The carriage house at 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE once sheltered horse-drawn ambulances for the nearby naval hospital, which President Abraham Lincoln commissioned during the Civil War. In fact, you can still see the hay chutes that fed the horses built into the brick walls. But now, the stable has been converted into a lounge area with couches, and the only feeding involves biscuits and beignets. The place has made a rather dramatic transformation as the second location of chef David Guas' New Orleans-themed Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery, which opened today with a limited menu and limited hours. The restaurant will be fully open by Friday.
"For the first time, it's not all about the food," Guas says. "It's really about telling a story and a sense of place."
The city of D.C. actually owns the property and leased it to the Old Naval Hospital Foundation, which operates the Hill Center, an arts, culture, and education hub. Bayou Bakery subleases the recently vacant building from the Old Naval Hospital Foundation.
Guas has tried to incorporate the history of the building into the restaurant as much as possible with nods to its equestrian past, the naval hospital, and Lincoln. The "feed room," for example, is outfitted with saddles and a light fixture with a quote from Lincoln—"I can make generals but horses cost money"—carved into the metal. A coffee table in the middle of the room is made out of an old door from the naval hospital that Guas personally refurbished. "I sort of dabble in carpentry and love building things with my own hands," he says. "Had I not been cooking for a living, I'd be doing some sort of woodwork or welding." Meanwhile, old hospital ledgers have been decoupaged in the women's restroom. The men's room is plastered with old articles about Lincoln and the Civil War.
At the same time, Guas' New Orleans roots are still present with touches like an illuminated "NOLA" sign and a communal table made of reclaimed barge wood from Louisiana. In preparation for the restaurant's opening, Guas took a road trip from Virginia to New Orleans and picked up various knick-knacks that now decorate the space.
Like the Arlington location, expect to find staples like gumbo, pimento grilled cheese, and the "muff-a-lotta." "We'll have some very subtle differences between the menus, and that's because we built a kitchen from scratch up here as opposed to inheriting one that we had to work around," Guas says. The new Bayou Bakery now has two fryers—one dedicated exclusively for beignets and another for other fried dishes like hush puppies or po' boys. "I also don't want my menu, just because I can, turn into a fried menu," he says. In Arlington, the only fried items are beignets.
An old Clinique display case holds pastries like scones, croissants, and cinnamon rolls. (Gluten-free baked goods are available, too.) A pour-over coffee bar will feature four different varietals on any given day. There's also regular drip coffee and espresso drinks. Bring your own mug—Bayou Bakery will collect them, and Guas is considering some kind of perk for anyone who contributes. In the evening, the drinking vessel of choice is the mason jar, which is used for cocktails. The bar will also serve six or seven wines by the glass and bottle plus Abita and DC Brau beers.
It may be day one for the new restaurant, but Guas already has his eye on further expansion—eventually.
"Without being corporate, I'm trying to build a brand. I want to have a couple Bayou Bakeries," he says. "It's taken four and a half years to do a second one, so I'm not in it for the cheap, quick, let's-get-10-restaurants-open, obviously."
Take a tour of the space and check out menus below.