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Harry’s Tap Room Becomes ‘Market Tavern’

by ARLnow.com — December 2, 2011 at 11:50 am 8,615 57 Comments

Over Thanksgiving weekend, the former Harry’s Taproom in Clarendon (2800 Clarendon Blvd) quietly started serving customers under a new identity: Market Tavern.

The change follows several weeks of renovations, which followed the repurchase of Harry’s by one of its original co-founders. Michael Sternberg says he quit his job as an executive at the restaurant operator he sold Harry’s to in 2008, in order to follow his passion for running a restaurant up close.

“For the last 4 months, I haven’t been happier,” Sternberg said.

Sternberg decided to renovate the restaurant because it “needed some loving attention” and needed a better way to compete within the crowded Clarendon restaurant scene. When Harry’s first opened in 2003, he said, it was one of the only eateries in the neighborhood serving “modern American” cuisine. Now, newly-opened restaurant like Circa and American Tap Room have muddled the market, to the point where Sternberg says the old Harry’s menu would have been indistinguishable from the other local “modern American” restaurants.

“I have a theory,” he said. “If you put all the menus side-by-side, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.”

To buck the trend, Market Tavern is positioning itself as part steakhouse, part “modern tavern.” The upstairs of Market Tavern has been dubbed “The Chophouse” — an airy, upscale steakhouse serving steaks from $23 to $36; a selection of casseroles and entrees like a spicy lamb stew and Ahi tuna with citrus ginger glaze; plus soups, salads, appetizers, sides and a complementary bread bar.

Downstairs, Market Tavern is the “modern interpretation of a tavern.” The drink list has been expanded — with 26 beers on tap, 18 beers in bottles, 8 signature cocktails, and a revamped wine list. The bar menu at Market Tavern includes small plates, salads, burgers and sandwiches. Of particular note is the “Gold Standard Burger,” a $19 creation that features fresh ground beef short loin, beef short rib and brisket on a brioche roll, topped with bone marrow.

Burgers are not on the menu at the Chophouse, but are available to those who ask. The Chophouse will also feature a weekend brunch, largely unchanged from the Harry’s days. The restaurant will not be open for lunch on weekdays.

Sternberg has sunk a considerable amount of his personal wealth into Market Tavern despite the restaurant “saturation” in Clarendon, and the gamble is only compounded by the fact that he actually reduced the number of dining seats during renovations — from 275 to 155. Still, Sternberg thinks that Market Tavern will be able to win loyal customers with a combination of good food and personalized service.

“We know there’s business here,” he said.

  • Ben

    What a crap renovation. I appreciate that Harry’s needed a reinvention (it was slowly dying and their non-weekend brunch food was terrible), but the new concept and the work done just feels halfassed. Cheap bar stools? Stickers on your awnings? What a disappointment.

    • R. Griffon

      > Cheap bar stools?

      Oddly, that’s the first thing I noticed when walking by the other night. They’re like the cheap aluminum ones that sit outside of South Block Smoothie (which are completely appropriate for a place that sells smoothies and wraps, BTW). It looks like Target was having a sale. Brings down the look of the whole place IMHO.

  • sweet baby cheeses

    Not to be confused with the Chophouse by Verizon?

    • drax

      Yeah, if he thinks going to “Chophouse” and “Tavern” is getting ahead of the trends, he’s still way behind.

  • Jeff

    I love the idea, but looking at the menus on mtavern.com – prices are WAY too high. “Small” plates are $11-$20. Burgers are $12-$19. I live in Clarendon and am used to paying a little more for the scene, but this is much above what I would expect.

  • LP

    As someone who lives across the street (and used to frequent Harry’s often) I welcome the change as it was getting a bit long in the tooth and the renovation, from the interior, looks great.

    However, with all the money that was sunk into it, as this article notes, please, please Sternberg, update the new “Market Tavern” awning outside to look something less than horribly cheap! From day one it looked like it was falling off and it’s only gotten worse in the days since. I realize it was a cost saving measure (just using matching colored canvas with the new name placed on top of the old Harry’s logo) but it looks horrible and has already discouraged me from going it.

    Invest a few more on new awnings, for your personal investment and for the neighborhood as well!

    Good Luck

  • Garden City

    Hmmm. They may have lost a couple of customers. We went to Harry’s regularly on Sunday nights for burger, and they had great sides. Above it says that burgers are not on the menu but you can ask, but will they have the turkey burger and bison burger?

    • http://www.arlnow.com ARLnow.com

      Yes, those are both still on the menu.

  • KalashniKEV

    Is it still just for old folks?

    • drax

      Yes, people over the age of 22. Sorry.

      • V Dizzle

        Zing!

        • Tabby

          What Kev means is he’s not welcome at the 20something bars because people are tired of old men hitting on young women, and he hasn’t had better luck in Harry’s but at least he can lob an insult in that direction. Oh wait, that’s right. All of the younger women are “Claren-skanks” and the older ones are “hefty.”

          Still, none of those unflatteringly described women are interested in Ole Kev.

          • KalashniKEV

            1) I only look old. I still consider myself to be somewhat “young.”
            2) Harry’s is a terrible bar. No one ever went there. The empty calm of the place DID happen to attract an older clientele, which you can’t deny.
            3) Claren-skanks LOVE me. Especially the young and hefty types. ;)

  • Boomba

    Ah yes, he wanted to move away from being indistinguishable among Liberty Tavern and Circa’s modern American cuisine and straight into being indistinguishable among Ray’s HellBurger and Ray’s the Steaks cuisine. Good job sinking a considerable amount of wealth into your restaurant. You might wanna start looking at a back up plan and how to get that money back. It’s not the type of food that’s making you fail; it’s the taste, quality, and price.

    • LuLu

      Boomba, I was thinking the exact same thing as I was reading the article. I can’t think of one reason to go to ex-Harry’s now… Steaks? Burgers? Overload of American cuisine? How about a good Chinese place? Maybe South American? Ethiopian maybe? Anything but more steaks & burgers… BORING!

  • KARLington

    I had quit going to Harry’s for various reasons but am willing to give it another shot. Am dubious, however, of places that seem more focused on “concept” and “modern interpretations” than simply serving great food by pleasant people.

  • Sandra

    If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be a duck.

    The problem is that he was outdone at his own game. There are fresher “modern American” places out there. So he changed his game and now he’s competing with Ray’s. Which he likely won’t be able to do.

    He’s obviously in love with his restaurant. I just wish he had used more perceptive consultants before he spent a “considerable portion” of his personal wealth.

  • arlgirl

    I haven’t yet seen the renovation live, but I have to say to Mr. Sternberg that I hope and pray he has upgraded the beef he’s ordering for the steaks. Over the years, the quality of the beef served at Harry’s went from excellent (worthy of original parent Sam & Harry’s) to below average. I complained about this to the management many times. The sizes of their dishes also got smaller and smaller. I am looking forward to seeing the new restaurant and hope it feels better in person than it looks digitally.

  • ArLater

    I hope all those here who are already declaring this dead in the water and will not be able to compete plan on actually GOING to the place first and trying it out before they automatically assume its crap.

    • AllenB

      You mean base things on actual experiences and facts rather than just complaining anonymously with nothing to back it up? Come now, that’s not the Arlnow way.

    • ClarendonDweller

      I’m with you, ArLater, I kinda feel bad for the owner after reading these comments.

      I will absolutely give every new place that opens in the ‘hood a try. My husband and I were walking by, took a look at the menu, and weren’t that impressed but it would be silly to declare a place “dead” when it’s barely two weeks in. I like to do my best to support any business owner who takes a risk and does their best to establish a place in the neighborhood.

    • Arlingtonian

      Same here. I am always surprised by the large number of negative comments aimed at establishments people have never actually been to. Which doesn’t mean that those comments are wrong, just that it seems a little premature to form such a strong opinion without ever having set foot in the place.

  • Southeast Jerome

    wait for it, wait for it……yes a positive comment finally on the thread.

    The photo of the taps show an incredible beer selection. If anything, I will go to the “tavern” for the beer selection and some appetizers. I dont think that I would pay $19 for a burger at a tavern tho. This isnt Central Michel Richard.

    • Arlingtonian

      I too am eager to sample all those beers. That looks awesome. I actually liked the old Harry’s but agree it was getting a little lackluster.

  • John Fontain

    I’ll pay $19 for you to keep the marrow off my burger please.

  • novasteve

    Gotta love it. Arlington is having a snobbery/pretentiousness rave that’s morphing every bar into the same place.

    How about a dive bar? Jay’s is gone in a couple of months.

    • arlgal

      Actually, Jay’s now has a 2 year lease with the new building owner. Thank goodness!

  • Stop the Hate

    The reason for the change in name, menu, etc. was that he was unhappy with the degraded quality that began to happen once he sold his restaurants to a national management company. Michael bought back Harry’s (which forced the name change) so that he could take the restaurant back to the quality it had five years ago. I am very impressed with the food and the service and will be back quite a bit.

  • Really?

    I am most impressed by the $18 Wedge salad. I did not realize that iceberg lettuce, bacon, and blue cheese had become so expensive.

    These are the highest prices in Clarendon and significantly higher than Harry’s. It is safe to say that you can put this menu next to all of its competitors and immediately identify it.

    • a

      Hopefully that is a misprint. The steak salad is listed as 9 bucks, which probably isn’t right either.

      • Glebe Roader

        Yeah, looks like they transposed the prices for the steak salad and wedge salad on one of their on-line menus. A little proof-reading may have helped.

  • michelle

    I’m willing to pay $$ for a burger that’s from grass fed cows and only contains quality cow parts… not pink slime like most places

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_Slime

    Please advise if this place uses such slime.

  • rossl

    french toast is still on the brunch menu.
    their prices don’t look that different from harry’s.

    i’m intrigued by the beet and butternut salad.

  • Wine

    I wonder how much ArrowWine is paying for their sponsored article. Oh how I miss Best Cellars.

    • CW

      Quit whining, go buy the four $75 bottles he recommends, and see if you can note the subtle differences in terroir across the area of a few square miles. Sounds like my idea of a great Friday night!

      :)

    • Glebe Roader

      Also wonder why the comment form is closed on the Arrowine posting?

      • Wine

        Because ArrowWine paid for the article and they don’t want any negative posts.

      • http://www.arlnow.com ARLnow.com

        Those articles are not supposed to have comments enabled, period. We accidentally left comments on for today’s column, and one slipped in before we realized our mistake.

        • SomeGuy

          What’s the going rate for those sponsored articles?

          • John Fontain

            For all you complaining about an occasional sponsored post:

            Does the operator of this site not have the right to try to make a living and put a roof over his head and feed his family? Is that really asking too much?

            Isn’t the post clearly labeled as being sponsored? Might some readers actually get some use of the information in the post (lord knows a lot of my neighbors consider themselves wine connoisseur)?

            Is the cost to you of having to view a sponsored post greater than the value you receive from having this website?

            In my opinion, you guys complaining about an occassional sponsored post sound, [valley girl voice on] like, totally lame and stuff. Like, get a life! [valley girl voice off].

          • Wine

            Who complained?

          • Wine

            All that’s been said is we wondered how much the sponsored post cost. I said, I miss Best Cellars since the ArrowWine post reminded me of it. I didn’t see one complaint about the sponsored article.

          • John Fontain

            So you’ve got one of those cool bicycles that peddles backwards? Neato!

          • Wine

            Show me exactly where there was a complaint John Fontain and I’ll apologize for it. You can’t, because there wasn’t a complain anywhere.

          • Tabby

            “Feed his family”? That’s a bit dramatic, not to mention outdated.

            Is this 1960?

          • http://www.arlnow.com ARLnow.com

            We’re not going to reveal the financial details of our contracts with clients.

          • http://www.arlnow.com ARLnow.com

            We will, however, always reveal when a post has been paid for by a client. So far, this column and a couple of our contests are the only things that have been sponsored. As much as some readers would like to believe otherwise, we never accept money to simply promote a product or business via an article. We’ve turned down multiple offers like that and will continue to do so as long as we can figure out a way to pay the bills without having to resort to paid plugs.

          • SomeGuy

            Okay. I figured it was a reasonable question since you publish your advertising rates anyway. I’m curious about the business in general.

          • SomeGuy

            Or as John Fontain would portray it, I’m pissed off and complaining about the business in general because I had the gall to ask a question.

  • Having actually tried it…

    We went there on Thanksgiving night. They had a $36 fixed price menu which featured four courses, all of which were surprisingly good. For the price, we were pretty blown away. Not sure how that relates to their regular pricing, but we’ll definitely go back and try them some other time. I’m not sure if they were trying to do Thanksgiving as a sort of loss-leader, but the place was hopping when we arrived at 5:00.

    It had the feeling of a place that was newly (re) opened and still trying to get the kinks out, though. The bread bar, for one, where you go up and can choose among four different types of bread and four different types of butter, is a nice idea but seems like a lot of trouble to go through for bread. Still, I would agree with others on the thread that it’s worth checking it out at least once. They’re clearly trying and deserve a shot.

  • Sherley

    I see they kept the staircase. That’s cool, the staircase does a good job of gauging your fitness. A few years back I’d suck wind going up those but this year I did pretty well.

  • Nancy

    What a disappointment! Harry’s was our go-to place for good food — excellent food, local, well prepared, varied — and fairly reasonable. Just went to eat there before Thanksgiving to find it closed! Now, its high priced and doesn’t look anywhere near as good although some of the menu is familiar. And fewer seats??? ARgh. I am not up for another line. What a shame. Sounds like its become more flighty, trendy Clarendon and less a good, solid establishment. Boo hoo.

    • T. J. Sullivan

      There’s no need to boo hoo. As someone who has lived in Market Common for seven years and had the pleasure of eating weekly at Harry’s in its heyday and who ate at the Chophouse tonight, I can assure you that the changes are good. We arrived at 7pm and were seated without wait. Since we had a stroller, the host accompanied us up on the elevator. Our server was earnest and attentive. We selected a $32 bottle of pinot noir and each had the twin fillets. Yes, the price has gone up and the sides are a la carte. But the bread was terrific, the steaks prepared perfectly and the entire experience close to flawless. It’s been five years since I could say that about Harry’s. On the way out, I whined about the awnings (hey, I gotta live here) and was assured that the mess is temporary.

  • Michael Sternberg

    Wow! I am delighted to see all the opinions about my restaurant. As the founder of Market Tavern and of Harry’s Tap Room, I guess I am a bit more qualified than most to to respond to these comments. But as I will explain, I am only going to address one issue right off – the awning decals are indeed temporary as we wait upon the County for sign permits and then can construct new awnings that will look great. It seemed the better option to no signage or incorrect signage.

    Regarding everything else, I am an old school restaurateur. I don’t think it is appropriate to have a relationship with my patrons through a third party website. I don’t see any benefit for you or for the restaurant. For one, there are too many sites out there to monitor; and two, I am here in the restaurant almost every day. I would much prefer to have my guests call me or email me directly and express anything that they need to address. I would be happy to have a direct and honest dialogue with any and all of you. Bottom line is I want to take back possession of our relationship with our guests from the dozens of on-line forums that provide lots of outlet for freedom of expression without any qualification for the opinions expressed. I don’t mean that to disrespect the Arlington Now site or its founder/editor Scott Brodbeck. Scott’s a great guy providing a very valuable service. I hope that Arlington Now continues to thrive in all ways. It’s just that had our chef not told me about these postings, I would never have looked. Considering the many opinions formed by people who have pressed their noses against the glass or visited the website and have not actually experienced the restaurant, my lack of response may have been interpreted as not caring. I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. I just would never have known. It is striking that the two comments from the people who actually have come into the restaurant were extremely positive

    Finally, for those of you who haven’t been in but have formed an opinion anyway, I think its appropriate for me to highlight some things about Market Tavern. We reopened the day before Thanksgiving. We now offer two distinctly different venues under one roof with separate menus, 26 beers on tap (none of which are Bud or Miller products), 76 wines by the glass (in regular and large glass – glass and a half- options), better burgers at the same prices and an extremely talented chef. The changes I’ve made were arrived at after considerable discussion with the restaurant team, the majority of whom have stayed on from Harry’s and then filtered through my 35 years of restaurant experience as a manager and owner. I am taking this so seriously that I have divested myself from my other restaurant ventures and responsibilities to focus on Market Tavern. I am thrilled to be an independent restaurateur again and look forward to all of you coming to visit soon.

    And that’s the last post you’ll see from me on this site. Please call me at 703-778-7788 or better yet, come on in, if you would like to discuss.

  • Thelma

    Funny my previous comment regarding the owner remodeling the place but not paying for the work has disappeared? As I said before the owner is enjoying a free remodel – even has the audacity to say he plans on replacing the tacky looking awnings. I wonder if he’ll pay for them? Numerous companies worked long hard hours so that the restaurant could be shut down and reopened in a very short time period. The owner, however, is not paying for the work.

    Think twice about doing business with a place that takes advantage of people like that!

  • 10yearsinArlington

    Did go to the bar and was disappointed at all the changes…they took away the good stuff (fire place), low chairs, classy furniture and added no carpet, high up tv’s and high stool bars, which I hate and they look cheap. Really did not get the reasoning behind all this (above). I might be one of the older hefty girls but guys in my age range did talk to me…and so I would bring renters of mine and others to the bar…but I don’t think I’ll go again. It needs warmth if you want women to come, like a carpet? It needs lower chairs so it is comfortable to sit down and you don’t feel like you’re falling…and why get rid of fireplace? It felt almost ski lodgy, which I liked. Prices are so high I never order food anyway (single mom 48). But I though the glass of wine so low that I preparty with friends before I go…I honestly don’t know where to go now, since Liberty Tavern is starting to seem too young to me…any suggestions?

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