- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Redskins, Wizards, K Street lobbyists and techie types from Northern Virginia joined the club-roving Euro-Latino-Arab crowd to celebrate the new and enlarged Ozio last Thursday night.

As expected, the 12,000-square-foot restaurant and lounge at 1813 M St. NW turned out to be just as trendy as the old one.

The original, which opened a few blocks away at 18th and K streets NW in 1995, was the first to capitalize on the comeback of the cigar-bar and martini-lounge concept in Washington, and it prospered accordingly.

But times and trends are changing, and Ozio's owners, father-and-son team George and Steven Christakos, have stayed ahead of the curve.

"The cigar-and-martini gimmick did very well, but people have moved on," Steven Christakos said, pointing to the upper level of the two-tiered dining area on the second floor where smokers sat apart as they dined on jumbo gulf shrimp, grilled baby eggplant pizza and other specialties.

Nonetheless, Mr. Christakos, 27, is "all for smoker's rights" and won't hear of sequestering his addicted clientele in a fume-filled aerie closed off from the tobacco-free. If smoky wafts drifting over the open balcony into the no-smoking section below elicited any complaints, they were relatively few. People who choose to eat in restaurant-cum-nightspots have to expect a certain amount of smoke.

"We're not a place for asthmatics," Mr. Christakos admitted, shrugging his shoulders as he showed off a vaultlike, mahogany-paneled cigar humidor where dozens of fine Dominican, Honduran and Jamaican cigars were stored behind glass doors.

"We'll cut and light them for our customers, anything they want," he said, noting, however, that most aficionados bring along personalized utensils and perform their own lighting rituals.

What better place, Mr. Christakos pointed out, for wired and weary moguls to puff on a $35 Opus X, with a snifter of Louis XIII cognac ($120) in hand, than the adjacent Brick Room with its plush couches, fireplaces and "calming" fountain and waterfall.

Preferred customers and other special guests enjoyed touring the four-story premises throughout the evening. Many noted with approval that certain features, including the "Rat Pack" mural and the art-deco bar on the first floor, had been transferred from the old Ozio. Others drifted to the third-and fourth-floor VIP and V-VIP rooms, which are open mainly on weekends but available for private parties bachelor and otherwise on other nights.

Ozio is yet another anchor for the hot club district that has taken shape in the Connecticut Avenue and M Street NW area over the past few years. While rival Andalu, MCCXXIII, Dragonfly and the Eighteenth Street Lounge primarily cater to the 21-to-35 crowd, Ozio's owners are aiming to attract more mature customers as well.

Janice Dodd, a fortysomething veteran of such long-gone nightspots as F. Scott's and the River Club, seemed favorably impressed as she sipped a cocktail while admiring her reflection in the mirror over the second-floor bar. "Anyone over 30," she said, "knows that bad lighting can kill ya."

Ozio's engaging bartenders, she noted, also were a plus. "People come back for the 'bar stars' who know their customers and cultivate a following," Miss Dodd said. "They make introductions, listen to problems. It's make or break for a place like this."

Tom Quinn, a divorced lawyer with three grown sons, was another guest who saw Ozio as a beacon of light for his generation of partyers. A few years back, he said, he was disconcerted, to say the least, to find out that the Four Seasons Hotel was planning to close Desiree, one of his favorite watering spots, to make way for a gym and swimming pool complex.

"When a disco turns into a health club," Mr. Quinn said, "that's when you know the country is going downhill."

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