After nearly three years, the new Majestic Café in Old Town is winning awards for its architecture and customers for its food.
The restaurant was named as one of 2003’s top historic preservation projects by the Washington chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The award was presented to the architect, Mark McInturff; the owner, represented by chef Susan McCreight Lindeborg and the builder, Bonitt Builders, represented by Murray Bonitt. The jury cited preservation and extension of the restaurant’s original terrazzo floors, its use of period neon signs and historic features.
“I think this is a nice object lesson: all history is not 19th century,” one juror wrote. “We like the treatment of the rather simple spaces which are contemporary but recall what used to be there.”
The Majestic Café first opened at 911 King Street in 1949, after moving from its original location where it had been since 1932. The café closed in 1978 and was not reopened until May, 2001. The investors and the builder worked hard to maintain many of the original features of the building, including the original art deco façade, light features that have been crafted from original parts and tin ceilings from the original design.
“We have even kept the phone booth in the basement that was part of the old restaurant,” McCreight Lindeborg said. “Mark McInturff and his staff did a wonderful job working with the metal tubes from the original light fixtures that were over the bar. We have kept parts of them but they have a very modern feel.”
The terrazzo floors were a bit of a challenge, said the chef. “They were in great shape but we had to clean them and then work with a contractor to extend them into the back and our open kitchen,” McCreight Lindeborg said.
MAINTAINING AN open line-of-sight was also important.
“The thing about diners in the 1950s and 1960s, was that people came in to eat but also to meet their neighbors,” McCreight Lindeborg said. “We wanted to make sure that people could see the entire restaurant when they walk in.”
The restaurant seats only 72 people in booths, tables and at the bar. During off hours, the restaurant is sometimes used for meetings. “People call and ask to rent the entire restaurant for events during our normal hours of operation and we always say 'no' because it is important to our regular customers that we are open when they expect us to be,” McCreight Lindeborg said.
Like the old Majestic Café, this new edition has its regular following. “We have always wanted it to be a neighborhood place to come and meet friends,” McCreight Lindeborg said.
To that end, the menu constantly changes. It features what McCreight Lindeborg calls New American cuisine.
“We use very fresh ingredients in everything we make,” she said. “That means a lot of fresh vegetables and fresh fish in season.
“We’ve added a touch of southern cooking as well because we are in Virginia and south of the Mason-Dixon line. That means we use country ham in many of our appetizers and serve pork as a featured dish quite often. But we change the menu constantly so our patrons won’t get bored and so that our cooks learn new techniques. I’m in the process of making menu revisions again now,” McCreight Lindeborg said.