Vive L'Enfant!

L'Enfant Cafe co-owners Jim Ball and Christopher Lynch on a decade of whipping up playful passion -- and expanding the empire

MW: You’ve also got the Bastille Day Bash. Is that the biggest Bastille Day celebration in D.C.?

LYNCH: In North and South America, probably. It started as a patio party, that was it. It organically grew, every year, doubled in size to the point where the ”French Maid Race,” there were 600 people watching this, blocking traffic for 10 minutes.

BALL: I think I bought 900 linear feet of fencing to box the party in. Now we’re up to 4,000 feet. The second year, we had lines around the block to get in.

MW: What role has L’Enfant Cafe had in changing D.C., or maybe just this corner, over the past decade?

LYNCH: We’ve put our foot out there and helped push the envelope a little bit. I once had someone tell me, an editor of a big magazine here in town, when I was thinking of doing the La Boum concept, ”Oh, it will never happen. In D.C., it will never work.” Well, you know what? That only makes me want to try even harder, because it’s a challenge.

BALL: I think people are people, and given the right invitation to come play, those who want to will show up and play. Maybe what was lacking [in D.C.] was the invitation. We just wrote the invitation, and people said, ”Yeah, I’ll go to that party.” I don’t think it’s because D.C. people are more or less conservative than New Yorkers. I think it’s just having the invitation.

MW: How do you top all of this to mark your 10-year anniversary?

BALL: The announcement is that we’re going to open for lunch, Monday through Friday. It’s a factor of how the neighborhood has changed for the better. That’s a pretty big announcement for us.

Christopher and I want it to be done right, so we are going to be server and bartender as a team during lunch. That should be a floor show itself. We’ll see how long that survives. [Laughs.]

LYNCH: We will briefly mention that in this 10th year we’re working on a new venue. It won’t be a ”L’Enfant brand,” but it will be a ”L’Enfant brain.” It’s not inked, but it may possibly happen in the fall as a large venue on H Street NE. It will contain two venues within one venue. One is a theater, much like a [Café] Carlyle meets the Kit Kat Club. The other will be a dance hall. Just as we brought dining to a different place in D.C. – dinner theater, so to speak – this will be a nightclub taken up to a Las Vegas style. We won’t do anything that doesn’t excite us, so it will be Vegas-Cirque do Soleil style.

BALL: We’re going to dig up Pierre L’Enfant and bring some drama to H Street.

LYNCH: It’s still a concept, but we’ve got the boards out. Every time we get the boards out, we’ve put it together.

BALL: Keep your eyes open for an announcement. The news here for L’Enfant is we’ve been known for lots of fun parties, for the nice patio, a decent menu. We brought in a new chef to make the menu more dynamic – though still approachable, cost-wise. We’ve enhanced our patio with an awning, really beautiful furniture. And for the Bastille Day Bash, happily we are once again partnering with US Airways to offer as the grand door prize two roundtrip tickets to Paris, maybe more.

We are fundamentally, at our heart, a café for the drinking and dining experience. Then we have these events to enhance the experience, to put a fresh face on the experience. It’s dinner and show – which could be Joey Arias, people dancing on the chairs, or people walking on the street. We are a mom-and-pop shop. It’s our investment, our sweat, our personality – hopefully. You’re sort of in our house, and you’re welcome to be. It’s an honor, and we’re happy to do it.

L’Enfant Cafe & Bar is participating in Dining Out for Life, Thursday, April 25, as a 50 percent donor. L’Enfant Cafe is located at 2000 18th St. NW. For more information, call 202-319-1800 or visit lenfantcafe.com.

Watch a video of L’Enfant’s chef Leo Morales prepare pan-seared trout and eggplant ratatouille at MetroWeekly.com/foodwise.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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