A trio of newish Arlington eateries have vibrant bars, inventive food, and sparkling, big-city atmosphere.
1 of 2
CIRCA at Clarendon
2 of 2
Wood-fired pizzas from Fire Works.
Young business professionals are flocking to three new Arlington restaurants—Lyon Hall, CIRCA and Fire Works, in the Clarendon and Court House neighborhoods. One reason seems to be that the businesses are effective at wooing customers via Twitter, Facebook and blogs—so much so, they’ll practically plan an evening for you with happy hour specials, food and beverage events and live music. Maybe more important, each of the three spots has a sparkling, big-city ambience plus summer patio space—and, crucially, a wildly delightful selection of beer, wine and signature drinks that would make a Trader Vic’s patron proud. Indeed, this Northern Virginia trio aims to cultivate a generation of aficionados—whether of beer (Fire Works has 33 on tap), cocktails (CIRCA mixes originals for every season) or wine (Lyon Hall’s 18 by the glass are nearly all French).
Lyon Hall, opened in April 2010, is in a conspicuous corner of a restored art deco building in the heart of Clarendon. It bills itself as a brasserie, channeling places like New York’s Balthazar Restaurant, but not so much that it doesn’t earn its own stripes for stunning architecture—notably its elegant white marble bar and classic but updated café seating: simple wooden bistro chairs opposite pale blue, quilt-stitched leather banquettes, and wrought iron touches throughout. The restaurant’s managers jokingly call the communal hand-washing area—two open-air trough sinks (one for males, one for females) between the restrooms—the ultimate social networking experience. There are 19 beers on tap, an offering of beer flights and a dense list of 40-plus bottled beers broken down by type: lagers, bocks, IPAs (India Pale Ale), abbeys, dubbels, quads, stouts and so forth, as well as other descriptors that make one happy to order a 16-ounce Fullers Vintage Ale for $20. While the menu is evolving—Alsatian cuisine with Germanic influences, according to staff—a range of charcuterie selections including rabbit rillettes, pickled sardines and duck prosciutto, and desserts such as crème brûlée flanked by delicately sliced kumquats—are sublime.
CIRCA, opened last January, is the second in a local chain that started in D.C.’s Dupont Circle. The Arlington iteration has a sleek, if somewhat corporate, atmosphere and overflow crowds most nights. The restaurant’s blog, The Shizz!, is both humorous and enticing—read it and you want to visit the place to toast the Royal Wedding, watch the Kentucky Derby or even cheer on the Nationals. The food has some missteps, but CIRCA’s signature drinks, including the $9 Drunken Donkey (fresh lime juice, Absolut Ruby Red and Goslings Ginger Beer), and the $11 Blackberry Margarita (Milagro Silver, Patron Citronge, lime, muddled blackberries and a splash of Chambord) are deliciously extravagant.
Fire Works—a happy haunt that opened last summer just a few blocks from Clarendon in Court House—is the “citified” spot that was born out of a flagship restaurant in Leesburg. The restaurant tweets its patrons daily and works hard to keep things fresh with different happy hour specials, live music and innovative food—check out the selection of produce pizzas cooked in a wood -fired oven. The kitchen crew puts an emphasis on sustainability: Most of the farm products come from Northern Virginia farms, and they recycle diligently; used cooking oil, for example, is sent to local farmers for their tractors. The menu, including smoked blue and bacon risotto fritters, a hot spinach dip and a hugely popular grilled Atlantic salmon salad, is entirely appealing.
Like Lyon Hall, Fire Works is a wonderful place to learn about, and try, beer. It recently hosted a celebration of Belgian Ales. And like CIRCA, the signature cocktails are worth a nod, too, in particular a drink that just about sums up this establishment’s ethos: the Feng Shui Martini. Surely it’s not lost on the restaurant’s owners that this and a happy hour pizza special are the stuff of a perfect Twitter feed. LyonHallArlington.com; CircaAtClarendon.com; FireWorksPizza.com