What’s it like to open a Depression-era-style bar/restaurant in the midst of the worst recession since, well, the Great Depression? A trio of former Paragarys employees is about to find out. Jason Boggs, Garrett Van Vleck and Alex Origoni—all Paragarys alums—are set to open their new speakeasy, Shady Lady Saloon, next Thursday (April 9) at the 14&R development downtown.
Some people might be a little nervous about opening a restaurant—always an expensive proposition—in this stomach-churning economy. Not these three. “If it weren’t for the recession, we couldn’t afford to do it,” says Boggs, who toiled in the kitchens at the Paragary Group’s Cafe Bernardo and R15 for 10 1/2 years. Unlike in the go-go years of the recent past, when everybody and his brother was looking to open a restaurant and competition for properties was fierce, they had their pick of locations, and they trolled Craigslist for used kitchen equipment being sold off for pennies on the dollar by other, less fortunate restaurateurs put out of business by the recession.
They’re also doing things conservatively: The restaurant is relatively small (only 75 seats), and they’re offering small plates, meant to be shared, at low prices: typically, under $15. They’re resurrecting dishes your grandparents probably used to eat: things like clams casino and meatloaf. At lunch, they’ll woo the nearby state worker crowd with soups, salads and sandwiches under 10 bucks. It will be food “served quickly and wittily,” says Boggs.
The three, who became friends while working for Paragarys, wanted to strike out on their own. They’re looking to emulate places like San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch and Absinthe, which have great cocktail programs. Shady Lady will serve old-style craft cocktails that harken back to the ’20s and ’30s—drinks like Negronis and Sazeracs. “We’ll use lots of brown liquors,” says Boggs. They’re also planning to make their own tonics, bitters and syrups.
Shady Lady Saloon will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. The partners are working on getting an entertainment permit, so that they can have live jazz on the weekends. Boggs, who plays the saxophone, promises “you’ll see me running from the kitchen to the stage.”
Shady Lady Saloon is at 1409 R Street.