Iron Gate: The Story Behind Its Romantic Look

By Olga Boikess  |  December 17, 2013
Credit: Jody Brady

Michael and Catherine Hailey Babin fell in love with a building - the wisteria-sheltered courtyard and former stables below Dupont Circle that had housed the Iron Gate Inn for some 50 years before its demise in 2010. These restaurant vets - who were behind Birch and Barley, ChurchkeyEvening StarRusticoTallula, Vermilion and the recently opened The Arsenal at Bluejacket - thought the space would be a great fit for chef Tony Chittum’s dream concept. The former stables could be an intimate setting for serving an intricate Mediterranean tasting menu, and the carriageway and courtyard could become a lively, approachable bar/lounge with more casual fare. But first, they had to transform a 19th-century complex that was showing its age - there were 22 structural problems that had to be painstakingly repaired.

Their M.O: to “celebrate the building's eccentricities" while retaining its "cozy, old-world” feel. Thus, an unexpected little nook became a wine station, irregular bricks and unfinished wood in the former stable were left intact to give the tasting dining room a unique look, and the tall-walled carriageway and courtyard were dramatically lit by lanterns and candles to give the aura of a European castle. Read on to learn more design secrets of this romantic space. 

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    The original ironwork gates define the entrance to the bar/lounge, which is set in the former carriageway leading to the stables.

  • The Babins wanted the bar to be an outdoor extension of the patio, but also to be used year-round. The front and rear are only partially glassed in, providing ventilation and access to the kitchen. There’s cozy seating on either side of the bar. Heaters keep it toasty in chilly weather.

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    Anchoring the bar/lounge space is a huge, ornate antique mirror that the Babins found on Craigslist. The huge chandelier incorporates a vintage find from a Baltimore salvage house. The bar top is cast zinc, custom-made in Georgia, with a heavy wood base. Zinc, the classic Gallic bar top, takes on character as it is used, the Babins tell us. 

  • Credit: Kyle Martell

    Wisteria dating from 1875 dominated the courtyard and even grew into the building structure. The photo shows chef Chittum in the courtyard before the restoration.

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    The Babins, who have retained a horticulturalist to preserve the wisteria’s health, rebuilt the structure supporting it and built an awning for summer shade and rain protection. Candles, lanterns and glowing lights add romance.

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    Back in the day, what is now the tasting dining room was a ladies' tea room. The horse stalls, feed boxes and other stable necessities added a unique feel to the space even then. Now, a warm hickory-ingrained wood floor, new heavy beams and a ceiling sporting a peak enhance the room’s cozy rusticity. A huge hearth and fireplace remain a focal point of the room. Family photos from the chef and owners, an apothecary jug collection and other artifacts charm diners.

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    When the structure was a stable, each of the owners' three prize horses had a stall with a leaded glass window. Those were uncovered in the restoration and light up the space. One of the stall dividers is still part of the decor. The original wood wall adds a period accent.

  • Credit: Jody Brady

    A see-in kitchen and open prep bar showcase chef Chittum, who makes the most of the wood-burning oven. Dining room guests choose from four or six courses from a tasting menu. Local sourcing is his mantra, starting with preserves using the grapes grown on site. Charcuterie is another feature. The bar/lounge menu includes meze, pastas and a daily roast.

    1734 N St. NW; 202-524-5202