Arlington, VA

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.

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