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The Hackney opens to the public

After two years in the making, The Hackney is taking reservations this week.

Housed in a long-derelict former bank, renovated through a combination of private and public investments, the staff of the fine dining restaurant and bar hosted a soft opening over the weekend, inviting friends and family to sample cuisine and drinks, putting the new eatery through its paces.

DINING ROOM: In what was once the lobby of the Bank of America Building, a dining area and bar stand ready to serve The Hackney’s patrons. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

Nick and Susanne Sanders, maiden name Hackney, met in the early 1990s while both were enrolled in business school at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He was from England and she from Washington. Falling in love, then getting married, the two moved to England to begin a life together. For 24 years, the couple lived and worked in London and Paris, each pursuing careers in multinational businesses.

Two years ago, with two now-grown children, the couple was looking for a change. The kids, now college age, had decided they wanted to pursue their studies in the U.S. Together, the Sanders decided to come back across the pond for the next chapter of life.

“Susanne was very clear. There was only one place we were going,” Nick Sanders recalls. “If we came back, it was only going to be here.”

Upon arrival in Washington, the two bought a house on Main Street and started looking for a project. With backgrounds in the food industry, they began looking at real estate downtown. That’s when they discovered the former Bank of America building at the corner of West Main and North Respess streets.

“It was kind of love at first sight, really,” Nick Sanders said.

RELIC OF THE PAST: A heavy metal vault door speaks to the building’s banking history, with a work station, a walk-in cooler and kitchen access tucked just behind the door. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

While the restoration of the building has progressed steadily, the vision for the business has changed over time. At the core, the two always knew they wanted to establish a gin distillery. Researching financial models, they decided a restaurant would help sustain the business. Mapping out the building, the pair began deciding where all the pieces of the business would fit. Looking at the food offerings in town, the Sanders decided that a fine dining experience would complement what the city already has to offer.

All that remained was to make the vision reality.

“We built a really great team around us to design and lay out the place,” Nick Sanders said. “We worked with Stocks and Taylor, a Washington-based general contractor to do the building work. Our philosophy has very much been to work with local people.”

In their meats, seafood and produce, the Sanders aim to stay true to that philosophy moving forward. The two have met personally with local artisanal producers and seen the places from which the food served at their restaurant will come. In addition to being locally grown, raised or caught, Nick Sanders says visitors to the restaurant can expect dishes to be seasonal, eclectic and inspired by a team of inquisitive chefs eager to expand their horizons and try new things. Head chef Jamie Davis and sous chef Lloyd McKissick have both traveled extensively in their work, cooking in a variety of environments.

“This place is kind of a statement about us, and our history is about the south and about London,” Nick Sanders said. “If you take what’s great about London, it’s the energy you get from a big global city. London is a melting pot of people from different parts of the world and the London food scene is really driven by that. … Our propositions is about bringing that kind of London excitement and creativity and melding it with a kind of southern warmth and hospitality to create something really cool.”

TOP SHELF: In addition to world-class cuisine, The Hackney will also serve a variety of signature cocktails. A gin distillery is still in the works at the site, and a variety of liquors, wines and craft beers will cater to all tastes. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

When it comes to traditional English spirits, Nick Sanders says nothing is quite as quintessentially “London” as gin. A 13-seat bar stocked with liquors, wines and a rotating selection of craft beers welcomes those who want to stop in for a drink without reservations. While the restaurant and bar are open for business, work continues in the distillery room.

“Like our dinner menu, our cocktail menu is going to be based on the same principles — local, seasonal and always changing.” Nick Saunders said. “Gin is going to be our thing, so there will always be a real strong kind of gin theme to it, but we’re going to work with all the major spirits.”

Looking at the Hackney in the broader context of Washington, the restaurant is part of a larger movement of revitalization and development in city’s downtown. Financially, the restoration of the Bank of America building has been made possible through a combination of private and public funds. More than $1 million has been invested in the property, with a $200,000 grant coming in the form of a Main Street Solutions Fund with the help of the City of Washington and the Washington Harbor District Alliance. Financing assistance has also come through First Bank and the Mideast Commission.

The Hackney is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 5:15 to 11 p.m., with a goal of adding brunch in the future. Reservations can be made via email at reservations@thehackneydistillery.com.