Lahinch partners (left to right) Ted Hughes, Barry Nolan, Christy Hughes, Libby Hughes and Frank Hughes Credit: Andrew Metcalf

It’s easy to forget you’re at a suburban shopping center after stepping inside the new Irish tavern Lahinch in Potomac.

The owners of the restaurant have transformed the space into a relaxed setting with reclaimed wood walls, a comfortable bar, an open kitchen and floor-to-ceiling windows that allows sunlight to stream inside.

The new restaurant, which replaces Benny’s Bar and Grill at the Cabin John Shopping Center and Mall, is owned by the same family that has operated the Irish Inn in Glen Echo since 2003. Lahinch officially opens to the public Wednesday for lunch and dinner service. The restaurant will also offer brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

“We’re trying to create the feel of a more modern Irish tavern,” general manager and owner Barry Nolan said Monday. Nolan is one of five partners in the restaurant along with Ted Hughes and family members Frank, Christy and Libby  Hughes.  Christy and Libby Hughes, who are husband and wife, opened the Irish Inn with Nolan as the general manager 13 years ago. Frank Hughes is Christy’s brother. And Ted Hughes, who is not related to the other Hughes, is the executive chef at Lahinch and comes to the restaurant after a long stint at the Irish Inn.

Ted Hughes, who cooked in Paris, Jordan and Napa Valley before settling into a home in Northern Virginia about 16 years ago, beamed Monday when he showed off the centerpiece of Lahinch’s kitchen—a combination wood-burning grill and rotisserie. The massive piece of kitchen equipment can spit-roast prime rib and whole chickens, while the grill that sits directly over the oak wood fire cooks steaks and fish at a variety of temperatures.

“It’s an absolutely beautiful piece of equipment,” Hughes said, adding that he only knows of a few restaurants in the region that have something similar—such as Mike Isabella’s Kapnos Taverna in Washington, D.C. Hughes said he’ll cook prime rib on it Saturday nights. His whole chickens are brined in Magners Apple Cider and then basted with a spiced honey glaze while cooking for about two hours on the rotisserie at about 300 degrees.

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The combination rotisserie and grill. Credit: Andrew Metcalf

The rest of the menu is similar to what’s offered at the Irish Inn. There are the traditional Irish lamb stew, bangers and mash, and Guinness-battered fish and chips. There are also plenty of American cuisine items as well as a variety of salads and small plates.

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The drink menu includes craft beer, wine, cocktails and an expansive selection of Irish whiskey.

The restaurant has two bars split by a wall—one has a pub feel with plenty of TVs and room to stand. In a room opposite the pub bar is a large stage where the owners will host live music provided by  the locally based 19th Street Band, Irish bands and jazz musicians. The more formal dining room area includes a second bar and an eight-person chef’s table with views of the open kitchen. Nolan said each section of the restaurant potentially could be rented out for private events.

The restaurant’s name was taken from a small town in Ireland, which is also home to the Lahinch Golf Club—where Christy Hughes is an at-large member. The owners took over the restaurant space in January and the renovations took about four months. Lahinch can seat a total of 185 diners, including seating on the outdoor patio, which Nolan described as an “Irish beer garden.” The restaurant employs about 45 people.

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Dining room area

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Dining room bar

Pub area bar

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Benny’s former owner Benny Fischer “hands off the keys” to Lahinch co-owner Christy Hughes

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Exterior of the restaurant

Daily specials and wood-burning fireplace in the pub bar. All photos by Andrew Metcalf

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