Washington DC's restaurant scene has transformed itself over the past decade — and not just on the culinary front. Dining out has become about more than just innovative cuisine; diners have come to expect the decor and architecture to be equally inventive and inspiring. The Blue Duck Tavern, in the West End's sleek Park Hyatt Hotel, epitomizes this trend. I ate there for dinner last night and couldn't keep my eyes on the food. No, there were no local celebrities around (I wish). I was gawking at the furniture.
For starters, I was sitting in a padded Norman Cherner armchair, an exquisite, elegant chair that I have coveted for years. Long ago I convinced myself not to buy a Cherner because they are a) very expensive and b) they looked rather uncomfortable and somewhat flimsy — too delicate to survive my acrobatic pre-schoolers. Unfortunately for my bank account, I discovered last night that the Cherner armchair is in fact both sturdy and remarkably comfortable. Not plush and enveloping like some restaurant chairs, which can plunge you into a food-and-wine-induced coma. But not remotely hard or unforgiving.
In addition to the Cherner chairs, the Blue Duck Tavern is populated with handmade wood tables and chairs, including uncovered black walnut tables paired with modern, twisted log chairs and a smattering of sinewy bentwood armchairs. The Windsor benches, crafted by Vermont cabinetmaker and chairwright Timothy Clark, are simply stunning, combining striking modern lines with the homey warmth of creamy smooth wood. One of the benches is a staggering 29 feet, four inches long, incorporating more than 200 hand-tooled spindles.
The 106-seat restaurant, which opened in 2006, was designed by Tony Chi and Associates of New York. Glass, stainless steel, and concrete are juxtaposed against white oak flooring, limestone, and burlap. The result is a space that is decidedly modern and hip without being so frivolous and trendy as to undercut the city's serious side.
Images: 1: Pretty Lovely Things via We Love DC; 2-4: courtesy of the Blue Duck Tavern; 5: Design Within Reach