Along the Potomac, a premier performing arts center in Washington, D.C. has paired with some of the premier restaurateurs and culinary stars in the city. It’s a harmonious match.
This fall, the Kennedy Center is partnering with industry veterans Ian and Eric Hilton (The Brixton, Player’s Club, El Rey, among others) and Erik Bruner-Yang (ABC Pony, Brothers and Sisters) to host a semi-permanent pop-up wine garden and café, Victura Park, at the center’s new REACH space.
After years of planning, months of buildout, and $250 million, Kennedy Center’s interactive, forward-thinking performing arts refresh REACH scuttled its extensive calendar of events when the pandemic restrictions took effect.
Like any good conductor, however, the Kennedy Center pivoted gracefully, transforming a portion of the REACH outdoor space into Victura Park.
Named for President John F. Kennedy’s beloved boat, Victura, the cafe takes its cues from the rolling, lush landscape of vibrant Virginia vineyards.
Ian Hilton says that the café was crafted as a locale “for friends and family to come reconnect in a safe and open air environment where they can go to unwind and destress.”
The trio had long planned a restaurant collaboration, and they worked together to produce the food options for the opening of REACH in late 2019. Pre-pandemic, they were set to open a café inside, but as a permanent indoor restaurant no longer became viable, Hilton says that the parties agreed to imagine an environment in plein air to enjoy sips and bites overlooking the elegant Potomac.
Like the collaborative, experimental performing arts center itself, Hilton says that “atmosphere is a key component to our menu.”
Brendan Padgett, a spokesperson for the Kennedy Center, adds that “what makes Victura Park so special is that Ian, Eric, and Erik created a winery-inspired experience that works seamlessly to compliment Steven Holl’s stunning architecture for the REACH and the surrounding lawns and gardens.”
While guests enjoy the sun and atmosphere at picnic tables and refurbished wooden barrels (or on their own blankets and chairs on the manicured lawns), they can purchase from a rotating list of about 10 wines available by the glass ($8-$12) and bottle ($26-38). The warm weather menu brings options like prosecco, chardonnay, and sparkling rose, along with sunny-day cocktails like margaritas, orange smashes, and boozy ice pops ($7-9). Hilton says that the drinks may change as the temps drop.
While the Hilton brothers take care of the wine, Bruner-Yang oversees the food program. Light bites run from cheese and charcuterie boards to elegant smoked salmon rillettes ($4-29). There’s also a “Family Meal” of entrée-sized dishes that vary by week ($20), and feature collaborations from guest chefs. And as the seasons change, the team plans to have themed weekends to match Kennedy Center events; Hilton says that Oktoberfest is on the docket.
“For me,” Bruner-Yang says,” it’s “an honor to be part of the Kennedy Center. It’s a living memorial and place of arts. I was a piano player growing up, and participated in recitals at the Kennedy Center, so it’s cool to have it back in my life again.”
The Kennedy Center, he notes, is actually also a public park. The café reintroduces the idea that the landscape there belongs to the people.
After pandemic-related setbacks, Padgett concludes that “Victura Park is the first step in bringing the REACH back to life. It was designed as a place to break down barriers between artists and audiences and connect communities.”