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Photo: courtesy of Bold Rock

Summer of Seltzer: Introducing the Fruity Flavors of Bold Rock’s Hard Seltzer

Virginia’s favorite cider brand is hitting us with a whole new level of refreshing. Bold Rock is releasing their new hard seltzer, delivering a clean, effervescent taste with all-natural ingredients at a mere 82 calories per can with a 4 percent ABV. Now if that isn’t great news for this summer of hard seltzer, I’m not sure what is.

Bold Rock’s release includes two flavors, grapefruit and cucumber melon, and they’re already working on phase two with a handful of more flavors heading into 2020. We asked Bold Rock Director of New Business Development Lindsay Dorrier about the inspiration behind the simple, clean, summer-themed label design.

“We wanted to note the healthfulness and create something that looked light and refreshing to reflect the contents of the can,” Dorrier says.

Virginians and Washingtonians alike have reached for the perfect sweetness of a Bold Rock Hard Cider where they can find it in local bars and restaurants, but the seltzer packs crispness and delight like none of their other ciders have.

The very first thing you’re going to notice is that 1 gram of sugar per serving, which makes a huge difference,” says head cider maker Ian Niblock. “Next, you’re going to notice how light and refreshing it is, and without having that sugar, it’s a totally different apple blend. It’s not going to be super acidic. It’s really well-balanced and super smooth.”

Toward the end of last summer, the Bold Rock team saw an opportunity to craft something innovative in the seltzer space. 

“We’re the only seltzer on the market, as far as I know, that gets the alcohol from apple and not a fermented sugar solution or something like that,” Niblock explains. “We had the added challenge of trying to make it clear and white and not look and taste like cider. That product development took a lot of time and was ultimately really rewarding.”

After working on it for 10 months, Dorrier is proud and excited to debut the new taste this summer.

“You’ve never tasted a cleaner finish than what you get with the seltzer, which is a testament to the quality of ingredients that we’re using and the way we’ve been able to approach the innovation process,” he says. “Side by side with some of the other options out there, there’s really no comparison because of how clean and superior our finish is.”

Whether hard seltzer is just a trend or the new normal, it’s definitely captured the hearts of non-beer drinkers and health-conscious consumers.

“The health stats are resonating both with younger and older consumers,” Dorrier says. “We’re hopeful that our product will place with people that care about what’s put into their bodies [and] want something low cal, low sugar, [and] made with all-natural ingredients [and] real fruit as the foundation.”

The grapefruit and cucumber melon flavors of Bold Rock Hard Seltzer will be available in local grocery chains across Northern Virginia starting June 10 with plans to expand to independent retailers in the District soon.

For more information, visit www.boldrock.com.

Photo: Deb Lindsay

Crafty Cocktails

It’s not always what’s on the inside that counts, and these craft cocktails are living proof. Whether it be ornately etched glassware, literary inspiration or food accompanying the rims of the glass, these drinks provide something both enjoyable and tasty to imbibers.B

Photo: courtesy of Dirty Habit

Black Oleander at Dirty Habit

The Ingredients: Tanqueray Gin, Bols Genever, acai, blackberry, fromager ash, citrus earl grey foam
The Design: Flowers, foam and fun color – this summer creation from Dirty Habit’s Drew Hairston is a triple threat of delicate design elements rolled into one refreshing drink. Plus, the intricate etching on the glass provide a perfect home to all of its refreshing ingredients. 555 8th St. NW, DC; www.dirtyhabitdc.com

Photo: courtesy of Truxton Inn

The BFG at Truxton inn

The Ingredients: Infused Brooklyn gin, cucumber, mint, peppercorn, Q tonic
The Design: Inspired by Roahd Dahl’s book of the same name about a big friendly giant, this drink is served in a goblet that gives you a full view of the peppercorn, herbs and citrus that color this literary cocktail. Plus, you can customize the liquor to mixer ratio by adding your desired amount of Q tonic. 251 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.truxtoninndc.com

Photo: courtesy of The Mirror

Classic Daiquiri at The Mirror

The Ingredients: Light rum, fresh lime juice, simple syrup
The Design: Jeff Coles, The Mirror’s co-owner and head barkeep, explains that this classic cocktail is served in a sherbet glass, providing an example of Bohemian crystal from the Checz Republic. The delicate glass adds a twist of elegance to any drinking experience with a style of etching called Queen’s Lace and a beautiful gold rim. 1314 K St. NW, DC; www.themirrordc.com

Photo: courtesy of Bourbon Steak

Fireside Chat at Bourbon Steak

The Ingredients: High West Campfire, English Breakfast Tea, walnut bitters
The Design: This smoky cocktail combination is both indulgent and refreshing, but what really sets it apart is the delivery – expect the drink to be hand-delivered to you tableside in a custom barrel. 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.fourseasons.com/washington/dining/restaurants/bourbon_steak/

Photo: Deb Lindsay

Bloody Mary + Bloody Maria at El Bebe

The Ingredients: Three Olives vodka (Bloody Mary), Jose Cuervo Especial silver (Bloody Maria), house made bloody mary mix, fresh lime juice, Bebe spicy rim
The Design: El Bebe is launching two variants of the boozy breakfast classic to accompany their new brunch program. While one features tequila and the other vodka, both are served in tall, embossed glasses and flanked by none other than a mini quesadilla. 99 M St. SE, DC, Ste. 120
www.el-bebe.com

Photo: courtesy of Kendra Kuliga

Drinkable Designs

“What I’m trying to do is provoke a reaction. What I see in the world, I’m trying to reflect that back.”

Michael Van Hall describes contemporary art as reflective. His work is found in all corners of the DMV, but not in galleries or on brick walls. Rather, it’s on shelves, in refrigerators and, after encounters with thirsty observers, in trash cans.

His canvas – no pun intended – is beer cans and he’s not the only artist dabbling in the craft brew world. As beverage options crop up around the city, one way for them to stand out is by having an aesthetically appealing product beyond taste.

Michael Van Hall’s Design for Stillwater Artisanal

“There’s a fandom around beer, kind of like music,” Van Hall continues. “It’s recognized as a venue for creativity. It allows and enables. In beer, the novelty doesn’t wear off because we’re always pushing.”

Van Hall has commissioned work for a number of breweries including DC Brau, Vanish Farmwoods Brewery and Aslin Beer Company, to name a few. He views each project as a chance to create art rather than branding, which allows him to take risks others may forgo.

“One of the primary things I tell them is you’re working with an artist, not a design company. You have to be ready to take risks and do things that are seemingly in contrast with good business. No board is going to approve what I do, but the customers will approve.”

Kendra Kuliga, 3 Stars Brewing Company’s designer, established her niche in the craft brew world by working on murals at Meridian Pint before moving onto posters, branding and labels. When 3 Stars founder Dave Coleman decided to begin bottling and canning their beer, he reached out to Kuliga to collaborate on the look.

“I wanted to see how the new craft beer scene was trying to identify itself as more independent and less corporate,” Kuliga says. “It was very clear that the canvas for a label was extremely art-friendly. You can make cartoons or intense battle scenes. It’s really up to you. It’s about finding a balance in detail and something that captures a customer’s eye.”

Unlike Van Hall, Kuliga works almost exclusively with 3 Stars as far as can design, so each creation carries an aesthetic she and Coleman developed and built from scratch.

“[Coleman] gives me ideas for what he wants. He’ll explain and then I’ll do the research and add details. There are label artists who are sought out for their art, but at the end of the day, I want to represent the people I’m working for. It takes a lot of people to come up with a beer and a label, and I want everyone to feel good.”

While Kuliga and Van Hall have made can design part of their careers, crating both one-off releases and year-round staples, there are other avenues for beer can art.

Image: courtesy of Maggie Dougherty

This month, DC Brau is set to distribute their third annual Pride Pils just in time for the District’s Capital Pride celebration. Like previous iterations of the limited brew, the famed beer company held a contest for what design would adorn the aluminum containers. This year’s winner was local artist Maggie Dougherty.

“I have been following the competition the last few years and I had a sketched design for the past two competitions, but I didn’t submit it,” Dougherty says. “With this year’s theme about Stonewall and its 50th anniversary, I thought it was a challenging mechanism to tell a story.”

Dougherty’s bright yellow design displays different colored flowers, each carrying its own significance, wrapped around an illustration of notable transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson. As with any artistic depiction of a weighty subject, Dougherty spent countless hours reading and learning. 

“I’m really honored to be the third design in this line, and I did feel the pressure to represent a community that I’m an ally to,” she says. “I wanted to highlight the life of someone who gave their life to this in a way I couldn’t possibly understand.”

But getting creative with cans isn’t exclusive to the craft industry. Pabst Blue Ribbon has held their annual Art Can contest since 2014 in an effort to inspire creative cans for their iconic beer. One of this year’s winners was DC visual artist Tenbeete Solomon, perhaps best known as Trap Bob.

“I was hoping to get my name in front of them, not even considering actually winning,” Solomon says. “I’ve never designed a beer can before but I am a beer drinker, so I’ve always wanted to.”

Her design will adorn 5 million of the company’s 24-oz. cans distributed starting on October 1. Rather than the traditional ribbon look, these special editions feature a more science fiction appeal featuring a spaceship and a large hand reaching out. 

Image: courtesy of Tenbeete Solomon

“Hands and space [and] aliens have always been major inspirations for me,” she says. “I wanted to really get out of the box and weird with my design, because I knew that was something not only PBR would appreciate but also people just walking through the grocery store. The design on a beer can is the most distributed form of branding for a [beer] company so having something creative, eye-grabbing and on top of that, supportive of the creative community, is the best branding you can have.”

Both Daugherty and Solomon indicate that designing a beer can was an enjoyable experience and one they’d revisit. Just as there are countless brewers behind the scenes working on new ways to bring you explosive flavors on the inside, there are now just as many hungry artists looking to make a splash on the outside.

Van Hall has noticed the growth in the medium and is on board for more people joining him in pushing the boundaries. For him, it’s justification for the work he’s become known for.

“It’s a magnet for artistic creativity and in a way, that’s very harmful to my business but I love it,” he says. “When I come up with a good label, it’s because I’m being pushed by the industry. There are so many people that are doing very good work, and that brings everybody up.”

Maggie Dougherty: @dockerty_creative; www.dockertycreative.com
Kendra Kuliga: @cielo.productions; www.cieloproductions.com
Tenbeete Solomon: @trapxbob; www.trapbob.com
Michael Van Hall: @opprobriations; www.opprobriations.com

Punjab Grill // Photo: Greg Powers

DC’s Vibrant Restaurant Designs: An Ode To Culture + Instaworthy Photo Ops

As we reach the halfway point of 2019, we’re finding that chefs and restaurateurs are prioritizing interior décor as highly as their culinary offerings. To some, like chef Adam Greenberg of the island-fantasy restaurant Coconut Club, “the décor was as equally important as the brand of stoves I wanted in the kitchen.” For others, like James Beard Award nominee Erik Bruner-Yang of Spoken English, Brothers and Sisters, and Maketto, it’s all about looking at space from a nontraditional standpoint. Here are our top picks for one-of-a-kind, stunning restaurant décor.

Coconut Club

Since opening in late January, Coconut Club has been on every single hit list in the city. Known for whimsical, island-style cuisine, a pup-friendly patio and summertime cocktails, the NoMa spot that’s just a stone’s throw from Union Market also happens to be an Instagrammer’s paradise. In keeping with its tagline “Vacation starts now,” you can walk into Coconut Club in the dead of winter and feel like you’re on vacation in Hawaii.

“My architects [at Edit Lab at Streetsense] did an amazing job of getting to know me, the concept and what we were going for,” owner Adam Greenberg explains. “Design Army did our branding as well as the exterior signage.”

The floating bar, the shamelessly grammable bathroom décor, the lush greenery and the adorable swing chair vibes all lend themselves to a relaxed, tropical paradise feel. The piece that ties all the little details together is a massive mural that covers an entire wall of the restaurant. Greenberg and his wife searched for ages to find the right artist for this mural.

“I needed something I could look at every day and not feel like I’d be sick of it in a year.”

Enter artist Meg Biram, who they reached out to over Instagram. A baby pink background lays a beautiful canvas to teal, blue and aqua palm trees and fronds, drawing palette inspiration from Coconut Club’s signature branding colors. The entire mural was brush painted by hand solely by Biram and took three weeks to execute perfectly.540 Penn St. NE, DC; www.hellococonutclub.com

Photo: courtesy of Kaliwa

Kaliwa

From Bad Saint to Thip Kao, Filipino restaurants are becoming all the rage in Washington. But Kaliwa, located on the Wharf, is a true immersive experience into Filipino culture.

At its heart, Kaliwa is a love letter in restaurant form. It embodies the love of a culture, the love of a grandmother’s family recipes, and the love between a husband and wife who choose to work together every day. It’s the concept of Meshelle (Meshe) Armstrong, wife to award-winning chef Cathal Armstrong, and was inspired as a call to remember the indigenous beauty of where she’s from: the Philippines.

“All the graphics and furniture, including our coco-shell chandeliers, came from artists and designers from various islands of the Archipelago,” Meshe says.

All across the restaurant and even in the logo, diners will see tattoo designs.

“These are represented as the ancient people of the Philippines, who believed that tattoos were a token of passage into the afterlife.”

A tattoo mark allows a spirit to be easily recognized and embraced by ancestors after passing to the other side of the veil. 

A large painting hangs above the chef’s counter, depicting a tattooed woman in repose. It’s called “Binukot sa banig.” The traditional symbols and the style with which they’re arranged on her body are from the central and western Visayan regions of the Philippines. Each of the individual motifs convey her relationship to her ancestors, as people of the Philippines believe that their ancestors’ spirits appear specifically in recognized animal forms. The fact that these symbols are tattooed on the woman signifies that their memories have been internalized within her skin.

Two other prominent paintings along the walls are of ancient Baybayin characters. These individually translate into Lakas (strong) and Mahal (love).

“The goal of Baybayin art is to strengthen unity within our community by telling the rich history of the motherland,” Meshe continues.

These displayed paintings are the works of artist Kristian Kabuay. On one side of the restaurant, white blossoms are painted across a teal backdrop. These depict the Salingbobog tree, which is similar to Japanese cherry blossoms but a native species to the Philippines.

Go for the incredible food. Stay for an illuminating lesson on a culture’s vibrant history. 751 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.kaliwadc.com

Photo: courtesy of Jennifer Hughes

Punjab Grill

Before its doors even opened, Food & Wine dedicated an entire article to Punjab Grill, calling it a “game-changing Indian restaurant.” The Penn Quarter restaurant’s approach to elevating Indian cuisine to a fine dining format isn’t the only aspect that makes it so unique.

“I wanted to redefine what the U.S. market thinks of when they think of Indian food and Indian fine dining,” says owner Karan Singh.
“I wanted to do traditional Indian food in a tasteful, classy and relevant-to-2019-Washington, DC way.”

Singh chose to collaborate with Amit Gulani of Incubis, Ayush Kasliwal of AKFD and Jose Toha of Grupo-7 to bring this concept to life. After realizing that the elements needed to set the scene were very specific, the decision was made to build the entire restaurant in Rajasthan, India.

“The whole thing was built there and then taken apart – the entire ceiling, the entire private dining room, the overbar, the stone structure – every element.”

The “Sundowner” bar with high-top food service is a low-lit, stunning structure of tiger marble. The main dining room is designed to reflect the royal saloon train car from E.M. Forster’s classic A Passage to India. Each table is pure marble structure, adorned with bespoke crockery and cutlery. Inlaid along the walls are gemstones reminiscent of the Taj Mahal’s stunning ancient craft of inlay work and marble carving.

Still, all that beauty pales in comparison to Punjab Grill’s pièce de résistance: the Palace of Mirrors. Guests are led through thick, ornately carved doors into a “palace of mirrors,” referred to in Hindi as Sheesh Mahal, where 150,000 glass and mirror pieces have been meticulously hand-laid across the entire room to create the same striking effect as the prominent Amer Palace of Jaipur.

In the center is a long, black table made from one singular piece of marble that seats up to 10 people. The table is set with Hermès dishes – the patterns on which mimic the pattern of mirrors on the ceilings – and surrounded by chairs that were each individually custom-upholstered by Peter D’Ascoli. Yes, each chair was designed specifically. So are the drapes. 

“It’s over the top but in a tasteful way,” Singh proudly explains. “It’s a lot to take in but it’s not sensory overload. It all comes together nicely.”

If your experience should take you to the bar or the dining room, you can always request a tour of the opulent Palace of Mirrors. Prepare to be wowed. 427 11th St. NW, DC; www.punjabgrilldc.com

Photo: courtesy of Service Bar

Service Bar

In keeping with its quirky vibe, Service Bar just added a wall-long mural to add brightness to the normally darker atmosphere. Co-owner Chad Spangler reached out to Henley Bounkhong, a 31-year-old, self-taught painter, on Instagram in search of something “different.” He was in luck as Bounkhong had just begun experimenting with a new style of painting.

“When I first went in to check out the space, I loved all the cool cups they have, the colors and the vibe of the space,” Bounkhong describes. “I suggested an octopus serving drinks because, having worked as a server, I feel like the octopus is the best representation [of] someone who has to do a million things at once. So, we ran with that.”

Bounkhong’s new paint style consists of multiple panels laid out, almost like the pages of a comic book. The Service Bar mural contains several separate paintings that are all ultimately connected through the tentacles of the octopus. Throughout are other little elements inspired by those cute cups Bounkhong loved so much.

“I felt it would be right to have cherry blossoms and the monument there to represent DC and then the rest of the panels were of flowers and nature. Everything flowed together naturally, and the end result was a little more than I imagined.” 926-928 U St. NW, DC; www.servicebardc.com

Photo: Rey Lopez

Spoken English

This standing room-only restaurant within AdMo’s LINE Hotel stole the hearts of the DC dining community when it opened early in 2018.

According to founder and chef Erik Bruner-Yang, “we always had the intention of doing Spoken English. It was originally going to be more sit-down, fine dining. When we got closer to opening, we realized it didn’t fit with who we are as chefs overall. So, we made a massive pivot to do the tachinomiya service style.”

Spoken English shares a kitchen with Bruner-Yang’s Brothers and Sisters. His company Foreign National worked with Design Army to create custom branding for the intimate space, like a bright floral wall that’s the perfect Instagram backdrop for the spot’s chicken skin dumplings. The mural is actually custom wallpaper that was designed specifically for the Spoken English space.

“When we were looking at the floor plan, we saw that there was enough space to do what we needed with Brothers and Sisters that we didn’t need an overly large kitchen. So we took that box of space to do something interesting and different.”

Diners can enjoy a variety of memorable, Hong Kong-style street foods while gazing out at Adams Morgan or watching the chefs run both restaurants through one small kitchen. While many tachinomiyas are more bar-style, this space highlights the best of the cooking that Foreign National is known for.

“Spoken English has its own unique energy that comes from the space, the style of restaurant that it is and the people that work there,” Bruner-Yang says. “It somehow all came together as a unique restaurant experience.”
1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; www.spokenenglishdc.com


Foodie Design Inspo

DBGB Kitchen + Bar

Chef Daniel Boulud’s “great bistro” concept in CityCenterDC holds a fun surprise for first-time visitors and an exploration activity for regulars.

“Daniel arranged to send all his chef friends a set of permanent markers together with an unadorned, plain white plate, along with a personal note asking them to customize the plate for DBGB [when it first opened],” says Michael Lawrence, executive director of operations for The Dinex Group. “Some chefs simply signed the plates, others drew pictures of their favorite ingredients and a few of them sent back designs that were quite abstract and hard to decipher.”

931 H St. NW, DC; www.dbgb.com

Espita Mezcaleria

Another Oaxacan-inspired spot with attention-grabbing artwork at every turn, each mural in Shaw’s Espita Mezcaleria was hand-painted by renowned Oaxacan artists Yescka and César Chávez as commentary on political issues facing the world. 1250 9th St. NW, DC; www.espitadc.com

Hanumanh

The highly anticipated new installment from mother-and-son duo and chefs Seng Luangrath and Bobby Pradachith holds more than a stellar Laotian menu. Cheeky murals in reference to the monkey deity that inspired the Shaw restaurant’s name surround the restaurant. These are also done by Henley Bounkhong.

“It was a super interesting project to paint because being a Laotian myself painting for Laotians, I actually had to do research and learn about my own country since I was born and raised as an American,” he says.

1604 7th St. NW, DC; www.hanumanh.com

Mi Vida

This 9,500-square-foot waterfront restaurant has a panoramic view of the Potomac River with its floor-to-ceiling windows. The Wharf spot’s design mixes industrial aesthetics with historic Mexican décor for a modern, elevated feel. The star of the show is the “Arbol de la Vida,” a 19-foot clay sculpture of the tree of life adorned with Oaxacan-inspired flowers and designs.

98 District Sq. SW, DC; www.mividamexico.com

Photo: courtesy of Junction

New and Notable: Bandoola Bowl, Cane, Chop Shop Taco and More

On Tap keeps locals in the know about the hottest new food and drink spots around town and the top culinary happenings of the month. Read on to get the inside scoop on what’s new and notable in the DC area.

New

Bandoola Bowl
Open: April 23
Location: Georgetown
Lowdown: The team behind Mandalay in Silver Spring has moved into the fast-casual game with a new Burmese salad shop named after two national heroes: General Maha Bandoola (or Bandula) and his namesake elephant. Bandoola Bowl takes the most popular recipes from the restaurant and gives them the bowl treatment. A staple of Burmese cuisine, the salads are all about texture. They start with a base of shredded cabbage and thinly sliced vegetables like carrots, peppers and onions. Each salad is customized with a star vegetable, fruit or protein like green beans, tomato, ginger, papaya, mango, fried tofu, steamed shrimp, grilled chicken or roasted pork. To finish it off, they are dressed in a mix of citrus and fish sauce and topped with toss-ins like fried garlic and shallots, crispy yellow split peas, chopped peanuts, and sesame seeds. The menu offers a curated selection of bowls, but you can also make each your own by adding protein or veggies. The salads can be made to order, or you can grab a ready-made one if you’re in a hurry. You can pair the bowls with naan-style breads plus seasonal soups and specials. End on a sweet note with a shweji: a Burmese semolina cake. 1069 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; www.bandoolabowl.com

Cane
Open: April 22
Location: H Street
Lowdown: After rave reviews of his jerk wings and smoked meats at Spark at Engine Company 12, chef Peter Prime now has his own restaurant where he can share his family recipes and the flavors of his heritage. The Trinidadian chef opened Cane with his sister Jeanine Prime, and the two are serving Caribbean street food paired with tropical cocktails. There is some overlap from the menu at Spark, but there are plenty of new things to try like cow heel souse and spicy oxtail stew. The most fun way to dine is with the paratha tiffin box, a stack of stainless-steel tins filled with curries – either veggie (potato, channa and butternut squash) or meat and poultry (beef and chicken) – and Indian flatbread. Street food classics like doubles topped with cumin-spiced chickpeas are represented as well. The bar is stocked with the Prime family’s favorite rums, which can be enjoyed with fresh juices made in-house or in Caribbean cocktails like the Carnival with two kinds of rum, coconut orgeat syrup, pineapple shrub and angostura bitters and the Purple Poison with white rum, sorrel-basil syrup and lime.403 H St. NE, DC; www.cane-dc.com

Chop Shop Taco
Open: May 1
Location: Alexandria
Lowdown: An old chop shop in Alexandria has gone from garage to taco joint. The original garage door and floor remain, the old lift is being used for table legs, the banquettes look like the seating in a classic car, the dining chairs resemble old-fashioned sports car bucket seats, and the plateware is reminiscent of hubcaps and mirrors. The rest of the mechanical operation has been replaced by knives and gadgets for a different kind of chopping. The menu mixes and matches various cuisines, fusing them into one. Choose from tacos like pork roasted in banana leaves topped with cilantro, radish, salsa and pickled red cabbage or quirky small plates like “fried rice” – cheese croquettes with huitlacoche and porcini mushrooms – and smashed avocado with pomegranate and za’atar. The casual spot invites you to order food at the counter and seat yourself. Beverage director Jon Schott designed the seasonal cocktail menu, using only homemade ingredients and citrus juiced daily. His current menu features variations on margaritas like a mezcal version with orange juice, agave and Tajín or the Garden Grove with jalapeño, mint, lime and cucumber bubbles. There are also twists on classic cocktails like the Corpse Reviver with mezcal, plus wine and beer including a house Mexican-style golden lager by Founders Brewing Company. 1008 Madison St. Alexandria, VA; www.chopshoptaco.com

Nicoletta Italian Kitchen & Brew’d
Open: April 19
Location: Mount Vernon Triangle
Lowdown: James Beard Award-winning chef Michael White has expanded his restaurant empire in DC. White’s Altamarea Group is behind Osteria Morini in Navy Yard, and now he’s brought Midwestern-style pizza and Italian “lunchables” to Mount Vernon Triangle. Nicoletta Italian Kitchen is an evolved version of the Nicoletta Pizzeria concept, adding house-made pastas, fried snacks like arancini and veggie fritto misto, three types of meatballs, and rotating parms to the menu. Pizza is still front and center, and the thick crust (made with dough fermented for three days) is sturdy enough to stand up to heaps of toppings like fried eggplant and mozzarella or thick-cut pepperoni and fennel sausage. The cooking is classic and comforting, evocative of the spirit of the Italian piazza that White aimed to bring to life. Next door to the neighborhood restaurant, you’ll find Brew’d coffee shop. An oval coffee bar is the heart of the compact space, serving espresso drinks, fior di latte soft-serve affogatos, cold brew soft-serve floats, DC-made snacks, and to-go boxes of Italian meats, cheeses and olives. Pastries and breads are made fresh daily, ranging from biscotti, muffins and scones to Sicilian pizza bread and ciabatta breakfast panini. 901 4th St. NW,DC; www.nicolettakitchen.com & www.drinkbrewd.com

Notable

The Conservatory at Gravitas
Location:
Ivy City
Lowdown: Chef Matt Baker already goes to great lengths to keep things Gravitas, but he’s taking it one step further with the opening of  The Conservatory, a garden café on the restaurant’s roof. The space includes 16 open-air seats surrounded by a functioning garden brimming with edible flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs in raised garden beds and hydroponic planters. Curation and maintenance of the garden is a joint effort between Gravitas and Up Top Acres. There are also 32 seats in a glass-enclosed bar and lounge designed to resemble a greenhouse. The rooftop will be open Thursday through Sunday for evening cocktails and bites, as well as brunchtime weekend service. The menu offers tartines, raw bar standards, cheese, charcuterie, cocktails, house-made pastries, coffee and tea. Of course, the food and drink menus feature seasonal produce, herbs and microgreens, much of it from the roof itself. 1401 Okie St. NE, DC; www.gravitasdc.com

Dinner Service at Junction Bakery & Bistro
Location:
Del Ray
Lowdown: Soon after chef James Duke joined pastry chef Jonni Scott and the team at Junction, they launched a dinner menu that extends the daytime coffee shop and bakery into a family- and wallet-friendly evening gathering space. Duke changes the menu often, but many of the offerings are Asian-inspired and there are several simple but quality family-style dishes designed to feed a crowd on a budget. Highlights include the Thai street noodle bowl with vermicelli, shredded chicken and red curry, the General Tso’s cauliflower, and the Memphis-ish slow smoked pork ribs with spiced honey glaze. Don’t skip dessert because Scott’s pastry selection is divine, from pistachio red fruit mousse to butterscotch eclairs. 1508 Mount Vernon Ave. Alexandria, VA; www.junctionbakery.com

Photos: Courtesy of Wolf Trap

Caboose Brewing Company’s Wolf Trap Summer Ale Makes Its Return

There is something about seeing a concert in the outdoors that makes a show so much more enjoyable. Maybe it’s because there’s more room to breathe and dance around, or perhaps it’s because an open-air show is a sure sign that summer has arrived. Whatever it is that draws you to an outdoor gig, the promise of new drinking options makes Wolf Trap the place to go this summer.

The music venue is prepping the rollout of the newly updated Wolf Trap Summer Ale, a fairly light pale ale made for easy summertime drinking in collaboration with nearby Caboose Brewing Company. The partnership has been going strong since early 2016, not long after Caboose first opened its doors in Vienna.

In search of a middle-of-the-road beer that wasn’t like anything else they offered, Wolf Trap Director of Food & Beverage TJ Pluck worked with Caboose’s co-owner Matt Greer to create a brew that used the venue’s outdoor elements to inspire the Summer Ale’s flavor profile. In early discussions, Pluck, Greer and Wolf Trap Executive Chef Chris Faessen would talk “about the Wolf Trap experience and what’s unique here.”

“You’re sitting in this oasis of trees in nature in the middle of the city,” Pluck says of the venue.

With the abundance of cedar trees, pines and Faessen’s bee apiaries in mind, the brew was born. As for changes to the batch available for the 2019 season, Pluck and Greer agreed to tone down the bitterness of last year’s recipe.

“We typically bitter with Warrior [hops], but we’ve reduced that quite a bit and introduced some Falconer’s Flight into the mix, which is another kind of aromatic hop,” Greer says. “But other than that, the base malt build has pretty much stayed the same.”

He adds that these changes will make the 2019 batch an ale that is more with the times but anticipates that the team will continue to tweak the ale as they go. While Pluck had long envisioned serving a proprietary beer at Wolf Trap, it was not until Caboose opened its flagship location that he felt he had found the right brewery to work with.

The timing was perfect as Wolf Trap was looking to focus their beer program on local brews, now including Starr Hill and Devils Backbone. Greer adds that a collaboration with Wolf Trap made perfect sense on Caboose’s end – as soon as he and Pluck’s team sat down to talk, the two groups just clicked. Since then, the national park and brewery have only grown closer.

“They are literally a mile-and-a-half down the street from us,” Greer says. “We talk all the time and I’m constantly going to shows. TJ [Pluck] could call me tomorrow and say ‘Matt, I love this beer I had a dream about and I need to make it,’ and of course I would make it for him. It’s become more of a friendship than a business situation.”

Not to mention that as a brewer, Greer is always looking for new projects to work on with local groups.

“Honestly, we live for collaborations. It’s a lot of fun.”

With the summer ale collaboration going so well, Greer and Pluck both mention there’s a good chance the collaboration could grow in the future. While nothing is set in stone, Pluck says the two groups have started talking about potential projects down the line – including adding more Caboose beer at Wolf Trap as the brewery has recently started canning their beer and using the honey produced by Wolf Trap’s bees.

“We’re all hyperlocal, we like participating in each other’s events and we’re just really blessed with having so many like-minded people in the area,” Greer says.

The revamped summer ale isn’t the only drinking option to look forward to at the park this year. Wolf Trap will also be offering Richmond-based Väsen Brewing Company’s Guava Otter Gose.

“[Väsen’s] beers are all named after animals because they’re all about the outdoors, which fits in with us being a national park,” Pluck says. “We’ll actually be one of the very few places in Northern Virginia to have it in cans.”

Devils Backbone’s new Hibiscus Hard Lemonade will be offered, as well as two new cocktails created by Wolf Trap – vodka-and-orange puree concoction the Blood Orange Breeze, and cucumber and Spindrift cucumber sparkling water combo the Cucumber Refresh. On the nonalcoholic side, the national park struck up a collaboration with Caffe Amouri in Vienna to create the Wolf Trap coffee blend – a mix of artisan coffee beans from Papua New Guinea and Guatemala – served hot or iced and sold in to-go bags in the gift shop.

Whatever you’re looking for in an outdoor concert venue, Wolf Trap has something for everyone with their numerous local drink options, natural beauty, and stellar lineup of bands and performances.

“There’s nothing better than great music [and] beer together in one place,” Greer says. “I’m just excited that we’ve got this national resource right next to us.”

Wolf Trap’s summer season kicks off on Thursday, May 23 with a three-night lineup of The Avett Brothers, coinciding with the release date of the revamped Wolf Trap Summer Ale. For more information about the venue’s summer season, visit www.wolftrap.org. For more on Caboose, go to www.caboosebrewing.com.

Caboose Commons: 2918 Eskridge Rd. Fairfax, VA; www.caboosebrewing.com
Caboose Tavern: 520 Mill St. NE, Vienna, VA; www.caboosebrewing.com
Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts: 1645 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org


Artist Picks

Concertgoers aren’t the only ones who like to enjoy a beer during – or before or after – a show. Check out what a few artists coming to Wolf Trap this summer like to sip on during a performance and how they celebrate post-show.

Lake Street Dive
Drummer Mike Calabrese

Favorite pre-show drink:

Honestly, water. Pee clear, sing clear, drink after.

Go-to beer on tour:

Some [members of the band] are IPA people, or NEIPA people. Others prefer something yellow, like a classic German lager or pilsner.

Post-show spot:

The bus! The venue usually hooks up the local stuff for us backstage and then we go into the lounge and ask the bigger questions about life, love and Game of Thrones.

Lake Street Dive plays Wolf Trap Saturday, June 8. Gates open at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $35. Learn more about the band at www.lakestreetdive.com.

Toad the Wet Sprocket
Bassist Dean Dinning

Go-to beer on tour:

I enjoy a Toad the Wet Hop Ale from Green Man Brewery. Either that or a nice, light Mexican beer like Modelo with a squeeze of lime.

Favorite pre-show drink:

I enjoy a shot of decent tequila like Maestro Dobel or Casamigos with a squeeze of lime – never heavy, always refreshing.

Post-show spot:

I always go to [U Street soul food spot] Oohh’s & Aahh’s when I’m in DC. Never miss the opportunity!

Catch the band at Wolf Trap on Sunday, June 30. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Learn more at www.toadthewetsprocket.com.

Photos: Trent Johnson

Behind the Bar: Neighborhood Classics

With DC’s craft cocktail industry on the rise and more and more mixologists digging deep in their bag of ingredients for new flavors, it’s understandable that some creations at local haunts might seem intimidating. However, if you’re in search of a place with a unique atmosphere and a laid-back list of offerings, Grand Duchess in Adams Morgan and the newly opened Jake’s Tavern in Shaw are two of the best, so allow us to take you behind the bar at two of the District’s neighborhood spots.

Grand Duchess
Co-owner Rory Adair

Lined up among the other rowhouse businesses on the Adams Morgan end of 18th Street sits Grand Duchess. Though the name conjures images of mystique and royalty, the location is much more subdued. Upon entering the building adorned with a diamond logo, you’re greeted with the look and feel of a 50s or 60s diner – complete with a jukebox, and assorted memorabilia and art adorning the walls.

“That’s what we’re going for – an old-time comfort you don’t really get anymore in bars – especially because we’re a neighborhood cocktail bar,” co-owner Rory Adair says. “We kind of just pick up what’s cool. The jukebox actually came from a diner that was closing in Southern Delaware.”

Owned and operated by Adair and Vinnie Rotondaro, Grand Duchess opened in 2017 and has since offered AdMo a lowkey place to enjoy vinyl, read a book or hang out with friends for a few hours.

“We’re rock ‘n’ roll vinyl nerds,” Adair says. “We play a lot of records. We have a jukebox full of 45s. I think it adds something. A lot of times, guests will see us put on vinyl and they’ll ask to see the actual covers.”

In fact, the first thing highlighted on the Grand Duchess website is the phrase “Cocktails & Vinyl.” The bar interlinks the two subjects whenever possible – from events and vinyl-only DJ sessions meant to bring in new audiences to cocktail crafting sessions in the “beat lab” inspired by music.

“Vinnie and I will be in here after hours, and we’ll just put some tunes on and figure out what the songs mean and how they translate into a cocktail,” Adair says when describing the pair’s beat lab. “The majority of our cocktails are named for albums. The Louder Than Love is a Soundgarden album. We were thinking something outrageous, and Chris Cornell had a very unique voice. We also have the Twin Infinitives – that’s a Royal Trux album, so we were thinking a little sweeter and juicier.”

Though music and cocktails can be intricate in nature, Adair favors a simpler approach to both. While vinyl collectors and cocktail aficionados can sometimes be intimidating, Grand Duchess is trying to pull in a laid-back clientele with a warmth and openness reflected in the decor and drinks.

“We like to riff on the classics because they’re the best. That’s pretty much our outlook on everything. We don’t get too crazy.”

Adair also has a list of canned beers, wines and happy hour classics, but he always encourages folks to try out one of their creations.

“I have seen a lot of people who otherwise might not have stepped into a cocktail bar who discover that [Grand Duchess] is approachable and cool, and maybe they’ll try a cocktail.”

Grand Duchess: 2337 18th St. NW, DC; www.grandduchessdc.com

LOUDER THAN LOVE
Yellow chartreuse
Gin
Amaro
Lemon


Jake’s Tavern
Bartender Jason Fellman

The name Jake’s Tavern sounds like a neighborhood spot that might be featured in a modern-day rendition of Cheers. Though you won’t find Ted Danson drinking a Pimm’s Cup at the bar, the casual establishment in Shaw has already found a niche since opening in late January.

“The thing we kept hearing over and over again after we opened the doors was, ‘We’re so happy you’re here,’” bartender Jason Fellman says. “There was an appetite for a simple, honest place that was doing things at a high level of service with a low level of pretense. [We’re] just trying to do things well.”

Unlike other neighborhood taverns, Jake’s is extremely bright with white walls and blue trim. The bar is lit by a large window, and the outdoor patio recently opened for warm weather months. The bar’s simple decor is reflected on the menu, which features a plethora of beers from local to national favorites as well as classic cocktails.

“We’re not going to have a ton of esoteric amaros on the list,” Fellman says. “We’re not going to be bending the curve with ingredients. When I go out to a cocktail bar and look at the ingredients list, I may not know some of them. As a consumer, that can be off-putting or intimidating and we’re trying to get away from that. We want you to feel comfortable with a nice, well-prepared Old Fashioned or a Tanqueray and tonic. We want to be as approachable as possible.”

Before the bar established its aesthetic, they wanted to put feelers out to gauge consumer preferences. There was no preconceived notion other than wanting to give locals what they desired most.

“[We have] a tremendous dexterity to engage,” he says. “One of our big objectives was to come here without being steeped in a concept, with the flexibility to be open to feedback from the community. There’s an effort here to simplify service and always be smiling and responsive. People love Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, and that’s where we want to be.”

The current menu features those classics along with variations on the Orange Crush, Martinez and Pimm’s Cup.

“I think it’s spirit-driven and season-driven. You’re going to see a lot more gin-focused stuff as we head into the summer. I’m not trying to show you something you’ve never seen before. What I’m trying to do is [make] what you like the best I can.”

Jake’s Tavern: 1606 7th St. NW, DC; www.jakestaverndc.com

PIMM’S CUP NO2 BOURBON
Pimm’s
Fresh-squeezed lemon juice
House-made mint syrup
Ginger beer

Jake’s Orange Crush
Vodka
Triple Sec
Fresh-squeezed orange juice
Sprite


Big Changes Ahead for Virginia Happy Hour Ads 

Have you ever noticed that happy hour specials outside of Virginia can seem a bit more adventurous than those in the Old Dominion? Starting July 1, that’s slated to change. After an embattled ordeal between the state and area restaurants – many of which had to alter their advertisements between DC, Maryland and Virginia – bars and restaurants now have more creative liberty with which to advertise their offerings.

Actual drink prices can now be listed, along with fun or alliterative drink special titles that allude to the type of alcohol on special. This will no doubt give businesses better ways to entice customers, and in turn give customers a better picture of what their favorite watering hole will have to offer in the summer months and beyond. There are certain things remain unchanged, though. Namely, you won’t find any happy hours past the witching hour of 9 p.m., and two-for-one drink specials remain off the table.

For more information on these changes, visit www.abc.virginia.gov/licenses/retail-resources/happy-hour.

Photo: Rey Lopez

From Mosh Pit to Peak Foodie: Outdoor Music Venues Step Up The Gourmet Goodness

Here’s a game: free associate “summer music festival.” Sunscreen, superstars, mud, Insta, #squadgoals…

Have you gotten to “gourmet mosh pit” yet? Didn’t think so. But that’s changing fast, and summer 2019 is set to be peak foodie season. The days of cardboard pizza are fading. Concertgoers are walking in with elevatexpectations, and music venues are responding with thoughtful menus that range from creatively healthy to Instagrammable decadence.

“The words extraordinary and unexpected should describe everything, including the food,” says Audrey Fix Schaefer, communications director of I.M.P., the legendary DC-based group that owns 9:30 Club and took over operations for the Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2004, waving goodbye to airline service-style food options. “We would rather err on the side of ambition.”

And ambition is absolutely the defining word for festival menus this year. Sean Kenyon, a globally acclaimed bartender and cocktail master, has been refining his processes for large-scale cocktail batching and is ready to debut his libations at Jiffy Lube Live.

“Well-executed cocktails are the result of well-executed systems,” Kenyon observes.

To make it happen, he constructed a system where the event bartenders are simply executing the final step: blending a spirit and a fresh mix.

“I look at it like we are opening a new cocktail bar every night in terms of experience expectations for bartenders, prep and visible instructions,” he says.

With a few spirits – tequila, gin, vodka – and a few mixer options that are all interchangeable, the guest gets to personalize the glass.

“We can change the ingredients within the system to maximize the guest experience without disrupting the overall operation,” Kenyon adds. “We are not just creating a cocktail menu. We are creating a system that lets us be nimble.”

Systems are also front-of-mind at Merriweather. I.M.P. ditched the previous corporate foodservice distributor – which according to Schaefer tasted like airline food because it was made by the same folks – and hired local caterers.

“We wanted the tastes of a neighborhood restaurant with an ambitious menu,” she says. “We want people to arrive hungry.”

In 2017, Wolf Trap overhauled its own menus and also broke away from corporate foodservice distributors; the venue now independently runs its own concessions.

“We took a major leap and selected a small, family-owned business that focuses on local sourcing,” says T.J. Pluck, director of food and beverage at Wolf Trap.

But well-executed systems still require a fresh feed of great ideas to execute.

“I’m a guy who likes change,” Pluck says. “We spruce up the menu every year.”

This season’s inspiration comes from a range of sources including social media, according to Pluck.

“Concertgoers love Instagrammable edibles that make people say, ‘Wow.’”

And people have a lot more exposure to strong flavors now, Schaefer adds, which means that spicier and funkier flavors are in play. Dietary restrictions can complicate menu planning but Pluck notes that “we always work hard to be sensitive and incorporate those into a concession stand environment.” Nearly all concert venues in the DC area now offer gluten-free and vegan options – something almost unheard of a decade ago at all but the most granola of festivals.

“I never thought that people would eat salad at a concert,” Pluck says.

So what can fans expect on their plates this summer?

“This year, we’re focusing on funky, fun, fair food that’s spiced up with flavors like raspberry and chipotle and funnel cake sandwiches,” is how Pluck describes the new menu at Wolf Trap.

Pluck is tapping into happy memories of growing up in the Midwest and enjoying Ohio State Fair food like elephant ears: funnel cakes, rolled, pulled, and topped with cinnamon and sugar.

“We’re always asking, ‘How can we do this better?’ and ‘What sets us apart?’ We’re always looking to raise the bar [at Wolf Trap]. For example, we’ll always serve hamburgers – but ours are made with prime beef and served on a top-of-the-line French brioche bun with arugula, aged cheddar and chipotle aioli.”

Over at Merriweather, Cathal Armstrong (of the legendary Restaurant Eve, and now The Wharf’s Kaliwa) has come on board as Merriweather’s food advisor.

“Cathal lives and breathes food creativity,” Schaefer says admiringly. “People will be coming as much for the food as for the performance.”

Guests will get to explore a menu that includes everything from freshly roasted, husk-on corn topped with Cotija cheese to a house-made jumbo lump crab cake on fresh brioche.

“They’re honestly better than in some fine dining places,” Schaefer says of Merriweather’s crab cake (her personal favorite).

Over at Jiffy Lube Live, in addition to fresh craft cocktails, fans can enjoy the buzzy Impossible Burger: a plant-based patty that bleeds and sizzles when it cooks.

“We have partnered with some great brands including Art Smith’s Art Bird, Questlove’s Impossible Cheesesteak, Guy Fieri’s burgers and new hot dog concept Dog Haus,” says Matt Rogers, Jiffy Lube’s GM and SVP for music.

“My personal favorite is the Art Bird Fried Chicken,” he says. “It is off-the-charts good.”

The folks who are overhauling menus and updating concert dining experiences are riffing off their own memories and tastes to create the perfect concert experience. Pluck is a musician and self-described band geek who says his dream job is working at Wolf Trap; he channels epic memories of concerts with Genesis (the 1992 reunion tour at Cleveland Stadium), The Police and Muse. 

Rogers finds the most fulfilling part of the job to be a providing people with an escape for two hours. Kenyon is also a musician; he pursued band life before committing himself to becoming one of the greatest bartenders in America, and his ideal festival night inspires his Jiffy Lube menu.

“It’s right at dusk, your favorite band is just coming on, the day is fading, your drink is complex and you’re surrounded by friends. Perfection.”

Learn more about the elevated fare and summer lineups at these three venues below.

Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Dr. Bristow, VA; www.livenation.com/venues/14407/jiffy-lube-live

Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

What’s On Tap: May 2019

Greetings, beer nerds! As you likely know, there are a number of fantastic spots in the DMV where you can grab a pint, and their menus are always evolving and adapting to your tastes. If you’d rather avoid the guessing game, check out what’s coming up at a few of these fine establishments.

THURSDAY, MAY 2

Caboose’s Fourth Anniversary Beer Dinner
Don’t miss this spring beer dinner in honor of Caboose Brewing Company’s fourth anniversary. The evening will include a five-course meal and beer pairing created by executive chef David Rabin and Caboose’s wonderful brewing team. 7:30 p.m. Tickets $75. Caboose Brewing: 520 Mill St. NE, DC; www.caboosebrewing.com

The Kapittel Farewell Party
Join The Sovereign as they bid a fond farewell to the beers of Kapittel. On this day, they will feature five classic ales from Watou, Belgium. All Kapittel beers will be priced individually by the glass and in 4-oz. tasting pours. 5-11:30 p.m. Free to attend.The Sovereign: 1206 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; www.thesovereigndc.com

FRIDAY, MAY 3

Slaters Lane Socials: Spanish Tapas
Join Rustico Alexandria for their next installment of the Slaters Lane Socials series. On the first weekend of each month, the restaurant will showcase a few fun and exciting food specials paired with one of their favorite craft brewers. This month, Rustico is celebrating the cuisine of Spain with executive chef Stephen McRae’s delicious tapas menu. 5-11:30 p.m. Free to attend. Rustico Restaurant and Bar: 827 Slaters Ln. Alexandria, VA; www.rusticorestaurant.com

SATURDAY, MAY 4

Dawn Patrol Release Party on the Patio
Join Lost Rhino Retreat for a party on the patio for the release of Lost Rhino’s Dawn Patrol Session IPA. Taps open at 2 p.m. and the event will feature live music, barbecue, seafood boil, beer bucket specials and more. Join for a great opportunity to bring in the summer a little early with the release of this new brew. 2-10 p.m. Free to attend.Lost Rhino Retreat: 22885 Brambleton Plz. Ashburn, VA; www.lostrhino.com

The First Annual Brewer Spring Art and Culture Crawl
Enjoy a beverage from each of Silver Spring’s three breweries while slurping up new knowledge about the art, architecture and culture of Silver Spring’s blossoming urban community. The ticket price includes a pint of your choice at each brewery, a T-shirt and a chance to win some prizes along the way. 1-4 p.m. Tickets $50. The Rotary Club of Downtown Silver Spring: 923 Ellsworth Dr. Silver Spring, MD; www.silverspringrotary.org

Rocket Frog 1st Anniversary Party
It’s been one year since Rocket Frog opened its doors to the public. This will be a festival-style event inside the brewery. The festival features their 12 taps behind the main bar, an additional 10 taps in the brewing area, and one firkin (TBD), all with your favorite Rocket Frog beer. There will be several variations from beers served throughout the first brewery’s first year. 12-6 p.m. Tickets $30-$48. Rocket Frog Brewing Company: 22560 Glenn Dr. #103, Sterling, VA; www.rocketfrogbeer.com

WEDNESDAY, MAY 8

Calvert Woodley’s DMV Brewery Night
Join for a walk-around tasting featuring breweries from DC, Maryland and Virginia, who will be showcasing their favorite brews. Come sample their flagship offerings as well as some seasonal specials. As an added bonus, all the brews will be available for purchase at specially discounted prices. You’ll also receive a complimentary glass for the tasting. 6 p.m. Tickets $25. University of the District of Columbia Heritage Hall: 4200 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.calvertwoodley.com

SATURDAY, MAY 11

Cheers for Babies
Join Sauf Haus in Dupont Circle for a happy hour fundraiser supporting the Maternity Home and Pregnancy Center programs of The Northwest Center. Since 1981, The Northwest Center has served over 57,300 women and babies in the DC area. With your help they can continue in their mission of empowering women and strengthening families. 6-9 p.m. Free to attend. Sauf Haus Bier Hall: 1216 18th St. NW, DC; www.saufhausdc.com

WEDNESDAY, MAY 15

Horizontal Tasting: Cider, Beer and Wine
Celebrate spring by exploring cider, beer and wine together! Your ticket includes a guided, five-part horizontal tasting. For each course, Capitol Cider House will pair a different cider with a similar beer or wine. To sweeten the night, the fifth and final course will pair a dessert wine with Capitol Cider’s house made North Columbia – essentially, the apple version of port wine. Capitol Cider House: 3930 Georgia Avenue NW, DC; www.capitolciderhouse.com

FRIDAY, MAY 17

SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience
What happens when celebrated chefs team up with some of America’s finest craft breweries? The answer: an unforgettable night of sensory delight. Set amidst the grandeur of the National Building Museum, SAVOR is the premier beer and food pairing event in the country. Discover your new favorite craft beers and pairings and meet the people behind the beer, including owners and brewers, who will be personally serving their beer. Starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $135. National Building Museum: 401 F St. NW, DC; www.savorcraftbeer.com

SATURDAY, MAY 18

Sour Mania!
Pucker up and join Mad Fox for their 2nd Annual Sour Beer Festival. Sample special and limited-edition sour ales from around the region and across the country at this indoor event. Enjoy live music and fantastic food while sipping some truly tart ales. Admission to the brewpub is free and space is available on a first come, first served basis. Please call the restaurant for table reservations. Tasting begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Check out the samtpler package offer available online only. 11 a.m. – 11:30 p.m. Tickets start at $20. Mad Fox Brewing Company: 444 W. Broad St. Falls Church, VA; www.madfoxbrewing.com

The Ultimate Beer Pong Tournament
Are you the master of beer pong? Do you want to help a good cause while also consuming libations? Well, this is the perfect event for you. Join Town Tavern with your best beer pong partner and drink and play for a cause. The bar is hosting a beer pong tournament to raise money and awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. 6:30 p.m. Tickets $5-$25. Town Tavern DC: 2323 18th St. NW, DC; www.towntaverndc.com

SUNDAY, MAY 19

Bingo with the DC Sisters
Come to the DC Sisters’ monthly bingo night. They will be at Red Bear Brewing with games, raffle tickets for the 50/50 raffle, extra game books, and food and beverages will also be available for purchase. 1-4 p.m. $20 will get you six rounds of bingo, each with a $100 cash prize and potentially a door prize. Red Bear Brewing: 209 M St. NE, DC; www.dcsisters.org

Pups N’ Pints
Join Fairfax Dogfish Head Alehouse for a fundraiser in an effort to raise money for the HART Organization. Kick off the day with the annual 5K run and then enjoy the outdoor bar and grill. 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. 5K registration is $40. Dogfish Head Alehouse: 13041 Lee Jackson Memorial Hwy. Fairfax, VA; www.dogfishalehouse.com

SATURDAY, MAY 25

Rivershed Run
Kick off your long weekend with a fast and flat run that starts in urban Alexandria, cools down through beautiful Cameron Run Park and finishes at the Port City Brewery. After the 5K, you will have earned your fair share of calories.  So, plan to stay for the ultimate Virginia Memorial Day BBQ. Live bluegrass all afternoon, All American food trucks with a pig roast, burgers and apple pie. All that and the release of Port City’s new Rivershed Ale. 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.5K registration is $45. Port City Brewing Company: 3950 Wheeler Ave. Alexandria, VA; www.portcitybrewing.com

Stone Carving at the Brewery
New District Brewing Company has had paint nights and food pairings, but now it’s time for stone carving. Come in empty handed and walk out with a small stone creation made with your own two hands. The instructor will guide you through a class to give you the basics of stone carving while the brewery will provide plenty of beer to coax out your muse. 2 p.m. Tickets $30. New District Brewing Company: 2709 South Oakland St. Arlington, VA; www.newdistrictbrewing.com

Woodbridge Beer Fest
This beer event is taking over the main drag of Woodbridge for the second year, filling it with beer, food and even wine. There will be 12 breweries providing the best of local and regional craft breweries, food vendors, live music and other entertainment. Want to stay late? The Brew Republic taproom will host an after party. Festivities begin at 11 a.m. Tickets start at $39. Brew Republic Bierwerks: 15201 Potomac Town Pl. Woodbridge, VA; www.brewrepublic.beer

Photo: Rey Lopez

Game-Centric Bars Offer Next-Level Experiences

With a reputation for attracting the Type A working crowd, DC is a hardworking town deserving of a well-needed break from time to time. Enter bars with plenty of distractions in the way of arcade games, social sports and communal entertainment that also provide elevated dining experiences over the typical pub grub. In the past year, the city has seen a wave of bar openings that go beyond the usual food and drink offerings whether they be sport, arcade games, or providing a place to gather and unplug from the 9-5 grind.

DC newcomer SPIN recently opened its eighth location a hop, skip and a jump away from Metro Center, a hub for the downtown working crowd. Malin Pettersson, SPIN’s grand opening manager, reflects on what makes the ping-pong club an attractive destination for District denizens.

“You have to disconnect a little bit after work,” Pettersson says. “Everyone is so busy doing big, important jobs. SPIN is a place where you can really disconnect. We’re in the basement too, so you kind of have to disconnect.”

An oasis from the burdens of office life, the social sport club is an ideal refuge.

“When you play [ping pong], you can’t really focus on anything else but the ball,” he continues. “You can’t think about your issues at work or what you have to do. You just have to let go and watch that ball. I think that’s something that DC needs: a place to disconnect.”

At its core, SPIN is all about offering a place to create relationships on a personal, individual level.

“I think it’s great that [we] don’t want to sit still and want to have an activity, because it’s so much easier to connect with people that way.”

Beyond the escape aspect, SPIN offers an easy environment for folks to let loose and connect over an elevated bar menu and brews.

“Our chef is Filipino so he’s putting a little bit of an Asian twist on some of the items there and it’s been very well-received.”

Notable menu items include the fried chicken banh mi and crispy shrimp bao buns.

The Eleanor in NoMa is another bar raising the game when it comes to menu offerings and entertainment. When owner Adam Stein took the menu into consideration, he focused on comfort foods with some seasonal twists.

“We try to be super eclectic,” he says. “Even though a lot of our stuff falls into the bar category, we make as much as we possibly can in-house.”

Inspiration for some dishes came from the kitchen’s collective history of working together (think elote loco-style hush puppies or whimsical dishes from Stein’s childhood like the spaghetti sandwich.

“It was really important to us to elevate the food, the drinks and the service.”

Another important factor in his decision-making process? Keeping a sense of DC authenticity on the menu. 

“We definitely made sure we involved a lot of the local producers. A lot of our spirits [and beers] are from DC, Maryland and Virginia. In terms of food, we try to be seasonal, so we use a lot of local purveyors.”

Branded as a bowling lounge, bar and grill, The Eleanor caters to a multitude of crowds. No matter who walks in the doors, the mini-bowling lanes, arcade games and pinball machines ensure that anyone and everyone will have a good time.

Players Club on 14th Street offers an approachable cocktail program with throwback games in an environment where guests can have a “laid-back and entertaining time at the bar.”

“The venue works cohesively as a bar, a place to watch sports and an entertainment venue with plenty of options,” says director of operations Scott Herman.

Guests mostly fall into the category of “young professionals to bar and restaurant industry friends that stop by on their night off,” according to Herman. Although the retro basement bar doesn’t offer its own food menu, patrons can have items delivered from nearby Shake Shack.

“People love being able to order Shake Shack without having to leave the bar.”

At the end of the day, it all comes back to building an authentic connection.

“It’s been interesting to see how much people enjoy the games,” Herman notes. “We see lots of couples on dates – having games to play is an easy icebreaker for people that are just getting to know each other.”

Learn more about these game-centric bars below.

The Eleanor: 100 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.eleanordc.com
Players Club: 1400 14th St. NW, DC; www.playersclubdc.com
SPIN: 1332 F St. NW, DC; www.wearespin.com


Game-Filled Watering Holes

Looking for a quick escape with friends? Whether you live in DC proper or across the bridge, the surrounding areas have plenty to offer in the way of social activities and fun distractions to take you away from the daily grind.

Bar Elena
Adam Stein also co-owns the H Street spot focused on eclectic comfort food (think fancy nachos topped with cotija, radish and black bean puree and General Tso’s wings), local shellfish, and a seasonal cocktail program with diversions that come in the form of pinball machines, skee-ball and classic video games like Ms. Pac-Man. Rounding out the bar’s offerings are two happy hours to draw in the after work and late-night crowds. 414 H St. NE, DC; www.barelenadc.com

The G.O.A.T.
The Arlington sports bar is home to 50-plus HD TVs to catch all the live sports action, plus a gaming lounge complete with the newest arcade games and throwback favorites like shoot-to-win basketball and skee-ball. Snack on next-level bar food such as filet mignon skewers, bulgogi wonton tacos and pastrami egg rolls. 3028 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.thegoatva.com  

Jackie Lee’s
Brightwood Park’s Jackie Lee’s has fun on the forefront of its bar offerings. Patrons of the neighborhood spot can partake in vintage arcade games while chowing down on comfort pub fare like bacon-wrapped jalapeños and knocking back cold brews. Communal tables, Art Deco décor and an assortment of throwback games add to the social bar experience. 116 Kennedy St. NW, DC; www.jackieleesdc.com

Kraken Axes
What better way to let loose than by satisfying the primeval urge to hurl axes? The indoor axe-throwing haven recently relocated to Penn Quarter where guests can take a less traditional route to bar games. Throw back some brews while throwing axes and order up beer, wine at the bar and small plates from Kraken’s next-door neighbor Cedar Restaurant.
840 E St. NW, DC; www.krakenaxes.com

Pizzeria Paradiso Game Room
The local pizza chain’s Georgetown location debuted its game room early last year. The basement bar’s walls are splashed with colorful murals and it’s filled with familiar games like pinball, shuffle ball and skee-ball in addition to a rotating list of popular arcade games. As one can expect from Pizzeria Paradiso, the beer offerings are on point with 60 cans and eight taps featuring rotating craft brews. 3282 M St. NW, DC;
www.eatyourpizza.com/game-room

Punch Bowl Social
An adult playground of sorts, Arlington’s barcade features 25,000 square feet of restaurant, games, outdoor patio space and social activities galore. At the tri-level entertainment destination, guests can take part in all kinds of amusements including karaoke, bocce, bowling, table games (think Giant Scrabble, ping pong, billiards and foosball) and arcade favorites. Bar offerings include plenty of shareable items like sheet nachos and green chorizo fries to go along with boozy punch (of course), craft brews and signature cocktails. 4238 Wilson Blvd.  Arlington, VA; www.punchbowlsocial.com/location/arlington