Photo: courtesy of Via Sophia

New and Notable: Casta’s Rum Bar, Oak Steakhouse, Piccolina 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

Casta’s Rum Bar
Open: August 2
Location: West End
Lowdown: This colorful Cuban oasis is the result of a collaboration between the mayor-appointed Chairman of Nightlife and Culture, Vinoda Basnayake (who is also behind Heist Night Club and Morris American Bar) and the Cuban owner of Castañeda Cigars, Arian Castañeda. The indoor dining area and bar hides underground, but is full of life thanks to plenty of greenery, weathered walls and murals of the streets of Havana. Outside, the patio is infinitely Instagrammable, with lots more wall art and plants, dangling string lights and leaf tropical print upholstery. Chef Alberto Vega’s menu is made up of Cuban classics like a Cuban sandwich, empanadas, croquetas and ceviche Caribeño with citrus, mango, pineapple, cucumber and plantain chips. Cocktails are mainly rum-based and they don’t skimp on the rum. Choose from a simple mojito or a playful frozen Sexo Tropical with cognac, rum, coconut Red Bull and watermelon. For the full Cuban experience, pair your meal or drink with a cigar in the designated area of the patio. 1121 New Hampshire Ave. NW, DC; www.castasrumbar.com

Oak Steakhouse
Open: July 12
Location: Old Town Alexandria
Lowdown: Oak Steakhouse from Charleston-based restaurant group Indigo Road Hospitality has sprouted up in Alexandria. It’s the group’s second outpost in the area – the first being O-Ku Sushi restaurant in the Union Market neighborhood. Executive chef Joseph Conrad helms the newest location of Oak, highlighting Virginia ingredients with modern flair. The rustic reclaimed wood and exposed brick dining room gives way to a pewter tile open kitchen, where steaks and chops are the centerpiece. The options range from a modest 8-oz. Certified Angus Beef filet to a massive 36-oz., 60-day, dry-aged prime porterhouse for two. All the cuts can be enhanced with sauces and butters like the house steak sauce or black truffle butter, as well as accompaniments like a grilled half lobster tail or bone marrow. As if that wasn’t enough, there are decadent sides like baked and fried potatoes and crispy Brussels sprouts.  Don’t forget to start with appetizers like parker house rolls with cultured butter or creamy oysters Rockefeller. For dessert, opt for the peanut butter semifreddo, which mimics the flavors of a caramel apple, with caramel sauce, peanuts and Granny Smith chunks. 901 North Saint Asaph St. Alexandria, VA; www.oakalexandria.com

Piccolina
Open: July 29
Location: CityCenter
Lowdown: Chef Amy Brandwein’s restaurant family has grown by one with the addition of Piccolina, or “little one.” Her second restaurant complements the first, as an all-day café serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s right across the alley from Centrolina restaurant and market, in the former RareSweets space, which was given an Italian makeover with brushed wood, hammered copper countertops, colorful and comfortable seating and a wood-fired oven. Much of the menu comes from that oven, including 10 rotating varieties of freshly baked breads and sandwiches, crepes and omelets cooked in custom long-handled iron pans and roasted fruits and vegetables like grapefruit and broccoli rabe. In addition, Piccolina is now home to several of the market offerings formerly at Centrolina, like pastries, coffee and prepared items like chicken salad, caponata and the beloved eggplant Parm. Rotating Italian varietals of wine as well as spritzes and house-made sodas pair well with the selections. Brandwein took significant time to prepare for the opening of Piccolina – she took a research and development trip to Sicily to perfect one of the featured wood-fired menu items, a stuffed flatbread called scacce. She also attended the San Francisco Baking Institute to learn the craft of bread baking. The menu will change with the seasons, as ingredients are available from the nonprofit farm DC Urban Greens. 963 Palmer Alley, NW, DC; www.piccolinadc.com

Via Sophia
Open: June 12
Location: Downtown
Lowdown: As part of the Hamilton Hotel’s multi-million dollar renovation, the property is now home to Via Sophia, a southern Italian osteria. The restaurant is headed up by executive chef Colin Clark, who served as the chef de cuisine at Fiola Mare. Sleek and bright, the space lined is with black and white quartz, illuminated by geometric fixtures and dotted with antique pizza paraphernalia. On the menu, Neapolitan pizza is a focus, kissed by the flames of the oak-burning oven handmade in Italy. Antipasti, crudo, pasta and hearty entrees like monkfish ossobucco round out the offerings. The beverage program skews heavily toward Italian wines, with local craft beers and spirits available as well. For an aperitif or a nightcap, head around the corner to the micro cocktail bar, situated off the lobby and hidden by day. Society is revealed at happy hour, when the 1920s art deco-inspired bar and lounge opens to the public. With dim lighting, dark leather, diamond glass chandeliers and curious artifacts, the space is reminiscent of the alleged interior of Yale’s Skull and Bones Society’s meeting hall. The succinct menu includes craft libations like the Triumvirate with whiskey, walnut liqueurs, dry vermouth and house bitters. 1001 14th St. NW, DC; www.viasophiadc.com

NOTABLE

Hook Hall
Location: Park View
Lowdown: DC’s coolest new event space has taken shape in a 13,500-square-foot 1940s building, with modern touches that don’t erase the antique character. On the walls, dark black bricks – actual cinderblocks – peek through industrial fixtures and a 15-foot projector screen. The café and tavern takes after its namesake, Captain Hook: Hook Hall is a place where no one will tell you to grow up. Dog- and kid-friendly, the space is filled with lawn games, communal tables and cabanas on the outdoor synthetic lawn. During the day, the café offers Vigilante coffee and food from Bread and Chocolate. In the evening, it turns into a bar and beer garden with cocktails, beer, wine and food from rotating local vendors like Rocklands, Smoke and Ember and Sunrise Caribbean. (After 9pm, it’s 21+.) The venue is regularly open to the public and also available for private bookings. Owner Anna Valero also plans to offer events like beer and wine festivals, edutainment courses, screenings of sporting events (including international soccer), workout classes and more. 3400 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.hookhall.com

Odd Provisions at Dio Wine Bar
Location: H Street
Lowdown: Pioneering natural wine bar, Dio, has partnered with a fellow woman-owned business to revamp their food offerings. [email protected] began this summer and is here to stay, featuring the food by Odd Provisions, a contemporary corner market in Columbia Heights. The new menu was designed with wine in mind – think cheese and charcuterie pairings, snacks like chicken liver mousse, hummus and pickles, as well as seasonal salads and sandwiches like the spicy salami with herb pesto, Gordy’s cherry pepper spread, fennel confit and pecorino. The partnership also means you can place special orders to buy Dio wines through Odd Provisions. 904 H St. NE, DC; www.diowinebar.com

Erika Rose + Craig Wallace in Fences // Scott Suchman

August Wilson’s “Fences” Tackles Issues of Race, Identity + Family

August Wilson’s Fences offers an enduring look at the everyday struggles of black Americans through the lens of ex-ball player Troy Maxson and his complicated relationship with his family. Though the groundbreaking Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play takes place in 1950s Pittsburgh, the text has resonated with theatregoers since its run in the late 80s on Broadway and will continue to do so at Ford’s Theatre from September 27 to October 27. We spoke with director Timothy Douglas, one of the foremost Wilson interpreters, about why he’s drawn to the playwright’s work and how Fences continues to hold relevance with today’s audiences.

On Tap: Fences is a legendary production. Its Broadway runs featured both Denzel Washington and James Earl Jones as Troy, and Washington recently directed and starred in the Oscar-nominated film adaptation. Why do you think this material is so powerful 34 years after August Wilson penned it?
Timothy Douglas: August Wilson is one of the world’s great playwrights, and the play can speak and reflect [on] the ongoing relevance in and of itself and the world it exists in. It’s a milestone in inviting the intimacy of what it’s like to be black in America, so you can get a sense of that while August unfolds his own story.

OT: How difficult is the balancing act of honoring the source and adding your own personal twist to a story like this?
TD: Any well-written play, and specifically Fences, for me is like dough. I have to knead the dough and let it rest. When I come back, it expands. I can’t bring anything to Fences. I’m the conduit for which the play further expresses itself. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

OT: One of DC’s notable actors who you’ve directed before, Craig Wallace, is set to play Troy. How excited are you for him to be able to take on this role?
TD: One of the reasons Ford’s programmed this play is [because] Craig Wallace is at a point in his career where he’s ready for Troy and Troy is ready to be interpreted through him. I’m the one who holds the reigns of this great union, but I’m just there to make sure they’re speaking for each other.

OT: Throughout your career, you’ve been involved in a number of August Wilson plays. Why do you keep coming back to his works?
TD: These works will never be the definitive production because it’s impossible to encapsulate it all in one production. It’s my sixth time directing Fences, and I am just picking up where I left off and seeing how much deeper I can dig into the basement of it.

OT: This play obviously deals with race and issues around race in America. Does it mean more to you directing this play in the nation’s capital?
TD: It does. In my experience, the majority of audiences in DC are typically white and don’t know the realities of black people in America. For the first time in my life, there are more white people engaged in the curiosity of what it’s like to be black in America, so they can better perceive the material of this play.

August Wilson’s Fences runs from Friday, September 27 through Sunday, October 27. Times vary. Tickets $20-$70.

Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; 202-347-4833; www.fords.org

Photo: Raisa Aziz

Big Flavors, Baller Bubbles At Zeppelin

While frosé floods the District in warm weather months, the creative minds behind Zeppelin encourage discerning drinkers to sip on something a little bit more progressive this fall. From the brothers behind the extensive cocktail list at Chaplin’s in Logan Circle, Micah and Ari Wilder crafted Zeppelin’s short but heavy-hitting cocktail list with one goal: be approachably esoteric.

“We steer clear of trendy,” Micah says bluntly. “Whatever’s in, we try not to capitalize [on it].”

Their approach at the Shaw newcomer, which opened this spring, is to draw inspiration from experiencing taste and travel. From architectural aesthetics to discovery of an unusual and savory ingredient, the Wilder brothers pride themselves on not acting on things they see everyone else doing.

“[Ideas] don’t just come from our dining experiences,” Ari adds. “It’s not always from other restaurants and cocktail bars. A lot of it is a blank canvas with very little influence from other people and places. That’s what’s always been great about us working together. We can bounce ideas off each other and one thought turns into a whole new direction.”

A large portion of the cocktail list at Zeppelin is dedicated to the highball, a tried and true cocktail that requires only a few basic ingredients: ice, a base spirit and soda water. At Zeppelin, the base spirit varies between whisky, bourbon, gin or vodka. The common denominator? They’re all Japanese and hard to find elsewhere in the city.

While most highballs are meant to be slow-sipping, many fall flat as the soda bubbles dissipate. To create the perfect cocktail, the Wilder brothers asked themselves how they could ensure a drink for sipping and savoring throughout the meal.

“We love champagne,” Ari says. “We enjoy playing with bubbles.”

Enter the Toki highball machine, a device that is able to procure champagne-like effervescence by running water through a coil system that creates small, continuous bubbles. The bubbles pass through a baking soda tablet and finish as a stream. The water pours out slower than a soda dispenser, but the result is long-lasting bubbles.

“It’s like what you see what you’re looking at the bottom of a freshly opened bottle of champagne,” Ari continues. “Bubbles continuously rising, velvety texture. It keeps going and going.”

Rather than just using champagne or a sparkling wine to enhance the cocktails, each libation is finished with highball bubbles so the drinker can enjoy a well-balanced, bubbly cocktail over a long period of time without the effect falling flat. The brothers are proud enough of this finishing touch to include it in the list of ingredients as “Baller Bubbles.”

While the use of a highball machine isn’t the most unusual idea (it’s popular in New York and Chicago), the brothers continue to revolutionize their take on highballs by mixing Japanese spirits with unusual combinations of sweet and savory ingredients.

“We didn’t want a huge, ridiculous scotch program because it doesn’t play with most of our food,” Ari comments. “The direction was to have a smaller, procured program that would focus on newer brands of spirits that aren’t everywhere.”

In fact, food plays a big factor in their approach to Zeppelin’s cocktail program.

“Sometimes you see things that you normally wouldn’t even think to add,” Micah explains. “You take sweet in a different direction. A combination of several ingredients gives us an idea. Food is definitely more of an inspiration than beverage.”

At Zeppelin, Chef Minoru Ogawa influences the cocktail list not by way of menu planning but by providing access to lesser-known ingredients to the expansive sushi menu and Japanese street fare.

“Inspiration is just walking through our kitchens and discovering cool ingredients we’ve never heard of,” Ari continues. “A part of how we’re discovering ingredients is seeing how the chefs use [them] in their sauces. We get to see and test fermented pastes. We ask the chefs about it. We start playing with [the ingredients].”

Fermented yuzu kosho (a fermented paste made from green or red Thai chili peppers, yuzu peel, and salt) and sansho (Japanese peppercorns, which are similar to but more potent than Sichuan peppercorns) are both put to work along with ingredients like pandan, tamarind vinegar and choya plum to create the cocktails on Zeppelin’s menu. The yuzu kosho in particular is the defining ingredient for Zeppelin’s number one bestselling cocktail: The Heartbreaker.

“It really pushes the depth of the cocktail,” Micah confirms.

The brothers take pride in how often regulars will come into both of their locations with questions about hard-to-find spirits and liquors. They’re both emphatic about being an approachable neighborhood restaurant.

“We have a good chef and we love the neighborhood,” Micah says of their Shaw location. “We want to give the neighborhood what it needs.”

Ari adds that their passion is reinforced by people, and “it feels so much more valuable for us to develop such an amazing staff and culture of regulars and neighborhood supporters.”

So the next time you’re at Zeppelin, dive in with questions about the cocktail program. If you’re looking for a certain spirit, the Wilder brothers will most likely source it for you and incorporate it into the next iteration of their drink menu.

“[Our customers] continue to be a part of the decisions we make.”

Learn more about Zeppelin at www.zeppelindc.com.

Zeppelin: 1544 9th St. NW, DC; 202-506-1068; www.zeppelindc.com

Cha Wa's J’Wan Boudreaux and Joe Gelini // Photo: Erika Goldring

Cha Wa is Comin’ For Ya

It starts with a needle and thread.

“You have to want to sew to be an Indian – that’s the key rule,” says J’Wan Boudreaux, lead singer of Cha Wa, a Mardi Gras Indian brass band from New Orleans.

To truly join a tribe, one has to sew his own suit adorned with colorful feathers, beads and patches. Each suit represents the soul of its creator, its wearer. That’s why Boudreaux stitched images of dream catchers, Native Americans and the tools with which they hunt on to his own.

“Everybody has their own personal connection to their suit,” he says. “My connection is more spiritual because of all of my patches. We all pick our own patches, and I’m feeling this way.”

Cha Wa, translating to “We’re comin’ for ya” in Indian dialect, digs deep to honor its ancestral roots in their latest album Spyboy, which earned the group a 2018 Grammy nomination in the Best Regional Roots Music Album category. The six-piece jazz group is taking the stage at the 29th annual Rosslyn Jazz Fest on September 7 to bring a little Mardi Gras magic to the District.

Boudreaux shares that the concept for the Grammy-nominated album came from his own personal growth as a vocalist, but the title of Spyboy itself represents the position he holds in his tribe the Golden Eagles.

“Spyboy is the eyes of the tribe,” he says. “I lead the way along the parades, and I’m the one that makes sure we’re going where we’re supposed to go. At one point throughout this album, I stepped up – it was now or never. Everybody had a hand in the album, but it’s about my personal experience.”

Boudreaux says his grandfather Monk Boudreaux, who is the Big Chief of the Golden Eagles, has been a source of inspiration and guidance to him since he was about two years old. Monk is a musician himself and was once a vocalist and conga player for the Wild Magnolias, a Mardi Gras Indian tribe that heavily influenced Cha Wa.

Joe Gelini, Cha Wa’s drummer and founder, used to play percussion with Big Chief Monk in the Wild Magnolias. But in 2014, he officially decided to break off and create his own group. He pulled J’Wan into the project and Cha Wa was born.

“I was fascinated with the music and the culture and art of Mardi Gras Indians,” Gelini says. “As a drummer, I was particularly intrigued because the rhythms are prominent force in New Orleans music. I was hooked.”

The tradition of Mardi Gras Indians stems back to the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, when black men first dressed as Native Americans during the Mardi Gras parade to pay homage to the natives who helped so many slaves escape to freedom.

Today, Mardi Gras Indian tribes continue the tradition of honoring both their Native American and enslaved African American ancestors by parading down the streets of New Orleans and performing the music that is unique to this region and group of people.

“It’s [about] informing people about the culture and not just the music,” Boudreaux says. “We talk about slaves trying to escape with the Native American Indians, and from them showing us their ways, that’s where we get our singing, dancing and music. We’re saying, ‘Thank you.’”

Gelini says he’s excited to share the Mardi Gras Indians’ music and culture with the District this fall because of the city’s own unique go-go music scene, which the drummer compares to New Orleans brass bands.

“We’re going to bring the New Orleans street parade to the stage,” he says. “We’re performing songs from Spyboy and some new stuff including a new single, ‘Wild Man,’ which will be released before we perform at Rosslyn Jazz Fest.”

Mary-Claire Burick, president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, says she’s looking forward to the “diverse and powerful acts” featured at the festival this year – including Cha Wa.

“Year after year, we’ve seen an increasing enthusiasm for New Orleans bands and the great energy they bring, and we believe Cha Wa will continue to build on this tradition,” Burick says. “They’re extraordinary artists who really reflect the spirit of the festival by performing social music that sparks excitement and interactions amongst festival goers.”

On his last words considering Mardi Gras Indians, sewing elaborate suits and performing at the Rosslyn Jazz Fest, Boudreaux had this to say: “Cha Wa means we’re comin’ for ya.”

Don’t miss the 29th annual Rosslyn Jazz Fest on Saturday, September 7 from 1-7 p.m. Go to www.rosslynva.org for more information on the festival, and to www.chawaband.com to learn more about Cha Wa.

Rosslyn Jazz Fest at Gateway Park: 1300 Lee Hwy. Arlington, VA; www.rosslynva.org

Terry McLaurin // Photo: courtesy of the Washington Redskins

Wide Receiver Terry McLaurin Brings Determination and Precision To Washington Redskins’ 2019 Season

After finishing last season with a 7-9 record and missing the playoffs, the Washington Redskins entered their 2019 training camp in Richmond with plenty of personnel questions.

Fortunately, Coach Jay Gruden found at least one easy answer in rookie wide receiver Terry McLaurin. The tough and speedy pass catcher immediately turned heads in Richmond with his precision route-running, sure hands and tireless work ethic. And while the franchise had a half-dozen receivers on its roster at the outset of camp, McLaurin was the odds-on favorite to win a starting wideout spot.

McLaurin’s rapid ascent up the Redskins’ depth chart should come as no surprise, even though he wasn’t selected until the third round of the 2019 draft. The 23-year-old was an outstanding player for the Ohio State Buckeyes, ranking among the storied program’s top 15 receivers in four categories. He was also a role model off the field, graduating in three-and-a-half years with a degree in communications. McLaurin told On Tap that he brings a workmanlike approach to his game.

“I feel like you have to have that [approach] if you’re going to play at this level and be successful,” he said. “You have to enjoy the grind and the process. You can’t be afraid to get criticized and go out there and work on your weaknesses. I try to work on the things I do not do as well harder than the things I do well. I just want to prove that I can be a force in the league.”

Gruden said it’s already apparent that his promising rookie can do just that. In addition to his explosiveness as wide receiver, the Redskins like McLaurin because of his prowess on special teams. Gruden said he loves how the rookie races downfield and pins kick returners deep in their own territory.

“[He’s been] amazing, really,” Gruden told reporters after a practice in mid-August. “I didn’t know he was this good. He is a powerful, explosive player. He can really, really run. He’s detailed in his work. He’s smart. He has been one of our better players in camp.”

A few days later, Gruden was back at the podium heaping more praise on his rookie receiver.

“Terry is doing an excellent job. He can do everything: he can block, he can run the vertical routes, he can run the short, intermediate routes. He made an unbelievable double-move today. I’ve just been very impressed with the total package of Terry – not just his speed but his toughness, his attention to detail, his ability to finish play, his ability to block [and] line up correctly. He’s just been outstanding in all phases.”

The admiration seems mutual. McLaurin said Gruden’s upbeat enthusiasm is infectious.

“Coach Gruden is very competitive,” he said. “He wants to win every drill and he’s an offensive-minded coach, so he gets really animated when the offense isn’t making the plays we should. He holds everybody to a high standard, and I feel like when you have that kind of energy as a head coach, it just permeates through the rest of the team. He sets a great example.”

The Redskins hadn’t announced which quarterback prospect – Case Keenum, Colt McCoy or rookie Dwayne Haskins (Keenum was named starting quarterback at the end of August) – would be throwing the ball to McLaurin this season at the time of this interview. But the wide receiver said he wasn’t concerned about who the starter would be.

“I just try to create a chemistry with any of three [quarterback prospects] in there. One thing they do like is how I define my routes.”

Crisp, well-defined routes are a hallmark of McLaurin’s game, and it’s something he continued working on throughout training camp. What does that mean, exactly?

“It’s using your body language when you run a route,” he explained. “If you’re going to run a route, you want to define the angles. You want to be consistent in the way you run your route and define your angle full speed. If you’re taking the route skinny, take it skinny and if you’re going to flatten it off, you need to do it as fast as possible and keep that angle and don’t deviate from that.”

McLaurin’s pleased to have a familiar face on the field in Haskins, who played college ball with the wide receiver at Ohio State.

“We’re learning a new system, but the chemistry is still there. A post route is still a post route. I’m trying to tell him what the receivers are looking for and he’s telling us what the quarterbacks need, so it’s been very beneficial.”

While intensely focused on the difficult job of nailing down a starting slot on a competitive NFL roster, McLaurin said he sometimes does allow himself a moment to reflect on his hard-won NFL career.

“You set out a goal and have dream when you’re 7 years old. I took school very seriously. But this has always been my dream and my goal, and I was willing to put in the work to make it happen.”

Now his dream is to help make the Redskins winners again.

“One thing I’ve noticed is that Redskins fans are very loyal and they’re hungry for a winning team. Hopefully, I’ve been drafted to come in and help wherever I can. It’s cool to be a part of an NFL organization with such great history.”

Catch the Washington Redskins’ first home game of the regular season on Sunday, September 15 at 1 p.m. against the Dallas Cowboys. Learn more about their 2019 season at www.redskins.com.

FedExField: 1600 Fedex Way, Landover, MD; 301-276-6000; www.redskins.com

Photo: Rich Kessler

Where Culture and Community Collide: Culture House DC

Art without restrictions. Interactive installations with immersive experiences. Structured, well-funded programming. Consistent, tangible support of the local community. These are among the priorities reinforced by the leadership at community arts organization Culture House DC in Ward 6. When three strong voices echo the same sentiment in separate conversations, the shared vision and determination of the nonprofit space’s team become palpable – and worth digging into further.

Culture House DC turns six this month, fresh off the heels of a strategic rebrand that whittled the organization down to a simple, very focused ethos: to house all ideations of culture in an encompassing environment including everything from music, multimedia art and fashion to food and fitness.

“We were inspired by the German concept of a kunsthalle: a place for art but also for creatives and community,” says co-founder Stephen Tanner. “There isn’t a word in the English language like it.”

Tanner, who oversees financial planning for the repurposed historic church, had plans to redevelop the space in 2013 but first tried his hand at a short-term art experience with co-founder and executive director Ian Callender. What started as a pop-up in the more than 15,000-square-foot art space – one of several takeovers of abandoned, dilapidated facilities throughout the city to provide community programming – organically developed into a mixed-used, art-centered, long-term development project.

Tucked at the end of a cul-de-sac on Delaware Avenue in Southwest DC, the iconic building is likely one you’ve seen populate your Instagram feed. With bold swirls of color and abstract shapes lining the exterior in its entirety, it forms one bright, cohesive mural. And chances are, you’ve attended an event there too, or at least seen one pop up on Eventbrite. From Swatchroom Co-Founder and artist Maggie O’Neill’s monthlong “Superfierce” event promoting the female art community to TBD Immersive’s In Cabaret We Trust theatre experience – complete with fire performers and burlesque – the experiences housed in the space have been versatile, to say the least.

Tanner and Callender realized from the get-go that there weren’t other spaces like it, and they capitalized on the opportunity.

“It’s rare to have an art experience with this many different components,” Callender says of the building’s sheer size and scale. “We knew that, and we wanted to enhance the art experience with food and music, but really have an environment that encompassed that – especially in this part of Southwest.”

Since then, Callender has worked tirelessly to bring in a range of events to the space – from outside-the-box art exhibits and culinary experiences to private parties and weddings. As a space that relies on funding from the local community while also acting as a space to support that very same community, he built relationships with corporate sponsors to keep the organization on an upward trajectory.

Like many labors of love that undergo creative changes, Culture House has evolved with the times. The organization started out as Blind Whino SW Arts Club but switched to just SW Arts Club in 2017 when the connotations associated with “Whino” started limiting the scope of their collaborations. And now, after six years of hosting a vast and eclectic range of events while also creating opportunities for artists to expand their reach and display their works in original ways, Callender and Tanner are ready to streamline their mission and take Culture House DC next-level.

“We’re not looking to move or shift,” Callender says of his growing staff, which now includes resident art advisor Andrew Jacobson, a marketing and PR rep, a culinary team, and more. “We’re looking to build organically from the ground up […] with a newer identity.”

Jacobson joined the team this spring and is focused on increasing funding around exhibits and planning additional events to support and promote them. He believes this can be made possible by pushing Culture House to become a more structured organization where programming is set further in advance.

“If you have solid programming, it’s an all-around win for the organization,” he says.

Jacobson, whose background includes art curation, music production and involvement in huge art fairs like Art Basel, sees a wealth of untapped potential for the space and is eager to put those plans into motion.

“Culture House wants to be the premier art and events space in Washington, DC. I think we are en route, but we need to make some tweaks to really rightfully claim that title. There’s some things we can do that will really make the venue outstanding.”

Chief among his priorities is pursuing more interactive, thematic installations that can directly serve the community, especially underserved segments, that are right around the corner from the space. And he’s off to a great start, with a two-month exhibit from DC-based conceptual artist Maps Glover opening at the beginning of September. “Save The Seed” offers an interactive experience for audiences to “share and exchange stories and evaluate the value of the soul,” and is built around the artist’s vision of a black seed as a metaphor for the black soul.

Callender views Glover’s show as an artistic vehicle for utilizing Culture House’s space in ways that people haven’t seen, and to get more immersive and integrate unique experiences into the art.

“Maps, from what I’ve seen, has an ability to really articulate that conversation,” Callender says. “That’s what excites me the most: to be able to have a space where [artists] can get creative without any restrictions. I think this particular show will achieve that.”

He’s looking five steps ahead – way past the show being mounted and opening – to artist talks, panels, receptions and other opportunities for expanding “Save The Seed” and making the exhibit as multidimensional as possible.

“[We can] make it not just singular in its approach [by] taking advantage of the space and knowing this will be [Glover’s] home for the next couple of months. If it’s your home, what would you do at home? Invite your people into your home. I’m very excited to see what he has to offer.”

Looking ahead, Callender is envisioning other exhibits that move beyond utilizing just four walls to all six, where the ceiling and the floor also become part of the composition. At the top of his wish list is commissioning an artist to paint a basketball court in Culture House’s expansive upstairs space, and then installing a basketball-centric exhibit. And because the building is the organization’s best canvas, Callender and his team are considering a new iteration of the exterior’s mural – or maybe even just painting Culture House white and inviting people to throw paint balloons at its walls.

Though the façade might change and the scope of programming might narrow, one aspect of Culture House has remained intact since day one: supporting the artists and the surrounding community.

“This is always our goal,” Tanner reiterates. “We do this by making most events free of charge, with a suggested donation. With the community’s help and generosity, and with the city realizing how we support community, we can continue providing experiences and access like we’ve been doing for six years.”

Jacoboson shares this ethos, stressing the importance of raising more funds for Culture House’s no-commission art exhibits.

“Without money, you can’t do the right type of programming. You can’t get the right type of artists. You’re throwing things together at the last minute and hoping they stick. That’s not the way that you implement strong, consistent programming and without that, we can’t serve the community. I have a social and a moral obligation to support things that are going to contribute to the betterment of the community. With more help on that front, we can do a lot more.”

Their resounding commitment to functioning as a true community arts space is only reinforced by the third and final voice of Callender.

“It’s imperative for us to support [our artist community] in nontraditional ways – not just buying art but giving them a platform so that they can do what they do best. Community can mean so many different things to a person, but at the end of the day, it’s all communal. Culture can mean so many different things to a person, but at the end of the day, it’s all a singular node. There should always be a place where culture and community collide. Culture House is where culture meets community.”

Maps Glover’s “Save the Seed” exhibit runs at Culture House through September and October. Follow Culture House on social media @culturehousedc and learn more about upcoming events, including a soon-to-be-announced sixth anniversary party, at www.culturehousedc.org.

Culture House DC: 700 Delaware Ave. SW, DC; 202-554-0103; www.culturehousedc.org

Self Portrait: Tony Powell

DC’s Renaissance Man: Photographer Tony Powell

Tony Powell is fierce with a camera. He’s prompt and demanding of himself and his subjects. He’s direct but not unkind. He’s energetic but not overwhelming. And his work is everywhere in DC, adorning program pages for Arena Stage productions and plastered on the covers of Washington Life. He’s shot for The Atlantic. He’s shot for the Pope. He’s shot most of the President’s cabinet.

“I’ve never been more present, I’ve never been more alive, I’ve never been more secure and solid in what I’m doing,” Powell tells me in Georgetown while savoring a vegan concoction from South Block. “I have friends in every quarter of power in Washington. I’m in the homes of the secretaries, our cabinet here. The photography has just taken off.”

Powell is always positive. 

Early Experience

For a long time, photography was just one of many tools on his utility belt of expression: a portrait here, a selfie there. Many years prior to his time asking people to smile in the studio, Powell was on the stage. In the late 70s, when he was a child attending elementary school in Chevy Chase, Maryland, he participated in a dance organized by a visiting troupe from Howard University’s drama department. Like the other 500 kids, Powell froclicked and moved freely and effortlessly, but unlike the other children, he was noticed.

“They called me on the loud speaker: ‘Anthony Powell, come to the office,’ and I thought I had done something wrong,” Powell says. “I really couldn’t figure out what I’d done. So I get there and they said, ‘Would you be interested in auditioning for a performance?’ They really liked the way I danced and told me I had a wonderful sense of presence. I said, ‘Sure.’” 

Powell found himself on the European leg of Raisin, replacing Ralph Carter of Good Times fame. Here, at the age of 9, he got to experience orchestral performances, professional singers, dancers and creative professionals up close. 

“I got to see how an orchestra was put together. I watched the choreographers during the musical, and I watched how the lighting came together in the costume design and set design all in one major production,” he says. “It was like a fulfillment of an artistic dream of mine, even though I hadn’t yet had the dream. I was able to subconsciously see how it all comes together.” 

This almost unreal experience served as reinforcement for Powell’s eventual career in the arts. Growing up, his family had always encouraged him to pursue creative endeavors, but upon seeing the multitude of outlets in which he could do so, he embraced them all. 

“I was shown at a very young age that the arts were a viable avenue for my life – for livelihood,” Powell says. “I think it’s so important to expose children to the arts at an early age, to really give them a chance to see it as an option. I’m just really blessed, when I look back, that my parents were not closed-minded in that regard.” 

A Juilliard Grad

Upon returning, Powell performed throughout the DC area in ballets, plays and other art forms. As a teen, he modeled in print ads, acted in television shows and movies, and was a frequent audition for plays in New York. At 17, Powell almost shifted gears completely to become an architect. 

“I was going to either be an architect or go to Juilliard,” Powell declares.

Once the famed school accepted him, it was a no-brainer which direction he’d choose, and he enrolled in 1986 to study dance. The first three years were successful, but during his senior year, he encountered his first bout with alcohol addiction. 

After an intervention with school officials and his parents, Powell agreed to get sober and finish out the year, but he ultimately failed. 

“It was a chemical dependence,” Powell says. “It’s a disease, and at first it was innocuous. I didn’t have a problem with it for a long time. I could take it or leave it. They let me come back in 1995 after two of my professors fought for me. I had gotten sober and they championed my cause.”

During this time, Powell says he lived with famed choreographer Anna Sokolow, who introduced him to other renowned artists like choreographer Jerome Robbins and actor Lauren Bacall. He also began composing music between taking classes, dipping his toe into yet another medium. 

“In my mind, it was more interesting for me to write music than it was to play someone else’s,” he says. “That period of time was just nonstop: three to five new ballets a year with my company Tony Powell/Music & Movement.” 

Return to DC

From 1995 to 2002, Powell was a fixture in the DC arts scene, performing at the Kennedy Center, composing and choreographing pieces for the Joffrey Ballet, and making films. He was featured in numerous publications ranging from The Washington Post and The Washington Post Magazine to Washington Flyer, where he was often referred to as a “Renaissance man,” “precocious” and  “diverse.” 

“I wanted people to have multiple levels of experience when they came to my work,” he says.

“I’m going to not only see a dance, to hear a piece or to see a film, but I wanted to challenge people on different levels. So many people around town supported my work at a high level. But by the end, the drinking destroyed all that.” 

Powell began drinking again in 2002, and like a river bursting through a dam, all hell broke loose. 

“[In] 2002, I had probably the greatest performance I’d ever had in my life at the Kennedy Center,” Powell explains. “It was like an apex of my work. It was a combination of everything that I had ever come up with: film, five or six ballets, music. The Washington Post gave me one of the best reviews of my life, and I said to myself, ‘Oh, now I can have a drink.’”

One drink ultimately turned into a divorce and his dance company failing. Seemingly moments after he had finally arrived as a mature artist with great variance and focus, he was gone.

“I felt like, here it is,” Powell says, reflecting on the moment.  “What do I do? It was a rapid decline because when I start, I can’t stop. I literally can’t function.” 

Powell didn’t finally get sober until 2009. He’s close with all four of his children, and the youngest one has never seen him inebriated. 

His most prevalent creative outlet is his photography, and he’s now more often behind the camera than in front of it. In a few hours, he’ll be photographing Ben’s Chili Bowl Founder Virginia Ali before donning a suit to cover a conference featuring top doctors from around the world. 

“In one day, I can’t believe how much fun I get to have doing what I love to do,” he says. 

The artist still composes music and choreographs movements, but on a much smaller scale. He’ll do a piece for a friend here or get commissioned by a company there, if it fits his shoot schedule. When I suggest a new apex performance in the future that once again marries all his arts mastery, he’s coy but positive. Powell is always positive.  

“I had all of that pain to know what that’s like to really know how happy I am today,” Powell says. 

For more information about Tony Powell, follow him on Instagram @tonypowell1 and on Twitter @powellarts.

Beef pares // Photo: Sieg Fuster

The Best of Both Worlds: Tiki on 18th Opens Above Filipino-Inspired Sports Bar

To stand out in the rising culinary metropolis that is the DC area and have staying power, you should be prepared to offer up something different from the crowded pack of gems. That is exactly how Jo-Jo Valenzuela approached serving up mouthwatering Filipino food at sports bar The Game in Adams Morgan, and the menu at their new upstairs getaway Tiki on 18th.

After all, one can go to any sports bar in the District and get a beer and watch the game. But where can you find one that also serves up meticulously prepared sizzling sisig – a popular Filipino dish of grilled pig’s ears with crispy pork belly – or lumpiang shanghai, heavenly pork and mushroom spring rolls with a sweet mango chili sauce?

“The funniest thing I’ve ever heard was when somebody looked at the menu and then just asked me, ‘What is this?’” Valenzuela says of The Game’s menu. “And I said, ‘Well, I’m Filipino.’ And the individual said, ‘Oh, so you’re a Filipino bar?’ And I said, ‘No, we are a sports bar. The cook just happens to be Filipino.’”

Valenzuela is well-known in the area for his expert mixology skills, with previous stints at Brine in Mosaic and AdMo’s Jack Rose Dining Saloon. But, The Game and now Tiki on 18th take Valenzuela from overseeing the bar to also being in the kitchen.

“If you’re passionate about making good drinks, cooking is a big part of mixology and it basically evolved into that,” he says. “Anyone can make wings, burgers or nachos and buy the best ingredients, and it’ll be good. But I grew up in the Philippines and know Filipino food, and that’s my passion. So, if I’m doing a sports bar, I’m going to do the food I’m comfortable with.”

A packed crowd on a recent college football Saturday certainly suggests customers are as equally comfortable with Valenzuela’s food.

“We have one customer that will sit in an hour’s worth of traffic just to come have the sisig,” Valenzuela says of the dish, which involves quite the tedious but worthwhile preparation process. “That’s pretty amazing.”

Along with the sisig, which Valenzuela says The Game has become known for, other dishes he recommends are the gambas al ajillo – shrimp with garlic chili oil and lemon served with crusty ciabatta – or the rice bowls, especially the beef pares with braised beef brisket and garlic fried rice.

For drinks, Valenzuela’s 2015 DC Rickey Competition-winning rizal is on the menu, as is a creative riff on the old fashioned. I Love My BBC (Bacon, Bourbon, Chocolate) combines bacon fat-washed Bulleit Bourbon, orange-maple syrup and chocolate bitters for a fresh take on the classic cocktail.

Upon venturing up the stairway from The Game to the second-floor Tiki on 18th, which opened this July, the vibe immediately changes to an island green paradise. Bright, palm-printed paper covers the walls of the intimate space, with gigantic wicker-patterned chandeliers and an eye-catching tiki bar to complete the tropical vibe. Guests can venture out to the Luau Patio, accented by the “Let’s Tiki, Baby” neon sign.

And while the DC area is no stranger to tiki bars – with the likes of Coconut Club near Union Market and Tiki TNT at The Wharf opening recently – the combination of talent behind the cocktails and bites at Tiki on 18th is giving it some significant advantage. Valenzuela’s partners at the tropical spot include Jonathan Peterson, co-founder of Rum Day DC, and former Service Bar bartender Saab Harrison.

“I’ve had cocktails in the area and in Chicago and New York, and the drinks we have up here are some of the best,” Valenzuela says. “We are extremely careful with how we do things upstairs.”

Cocktail favorites include the Missionary’s Downfall, a made-to-order, frothy, mint-and-fruit concoction that comes in a decorative white-and-green cup, topped with colorful fresh mint. The menu playfully describes the drink as “a pineapple, mint, peach jacuzzi in a blender.”

Valenzuela recommends adding the 1933 Mai Tai to your tasting list as well. The original recipe uses Jamaican rum, Demerara rum, lime and orgeat, creating the perfect flavor combination with a colorful pink-and-yellow tone. Another favorite is the Dons Mix Paloma. Described as “on a Mexican beach with earnest,” the tequila, lime, grapefruit and soda cocktail with a hint of cinnamon is served in a tall tiki cup.

To complement the cocktails, Valenzuela offers a tasty menu at Tiki on 18th of “easy bites” including pulled pork tacos, fatty braised beef tostada, grilled skewers and Mexican street corn. Filipino flavors still inspire the menu upstairs, with BBQ glaze marinade on the pork belly kebabs and a heavenly seasoning on the beef skewers. On Sundays, guests can enjoy all-day brunch from 12-8 p.m. with offerings including avocado toast with grilled pork belly, enchiladas with eggs and tostadas with kālua pork.

In the vast array of DC restaurant concepts, Filipino food in a sports bar on one floor and a tiki bar with tacos and kebabs on another is certainly a unique setup. But Valenzuela laments that if you want to be successful in this business, you truly need to find a niche – and you need to be in it for the right reasons.

“All the big places are closing and that’s really sad, but that just means that everyone needs to step their game up. You have to love what you are doing, otherwise there is no point in doing it.”

Valenzuela says he is hoping to keep the foot traffic flowing through The Game as various sports seasons start getting underway this fall, with plenty of televisions and game-day specials to come. Meanwhile at Tiki on 18th, as the temperature in the District begins to cool down, the tropical escape is sure to keep everyone warm.

Tiki on 18th and The Game: 2411 18th St. NW, DC; 202-846-1952; www.tikion18th.com and www.thegamedc.com

Still from The Cowfoot Prince // Photo: courtesy of Bex Singelton

DC Shorts Returns With Impeccable Taste and International Flair

“We didn’t want to wait around for other people to let us do it.”

Actor, writer and director Mike Doyle, perhaps best known for his Law & Order: Special Victims Unit appearances, is telling me about his latest short film The Chase. Doyle is no stranger to feature films, adding that he has a romantic comedy making the rounds at festivals at this very moment. But there’s politics to producing a longform theatrical release – you need money, time and a prolonged story.

“The great thing about [short films] is that they’re distilled short stories that live in the span of six to 15 minutes,” Doyle continues. “I love that there’s a place like DC Shorts that promotes that kind of storytelling.”

The DC Shorts tagline is simply, “We champion short filmmaking.” Since 2003, the homegrown festival has proven Doyle’s sentiment correct, showcasing a variety of films in every genre from documentary to comedy to drama to action. This year’s International Film Festival & Screenplay Competition is no different, offering more than 156 films from 38 countries on September 19-28 around the city.

“It’s remarkable what you can tell in a short amount of time,” says Bex Singleton, director of short documentary The Cowfoot Prince. “It’s good for people to come away with questions they can explore on their own volition. I don’t think there’s any shame in leaving an audience wanting more.”

Singleton admittedly learned most of what she knows about shorts from film school; The Cowfoot Prince was her final project in college and made its international debut at DC Shorts. The documentary follows Usifu Jalloh, a storyteller from Sierra Leone, and his journey from his adopted home of London to the village where he was born.

The first-time director, who lived in Sierra Leone as a photographer, met Jalloh at a fundraising event. After being knocked sideways by his performance, she approached him with an offer to make him the main subject of her graduation film.

“The story is about the complexity of the relationship with the place you’re from and the place you live,” she says. “Sierra Leone changed the way I saw the U.K., and if you look at the source material that’s easy to access about Sierra Leone, it’s about war or disease. You don’t often see characters. Usifu is such a strong and interesting character.”

The documentary is about 28 minutes long, pushing the boundaries of a short, but Singleton acknowledges the struggles of even getting below 40 minutes. After seven weeks of shooting, both in the U.K. and Sierra Leone, Jalloh’s energy was captivating and worthy of an even longer feature-length documentary.

“He has more energy than anyone else I had ever met,” Singleton says of her film’s subject. “Actually, trying to have an emotional journey through the film and understand what an optimistic person he is – that felt like quite a delicate balancing act. I’m not that used to documentaries where there’s a lot of flipping through happiness to sadness to seriousness to lightness.”

While The Cowfoot Prince marked the first time Singleton and Jalloh had worked together, Doyle’s The Chase marked the latest of several collaborations between the director and scriptwriter Nick Jandl, who based the story on a personal experience where someone snatched his phone off of a restaurant table.

“He was out with his wife one night in Los Angeles and the phone was stolen from the table,” Doyle says. “His wife chased, and he followed. We wanted to fuse that with bigger stakes, more drama. Nick’s character, Tim, is ineffectual. His instinct is not to run after [her]. I wanted to make a road movie on foot.”

Upon reading the synopsis for The Chase, you’ll likely have little faith they can squeeze all it promises in the limited 11-minute runtime. In that short amount of time, the film features “a complex intersection of race, justice and self-discovery.”

“We’re living in a time of division and misconception of the other – from all sides,” Doyle says. “In telling this story about a white guy, a black guy and a mixed-race wife, it speaks to ultimately the good of human nature and how we can cast away some prejudgment and learn something about ourselves in the process.”

Doyle and the rest of the crew filmed the short over two night shoots. With a script of 15 pages, he knew he had to trim about five minutes of content for a better chance on the festival circuit. Luckily, the small-scale nature of the story lent itself to a compact runtime. But editing for tone proved to be the most creatively demanding aspect.

“The film walks a fine line between drama and comedy, and I wanted to make sure the comedic moments sprung from the drama and absurd elements,” he says. “I wanted to make sure we honored those moments.”

The short debuted earlier this year to applause and laughter in Los Angeles. While a premier for a film is always a bit nerve-wracking, the positive reception allowed Doyle to focus on how to market the piece going forward.

“DC Shorts was at the top of the list because I had such a great experience there previously,” Doyle says. “I think it’s a great showcase for stories such as these.”

The festival sticks out to him as a filmmaker because of its integrity and standards, and with films like The Chase and The Cowfoot Prince, this year’s selection is positioned to captivate audiences again and again.

“They just curate really well, so you’re getting the best of the best,” Doyle says. “It’s not just someone who slaps their iPhone out. They have impeccable taste.”

For more information regarding the two films, the entire DC Shorts schedule and ticket prices, visit www.dcshorts.com.

DC Shorts International Film Festival & Screenplay Competition: Various venues in DC; www.dcshorts.com

Photo: courtesy of Bold Rock

Bold Rock Embraces Pumpkin Season With Fall’s Harvest Haze

Pumpkin season has creeped closer and closer toward summer ever since Starbucks unveiled its Pumpkin Spice Latte way back in 2003. Since, the ultimate coffee combo has sparked a renaissance of culinary experimentation featuring the orange veggie with products ranging from coffee (duh) and pastries to this year’s Pumpkin Spice Spam (what now?) While a hint of the squash plant in a latte was a can’t-miss, the flavor’s foray into salted meats seems like a leap – but people just can’t seem to get enough, so why not? At least that’s Bold Rock’s approach.

“It’s always been a request from the customers,” says Lindsay Dorrier, Bold Rock Hard Cider’s director of new business development. “We tried to skew in the opposite direction because pumpkin was an obvious choice, [but] we finally caved because the customers wanted it so badly.”

This is likely music to the ears of cider aficionados who double as pumpkin enthusiasts. Yes, the Nellysford, Virginia-based cidery is following the unshakeable trend of tossing out a pumpkin product with its 2019 fall seasonal Harvest Haze. But Dorrier says the flavor will still be distinctly Bold Rock as the cidery took heavy precautions against simply pumping out something they knew could sell.

So while the cider is unlike the brand’s typically crystal-clear beverages – with floating bits and pieces of our favorite orange edible providing a unique texture – apples are still front and center and prevalent throughout.

“We wanted to craft a pumpkin-infused cider that was still a quintessential Bold Rock cider,” he says. “It’s still an apple cider. It’s just got a hint of pumpkin. We really tried to capture a flavor profile [for] the entire fall harvest.”

Dorrier says the team prepped for the fall season’s newest addition for about eight months, adding that the cidery was still tinkering with what would become the final product at the 11th hour. While the bottle features an orange logo, it’s clear the team didn’t take the path of least resistance by simply dialing up pumpkin flavors. Instead, the cider makers sought to capture the entire palate of the fall season.

“We wanted to create something that we could toast to the entire fall harvest,” he says. “Pumpkin is an important [part] of the flavor profile, but not the entire part. [For] any seasonal variance we use, all the alcohol comes from apples, but we want it to shine through as well. We add in a jolt of excitement depending on what we want to do with the flavor.”

While most fall pumpkin-infused products veer on the sweet side, including other ciders, Bold Rock was weary of overdoing it with Harvest Haze. While they ultimately want to nail it with cider drinkers who championed this special varietal, Bold Rock didn’t want to produce a cider that couldn’t be enjoyed by people who aren’t as cavalier about pumpkin consumption.

“We try to bridge that gap between pumpkin-crazed and the people fatigued,” he says. “We wanted something that could appeal to both. We wanted some nuance in that profile. We didn’t want the drink to live and die [with] that pumpkin preference. If you crave the dry, we have it covered. If you want something fruit-forward, we have that, too. We’re just trying to explore all corners of the palate.”

With apples hailing from Virginia and pumpkins sourced from the Pacific Northwest, the cider hits all marks for both the cider crazed and those enthusiastic drinkers looking for anything featuring the season’s most versatile vegetable.

Bold Rock Hard Cider’s Harvest Haze hits shelves in October and will be available throughout Northern Virginia and DC. For more information about the seasonal release and other Bold Rock varietals, visit www.boldrock.com.