When opening a new restaurant, location is key. An attractive menu is also on the top of the list, but the ambiance you provide for your guests is equally important. Overlooking the Potomac River in Alexandria, VA, is Blackwall Hitch, the newest addition to the Torpedo Factory Food Pavilion. The 10,000-square-foot space, which is a spin-off of the owner’s first location in Annapolis, MD, incorporates upscale and contemporary furniture, accentuated by different types of tile and stone products.

Embracing a nautical theme — with a feature wall inscribed with the first verse of Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean” — the Old Town restaurant includes three outdoor patios, fire pits, an oyster counter and a “crow’s nest” bar perched on the top floor. To renovate the existing space and provide an attractive location for locals, Dennis Burns, owner of Burns & Associates in Alexandria, VA, was enlisted. “[The design goal] was to give the building a brand new feel, to soften the harshness of the building by measures such as using wood to counteract the glass walls and to replace the metal roof, and to convey the area’s industrial character,” the architect said.

When designing Blackwall Hitch, different types of porcelain and mosaic tiles were employed throughout various areas. To sustain the city’s humid subtropical climate, porcelain tile was a viable option for many of the outdoor areas. One of the outdoor patios features 4- x 8-inch rectangular porcelain tiles from Mediterranea’s Chicago series on the floor, which emulate the authentic look and feel of Chicago brick. The City Mix collection of Chicago was also utilized, a decorative option offering 26 unique tiles that showcase a range of America’s most distinctive cities.

More than 4,000 square feet of tile from the collection was used, which replaced the natural brick that was in place. “Before installing the new tile, we had to tear out existing brick that was red,” said Randy Bowen, formerly of Floormax in Laurel, MD, who led a team of six helpers to complete the patio installation. “There’s also a parking garage underneath this patio, so we had to waterproof the patio and put a crack isolation membrane to resist cracking from the conditions — the heating and freeze/thaw conditions of being outside. We used a Ditra-Heat product [from Schluter-Systems] and installed it with a standard thinset.”

Adapting the design

Initially, the design for the patio floor called for a small ratio of decorative tiles from City Mix to the regular brick-shaped tiles in the Chicago series, which was ultimately altered as the installation was being completed. “It was decided with the architect that we would do a ratio of 10% City Mix brick tile versus field tile,” Bowen explained. “However, when we were making headway in the installation, the architect said he wanted more city-inspired tiles because he didn’t think there were enough. I wound up being short on the City Mix tile, so I had to order another 200 square feet to make it work.”

With a quick turnaround time for the restaurant, the only thing that presented a bit of a problem was the hot and humid summer weather that frequents the area, according to Bowen. “In the sunlight, the thinset was drying up really fast, so we had to work in the afternoons or sometimes wait until the sun went down,” he said.

Although the entire restaurant took about three months to construct, the L-shaped patio that spans about 100-feet-long only took about two weeks to complete. “It turned out really nice and the owners were happy,” said Bowen. 

Blackwall Hitch
Alexandria, VA

Architect: Burns & Associates, Alexandria, VA

Installer: Floormax, Laurel, MD (formerly Carpet N’ Things)

Tile Supplier: Mediterranea USA, Doral, FL (Chicago series)

Tile Installation Products: Schluter-Systems, Plattsburgh, NY (Ditra-Heat)