Words by Kaylee Dugan
Photos by Clarissa Villondo
2337 18th St NW has gone through a few different personas in the last couple years. For 15 years it was Pharmacy Bar, a well known watering hole and respite for many who needed a break from the lunacy that was Adams Morgan in 2010 (think more shitty bars, more underage students and more vomit). Then it was The High Dive, a no frills beer and a shot kind of place. We did a First Look at The High Dive when it opened in 2015. I never went, but it seemed casual and fun. The kind of place you’d imagine would succeed in Adams Morgan, but for whatever reason, it didn’t. Now the space has gone into it’s third iteration. Say goodbye to High Dive and hello to Grand Duchess.
Grand Duchess maintains a lot of the same qualities that its predecessors had, mainly, it’s a clean, basic sort of bar. Owners Vinnie Rotondaro and Rory Adair have never owned a restaurant before, but Adair has service industry experience from the Bell House and other New York bars. Their goal is simple, they want to make the Grand Duchess a neighborhood craft cocktail bar. Not as rowdy as Jack Rose, but a little more refined than what you would have been able to get before at The High Dive.
Right now, their cocktail menu is small, featuring rum, bourbon, tequila and vodka cocktails, but they also have a small list of beers and wines available as well. Their menu is made to not overwhelm, just simple drinks prepared with thought. Besides the booze menu, there is an equally paired down food menu with snacks like olives, almonds, charcuterie boards and most importantly, a selection of grilled cheese.
You might notice that besides from a fresh coat of paint and some sweet new paintings and knick knacks, not much has changed in the space since its High Dive days, and you’d be right. Adair and Rotondaro are in their pop-up phase right now, but they have big plans to renovate the bar, including doubling the bar space. For now, their main goal is to be your new go to. They’re running this bar DIY style, which means they have no secret investors looking over their shoulder. They’re willing to play around depending on what the neighborhood wants. While I was there, they chatted excitedly about having movie nights and doing more with the jukebox.
Before I left, they told me about a patron that had come in and remarked, “This is a place I could take a date or my mom.” That’s the kind of spot they are… Whatever you want them to be.