marlon-wayans

Marlon Wayans Set to Take MGM Stage

If America had a first family of comedy, it would undoubtedly be the Wayans family.

The big brood includes Keenan, Damon and Marlon, as well as several more who write, act and do comedy. At the moment, none of the Wayans is hotter than Marlon, who currently has a hit TV sitcom, a well-received movie on Netflix (Naked) and a big Netflix stand-up special that will tape at the MGM National Harbor on Saturday.

On Tap recently talked to Wayans about his upcoming comedy special at the MGM, his influences (including his reaction to the Louis C.K. scandal), growing up around the set of legendary sketch comedy show, In Living Color, a stalled Richard Pryor biopic, his time as a student at Howard University and plans for becoming a global superstar.

On Tap: Thanks for taking time to talk with On Tap. We’ve been watching you and enjoying your work since you got started with your older siblings and guys like Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx on In Living Color. What did that experience do to shape your career?
Marlon Wayans: For me it was school, man. Learning and growing underneath some of the greatest talent – legends. I got to sit there and watch. I was too young to execute but, you know, I had my moments. But just the fact that I was around and I could soak it up and learn to write sketches, and learn what the work entailed in terms of being a great comedian. Now, I’m executing and I take all that with me on the journey.

OT: Congratulations on the success of your family sitcom, Marlon, on NBC. What’s the inspiration for this comedy about a divorced couple and their children?
MW: Ninety percent of the show is my life and my experiences. My life is love and it’s happy. It has its ups and downs, but I go through life with a smile. I’m just weird like that, no matter what situation I’m in. I just hope people who watch the show tune in and see that. I also hope they can see that divorce ain’t all that. You can break up with somebody and keep a very close friendship with them and still love each other because you guys made kids and you are forever family. You should work on nurturing those relationships because your kids don’t need you to be together, but they do need to see their parents love each other.

OT: We’ve read that you love to write comedy, and that the writing process is incredibly important to you. Why is writing something you enjoy so much? Some comics and others in entertainment find it arduous or even hire others to do the writing for them.
MW:  I don’t get how people let others write for them. Writing is about comedy and inspiration. Writing is when I’m closest to God. It’s like he’s whispering to me, “This is my gift to you.” I love writing. If you can give me the punch on the joke, great, but the joke itself has to come from inspiration and from myself, and it’s got to come from the truth.

OT: We’ve always been fascinated with comedy and the inspiration of those who can consistently come up with side-splitting humor. What is your process for writing jokes and creating humor?
MW: I just live and then jokes come. I don’t sit around and go “What’s funny?” unless I’m writing a movie. Then I’ll watch 200 or 300 movies, sometimes two times each, for inspiration and then go “Oh, you know what’s funny? If you do this.” It’s usually inspiration and creativity that just comes. Last night, I did a show and afterward I’m having a conversation with my friends and right then and there in that conversation, I came up with five new minutes of material.

OT: We assume we’ll get to hear some of that new material at your two shows Sunday night at the MGM. This is going to be your first Netflix comedy special, which is a very big deal in the world of stand-up. Are you excited, nervous, something else? How are you feeling about this big moment?
MW: It’s funny, man. I think you get nervous when you don’t know what you’re doing. You get excited when you’re prepared. My whole thing is just not letting my excitement get the best of me, and to make sure I go there and stay in the moment. I want to make these people laugh as hard as I can, keep my eyes up and make sure I’m performing to the cameras – not just to the audience in the room, but the audience at home. 

OT: You recently said that your big goal in the near term is to work on your stand-up comedy and really hone that part of your artistic arsenal. Why is stand-up so important to you when you’ve already got movies, television and other elements of show business locked down?
MW: For me, looking at stand-up, that’s the one thing I hadn’t done. Mastering that is going to help me be better at all of the things I’m working on.  It’s the missing ingredient I need to get to super-stardom. I’ve been a star a long time, super-stardom is the thing I’m looking for now. Super-stardom isn’t “Hey, I’m on private jets or I’ve got a house everywhere.” It’s when I can go to every country and make people want to come and see my show or my movies and make them smile. That’s all I want to do. God blessed me to be in the business of smiles and I want to put as many smiles on faces as I possibly can.

OT: Speaking of superstars – who inspired your comedy career most?
MW: There are so many greats of the past: Richard Pryor, Charlie Chaplin, Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, my peers, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. Really funny guys like Louis C.K. Sometimes they’re flawed in life, but onstage they’re brilliant.

OT: Speaking of Louis C.K., since you mentioned him, we’ve got to ask about his scandal. [Ed note: Multiple women have accused the comic of masturbating in front of them without their consent. On Tap talked to Wayans the morning Louis C.K. issued a statement admitting culpability.] Any comment on his situation?
MW: I applaud him for accepting what he did – admitting it. A lot of people run from it, these allegations. That’s the first part about manning up is realizing, “Yo, you can be better.” Comedians, the reality of us is we’re mostly humble people. We look at the world and we poke fun at what’s wrong with it, but then you get into these places in life where the world is poking fun at you and that’s allowing you to go introspective and look at yourself and say, “How can I be better?” I guarantee you he’s going to come [back] with a really funny half-hour or hour special about what he’s learned or where he’s grown, because the first step is admitting it, the second step is getting help and the third step is going from there. Sometimes in life you’re not perfect. Sometimes a comedian goes over the line or thinks that as a star you can do certain things. One of the gifts I have is having five sisters and a mom and being close to them and in my head going – “Don’t do that, don’t do that!” He made them feel uncomfortable to a different degree than Harvey Weinstein, which was rape, but at the end of the day, you have to be respectful of women and to people in general. It’s just being a good human being and not letting our egos get the best of us. And when you mess up, at least have the ability to say, “My bad,” and then go out there and fix it. And I applaud him for doing that. I’m sure he’ll take his time and reflect, and he’ll come back strong.

OT: For years, you’ve been mentioned as the lead role in a Richard Pryor biopic. Any update on what’s happening with that project?
MW: Right now, it’s not happening. It was [actor] Mike Epps last time I checked, and right now [director] Lee Daniels is no longer on the project; it’s sitting idle. But I don’t question God, whatever is supposed to happen with that will happen. If God wants me to play that role, I’ll play that role. The longer they take to do that movie, the better for me as an actor. If it never happens and I never play Richard Pryor, then I’m thankful I went on the journey of playing Pryor because I started out wanting to play a great, and now I’ll be a great.

OT: You attended Howard University in the 1990s. How does your Howard experience – and DC generally figure into your life and your career?
MW: DC was the first place I did stand-up – the Comedy Café. Now, I’m doing my first special and I thought it was appropriate to come back to DC where I was when I was 17 and first did stand-up. Now, I’m going to rock it as a 45-year-old man and I’m going to give it all I’ve got. DC is like a second home. I always sell out there. People love me there and I love the audiences because they are real; they laugh and they’re smart. I’ve got a politically fueled set and I love the fact that I’m in the president’s backyard. I’m hollering about things that’s real. This is a one-man march. I’m going to say things and be a voice for all the people who can’t be – try to be an amp for all these causes and issues, but in a funny way. I’m glad to come to the nation’s capital and speak some real, real woke stuff. 

Marlon Wayans will take the MGM National Harbor stage on November 18, with two shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m. For more information visit MGM website here.

MGM National Harbor: 101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; 303-971-5000; www.mgmnationalharbor.com

Photo: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center
Photo: Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

Mozart in the District

It’s not so much what Gianandrea Noseda says so much as how he says it. The Italian-born conductor speaks with a drawl that makes you want to listen closer and, even over the phone, you can tell which topics he finds blasé and which cause his eyes to light up.

At the mention of Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, Noseda demurs and says he’s seen little of the show. But it’s hard not to see some resemblances between him and the charismatic conductor in the series, played by Gael García Bernal. Noseda may not share the character’s penchant for drama, but he speaks about music and the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) with a similar passion. He’s also very enthusiastic about bringing the orchestra outside of the Kennedy Center‘s symphony hall and into the community.

Noseda began his tenure as the music director for the NSO this fall, and is conducting a free concert at The Anthem this coming Wednesday, November 15. The performance, which is already sold out, is meant to give listeners an inside look at what to expect from Noseda.

The concert will feature the works of four different composers: Ottorino Respighi, Ernest Chausson, Manuel de Falla and George Gershwin. Aside from Gershwin, none of these composers are well known, Noseda admits, but he does not see this as a problem. He refers to the program as a sort of musical buffet. None of the pieces last more than six or so minutes, so if you don’t like one dish, another is coming shortly; these composers offer a wide range of music, so there’s at least one dish for everyone.

“Someone who wants sweetness or tenderness can find it in some spots of Respighi or Chausson,” he says. “Someone who wants something very rhythmical will find it in Gershwin or Falla.”

He is particularly excited for the Massenet piece from Thais, as it will feature a solo by NSO Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef. The concertmaster is young, but has been with the NSO for some time. Bar-Josef is the first chair violinist, and Noseda describes the position as the sort of right-hand man of the conductor.

“[As a conductor], if you have a good concertmaster, as well as other principals, let’s say 70 percent of your job is guaranteed.”

This prompts me to ask him what exactly it is that a conductor does. Noseda laughs at the question.

“People have the impression that the conductor just waves his hands.”

His job is to first and foremost motivate the musicians, to get them commit to a performance. In practical terms, that entails not only keeping time, but knowing the parts of all the instruments and how to balance them in a live performance. 

“You have to know the music of all the instruments and how to balance the sound, because if you have the trombones play loud, and you ask the violins to play loud, the loudness of the trombones is five times the loudness of the violins,” he says. “So how to combine these things, how to balance – it’s like a dish. If you put too much salt, at the end of the day, you don’t have the taste of the meat, fish or vegetable that you are eating, because it’s salty. Salt is necessary sometimes, but in limited quantity.”

Noseda anticipates that his orchestra’s performance at The Anthem will attract listeners to the Kennedy Center, because for him, the live performance is at the core of what they do.

“[Rather than] explain why music is so important in our society, just come and listen,” he says. “We are not from Mars. We are normal people and want to present the music we love to everybody.”

Noseda and the NSO will perform The Anthem program again on November 16, 18 and 19 at The Kennedy Center. Learn more at www.kennedy-center.org.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: Andy DelGiudice
Photo: Andy DelGiudice

Kishi Bashi Pushes Boundaries at Sixth & I

Perhaps describing an artist as “original” isn’t…well, original. Maybe it’s a little cliché, too. But, in searching for how to describe Kishi Bashi, this is the truest word I found.

Kishi Bashi, known by name as Kaoru Ishibashi, melds violin with keyboard, guitar and drums to create a sound that’s both exuberant and intimate. He also incorporates the looping pedal, a digital sampling machine that layers sound, giving his music an electronic and ephemeral feeling. It’s the perfect base for his voice, which he blends into the instrumentation seamlessly.

Listening to him at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue this Monday, where he performed with indie banjo band Tall Tall Trees, I was transfixed. How did Kishi Bashi create such a unique musical style? And what about him was so incredibly striking? I think it’s about boundaries – and how his music ignores them.

Take his opener, “Philosophize it! Chemicalize It!” He performed the song with classical violin, but also slipped in some jazz. The song has a psychedelic quality to it, but is also strongly pop. The composition is bright and joyful, but also hauntingly nostalgic.

Or “Mr. Steak,” which he performed later in the set. Like “Philosophize It! Chemicalize It!,” the song opens with classical violin, but quickly transitions to electronic pop before shifting back to classical. The piece is a curious combination of different genres, fearless is its musical style.

The end of the show was the ultimate disruption of the norm. Kishi Bashi and crew went from stage to audience, performing their last few songs amidst the crowd. Without access to electricity, they were completely acoustic.

I swayed with other concertgoers and sang along as I watched from the balcony. It felt like attending a show at your friend’s house, surrounded by like-minded music lovers. At one point, Kisihi Bashi even handed his violin to an audience member to hold while he transitioned to guitar. It was a warm and personal end to the concert. Performing while surrounded by fans gave the sense that we were all a part of creating the music – that the boundaries between performer and listener were an illusion.

Kishi Bashi’s approach and style – “original,” through and through – offers a full-spectrum musical experience. I’ve never left a show feeling more uplifted and connected, both to the artist and to other concertgoers. He’s genuine, generous and unique; he’s an artist that you’ve got to see for yourself.

To learn more about Kishi Bashi and to view his upcoming tour dates, visit www.kishibashi.com.

Sixth & I Historic Synagogue: 600 I St. NW, DC; 202-408-3100; www.sixthandi.org

Photo: Kentucky Avenue
Photo: Kentucky Avenue

A Chat with Dave Ries from Kentucky Avenue

With influences like Lucinda Williams, Hank Williams and Bruce Springsteen, Kentucky Avenue, a folk-Americana outfit from the DMV, is the real deal. What started as an impromptu jam session between Dave Ries and Stella Schindler has burgeoned into a bonafide duo with the record Nothing Here Is Mine.

On Tap: How long did you work on Nothing Here Is Mine, and when did you know you had enough material for an entire album?
Dave Ries: The momentum was there right from the start, and after first playing together in September of 2016, we wrote more than a dozen songs in six weeks. The actual recording process took about six calendar months, but really only about 14 studio days.

OT: What’s your songwriting process like with Stella?
DR: It really is a back and forth. Many times, we would stop and talk about the stories of the characters in the songs, which led to trading off lyrics, playing around with harmonies, and settling into [the song’s] rhythm and meter. When it worked, we could hear the click, and we knew we had a song.

OT: What inspired the album title? What does it mean?
DR: There are a lot of ways to interpret the title Nothing Here Is Mine. We’ve been asked whether it is a Buddhist or a Zen thing, but it just seems to be a fundamental thing. One day your eyes open and you really feel alive, and you realize that everything you have, everything you experience, all the people in your life – everything has been given. In the actual song, there’s a lot of searching going on, but in the end, we come to find out that nothing here is mine, and that’s all right.

OT: What genres were you influenced by when recording this album?
DR: In the end we’d say we have an alt-country record, where classic country meets classic rock.

OT: How did you two meet? When did you first start playing with one another?
DR: We met about a year ago when a cover band that I was playing in was asked to play a function at the school where Stella teaches. The organizer of the event mentioned that there was a faculty member who sings and plays guitar that was going to sit in with us. The band was of course a bit skeptical. Then Stella showed up. Needless to say, we were blown away by her voice.

OT: Lastly, where can we catch a show this month?
DR: We are playing at Villain & Saint in Bethesda [on] Saturday, November 25, [and at] the DC Holiday Market at Gallery Place [on] Monday, November 27.

For more information about Kentucky Avenue, visit www.kentuckyavenuemusic.com.

Photo: Dakota Fine
Photo: Dakota Fine

FotoWeek DC 2017

From November 11-19, DC will play host to the 10th annual FotoWeek by Foto DC, an expansive festival focused on the medium of photography. Whether you’re a journalism nerd interested in award-winning news shots or an art geek who enjoys deciphering what images represent about society, this weeklong series of events provides numerous opportunities to enjoy and learn about breathtaking visuals. In preparation for the week, we spoke to festival executive producer and programming coordinator, Svetlana Legetic.

On Tap: Why do you think it’s important for an entire week of programming and events to be dedicated solely to the medium of photography?
Svetlana Legetic: Photography is the most accessible of art forms and the one that connects to everyday life the most. At the same time, in 2017, photography is an amazing storytelling tool allowing more people to connect to current topics and issues than ever before. DC has a thriving working and amateur photographer community, and transforming the city into a photography playground is a great way to celebrate that.

OT: What do you expect people to take out of these exhibitions, galleries and talks, whether they be photographers or just people who are fans of impactful visuals?
SL: The festival is supposed to provide something for everyone, whether people are more interested in photojournalism, fine art or say, social photography. We have programs targeted specifically at photographers themselves (workshops, portfolio reviews, etc.), but the main goal is for the community to engage with the artists and their work, and get more insight into the stories covered.

OT: Do people have to know a ton about photography to get the full experience?
SL: Not at all. You really just need to be interested in beauty, storytelling and the human/world condition, and you can enjoy it.

OT: What is an event you’re looking forward to most?
SL: Obviously, everyone should come to the opening party. I also love the nighttime projections every year at the Holocaust Museum – such powerful work – and our FotoTalks at FotoWeekCentral. And Arthur Jafa at Hirshhorn. There’s so much to choose from. Personally, the weekends are my favorite. [They’re] a great opportunity to hop around exhibitions and events and make a day out of it, plus most events are free and open to the public.

OT: How many local photographers will be showcased?
SL: Dozens of local photographers are showcased, from the FotoWeekDC competition winners to Women Photojournalists and White House Photographers’ annual shows to our FotoTalks and group shows by IGDC and more.

For locations, times and prices, visit www.fotodc.org.

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Found in Space: An Intergalactic Adventure

Not so long ago – 17 years to be exact – in a galaxy that’s actually right here, humans went into space and never left. Since November 2000, humans have lived and worked in space every moment of every day. To celebrate humans’ continuous presence in space, the National Air and Space Museum and Brightest Young Things hosted Found in Space last Saturday, November 4.

As an after-hours event, something about going to the Air and Space Museum in the dark seemed appropriate. Walking through the entrance, I was greeted by strobe lights, nearby pounding club beats and people dressed in their best space gear, including someone completely encased in an astronaut suit of balloons.

To start my intergalactic adventure, I veered towards the IMAX theater where the 16-minute Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), a famous 1902 French silent film created by Georges Méliès, was played. The film was revamped with color and a new, original soundtrack by AIR.

Shortly following the film was a presentation by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Bobak Ferdowsi, who discussed all the missions that involved sending robots to different planets in our galaxy and beyond. A scientist known for his funky hair (he was sporting a partially blue mohawk on this occasion), he cracked jokes about Matt Damon not actually having been on Mars while wowing viewers with sun backlit pictures of Saturn. Audience members were also reminded that to keep these missions going, people’s excitement and engagement about space was vital.

After my IMAX experience, I helped myself to a complimentary, grapefruit-infused SKYY vodka soda. Other options included SKYY specialty cocktails and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Wandering through the exhibits, I passed photo booths that transported people to space, makeup artists painting galaxies on faces and even had a space creature walking on stilts sneak up behind me as I took a picture. People danced in both wings of the museum as they helped themselves to Killa Cakes and Sasya samples, or grabbed cotton candy and snow cones.

My Air and Space Museum adventure ended with a walk through favorite exhibits open during normal hours like “Exploring the Planets” and “Golden Age of Flight,” where I was once again blown away by the vastness that is space and humanity’s incredible journey into the last true frontier.

Experience your own intergalactic adventure at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, free and open seven days a week from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (DC): Independence Avenue at 6th Street in SW, DC; 202-633-2214; www.airandspace.si.edu

Photo: Arena Stage
Photo: Arena Stage

Stage & Screen: November 2017

THROUGH SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11

Safe As Houses
From Natalie Piegari comes the provocative play Safe As Houses. Mixing a natural disaster with a shady past, this play offers an
edge-of-your-seat drama. A violent storm is barreling toward the house of Nora, Isabel and Henry, but the weather might not be what tears this family apart. As the three prepare their home for the storm, something from Isabel’s past really puts this family’s strength to the test. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $35. Logan Fringe Arts Space: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.capitalfringe.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, DECEMBER 24

The Pajama Game
Based on the novel 7½ Cents by Richard Bissell, The Pajama Game is a musical that tells the story of the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory through song and dance. Chaos breaks out in the otherwise average factory when Sid Sorkin falls for Babe Williams, the trouble-making head of the union grievance committee. Soon, a workers’ strike breaks out between management and labor that threatens to tear the establishment apart. Will the factory survive the internal battle? Attend to find out. Various dates and show times. Tickets start at $65. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7

Malice Toward None
Drawing inspiration from Abraham Lincoln’s infamous humor and self-deprecation, President Lincoln’s Cottage and DC Improv have partnered together to once again present the Two Faces Comedy Series. Laugh along with San Francisco International Comedy Competition winner Bengt Washburn for the third night of the series. Just as Lincoln managed to get by without being mean, Washburn tickles your funny bone and proves comedy doesn’t have to tear someone else down to make people laugh. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5. Abraham Lincoln’s Cottage: 140 Rock Creek Church Rd. NW, DC; www.lincolncottage.org

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 14

Crazy For You
Signature Theatre is bringing the Gershwins’ and Ken Ludwig’s Tony Award-winning musical comedy Crazy for You to Shirlington. Sent to foreclose on a small town theater, a musical-loving banker decides to revive it instead with the help of musical act The Follies. Slapstick humor and charm combine with 1930s glamour, mistaken identities and a classic love story to delight audiences all holiday season long. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $40-$79. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11

Pelle the Conqueror
From October 8 to December 12, AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center will be showcasing films that tell the harrowing migration stories of people from all over the world. As part of the Films Across Borders: Stories of Migration series, Pelle the Conqueror will be playing on November 11. The Oscar-winning drama tells the story of a Swedish father and son escaping their impoverished life in Sweden for a new start in Denmark. What ultimately gets them through a difficult year on a new farm is their strong bond. Show starts at 12 p.m. Tickets are free. AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center: 8633 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.afi.com/silver

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11 – SUNDAY, DECEMBER 31

The Second City Presents Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains)
The creators of last year’s hit Black Side of the Moon have returned to Woolly Mammoth with a new play. Headlining the show is Felonious Munk, whose own story is being told this time around. The standup comedian and TV personality is a good man and father, but he used to be a drug dealer and later, a convict. Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains) tells Munk’s story of rags to riches as he traverses prison, corporate America, then finally activism and comedy. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $20-$69. Woolly Mammoth Theatre: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 14 – WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 20

Twelfth Night
DC favorite Ethan McSweeny is back with his expressive style for another Shakespeare classic, the comedic Twelfth Night. When the quick-witted Viola is stranded off the coast of Illyria, she creates the disguise of a page boy for Duke Orsino to protect herself. To further complicate matters, Viola’s gender-swapped disguise lands her in the middle of a rather awkward love triangle. Identity and motives are all questioned in this lively play, but the constant is the wit of true heroine Viola at the center of it all. Various dates and show times. Tickets start at $44. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18

Doug Varone and Dancers Present In the Shelter of the Fold
The award-winning contemporary dance company is returning to George Mason’s Center for the Arts for the first time in over a decade. The New York-based Doug Varone and Dancers’ latest performance will showcase stunts and choreography that are sure to amaze. Inspired by faith, belief and human reaction to life’s curveballs, Varone’s In the Shelter of the Fold will also feature members of Mason’s School of Dance. Starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29-$48. George Mason University’s Center for the Arts: 4373 Mason Pond Dr. Fairfax, VA; www.cfa.gmu.edu

Photo: Rey Lopez
Photo: Rey Lopez

New Notable No Longer: November 2017

On Tap keeps locals in the know about the hottest new food and drink spots around town, the top culinary news of the month and recent closings. Read on to get the inside scoop on what’s new, notable and no longer in the DC area.

NEW

Bresca

Open: September 22
Location: 14th Street Corridor
Lowdown: Rising star Ryan Ratino burst onto the 14th Street scene with a restaurant of his own this fall, just months after Ripple – his former home – closed. Bresca is billed as a modern bistro, inspired by the Parisian movement of bistronomy (a blend of the words bistro and gastronomy), which marries upscale French gastronomic cooking and the more vibrant, casual atmosphere of a bistro. Both the cuisine and the décor are as quirky as Ratino’s personality. Dubbed “noodlehead” by his father as a child, Ratino’s favorite dishes are those involving pasta, and they’re also some of the most popular on the menu so far. Just the smell of the truffle-kissed sea urchin linguini had me drooling, and I couldn’t stop eating the chestnut agnolotti stuffed with rabbit. Seasonal ingredients like mushrooms and root vegetables take center stage this time of year, but the dishes will change regularly. One constant will be dry-aged beef, which is a passion project for Ratino. He has a few tricks up his sleeve to age the meat and keep it at an affordable price point. The dining room is boisterous and eclectic, with offbeat design elements and upbeat music. One wall is studded with gold fish heads, one is lined with embalmed moss and another has illustrations of humans with animal heads. Bresca means honeycomb in Spanish, so the motif is present throughout, with hexagons on the wall and bee-shaped vessels for cocktails. 1906 14th St. NW, DC; www.brescadc.com

Calico
Open: October 8
Location: Shaw
Lowdown: The team behind The Fainting Goat and Tiger Fork are inviting the whole neighborhood over to hang out in their backyard in Blagden Alley. Partners Nathan Beauchamp and Greg Algie wanted Calico to feel like your neighbor’s yard during a weekend cookout: laidback and comfortable with simple but satisfying food. The interior has the feel of an industrial art studio, with homey touches like floral upholstery on the bar stools, pink tile, picnic tables and printed retro light fixtures that Algie describes as “grandma globes.” The outdoor space is an urban oasis, with string lights, lanterns, rustic planters and a vintage greenhouse surrounded by wooden fencing. The food takes its cue from the Eastern Shore, Philadelphia and New Jersey. Seafood options like fried clams and steamed shrimp evoke coastal vibes, while tomato pie and roast pork are straight out of Philly. Beauchamp turns Jersey eggplant parm into finger food with breaded eggplant sticks smothered in cheese and served with marinara for dipping. Special feasts are also in the works, from lobster boils to prime rib dinners. To keep things casual, food is served on compostable paper products and all the mugs for soup are mismatched. The crowd favorite from the bar is the juice box – cocktails served in nostalgia-inducing pouches. I loved sipping on the Red Brick Road, with Lyon Distilling White Rum, Licor 43, dry vermouth, caramel and lime. Their drink menu also includes draft beer, wine and cocktails, plus wine and beer by the glass and bottle. 50 Blagden Alley NW, DC; www.calicodc.com

Dio Wine Bar
Open: September 20
Location: H Street Corridor
Lowdown: The natural wine scene in DC hasn’t yet flourished like it has in other cities across the U.S. and Europe, but Stacey Khoury-Diaz is trying to change that with Dio, the capital’s first natural wine bar. She didn’t set out to convert wine drinkers, but rather to provide options for those who are curious about organic and biodynamic wines. All 30 of the bottles on her rotating wine list are made with minimal additives and minimal intervention in the cellar, and many are certified organic by various national certification programs. Khoury-Diaz says it comes down to transparency. Since wine isn’t required to have an ingredient label, she vets vineyards and producers to provide the most unadulterated wines for her patrons. Just like with conventional wines, the regions of origin, varietals, flavor profiles and prices vary widely, and Dio aims to showcase a range of options, including more unusual offerings like orange wine. Though Khoury-Diaz and her bartenders aren’t certified sommeliers, their practical mastery of the subject is evident as they make recommendations and educate drinkers about the production process behind the wine in their glass. Beyond grapes, Dio offers local beers and ciders, nonalcoholic beverages, and cocktails featuring local spirits. The food menu stars housemade breads, cheese, charcuterie and unfussy seasonal snacks. 904 H St. NE, DC; www.diowinebar.com

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream
Open: September 25
Location: 14th Street Corridor
Lowdown: The Ohio ice cream brand with a cult following has finally landed in DC, bringing with it artisanal scoops made from grass-fed milk and farm-fresh ingredients. Founder and James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Jeni Britton Bauer had her eye on the DC market for years because of the growing customer base. The new shop follows the company’s clean, white aesthetic, with bright accents like yellow Clare Vivier wallpaper, teal paint and a gallery wall that tells the story of Jeni’s ice cream from cow to cone. Devoted dairy fans can find all the most popular signature flavors, including the famous salty caramel and the impossibly rich darkest chocolate. The fall flavors are now available as well, with creative takes like sweet potato with torched marshmallows and pumpkin five-spice. Choosing a favorite flavor is an impossible task, but the gooey butter cake stole my heart on a recent visit. The ice creams are available in cones or bowls, as well as in decadent sundaes or between scratch-made macaron cookies. 1925 14th St. NW, DC; www.jenis.com/14th-street

NOTABLE

The Emporiyum
Date: November 10-12
Location: Dock 5 at Union Market
Lowdown: This massive artisan food market is the perfect place to start your holiday shopping, or just to stock up on tasty goodies for yourself. More than 100 vendors from the DC area and across the country will set up shop and showcase their products for the whole weekend. Enjoy bites, sips and samples from Al Volo, Toli Moli, Michele’s Granola, Sfoglini, Shake Shack, Sir Kensington’s, Bushwick Kitchen, Prescription Kitchen, Timber Pizza Company, CoCo & Co, Charm City Meadworks, One Eight Distilling, Green Hat, Cotton & Reed, Element Shrub and many more. Tickets are $15-$25 for general admission and $40 for VIP, which includes an hour of exclusive access to the marketplace. There will also be a preview party on Friday with complimentary cocktails. 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.theemporiyum.com

DC Cocktail Week
Date: November 13-19
Location: Various locations
Lowdown: Cocktail Week is just like Restaurant Week, but with craft mixed drinks in the spotlight. Participating restaurants and bars around the region will feature creative cocktail and food pairings at affordable prices. The promotion is presented by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) and will run for one week. Find specials at spots like BaBa, Charlie Palmer Steak, China Chilcano, Convivial, DBGB, District Distilling, Etete, Firefly, Indique, Jack Rose, Stable, Quarter & Glory, Sushiko and more. Details are available online at www.dccocktailweek.com.

NOW OPEN

Akira Ramen & Izakaya: 1800 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD; www.akiraramen.com
Ancient Rivers: 2121 14th St. NW, DC; www.ancientriversdc.com
Bold Bite Market: 1028 19th St. NW, DC; www.boldbite.net
Brick & Mortar: 919 19th St. NW, DC; www.brickmortardc.com
The Brighton: 949 Water St. SW, DC; www.brighton-dc.com
City Tap House Dupont: 1250 Connecticut Ave. Suite 105, NW, DC; www.dupont.citytap.com
Crimson Whiskey Bar : 627 H St. NW, DC; www.crimson-dc.com
Dirty Water: 816 H St. NE, DC; www.dirtywaterdc.com
Del Mar de Fabio Trabocchi: 791 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.delmardc.com
Florentijn: 890 Water St. SW, DC; www.wharfdc.com
Hank’s Oyster Bar: 701 Wharf St. SW, DC: www.hanksoysterbar.com
Harper Macaw Chocolate Makers: 3160 Bladensburg Rd. NE, DC; www.harpermacaw.com
Jenny’s at the Wharf: 668 Water St. SW, DC; www.jennysdc.com
JINYA Ramen Bar: 1336 14th St. NW, DC; www.jinya-ramenbar.com
Kapnos College Park: 7777 Baltimore Ave. College Park, MD; www.kapnostaverna.com
Kirwan’s on the Wharf: 749 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.wharfdc.com
Kith & Kin: 801 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.kithandkindc.com
Little Beet : 1212 18th St. NW, DC; www.thelittlebeet.com
Makeda: 516 S Van Dorn St. Alexandria, VA; www.makedarestaurant.com
Nocturne (enter through Sugar Shack Donuts): 1932 9th St. NW, DC; www.nocturnebar.com
Pear Plum Café: 3064 Mount Pleasant St. NW, DC; www.pearplumcafe.com
Requin at the Wharf: 100 District Square, SW, DC; www.requinbymic.com/dc
Sequoia: 3000 K St. NW, DC; www.arkrestaurants.com/sequoia
Shop Made in DC: 1330 19th St. NW, DC; www.shopmadeindc.com
Taylor Gourmet: 85 District Square, SW, DC; www.taylorgourmet.com
Velo Café at District Hardware: 730 Maine Ave. SW, DC; www.dcvelocafe.com

POP-UPS

Augment VR Arcade and Bar: First floor of 645 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.augmentarcade.com
Future of Sports Bar: 700 H St. NE, DC; www.madeinthedistrict.us
Town Tavern’s Harry Potter Pub: 2323 18th St. NW, DC ; www.towntaverndc.com

NO LONGER

8407 Kitchen & Bar in Silver Spring
Cantina Marina in Southwest Waterfront
Dave’s Seafood & Subs in Chantilly
Kitty’s Saloon in H Street Corridor
Liberty Tree in H Street Corridor
Ocean Blue in Sterling
Oriental East in Silver Spring
Rural Society in downtown DC

Thanksgiving Alternatives

Thanksgiving Meal Makeovers

Thanksgiving – redolent of tradition and green bean casserole.

But scrolling through Twitter recently, I halted at a photo cheerfully captioned “holiday ideas.” It was of a squid-stuffed turkey, tentacles bursting from the bird’s cavity and swirled around the roasting pan. Turquid? Squirkey? It was horrifying, it was intriguing and it got me thinking – green bean casserole is not mandatory. So, I turned to a superstar team of culinary advisors who could guide me down unknown paths.

First up, David Guas – the popular, NOLA-born chef behind numerous award-winning projects who has made DC home. His most recent adventure began this fall with the opening of Lil’B, a New Orleans-infused coffee bar and eatery just off Scott Circle. Guas, who has hosted his family’s Thanksgiving celebration for 15 years, advises me to slow down.

“It’s not about breaking tradition,” he says. “It’s about mixing things up, and making the celebration fun and different.”

Guas gets the party started with lots of appetizers and snacks.

“Getting to the table is almost as important as the dinner itself. It’s the little things that bring people together and put them in the mood for the table.”

These “little things” include shucking raw oysters to start, and then enjoying homemade pimento cheese and breads and cranberry-infused sippers. Guas says he does something different every year. For the centerpiece, he sources black-feathered heritage breed turkeys from Pennsylvania, which he brines using apple cider and honey. The bird is then spatchcocked, the recently-trendy method that involves removing the backbone and flattening, and which allows for quicker and more even cooking. This bird is served with oyster dressing, a Louisiana tradition.

For the dessert makeover, I pick the brain of pastry chef legend Tiffany MacIsaac of Buttercream Bakery fame. I bemoan the ubiquitous pumpkin pie, often with soggy crusts and bland fillings. MacIsaac has the perfect rescue: use apple butter instead of pumpkin puree. I am startled by this brilliant simplicity.

“My friend raved about finding this at a random side-of-the-road stand, so I decided to take a stab – and it was amazing,” she remembers. “When we introduced the pie in the store for our first Thanksgiving last year, it sold out immediately.”

I begin mentally bracing myself to stand in lines in a few weeks.

“Oh, we’ll probably do something different this year,” she laughs.

Okay, fine – the most creative bakery in DC has to keep us on our toes for its second Thanksgiving. So what’s her pro-tip for us hardened DIYers?

“Just make sure the apple butter is dense. It should look like pumpkin puree, which could just as easily be called pumpkin butter!”

My dinner planning is almost complete – except for one key detail: drinks. Growing up, our Thanksgivings were PG, with kids and adults alike downing sparkling cider and organic eggnog – and only because my parents are good hosts, a bottle of Bushmills would emerge from storage so our wayward cousin Jerry could spike his eggnog. But now that the kids are grown up, the cider has been replaced by champagne and everyone is taking nips of Bushmills. It’s time to mix things up.

I catch up with the crazy-talented head bartender at Hank’s Cocktail Bar, Jessica Weinstein, for guidance. Her “Yam, Van, Thank You Ma’am” is Thanksgiving in a glass: Angel’s Envy Bourbon, black pepper-sweet potato-vanilla syrup, lemon and Bordeaux. To make the syrup, she roasts and purées sweet potatoes, then sugars them down, with a final push through a strainer to remove any remaining starchiness.

“I use a lot of sweet potatoes during the holidays,” she notes.

The “Aunt Ruth,” coming to the new Hank’s at The Wharf, will feature sweet potato-sage-marshmallow syrup, along with Smooth Ambler Contradiction Bourbon and an egg white.

“There are just fewer things in season I can use in cocktails.”

But seasonality is no barrier to creativity.

“We are doing a Thanksgiving tasting menu at the cocktail bar,” Jessica begins.

I instantly blurt, “Gravy shots!”

She laughs.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t try that about four weeks ago. But no, that won’t be on the menu!”

Instead, the bar’s popular “Food Production 101” – a rotating cocktail menu that riffs off classic dishes and food preparation techniques – will feature a half-dozen drinks directly inspired by Thanksgiving.

“Think a Waldorf salad cocktail,” she hints.

For the home cocktail enthusiast, Weinstein recommends looking at what you’re already cooking with.

“Some folks use a lot of honey during the holidays, and honey gives amazing depth to cocktails. What herbs are you using? Popular flavors like rosemary can be incorporated into so many classic cocktails.”

So I’m set. Nothing as weird as a squidurky for me this year, but the party is getting a makeover. Mom, brace yourself!

Buttercream Bakeshop: 1250 9th St. NW, DC ; www.buttercreamdc.com

Hank’s Cocktail Bar: 819 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.hankscocktailbar.com

Lil’B: 1515 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC ; www.thedarcyhotel.com/restaurant-and-bar/lil-b

Photo: Joel Goldberg
Photo: Joel Goldberg

A Day in the Life: Cobbler Mountain’s Laura McCarthy Louden

Cobbler Mountain Cellars has a history that’s more than a half-century old, and it has been preserved largely thanks to its current owners, Jeff and Laura McCarthy Louden.

The winery-cidery resides at the foot of a small mountain, quietly hidden from nearby Interstate-66 in Delaplane, Virginia. There, Laura works alongside her husband to produce a medley of ciders – such as the seasonable harvest pumpkin – all while managing a house bustling with her children and their cousins.

With Cider Week VA quickly approaching on November 10-19, we decided to catch up with Louden about Cobbler Mountain. She shared some tricks that helped the couple grow their business and described her approach as DIY, which she evinced by battling through her interview with a broken tooth.

With a wholesome country drawl and in the company of her dog, Corky – who spent the entire interview snooping around the picnic table – Laura provided a glimpse into her life, and her experiences in the wine and cidery businesses.

On Tap: How did the farm come to be in your family?
Laura McCarthy Louden: My father wanted to take his writing into the classroom and teach in the countryside. He started spending a lot of weekends driving out here, and was able to make contact with the farmer. Together, they made a handshake deal on the steps of the old farmhouse – 90 acres for $100 an acre.

OT: At what point did you and Jeff become the owners?
LML: My mom held onto the farm for 40-plus years [following Laura’s father’s death]. He bought it in August of 1959, and we moved in in September of 2009. For us, it turned into, “Alright, what do we to do to get started?” We just got it into motion.

OT: What inspired you and Jeff to open a winery-cidery? Has producing wine and cider always been a shared passion of yours?
LML: When we were first married, he had small batches all over the place – wine, ciders, beer. [My daughter Olivia’s] bedroom closet backed up to our kitchen pantry, where [Jeff] always had a five-gallon vessel brewing. Olivia came down the hall and said, “Daddy, Daddy, the merlot has fermented. I can smell it in my closet!” That’s when the light bulb went off that I needed to introduce Jeff to the farm. I grew up wanting to be here. But until you meet the right person or something happens in your life, you don’t have that push.


COBBLER MUST-HAVES

Laura and Jeff’s partnership
Their customers, staff
and volunteers
Brand integrity
Quality fruit
Bottles


OT: What was it like getting the business up and running?
LML: Ten thousand visitors trickled in [during] the first 18 months. Over the years, it’s tripled. Production has expanded like crazy. Jeff is taking a break from new wine production. He’s produced many award-winning wines, and enjoyed making them. [But] he’s found his favorite to produce is the hard cider. And in order to keep up with that demand, which is grand, we’re focusing on channeling our time, energy and financial efforts into the cider production, allowing wine to pause.

OT: In what ways is Cobbler Mountain an eco-friendly business?
LML:
I have a lot of respect for the environment. When someone is planning a party out here, no Styrofoam is permitted by any of our customers. When we first opened, we recycled every single bottle – customers would return their bottle in exchange for a complimentary glass of wine. Now [with] the four-pack carrier, there’s an invitation to recycle it [and] bring it back to us ready to refill with four new bottles. And each time you take it on another trip and recycle it, I’ll pour you a complimentary pint.

OT: What’s your favorite style produced at Cobbler Mountain?
LML:
I don’t usually like to tell anyone that, so that I don’t influence them. [But we] both absolutely love the Traditional Jeffersonian – that is the classic. I’m a ginger fanatic, so I love both of his gingers.


CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT

Laura and Jeff’s partnership
Bath salts
Outdoor showers
Chaco shoes
Cider


OT: How would you describe the Cobbler Mountain community? Who visits?
LML:
I call it a baseball diamond day when customers have visited from the greater DC area, [or when] I discover a customer that is actually a neighbor surrounding the mountain. That is a huge difference – moving from the suburbs of South Carolina to farmland in Northern Virginia – because it’s not just a little neighborhood. You’re not living in the city where your block is your community. Our community is our customers, our farm community and our industry.

Visit Cobbler Mountain Cellars’ website at www.cobblermountain.com to learn more about the winery-cidery, and how they’re celebrating Cider Week VA.

Cobbler Mountain Cellars: 5909 Long Fall Ln. Delaplane, VA; 540-364-2802; www.cobblermountain.com