Jamie Leeds is doing something right — Hank’s Oyster Bar is a Dupont Circle mainstay that came to fruition in the spring of 2005. In 2007, she opened a second Hank’s in Old Town Alexandria.
Now she’s expanding the Alexandria location and she opened a third Hank’s Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill (633 Pennsylvania Ave S.E.) this week. Leeds says opening Hank’s on the Hill while expanding the Alexandria location is her “most exciting accomplishment.”
Leeds has partnered up with “mixtress” Gina Chersevani for this new venue. This 40-seat location features Leeds classics such as the lobster roll and her famous “Meat and Two” option, where patrons receive protein and two sides. This location also includes a 20-seat bar named The Eddy, where patrons can belly and enjoy a handcrafted cocktail.
Hank’s on the Hill feels like a New England cottage with white trim, light grey walls and whitewashed slats hanging from the ceiling. The white marble bar has a block of ice sitting front and center so Chersevani, who’s straight, and staff can carve ice for drinks. The raised oyster station at the back of the restaurant is purposefully the center of attention. Eventually, the Capitol Hill location will also have outdoor seating. Leeds is not anticipating the same trouble obtaining permits as in Dupont where half the outdoor seating area remains closed due to opposition from residents.
Leeds is excited to “deliver excellent seafood and become part of the neighborhood.” Her favorite items on the menu are the fried oysters and the molasses-braised short ribs. At the Capitol Hill location Leeds applies what she has learned from her other restaurants; one important lesson is surrounding herself with the right people. She looks for people who are dedicated, committed to teaching and service oriented. This is how she runs a successful business and balances her family life with partner Leslie Detenber and their son Hayden.
Leeds first hired Chersevani 10 years ago when working at 15ria. Thy have talked about working together and both were excited when the opportunity arose. Chersevani happily tells a story of an early experience with Leeds at 15ria when she had to make a Blueberry Smash — she simply threw the ingredients together, including frozen blueberries. Leeds was not impressed. Chersevani realized this was an opportunity to grow, and take her cocktails to the next level. Chersevani says that “training with chefs like Leeds has allowed her to become a better mixologist.” Cocktails should “tell a story,” and many of the stories she tells on the current Hank’s list are political.
The new mantra for Hank’s Capitol Hill is “swirling liquors and turbulent mixers” and Chersevani is excited to bring “better” cocktails to the neighborhood. Her beverage program consists of 20 intricate cocktails like her personal favorite, The Georgia Mafia, which contains peanut washed Michter’s Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth and marshmallow bitters. Chersevani dubbed this cocktail the “X-rated Fluffer Nutter.” She says that while it may be a small list at Hank’s on the Hill it’s a “small list with impact.”
On Tuesday night, I dined at Hank’s on the Hill and ordered grilled pork chop. I chose the heirloom tomatoes and the buttermilk onion rings as my sides. Both sides were palatable, but the pork chop was cooked unevenly and some morsels were juiceless. The short ribs were not available on the night I dined, but the fried oysters were and I agree with Leeds. The oysters were delicious fried bites that perfectly combined the crispy breading and delicate flavor of the oysters. I chose the Gnome Water Rebellion as my drink for the night and I was blown away by the freshness brought to the drink by the cucumber water and the overall balance of flavors.
Hank’s Capitol Hill “is not like anything else,” says Chersevani. “It will feel like home, with laughter and good times.” On the night I was at Hank’s the bar was bustling and Chersevani was chatting with patrons and handing out shots. Everyone was listening to her stories and enjoying the night. Hank’s on the Hill is open Sunday thru Wednesday from 5-10 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 5-11 p.m. The Eddy is open daily from 5 to midnight.