The doors of Jackson 20, named for Andrew Jackson and the currency he graces, open to a burnished pig.
Nearly life-size and reflective of the excellent lighting, the metal pig glows, and as the night wears on and the flow of bourbon carries forward, more than one hand lovingly caresses it. Who can resist such a fine pig?
One foot in the bar, one foot in the dining room, its snout poised in gentle greeting, this pig is no Wilbur. It is the symbol of a hip neo-Colonial dining aesthetic, informed by Alexandrias historic past and shaped by a dedication to locally sourced, organic ingredients; an icon for a restaurant which seems to be trying to approach its citys colonial roots and the regions Southern influenced foods with a sly and self-conscious humor.
The pewter plates, heavy silverware and shiny metal pig napkin holders that grace the very modern dark wood tables all bespeak an early 19th century tavern and would not be out of place around the corner at Gadsbys. In the shine from the open kitchen these touches of old-world texture are purely tactile- it is as if before you eat you must feel the heft of the colonial in the weight of your fork or as you free the napkin- and they are balanced with a modern, seasonal cuisine and an interior with easy elegance.
It is hard to shake the sense, however, that Jackson 20 may have more than just a touch of Gadsbys colonial savoir-faire.
With large windows that look directly from the bar and lounge onto King Street, the restaurant has by design more commerce with the street life of our city than most eating establishments, and with its mix of diners, travelers (Jackson 20 is located in the new Monaco Hotel and is operated by Kimpton), drinkers and powerbrokers it fills, as taverns once did, a variety of needs.
The bar may be populated with attractive people drinking clever cocktails (based on bourbon and whiskey the signature cocktails offer a broad range of ingredients including Maple Syrup and black currant jam and some, like the Virginia Gentleman, are nearly perfect), but the tables are packed with local movers-and-shakers like the Mayor and City Manager, or Laura Bush eating crab cakes with a friend.
Jackson 20 has quickly gained a deal of currency in Alexandria.
The buzz about its opening has been electric, but with great expectation comes some judgment. A restaurant named after money must be prepared to walk the line between the value of image and what you can buy for a dollar (or twenty.)
Jackson 20 is young still and the food uniformly uneven, although one can taste the quality of the ingredients in everything from the tuna to the oysters, the asparagus to the shrimp, preparations can be uneven and the dinner service is still working out kinks in timing.
One has the feeling, however, that Jackson 20 is striving for excellence and will get there soon enough.
There are odd traits to the restaurant that feel a little schizophrenic; in a restaurant graced with a classy pig, designed around local flavors and showcasing liquors that would make the Founding Fathers proud, why quote from Virginia Wolf on the thickly bound and charmingly bookish menu?
Odd, but then Andrew Jackson himself was never bound by convention; he gave us the Kitchen Cabinet, a group of strong allies that functioned outside of traditional bounds.
With a handsome pig for a drinking partner and a few Virginia Gentlemen under ones belt, Jackson 20 could easily be the place for such a gathering of like minds.