September’s opening of a two-floor, two-concept eatery called, respectively, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black Jack was a year in the making and got its inspiration from New Orleans, circus freaks, and underwater adventures. Designed by District-based CORE architecture + design, the building had been looked at by a number of chefs as potential restaurant space but none of them felt it was the right fit. Then chef Jeff Black saw it and knew he could make it work (that would be Jeff Black of places like BlackSalt and Black’s Bar and Kitchen). Little did Black know there would be a regulation bocce court and an angry monkey mural by the time it was all finished.
“There are so many reused materials for this project,” says Allison Cooke, lead designer on the project. “The floor joists were reused for the custom tables on the first floor and the stairs. Upstairs there’s a small ‘action station’ that uses the exiting hearth fireplace, the seating area around the bocce court uses reclaimed folding theater seats, and the partial plaster on the wall is the stuff that was there originally. We just had artists turn them into decorative pieces.”
For a building that was originally a Model T showroom, it took several iterations of design concepts to finally figure out what would work. Black knew he wanted two entirely different feels for the upstairs and downstairs spaces, with the upstairs being a ‘seedy bourbon bar’ and the downstairs being bright and airy with a seaside theme (hence the wiry sculpture made from nautical chain that hangs above the bar). To achieve the ‘seedy’ goal they made the finishes as dark as possible and brought in graphic artists from Shelter Studios to come up with ‘carnival-esque’ artwork for the walls, menus, and bathrooms. That’s why there are bearded ladies staring down at you from the bathroom wallpaper.
The upstairs bocce court is probably a first for a DC restaurant, but this was a well thought out endeavor. In consultation with the DC Bocce League they installed two bocce courts that can be turned into a regulation-sized court for important games. The surface is astroturf but to add to the authenticity they used crushed oyster shells in the floor downstairs which is an approved landing surface for bocce competitions. We can feel the fiery competition from here.
Our cousins over at Eater have full coverage of what the two very different menus include as well as a look at the two restaurants after all the construction was complete. Check out the gallery above for shots of the completely gutted building before they started working on it and to compare the renderings to the final product.
· A Sneak Peek Inside Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black Jack [EDC]
· Pearl Dive [Facebook]
· Black Jack [Facebook]
· CORE [Official Site]
Photos and renderings from CORE architecture + design and Ron Ngiam.