Owners of Shaw Tavern, 801 and Prost DC expand to Dupont Circle tonight with the debut of Vagabond, a dreamy new bar that taps into the team’s shared love for surfing, sandy travel destinations in around the world and the late actor Patrick Swayze.
Restaurateur Eric Heidenberger has completely transformed the former Rebellion space into a two-part venture that begins with a bright bar and dining room covered in whitewashed decor, pops of turquoise, leafy palms, floors in pebbles and tropical photos (1836 18th Street NW). The wanderlust continues in a globe-trotting menu featuring cuisines from Portugal (canned sardines and wood-fired shrimp), Hawaii (ahi tuna ceviche) and Mexico (quesabirria), with a cocktail program rich in mezcal, tequila, rum, and dehydrated fruits.
Downstairs, a surprise speakeasy called Swayze’s pays homage to the famous man on the team.
“We’ve all had an admiration for Patrick most of our lives, starting with Breaking point and Relay“, explains Heidenberger. The long layout lent itself well to a themed bar within a bar. “It started as a joke and snowballed,” he says. Vagabond partners include Frank Wilson, Alex Heidenberger, Dick Heidenberger and Michael Tobin.
The same brand of Utica Club beer a sweaty Swayze sipped while jiggling in a cult 80s movie dirty dance is served at the bottom by the bobbin. Coincidentally, a rep came into their German bar Prost with the hard-to-find lager from the New York brewery. “We wanted to get it and we didn’t know who bought it,” he says. (With its cinematic cameo, Utica Club’s fame is that it was the first beer sold the night Prohibition ended.)
Back upstairs, a paloma-like “Cerritos Beach” offers clarified coconut milk, mezcal, grapefruit, lime, and grapefruit soda. A list of island-hopping beers includes Medalla Light Puerto Rican lager and Maui Brewing Co.’s hoppy IPA.
One of Heidenberger’s favorite vacation spots is Lagos, a rustic cliff town in southern Portugal that he visited with his wife. “Wherever you travel, you connect with cultures by dining out and meeting people,” he says.
Vagabond offers diners a taste of Portugal via canned sardines with lemon and herbs, grilled toast and seafood butter and a fisherman’s stew brimming with clams, mussels, calamari, fish and shrimp. “We try to source from vendors who can get genuine supplies from those destinations,” he says.
A wood-fired grill cooks up whole fish, octopus and shrimp, and double-patty sliders hit the Hawaiian rolls of the king.
To start, the hours are 4 p.m. to midnight on Friday, October 14 and Saturday, October 15. Thursday joins the mix next week, along with extended hours from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends (Swayze opens at 10 p.m.). Daytime hours and weekend brunch (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) will come later.
Southern bourbon bar Rebellion closed in 2020, and Heidenberger purchased the entire building in 2021, which includes Larry’s dive bar next door.
Builder Matthew Shannon-Browne was commissioned to rehab the aging space, which included refreshed, expanded downstairs bathrooms with tiger-print wallpaper and smoky mirrors. A DJ booth and playlist connect to the same high-quality audio system used by Miami nightclub E11EVEN.
Heidenberger also plans to use Swayze’s as a private event space and host themed parties around its famous namesake. Recreate scene from Phantom with clay spinning lessons are just one idea.
“We can’t wait to have fun there,” he says.
Bali graphic design firm Studio Sedano set up Vagabond’s branding and menus. Here’s a first look: