Chic trendy atmosphere, clean lines, no noise decor, and no nonsense seafood. Expertly crafted cocktails. Perfectly shucked oysters. The newly opened Hank’s Oyster Bar Capitol Hill location had me leaving the comforts of my staple places and venturing into the unknowns of whatever non-NW is, not once, but twice, and on a weeknight no less. Yes, it’s that good.
As the Washington Nationals were beating the St. Louis Cardinals, me and three other guys, sufficiently lubricated on Stadium Margaritas and Coors Original, were planning our next venture. Geographically speaking, we all had our favorites. Being a Georgetown dweller, I suggested Four Seasons in the hopes of forcing my friends to buy me a birthday cigar we could enjoy on their patio. Another, residing off the feverishly popular 14th Street corridor suggested a neighborhood favorite dive-bar, that offered the lure of Big Buck Hunter – a video game with large plastic orange shotgun. I was listening. While another in the group, living in Kalorama, was passively content on going wherever we wanted to go. Alas, the silver lining awoke as our Capital Hill residing comrade suggested the recently opened Hank’s Oyster Bar which is a short cab ride from the National’s Stadium. Anticipating oysters and not much more, we were en route.
Hank’s Oyster Bar is no stranger to DC. Opened in 2005, Chef Jamie Leeds opened the original Hank’s in DC’s Dupont Circle location. The 65-seat restaurant served drones of locals and tourists alike (thank you Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern) everything from lobster rolls to oysters. It’s a good place and I generally steer toward it if in the area and the line isn’t out the door. So I was eager to try their new Capital Hill location, and since I happened to be at a baseball game, which is near the Hill, it was likely the one in 27 year shot I had of actually going out in this part of town on a weekday.
We approached the glass front, very modern yet extremely simple front and I was very pleased. Inside the glass floor-to-ceiling windows (which appear to open) were a few small wooden tables with patrons enjoying varied seafood dishes and cocktails. It was about 9:30pm so not a child or tourist in side, I grew happier.
The prominent feature is a very long white/grey granite bar that when contrasted to the stainless steel bar tools and fixtures and dark wooden bar chairs gave off an elegant but inviting vibe. Upon finding bar seats, we perused the menu and all agreed on the general theme of the evening – there would be oysters, and we would be ordering from the cocktail menu, something very out of character for a group whose usual drinks (I kid you not) consist of a headie, preferably locally made IPA, Pernod on the rocks, an Old Fashion, and either a white wine or Heineken. However, when we noticed the row of various plants, herbs, and other delicious things that go in cocktails, we narrowed our decision and went with the “Hanky Panky.” I know, I know, trust me, I know. But it was beyond good. Gin, and house made citrus-sage soda water. Tall glass. Ice. Simple, refreshing, and delicious. At least five rounds of these were consumed.
Adding on top of ball park beverages, we needed sustenance post haste. We wanted oysters in August. This means they needed to come from somewhere cold. Delighted to see British Columbia varieties on the menu, two dozen were ordered and quickly devoured. Clean, salty, expertly shucked. Some of the best I’ve had in DC.
Feeling as if “real” food needed to be ordered, and being an adventurous bunch, we ordered a braised beef short rib stuffed calamari (think whole, tubular body, not small rings). The dish was surprising spectacular. The short ribs were braised perfectly, and were flaky, salty, and stood up to the grilled calamari exterior. It was a perfect marriage of meat and seafood.
Continuing our squid adventure, we ordered a chilled grilled squid salad. Apart from grilled squid, the rest of the ingredients were a bit muddled and in Hank’s defense, many brain cells have been vaporized at this point. However, it was tasty, but not that memorable. Back to the oysters we thought, and another two dozen were ordered (the oysters were seriously that good).
All in all, we were the last patrons left at closing time, midnight, with birthday shots being generously poured by the two very friendly and kind bar tenders, chairs being stacked around us, our bellies full and memories fading, we left. Only to return the next night after another ball game for a repeat – this time, we brought more people.
Hank’s on the Hill may very well have broken the curse and I plan to venture back often – day of the week be dammed.
Where: Hank’s on the Hill, 633 Pennsylvania Ave SE, DC 20003. Website.