Housing Complex

Walter Gagliano Runs Hot & Cold On Policy

Walter Gagliano is an interior designer who has designed 25 restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area. Tonight, he’s accompanying Young & Hungry columnist Tim Carman on a whirlwind architectural tour of District eats to reveal which offerings are hot and cold, off the menu.

Policy, 1904 14th St. (202) 387-7654

Cold: Policy's unmarked entrance can make Policy's first impressions a bit unmemorable. "When you first walk in, it's a little cold," says Gagliano. "There are chartreuse-colored walls, a utilitarian stair-case, and a hostess stand on the inside—it's like you're going into a closed nightclub. It gives no impression at all of what you're walking into. It's a shame, becuase once you walk in through the second door, it all becomes very cool."

Hot: Policy's decades-spanning pop design appeal is beyond eclectic—it's clashing. To Gagliano , that's a good thing. "The more clashing the better these days," he says. A stroll through policy's restaurant, bar, and lounge areas conjures up a lot of culture clash, from "Rat Pack Las Vegas to "80's glam" to "the Sputnik-glam of the 50's and 60's," Gagliano says. Thankfully, everything is "filtered through a 21st-centure sensibility," he says. "There is nothing undone here. It's very designed. It's all very different, but all very controlled. I mean that in the best way."

Once past the entrance, guests are greeted with a dining room that could be home to both Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, Gagliano says. "You walk into a room that's almost totally black with red accents and reflective surfaces that stop it from being dungeon-y," Gagliano says. The inviting lounge area also plays with dark glam, in red patent-leather and black crocodile-like apholstery that Gagliano calls "very 1959 Cadillac." Upstairs, says Gagliano, "it's not a restaurant anymore—it's a club." A staircase leads to loungy booths, chain-mail curtains, crystal chandeliers and New York-style subway graffiti gracing the walls. "It has a very high-energy vibe," Gagliano says, one that might even outshine Policy's downstairs set-up: "It looks like it should have its own name."

Like Cork Wine Bar, Policy flirts with "cold" again with its lighting scheme—what Gagliano calls "weird little glaring headlights" that he suspects "could make customers feel like a deer-in-the-headlights." Policy softens the glare "by adding an incongruous element to each table—fresh flowers in small vases to block and diffuse the light," Gagliano says. The floral displays prove a potent counterpart for the road-kill lighting: "It works pretty successfully," he says.

Reporting by Tim Carman

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