Villain & Saint—Chef Robert Wiedmaier’s new restaurant that opened Thursday night in Bethesda—is an idea years in the making.
Wiedmaier, a big rock ‘n’ roll fan, said he originally wanted to bring live music to his Mussel Bar & Grille on Woodmont Avenue. That didn’t quite work out, he said, after customers complained about the noise level.
But he never lost sight of the idea. He wanted to make a space that not only served great food and drinks, but also catered to musicians, who he wanted to attract to play their original music.
On Thursday afternoon, Wiedmaier stood in the new Wisconsin Avenue space as workers hustled around him putting the finishing touches on his restaurant group’s third Bethesda restaurant. He eagerly showed off the front window’s shades, which when drawn, proclaims “Live Music Tonight” to the motorists and pedestrians who pass the venue on busy Wisconsin Avenue.
“This has been an awkward spot for many years,” Wiedmaier said, referring to the high turnover at the location, which previously served as the short-time home to restaurants like Gaffney’s, The Majestic Bar and Grille and the latest casualty—Markham’s. “We had to do something that was going to be dramatic.”
The restaurant sits next to the Farm Women’s Cooperative Market and the now shuttered Pitzze Restaurant. Behind it is a surface parking lot.
But inside, the moderately renovated restaurant and venue resembles a techy dive bar—it’s complete with high-end audio equipment and televisions, but also has an intimate feel. Workers have removed the booths and installed tables, to open up the space. The long bar—which seats about 25—has been covered with stainless steel. The front stage has been made bigger and there’s a dance floor.
The walls are decorated with a psychedelic mural, a tribute to deceased musicians and rock show posters from the Fillmore and other venues. There’s a camera opposite the stage that will livestream shows to the venue’s website and afterwards the videos will be uploaded to YouTube. Half the televisions in the venue, including one at the outdoor bar and patio, will broadcast the show so patrons not near the stage will be able to watch. Speakers throughout the venue will play the band’s music.
The restaurant's menu is broken up into a “Villain” section, which features items such as slow-cooked, dry rubbed pork shoulder and a black angus grilled cheeseburger, and the “Saint” section, which only has vegetarian items like wok-fried Japanese eggplant and zucchini pancakes. There’s also bar bites such as deviled eggs and a grilled pimento cheese sandwich with bacon jam.
Will Murck, the bar manager, is crafting a cocktail menu of drinks ranging from $7 to $10 with names like Davey Jones’ Locker and Bye-Bye Miss American Pie. One of his signatures—house made Fireball—consists of rum infused with cinnamon and a pinch of red pepper. The venue also features an extensive beer list with domestic bottled brews starting at $4.
At the end of each show, the venue will blast Don McLean’s “American Pie” with a coordinated light show. Wiedmaier says they’ll also offer 20 hamburgers and 20 burritos for late-night snacks.
Chris Bruno, who plays in the venue’s opening night band The Lloyd Dobler Effect, helped set up the audio equipment. Bruno said he was impressed with Wiedmaier’s commitment to musicians.
The venue even has a subterranean green room for musicians in its basement, complete with couches, a flat screen-TV and a fridge for beers and other drinks.
“Robert told us, ‘I want everyone to be treated like a rock star,’” Bruno said. “That’s a breath of fresh air for a guy who has played 280 shows a year in some of the worst places imaginable.”
Opening weekend shows:
April 17 – Kelly Bell Band ($5 cover)
April 18 – The Paul Pfau Band ($5 cover)
April 19 – St. Andrews Jazz Trio (no charge, Sunday brunch)
Villain & Saint
7141 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda