The restaurant, which describes its offerings as “updated American classics,” is currently only open for dinner, but plans to start serving lunch on Tuesday. A weekend brunch service is expected to begin later this month, perhaps on Christmas weekend.
Wilson Tavern retains the small footprint of Kitty O’Shea’s, as well as the prominent bar, but renovations have resulted in an updated look that got rid of the old drop ceiling and exposed some of the building’s rugged brickwork. Black woodwork, an eclectic collection of new and antique furniture including repurposed 19th century church pews, and bare, hanging light bulbs give the tavern a unique, vaguely old-fashioned feel.
The food menu includes updated takes on comfort food, like a burger with beef sourced from The Plains, Va., saffron PEI mussels with steak frites, and stuffed mac ‘n’ cheese with artichoke, pork belly and a brioche crumb. Some may not find the prices as comforting, though: the fish ‘n’ chips is $17 (compared to $13 at Ireland’s Four Courts, down the street), a roasted chicken with collard greens and gravy is $17, and the Plains-sourced burger — with aged cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and a brioche bun — is $12.
The draft beer list, which will also change regularly, currently includes eight curated selections from brewers like New Belgium, Legend, Bell’s and Port City. Drafts range from $5 to $8, while bottled macrobrews like Miller Lite and Budweiser clock in at $4. A short California-centric wine list prices glasses from $6 to $10 and bottles from $22 to $38.
Wilson Tavern will serve classic cocktails made with freshly-squeezed juices. The menu includes a dark and stormy, sazerac, old fashioned, gin and juice, screwdriver, pickled Martini and a Negroni, with prices from $7 to $10.
Wilson Tavern’s chef, Chris Kenworthy, hails from Hook, Equinox and Watershed restaurants in the District. Bar manager Matt Culbertson is a former bartender at PS 7′s in D.C. and Cowboy Cafe in Arlington.
Owner Sandy Lewis, a friend of landlord and fellow Lyon Village resident Ray Schupp, says she hopes Wilson Tavern becomes more of a neighborhood dining destination than Kitty O’Shea’s, which was forced out after a contentious legal battle. Despite a very quiet opening last Tuesday, Lewis says she’s been happy with the number of diners who have been showing up for dinner.
“We’re putting out a little bit higher quality food than the average bar,” she said, pointing to locally-sourced meats, freshly-prepared sauces and other house-made ingredients.
Lewis, a local restaurant veteran, was a former co-owner of CommonWealth Gastropub in D.C. and Hank’s Oyster Bar in Alexandria. She also held management positions at several of Jose Andres-owned eateries. Wilson Tavern, however, is something of a homecoming for her.
“I always wanted to do something in Arlington,” said Lewis. “This is a dream because I can walk to work.”
If all goes well, Lewis says she’s considering expanding Wilson Tavern to an adjacent, empty retail space — a move that would add 20-25 seats to the restaurant. Should Wilson Tavern find success, however, it won’t be long before it’s forced to move. Schupp is seeking county approval to redevelop the single-story retail building in which Wilson Tavern is located into something taller — perhaps a hotel.
Should that happen, Lewis said she would move Wilson Tavern to a nearby, temporary space, then move back into the ground level of the new building.