(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Surprise! Arlington is about to get a major restaurant opening in the midst of the pandemic.
Cafe Colline, a neighborhood French bistro from prolific local restaurateurs Ian and Eric Hilton, is set to open for takeout next Thursday, June 25. Both phone and online orders will be accepted.
The brothers hope it will open for indoor and outdoor dine-in service — socially distanced per state guidelines, of course — within the next two weeks, pending a Certificate of Occupancy from Arlington County.
After nearly a year of work, finishing touches were underway today at the restaurant, in the former Cassatt’s space at 4536 Lee Highway in the Lee Heights Shops. Plastic was being taken off the windows and metal fixtures were being polished. Aside from getting the occupancy certificate, the main thing left to do is to install new light fixtures.
At 100% capacity, the restaurant will be able to serve 48 people inside at tables and the bar, and 16 outside, on a back patio. When it opens, it will have about 18 indoor seats and 10 outdoor seats open. Ian said he expects to only be open for dinner Thursday through Sunday for the first two weeks or so, and then will “open up for real” after that.
Cafe Colline will serve “classic, traditional French cuisine,” and aims to be a go-to hangout for the neighborhood through a casual atmosphere and reasonable prices. The menu — just published online on the restaurant’s new website — includes entrées like ratatouille, a cafe burger, pasta provençal, and Scottish salmon.
Opening in the middle of a global pandemic “is not the best timing, that’s for sure,” Ian told ARLnow today. “But what are you going to do? At least we’re in Phase 2 now… I lament my poor timing, but here we are.”
In addition to the impending opening of Cafe Colline, the brothers just opened their new Solace Outpost brewpub in the former Mad Fox Brewing space in Falls Church. Amid the new openings — the Hiltons are also behind the new Parc de Ville in the Mosaic District and the still under-construction El Rey taco spot in Ballston — Ian said he fears a potential second COVID-19 wave in the fall.
“That would potentially be the end of the road,” he said of the potential of a new surge in virus cases and a return to a business shutdown. “We would certainly have to contract.”
Ian predicts that up to 30% of all restaurants could ultimately close during the pandemic, regardless. But he remains cautiously optimistic about his restaurants making it through to next spring, when conditions could improve.
If there’s any silver lining of all this, he said, it’s the potential for improved tenant-landlord and diner-server relations, as the role of restaurants in fueling the commercial real estate industry is better appreciated and as frontline hospitality workers are given more respect by picky diners.
“If you bash a place on Yelp right now, it makes you look like one of the worst people on the planet.”
For Ian, who lives in nearby Donaldson Run, Cafe Colline — the brothers’ first Arlington eatery — is being opened where it is “100% out of selfishness.”
“I live just down the street,” he said. “There are not a lot of options around here… My friends constantly pester me, [asking] why don’t we have something of yours that we can get to easily without going into the city.”
“Dealing with the headaches of parking in Clarendon and being shoulder-to-shoulder with the raucous people there on weekends,” is not ideal for the more mature North Arlington crowd, said Ian. “This is a nice little hidden spot, a bit of an oasis around here… It made total sense.”