquette-style seats along the walls, facing smaller two-top bar tables. The lights have also been dimmed down.

But the new bar-focused look doesn't mean that anything has changed in the kitchen. "It's still the same menu," Bernstrom says. There are numerous vegetarian options (from hummus wraps to roasted and stuffed poblanos), ratatouille, deliciously gooey mac and cheese with bacon and/or peas, and on Thursdays only, one of the best cheesesteaks around.

Tonic On Top is set to open for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, and it has a full complement of TV packages to show college and NFL football games. One caveat: while there's a full bar, there are no draft beers -- if you want a Guinness or a Great Lakes, your server has to run to the downstairs bar to pick it up.

To create Tonic Up Top, Tonic's staff ripped down plaster to expose brick walls, installed flatscreen TVs and turned down the lights. (Fritz Hahn - The Washington Post)

Popular bartender Patrice Hammond, usually found in Tonic's basement on weekends, serves drinks in Tonic Up Top's bay window bar on Tuesday nights. (Fritz Hahn - The Washington Post)

-- Fritz Hahn

By Fritz Hahn  | October 19, 2010; 12:38 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs, Restaurants  
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Tonic sucks. Terrible, unfriendly service, crappy food, and managers that just do not care. I would definitely not recommend it!

Posted by: dhadley141 | October 20, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

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