"We always have this band from Virginia Beach come up that actually has some people in it that played with Marvin Gaye. [This year] we’ll also probably have three or four really good DJs that night playing Marvin-heavy playlists," Hilton reveals.
But that’s one of my favorite things about D.C., too—you do get this refresh of people with different administrations and even different Congresspeople. I do like that; it doesn’t get too stale with the population.
According to Hilton, both the restaurant's name and concept are as much an ode to D.C.'s history as they are to Gaye himself. "A lot of people at the time knew that Marvin Gaye was from the city and even went to Cardozo High School and, for me, when this restaurant opened, it was the blossoming era of people appreciating D.C. history and trying to figure out who's from here a little bit more beyond Duke Ellington. Now you have the Howard Theatre reopening and all of that," he explains.
Maintaining the city's legacy is as important to Hilton as preserving the background of places he renovates. In 2012, he opened Chez Billy, an ode to previous occupant Billy Simpson's House of Seafood and Steaks. The restaurant served as a pillar of the District's African-American community during the Civil Rights Movement, remaining prominent until it closed during the late 1970s following Simpson’s death in 1975. It was ultimately added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. For Hilton, connecting with a city's past is just as critical as becoming well-versed in its nightlife culture. However, he acknowledges that this is a challenging task given D.C.'s transient nature.
"It’s difficult for people to learn about [D.C.'s history], but that’s the thing about D.C.—you have so many people that just come and go," he says. "But that’s one of my favorite things about D.C., too—you do get this refresh of people with different administrations and even different Congresspeople. I do like that; it doesn’t get too stale with the population."
There’s been a great deal of discussion about D.C.’s multiplying population and the explosion of restaurants and condos along Northwest 14th Street, fueled primarily by the city’s "gentrification overdrive." Despite feeling like the area south of 14th & U might be getting too crowded, Hilton embraces the city's growth. In fact, he believes D.C. could withstand more people.
I personally enjoy the density because I still feel like D.C. is an underpopulated city.
"I personally enjoy the density because I still feel like D.C. is an underpopulated city," he admits. "In the '40s, there were 900,000 people here; now it’s like 650,000. It bottomed out around 580,000 or 550,000, and everyone is like, 'D.C. is growing so much,' but if you really look at it, over the last 20 years, we’ve only gone from like 550,000 to 650,000. That’s not blowing up."
Hilton's interest in city life developed as a reaction to his cloistered upbringing in the D.C. suburbs. "I’m pretty much an urbanist," he reveals. "I grew up in the suburbs. I always wondered why they sucked, and as I became an adult, I processed it and confirmed my dislike. All of my friends that are becoming empty-nesters want to move back into the city and I’m like, 'Well, why don’t you? You want to just die in your cul-de-sac?' You can raise kids in the sheltered environment, and then they go, and then you just die there. Come into the city—you can walk around, there’s probably a good restaurant, there’s probably a good store, and you don’t have to drive as much."