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Gelberg Brands Hip Washington, DC Restaurant With Striking Blade Sign

(April 2014) posted on Fri Mar 28, 2014

Noted restaurateur Aaron McGovern helps develop Alphonse sign concept

By Guy Brami

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Guy Brami co-owns Gelberg Signs (Washington, DC) with his brothers, Luc and Neil. For more information, visit

Even non-foodies know about Aaron McGovern’s first restaurant, the world-renowned Russia House, located in Washington, DC’s historic Dupont Circle, or his second venture, the Biergarten Haus, a German-style, beer-garden bar and restaurant located in DC’s trendy H St. district.

When McGovern approached us about designing and fabricating a sign for his third restaurant, we jumped at the chance. Alphonse, an Italian market and osteria (a wine bar that serves small plates of food), resides on Washington’s hip, historic U St. We love this kind of project; this sign will become part of this city’s iconography. Built for a prominent restaurateur, this sign will be seen by residents and tourists nationwide.


The plan
The Alphonse sign project posed many challenges. The new restaurant sits below the iconic Duke Ellington mural in the heart of the neighborhood. Across the street sits the historic Lincoln Theater and another D.C. dining fixture, Ben’s Chili Bowl. Thus, the project had to stand out amidst other prominent signs. We felt uniquely positioned to handle this project. Gelberg also built the signage for the Lincoln Theater and Ben’s Chili Bowl, so we have an appreciation for, and strong connection to, the community.

Gelberg’s initial design was inspired by a hand-drawn sketch McGovern provided. The rendering depicted a double-faced blade sign with marquee-style lighting. He wanted something that would fit the character of the neighborhood while utilizing classic Italian design and the red, white and green of an Italian flag.
We pursued McGovern’s blade-sign shape, but abandoned the marquee-bulb concept.

Instead, we developed the sign’s composition to feature exposed-neon border tubing and channel letters. We complemented this with an LED-backlit section. After a few minor tweaks, Gelberg settled on its final design and obtained a permit from the city building and D.C.’s historic-preservation office. Given the Capital City’s dedication to preserving its history, it has exacting standards for maintaining the city’s architectural integrity.

Fabrication and installation challenges were initially addressed while designing the sign. Internal engineering reviews primarily assessed the project’s electrical issues. Planning how to anchor the sign to a 120-year-old building also required careful consideration.


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