Regardless of its name, Bar Civita is much more than a bar. The first solo venture from former Liberty Tavern chef Liam LaCivita opens today in the former Murphy's of D.C. space in Woodley Park with an Italian-leaning menu that features homemade charcuterie, pastas, and cheeses.
One corner of the restaurant has a counter displaying a collection of simple antipasti, including a farro salad with a fava bean puree, lemon, and shaved pecorino. LaCivita is making charcuterie like a veal sweetbread terrine, a duck ballottine, a foie gras parfait, and a hot, smoked bresaola. He'll also prepare three types of sausages: one from the Italian region of Abruzzo, another from Puglia (where his family is from), and a third cheekily named the "Pittsburghese" with capicola and veal in homage to his upbringing in the Pennsylvania city. (You can count on the restaurant's two TVs to broadcast Steelers games when the season starts.)
Pastas—available in half or full portions—are mostly cut by hand, including gnocchi and spaghetti. One thing you won't find on too many menus is a yeast-risen pincianelle pasta that uses regular pasta dough mixed with leftover bread dough. "It's an old, old, old-style Umbrian dish," LaCivita says of the tube-shaped noodles. "It has a chew, but at the same time, it has this lightness... When you cook it, it kind of expands a little bit, almost like a bagel." LaCivita came across the pasta during a trip to a medieval town in Umbria several years ago.
Other entree items include a New York strip, stuffed eggplant, and veal and sweetbread parmigiana with homemade mozzarella on top. LaCitiva made up to 15 different cheeses in his Liberty Tavern days. He'll start with three or four at Bar Civita, including ricotta and goat cheese, and eventually build his way up. The restaurant will only be open for dinner to start but will launch brunch during Mother's Day weekend and eventually lunch.
Half the draft lines are devoted to craft beers, but you'll also find Miller High Life and Guinness. The wine list is predominantly old world with Italian, French, Spanish, German, and Austrian bottles plus some Virginia offerings. Cocktails (all $11) are riffs on classics like a ginger Manhattan or a French 75 with limoncello.
LaCivita kept the original tin ceilings, wood, and brick from the original building, which dates back to 1939, but he's added some art deco-style mirrors and considerably lightened up the place from its days as Murphy's Irish pub. For the summer, there's a patio with more than 40 seats. In the winter, there's a working fireplace. LaCivita says the building wasn't even really on the market when he first encountered it.
"I just kind of walked into it, if you will," he says. "Irish luck. I have a little bit of Irish luck."
Take a look at the dinner and drinks menus plus more photos of the space below:
Bar Civita, 2609 14th St. NW; (202) 588-1211; barcivita.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman