Photo: courtesy of Mark Ein

DC’s Tennis Ace Mark Ein Keeps Citi Open on Home Court

Mark Ein didn’t want to risk it.

The local venture capitalist refused to sit idly while other cities around the world bid for the opportunity to host the Citi Open, which has called the District home since 1969. Apart from his undying, unending passion for tennis as a prominent member of the local sports zeitgeist, the owner of the Washington Kastles and Washington City Paper felt a responsibility to keep the celebrated tournament in the nation’s capital.

“I’m incredibly lucky and blessed to be able to do these things, and there’s a sense of responsibility to make these big events happen,” Ein tells me over the phone. “It meant the world to me to be able to save the event for our region. It’s been a big part of our community for 50 years. It’s touched millions of people. When the possibility that it would move came up, I felt a real obligation to make sure it thrives for the next 50 years.”

In April, Ein announced that the Citi Open tournament would remain in DC after he secured a management deal including an option to purchase the tournament within five years. This year’s iteration takes place from July 27 through August 4. The tournament is the only Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour 500 in the U.S. and often features top players gearing up for the U.S. Open.

The process took six months, but Ein’s commitment to keeping the tournament local and providing support for the tournament’s charity, the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, won out.

“Pretty early on, there was a group of people that wanted to keep it in town,” he says. “They recognized I was a supporter of that, and they reached out to us.”

The Citi Open has historically not been without its own challenges, as the weather and location have created uncontrollable problems for the tournament. Often plagued by rain and heat, matches between top players have sometimes been delayed well into the wee hours of the night. Physical upgrades are difficult to apply as well because the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park, the Citi Open’s venue, is subject to National Park Service restrictions.

“We’re very encouraged by the amount of things we’ll be able to do already this summer,” Ein says. “Fans will notice and really enjoy, and there’s a list of things we’ll be able to add each year.”

The improvements Ein mentions all fall under the umbrella of fan experience: food and beverage options, new air-conditioned spaces complete with curated music and games, and improved transportation options such as shuttles, valets and a “re-engineered parking plan.” For larger developments further down the line, Ein says he is encouraged by discussions with the park service.

“It all starts with the fact that it’s a great event,” he says. “It’s the fifth biggest tournament in the U.S., and the setting in a public park is unique and public. We’ve been re-examining every detail in every area to make it meaningfully better.”

With tournament management comes facing the potential risks associated with the production of the event. Despite variables and the dangers that come with them, Ein never wavers when dealing with his passions.

“I only do these things [because I’m] passionate about them,” Ein says with a chuckle. “The motivation for me is not financial at all. It really is to do something special for my community around a sport that I have passion for and believe in. As big of a financial investment as it is, it’s an even larger time investment. I wouldn’t spend time on it if I didn’t care deeply.”

Another tennis endeavor Ein is famous for is the Washington Kastles, a team prepared to undergo changes of its own. This season will mark the team’s Union Market debut, with a new venue currently being constructed on the roof of the famed food hall in Northeast DC. The Kastles are set to take the rooftop in their season opener on July 15 against the Vegas Rollers.

“We’re thrilled about the new stadium on the roof,” Ein says. “It’s going to be a lot smaller of a stadium, and we’re already close to selling out the whole season. But for the people who get to have a seat, it’s going to be tremendous. You’ll be able to see the entire capital.”

The new venue only sits about 700 people whereas previous seasons saw the team fill stadiums three time as large, Ein says. However, with a video board, lights and of course, a full-scale tennis court on a roof, he’s right to declare it a unique experience.

Experiences are what Ein is all about after all. Recreating for others what he once felt as a boy watching and playing tennis is of huge importance for him. The sport has given him so much, so it’s only fair.

“You learn so many important lessons about life on the tennis court,” he says. “You’re there by yourself, and you find yourself in situations that you have to figure out. It teaches you resilience, discipline, fairness and continuous improvement. It’s a great sport for people of all ages and it’s the sport of a lifetime.”

For more information about the 2019 Citi Open, visit www.citiopentennis.com. For more information about the Washington Kastles and their upcoming season, visit www.washingtonkastles.com.

Union Market Rooftop: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.washingtonkastles.com
William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Stadium: 16th and Kennedy Streets in NW, DC; www.citiopentennis.com

Photo: John Gervasi

Affordable Athletics: Summer Sports Worth Watching

Summer is finally in full swing, giving DC residents the chance to attend some of the city’s best sporting events. But some sports lovers are probably wondering how they can enjoy seeing a good game without burning a hole in their wallet. Look no further: the District and surrounding areas have a multitude of talented athletes on local teams who can give fans an experience rivaling the NFL or NBA without the hefty price tag. Here’s our short list of affordable local sports with summer offerings, so you can get more bang for your buck while rooting for the home team.

DC BREEZE

DC’s Ultimate frisbee team represents the East Division of the American Ultimate Disc League with a 3-3 record and a current playoff berth of 49-36-1.

“Ultimate is an exciting, spectator-friendly team sport that combines elements of football, basketball and soccer but with a flying disc instead of a ball, and you can watch it at the professional level right here in DC,” says Don Grage, DC Breeze Managing Partner. “It’s fan-friendly entertainment with reasonable ticket prices, $5 meal deals, $6 pints of draft DC Brau beer and live DJ entertainment to go along with the spectacular action.”

The DC Breeze joined the league in 2013 and since then, has made the playoffs in three of the last four seasons including the East Division finals in the past two seasons. Head out to see if the team can extend this successful streak. Tickets are $15. Carlini Field at Catholic University: 4900 Bates Rd. NE, DC; www.thedcbreeze.com

DC POLO SOCIETY

The DC Polo Society made their inaugural debut as a team this spring. Matches take place on Sunday afternoons throughout the summer. Attendees can expect food vendors, tailgating, yard games and drinks in addition to the excitement the game provides. The events also give fans a chance to arrive in style: think sundresses, chinos, bowties and big hats.

“The polo experience at Congressional [Polo Club] is welcoming and authentic,” director of operations Seema Sharma says. “Highly skilled polo professionals from many different countries compete in exciting, fast-paced chukkers on three well-manicured polo fields. Visitors, surrounded by lush greenery and big sky above, find an atmosphere that is both incredibly scenic and pleasantly serene.”

All matches take place in Poolsville, Maryland. The venue is a great spot for those who want to venture off to the Maryland countryside for an exciting day of sports, food, drink and traditional fashion. Tickets $15-$85. Congressional Polo Club: 14660 Hughes Rd. Poolesville, MD;
www.dcpolo.com

OLD GLORY

Old Glory is the first professional rugby team in the nation’s capital, and the local athletes put a heavy emphasis on hometown pride. Former rugby players Paul Sheehy and Chris Dunlavey founded the team after years playing rugby clubs in the DC area. Their opening exhibition game brought in 3,000 attendees to Catholic University’s Cardinal Stadium and garnered attention from onlookers on social media. Old Glory joined the Major League Rugby organization last November and is scheduled to play a full season in 2020. In the meantime, the team is set to play its last exhibition game of the season on June 9 versus the Ontario Blues. Tickets are $20. Cardinal Stadium at Catholic University:600 Taylor St. NE, DC; www.oldglorydc.com

WASHINGTON KASTLES

DC’s co-ed tennis team has been in full swing since July 2008. Since its inception, the Kastles have racked up numerous awards including six World TeamTennis titles. Within the past 11 years, team members have won more than 100 championship titles including Grand Slam singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles. Tennis stars like Venus Williams, Martina Hingis and Leander Paes have even graced the courts for memorable moments in Kastles championship games.

This year, matches will be held on the roof of Union Market. The new venue will provide a more intimate setting, allowing for only 700 people compared to their previous home at the Smith Center with more than 2,000 seats. Although the Union Market location is smaller, it allows for a more vibrant experience as attendees can partake in the food hall’s diverse array food and drink before or after catching a match. The first match of the season is July 15. Ticket prices TBD; check website for updates. Union Market: 309 5th St. NE, DC; www.washingtonkastles.com

WASHINGTON VALOR

The Washington Valor is the DC area’s professional indoor football team, making its debut in the District in 2017 as part of the Arena Football League. The team has seen recent success, including quarterback Arvell Nelson taking the team to victory in last year’s ArenaBowl championship with a 69-55 win against the Baltimore Brigade. Football fanatics can come out and support the team during the NFL’s offseason; though the Valor kicked off in April, the team plays until July 20 when they’ll close the regular season at home versus the Columbus Destroyers. Tickets start at $15. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.washingtonvalor.com

What’s On Tap: June 2019

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

THURSDAY, JUNE 6

#PridePils Launch
DC Brau and The Washington Blade are thrilled to announce this year’s winner of the third annual Pride Pils Can Design competition: local DC artist Maggie Dougherty. Her vibrant and inspiring label depicting notable LGBTQ activist and prominent Stonewall figure Marsha P. Johnson, best known for her tireless work on behalf of the homeless and transgender communities in NYC, will appear on approximately 28,000 cans of specially packaged Brau Pils this summer. Head to Dacha Beer Garden to celebrate the release. 6-9 p.m. Free to attend. Dacha Beer Garden: 1600 7th St. NW, DC; www.dcbrau.com

FRIDAY, JUNE 7

Art on Tap 2019
Craft beers from local breweries have been artfully paired with selected artwork. Local restaurants have chosen a brew-and-artwork coupling to serve as their muse to create the perfect complimentary appetizer. Sample the creative combinations while drinking from a take-home Art on Tap beer tasting glass and then vote for your favorite at the end of the event. 7-9:30 p.m. Tickets $45. The Art League: 105 N Union St. Alexandria, VA; www.theartleague.org

FRIDAYS, JUNE 7, 14, 21 and 28

Tour de Pour
Friday nights just got way more fun. Join us for a weekly happy hour ride series between Bike Lane Brewing and Lake Anne Brew House. Park and gear up at Bike Lane Brewing then take a short, fun group ride to Lake Anne Brew House for a beer and pretzel pitstop before returning to Bike Lane for another. Don’t have a bike? Contact Bike Lane about a test ride on one of theirs. 6-8 p.m. Bike Lane Brewing: 11150 Sunset Hills Rd. Reston, VA; www.thebikelane.com

SATURDAY, JUNE 8

Rooftop Pride Kickoff Party
Help Red Bear Brewing kick off their very first Pride festival with an open bar and all-inclusive party on the roof of the historic Uline Arena, directly above the brewery. Drag yourself up to the roof for open-bar brews, Stoli cocktails and delicious bites. Hosted by Desiree Dik and blasting the sounds of DJ Nico DiMarco, you might feel guilty enjoying so much fun in one afternoon if you didn’t know the proceeds were going to help fund SMYAL’s work to empower LGBTQ youth and educate their local community. 4-8 p.m. Tickets $65-$95. Uline Arena: 1140 3rd St. NE, DC; www.redbear.beer

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 12

Chef Egg Live: Cooking with Astro Lab Brewing
Join Chef Egg at Astro Lab Brewing for an out-of-this-world, live cooking show. The chef will set up shop in the brewery and show you how to pair vibrant recipes with Astro Lab’s craft brews. Chef Egg will cook sweet and savory recipes while giving you the culinary skills you need to succeed in the kitchen. 7-9:30 p.m. $25. Astro Lab Brewing: 8216 Georgia Ave. Silver Spring, MD; www.astrolabbrewing.com

FRIDAY, JUNE 14

Four-Course Beer Dinner
Pinstripes is bringing craft beer lovers a taste of their chef’s culinary expertise with a special dinner inspired by and paired with selections from Heavy Seas Beer. A rep from Heavy Seas and Pinstripes’ chef will lead guests through a deliciously fun four-course dinner. 7-9 p.m. $60. Pinstripes: 1064 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC; www.pinstripes.com

SATURDAY, JUNE 15

Old Ox & Friends
Old Ox turns five this June and they’re throwing a party. Come celebrate with new beer releases, old beer revivals, two awesome bands and delicious food all day long (did someone say free cake?) Plus, this provides the chance to be one of the first to see (and drink in) the new Middleburg location. 12-9 p.m. Tickets for a bus tour from the Ashburn location to Middleburg are $50. Old Ox Brewery: 44652 Guilford Dr. Ashburn, VA; www.oldoxbrewery.com

SATURDAY, JUNE 22

Silver Spring Block Party
Mark your calendars and join as Silver Branch Brewing Company releases their Gold Line Classic American Pilsner. Hill Country Barbecue Market will be on hand to serve delicious barbecue, and Hill Country LIVE will be producing live music on the plaza with The Dirty Grass Players. 12 p.m. – 12 a.m. Silver Branch Brewing Company: 8401 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.silverbranchbrewing.com

SUNDAY, JUNE 23

Pints and Paws
Studies have shown that pet ownership and beer drinking may contribute to a longer life. In that spirit, DC Brau will be hosting the Humane Rescue Alliance (HRA) for a meet and greet of some of DC’s most eligible kitties and canines. Join for a dog and cat adoption event. Enjoy a brew ($1 per pint will be donated to the HRA) while shopping the newest pet gear and treats from The Big Bad Woof, and maybe even go home with your new best friend. 12-3 p.m. DC Brau: 3178 Bladensburg Rd. NE, DC; www.dcbrau.com

TUESDAY, JUNE 25

Profs and Pints: The Real Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is one of the most popular in television history. Come learn the history from which the show draws. It might not feature real dragons or Khaleesi, but it does have nearly all the violence, treachery and strange family relationships. It was called the Wars of the Roses because it involved a protracted fight for England’s throne between two branches of its royal family: one represented by a red rose and the other by a white one. 6-9 p.m. Tickets $12-$15. The Bier Baron Tavern and Comedy Loft: 1523 22nd St. NW, DC; www.bierbarondc.com

No Kings Collective’s Brandon Hill and Peter Chang

No Kings Collective Is Here To Play Forever

“A mural’s not going to stop anybody from getting murdered. But is it less likely for bad things to happen on a super visible corner? Probably.”

I’m sitting across from Brandon Hill and Peter Chang when Hill tells me with full earnestness that it’s easy for an artist to tell the narrow story of, “We painted a mural, so things are better now.” But it’s the ability to shift a community’s perception by making a street corner feel safer that truly makes an impact.

We’re sharing a high-top overlooking an eerily empty Nationals Park on a recent Saturday morning, just a stone’s throw from the pair’s latest mural capturing the Americana spirit of DC baseball. When I arrive, the artists are putting some final touches on their new work, and it’s immediately apparent to me that the founders of creative production brand No Kings Collective embrace the hustle.

I don’t mean this in a buzzwordy kind of way. They’re not “creatives” or “tastemakers” that press the flesh at events and slap their name onto a project for brand recognition. They haul gallons of paint, set up ladders, break down scaffolding, brave the elements. They paint for a living.

But that isn’t to say they don’t use their brand for good. They’re both adamant about supporting the city’s art scene, especially in neighborhoods that benefit directly from their work.

“We’re all about bringing accessibility for arts and culture to the DC community,” Chang says.

He brings a fierceness and intensity to the conversation, one that commands respect, as he and Hill open up about some of the misconceptions of how No Kings came about and what they actually do.

“I’ll take this chance right now to set that straight. We’ve done a mural for Turner Elementary in Southeast. We have multiple projects in Ward 7 and Ward 8. We work with so many different nonprofits in the city. We’re all about not taxing the artists, not taxing the people. Almost all of our events have been 100 percent free.”

The artists say community projects like Turner Elementary are no-brainers, and while they are working artists relying on paychecks from commissioned pieces, they go above and beyond on a regular basis to give back to the city’s many neighborhoods – especially those that are struggling.

“I think artwork in public spaces is the bee’s knees,” Hill says after letting me know that he’s about to get super meta for a second. “I just think that it’s the bee’s knees to be able to get paid for something that benefits the public.”

A SCRAPPY START

No Kings is a familiar name in the District, attached to a myriad of projects and pop-ups. But like so many of us that play in creative spaces, what they actually do sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of their hip factor. 

“It’s interesting to hear how we’re perceived because I know what the story is, and it’s a lot more scrappy than it might seem,” Hill says.

The pair banter like an old married couple, ribbing each other mercilessly and bouncing ideas around weighty topics off one another in the same breath. Their friendship goes back 14 years to senior year of college; Hill hails from Baltimore originally, but has called DC home for the last decade, and Chang grew up in Silver Spring.

Chang says as a brand, No Kings stretches back to 2009 but became a business in 2013.

“A lot of people don’t understand a lot of the things we’ve done even before No Kings was a brand,” he says. “They think we’re just this thing that popped up out of nowhere.”

I ask the guys for clarity: No Kings is a group of artists that does large-scale public fine arts projects and gets people really excited about art content and art happenings. They use the term creative agency(ish) to demonstrate they’ve got the resources to take on projects much broader in scope than what a typical artist or art group could tackle.

When it comes to division of labor, Chang gives Hill full credit as creative director for the past year. And Hill says Chang’s ball game is creative direction in the agency(ish) space, “where murals or public artwork can be merged with social happenings or activations and require real strategic planning.”  They split administrative work, business development and other unsexy parts of the daily grind evenly; they both have zero interest in taking all the credit or making it about themselves.

“We just do what we have to do when we have to do it to get things done,” Chang says matter-of-factly. “Everything just falls under the No Kings wheelhouse, so anything we produce, we just tell people we [are doing it].”

Their refreshing lack of pretention extends to their team of five part-time artists who support projects as needed. They’re not looking for the biggest names in the local art world. They need problem solvers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

“Just because someone’s a really, really talented artist doesn’t mean they’d be a good worker to paint murals because you have to problem-solve a lot of practical issues, and those issues do not exist in a controlled studio,” Hill says. “Sometimes you’re just fighting the weather or you’re coming in at night to do your projection work. You’re always defeating something and none of that can aesthetically be shown. People see flowers. You need a mixed bag of art and contractor: someone who can think with both of those brains.”

GOOD ART FIRST

It’s been a busy year for No Kings, with no plans to slow down anytime soon. The agency(ish) turns 10 this year, and Chang says they’re going big. Next up is their three-day block party to close out Apple Carnegie Library’s StoryMakers Festival on June 27-29, and the launch of a No Kings-themed corned beef and kimchi sandwich at old-school Brentwood deli MGM Roast Beef on July 13.

Hill says they’re also currently working on 15 walls throughout the city, and while the Nats mural had its big unveiling in mid-May, he still plans to make minor changes throughout the summer to ensure it’s fan-proof. He wears the hat of a sentimentalist and a pragmatist simultaneously, walking me through the symbolism of this homage to America’s favorite pastime while also being real about the high-traffic location of the artwork.

“A really good piece of art can age, so that was a challenge to think through. How can we execute these more pressing goals – to reflect the organization and baseball as a whole and to make it as Nats-y as possible – but then also make sure it’s something that can age well both from an aesthetic and technical perspective? There’s going to be beer and popcorn and children and people leaning on the wall. How do you keep this thing looking good?”

Hill takes the collaboration seriously, especially because the team approached No Kings directly and had a vision in mind for what they wanted the piece to represent. He likens murals to getting a tattoo, where you navigate any gray area with your tattoo artist before deciding what that rose or anchor is going to look like on your body. But with the Nats, he and Chang had to encapsulate the feeling of newness in the ballpark while also reflecting the nostalgia and family values tied to the sport.

“Baseball is a really unique thing because it goes back to the 1850s, but it’s [also] a completely modern thing. Everything in this ballpark is modern – alien grass, alien dirt, Under Armour – there’s technology in this park, right? But we still think about it with a nostalgic lens. That’s a constant challenge [with] anything that’s OG: trying to always be relevant, [and] trying to explain its newness and oldness at the same time.”

Hill and Chang had another first this spring in terms of creative direction for a commissioned project. Amtrak contacted them to help visually inform its annual Sustainability Report, taking form in a mural behind social sports company DC Fray’s Brentwood office [full disclosure: No Kings shares office space with DC Fray, which owns On Tap Magazine]. Hill collaborated with Amtrak’s creative team to tell a visual story about what Amtrak does through the piece, including the incorporation of lesser-used colors in the railroad service’s color palette.

Now, he’s working with Amtrak’s head designer in the sustainability department to bring the report to life by the end of this summer, with photos of rail workers and other Amtrak employees in front of the mural on hand. Hill is all about the process: he’s drawn to projects that give him the opportunity to inform the public, and possibly shift their perception of a piece or area. 

“I love the ability to be able to defend work and tell a story. If you were already familiar with a piece, that’s the best kind of art because you get to learn new things about a thing you thought you were already familiar with.”

I’m not the first reporter to ask the artists how they feel about the potential impermanence of some of their work, but they tell me it’s something they take into consideration often. Hill says in a weird way, painting a building that might be demolished soon is actually desirable because they can take greater risks with the content and attract more eyeballs.

“If it’s a really awesome piece and it’s got a shelf life, people are going to rush and make sure to catch it before that shelf life’s over.”

I ask another common question because I find it truly fascinating: how do they feel about their work being so Instaworthy? Hill doesn’t view the selfie as a unique issue for art but says it’s strange nevertheless to have an entire group of people who have nothing to do with fine art distributing your work.

“When I’m on the computer designing, I am not inserting a little character of a person to figure how good they will look,” he says.

Still, he says it’s a net win for artists if their work is included in a vanity shot on someone’s Instagram, and someone in another city can easily follow the photo credit back to the artist’s website and consume their content. Chang cuts to the chase with a more direct answer.

“A lot of our clients will say, ‘We want it to be Instagrammable.’ And we’re just like, ‘Why don’t we make good art first? And if it’s good, then people can decide [if they want to post it to Insta].’”

BREAD + BUTTER

Nearly 90 percent of No Kings’ current output is commissioned work pitched to Hill and Chang, but they remain selective about what projects they take on. The real bread and butter, they tell me, is the opportunity to take projects they’ve been asked to approach in a traditional way to the next level. Sometimes this happens by chance, and other times because they’re charged up about the subject matter and know they can take it up a notch in record time.

The former “Work It, Gurl” mural on 14th Street is their self-described bread-and-butter case study. The piece (originally meant to be a 20 x 20-foot mural on a building wall) was commissioned by the Whitman-Walker Clinic at Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center to bring visibility to their work in the LGBTQ+ community.

When the guys learned about the clinic’s efforts, they refused payment, got a grant from the DC Office of Planning and reached out to their sponsors for support. No Kings painted the entire building and threw 14 events in two months.

“We just ballooned that,” Hill says. “We had this public art thing, but we went beyond the aesthetic to try and figure out: How can it be used? Who can we help? But we don’t know everything so it’s kind of like if you build it, they will come, right? We knew people would interact with it. But we didn’t know how, so let’s execute the aesthetic and then let’s just see what else can happen.”

The inspiration for these projects seems to be mostly altruistic in nature, but I see a bit of a competitive flicker in their eyes – not competitive with other artists in the market, but with themselves to face the challenge of making something bigger than anyone originally though it could be.

“That’s why our goal for every event that we do, every mural we put out, every project and collaboration that we do, [is to] push the bar further,” Chang says.

A more recent example, and undeniably their most successful art event yet, was 14th Street’s UMBRELLA in April. The opportunity to plan the three-day pop-up in a mixed-use development fell into their laps; they were approached about using the space before it was torn down and decided to put something together with people they respect who are doing cool things in the District.

“Afterwards, our project manager was like, ‘Wow, I think that was the most successful art fair that DC’s ever done,’” Chang says. “And Brandon and I were like, ‘We threw an art fair?’ And then we looked back at it and we were like, ‘Yeah, it was an art fair.’”

The guys are particularly proud of this effort, as they should be – the event was planned in a whirlwind month-and-a-half and brought in at least $100,000 for participating artists.

“We made zero dollars on UMBRELLA,” Chang continues. “We didn’t take a commission. That money directly impacted those artists.”

They also speak in earnest about the crowd that UMBRELLA – and all No Kings events – brought out. Chang says it’s super diverse, which feels uncommon in what they describe as a segmented city that still self-segregates itself along money lines.

“When you go to our events, it’s all ages, all races, all different demographics. I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve been proud of is to create excitement for the arts for everyone.”

REAL RECOGNIZE REAL

I’m admittedly surprised when Chang and Hill get real with me about how they’ve had to fight to carve out a space for themselves as working artists in DC’s creative scene. They recall countless galleries and “creatives” who wouldn’t give them the time of day a decade ago; and now, some of those same folks are reaching out to collaborate with No Kings. In fact, Hill says their name is reflective of their struggle to get into the “polished art scene” in their early days.

“It strikes a nerve because we’ve been busting our asses for 10 years and no one gave us the time of day or recognition,” Chang says. “Now [when] we get a little bit of it, people come out of the woodwork just hating.”

Hill keeps it light, inviting the haters to come out and work one of his days.

“Be my guest,” he says, chuckling.

Even still, he says the memory of No Kings’ evolution is long, deep and littered with lack of acceptance from DC’s art scene.

“[The haters] are still just not getting that a smaller city can make a bigger footprint by working together and not being divisive. If someone is going to say ‘No,’ I already can’t work with you. So we’re just going to do our own content and work with people that want to work.”

At the end of the day, the guys remain unphased because they knows the proof is in the pudding.

“When it comes down to the actual creatives in the city who are doing stuff, it’s just real recognize real,” Chang says. “I know who is actually putting in the work and they command respect, as we command respect from other people in our industry. The more you can open people’s eyes up about what’s going on in the city, and what artists are doing and what real creatives are doing, then the people who have just been masquerading really can’t get away with it anymore. I think it’s slowly happening.”

But Chang and Hill are still playing the game, because they are in DC for the long haul and they’re not about burning bridges – as tempting as it may be.

“I mean look, this ain’t 8 Mile,” Hill says. “I’m not going to drop a mic after the rap battle and be like, ‘F–k you all,’ you know? It’s a small town. You’ve still got to work with these people. It’s not personal, right?”

Resiliency seems to be the secret sauce for No Kings; there’s a lot to be said for maintaining a thick skin and positive attitude when you have to play in the same sandbox with artists determined to compete for the same resources instead of banding together to create and promote interesting content.

“They view us as this new guard or whatever, but me and Brandon have been here 14 years,” Chang says.

“On a lift working,” Hill chimes in, before Chang tells it like it is yet again.

“We’ve seen trends come and go, but we’re here to play forever.”

Follow No Kings Collective on Instagram @nokingsdc. Learn about their projects at www.nokingscollective.com.

Photo: courtesy of Eaton

DC’s New Wave of Hotels: Socially Aware Cultural Hubs on the Rise

The way we experience commerce is changing.

In the Internet age, shoppers who make the effort to visit bricks-and-mortar expect more than an experience. They want to activate good – whether through self-improvement, support for local artists or improving the workforce.

Take the brand-new Apple store, now housed in the Carnegie Library, which was lovingly restored to include a learning atrium and upgraded space for the resident DC History Center. Initial fears that Apple would exploit and destroy the Beaux-Arts space have evaporated amid excitement that locals are promoting the stylish, revitalized platform. This includes a three-day block party hosted by creative agency No Kings Collective at the end of June to wrap up Carnegie’s six-week StoryMakers Festival.

The way we travel is going through the same evolution. In 2019, if someone is going to pause Insta and actually go somewhere, the most attractive hotels are those integrating social awareness, the arts and cutting-edge comfort with the guest experience – and enriching the local scene in the process.

Guests are not just buying a hotel room. They are selecting from a menu of self-improvement, artist and small-business support, and modern style. The stylishness is immediately obvious when you walk into Eaton DC, located on the quiet side of Franklin Square downtown. The enormous windows, lush natural foliage and blonde paneling immediately impart a sense of balmy well-being.

Eaton DC Radio // Photo: Adrian Gaud

But style – and Instagramability – is only part of the experience.

“Eaton DC not only serves as a hotel, but at its heart, as a platform reimagining hospitality as a vehicle for art and radical progressive social change,” says Katherine Lo, founder of Eaton Workshop, which encompasses the hotel.

The lobby includes a recording studio, home of Eaton Radio, and Lo is excited to officially launch Eaton Media later in 2019.

“As one of the core pillars of Eaton Workshop – culture, impact, media, wellness and house – Eaton Media’s mission will support underrepresented filmmaker voices and stories in line with the brand’s radical and progressive values, championing diversity and inclusivity across gender, race, identity and more,” she notes. “We will curate, develop, produce, distribute and celebrate original, rarely seen and commissioned short films from filmmakers whose development as artists and storytellers we are truly honored to support.”

LINE DC’s Full Service Radio // Photo: Pierre Edwards

Meanwhile, LINE DC leads with style and a sense of history. The hotel is an AdMo Insta-star for its location in a breathtakingly restored 19th-century neoclassical church (the church’s organ was transformed into a contemporary chandelier).

“The LINE is wholly shaped by the neighborhood that we’re part of, and by the city at large,” says Morgan H. West, creative/culture director at the LINE.

Guests can peer into the glass-enclosed recording studio, home of Full Service Radio, a community podcast network and Internet radio station. Recent episodes include “Opaline: Briona Butler’s Iridescent Utopia in DC” and “WPA Live Series: Veronica Swift & the U.S. Air Force Band.”

The LINE also operates the Adams Morgan Community Center, a community and nonprofit incubator space that provides free space and capacity for the arts and philanthropic efforts, with priority given to artists and nonprofits in Ward 1.

“Whether it’s through partnerships with the DC Public Library, the Ward 1 nonprofits working in the Adams Morgan Community Center, or the artists featured throughout the hotel and in our rotating public art program – we’re proud of the constant cultural and creative exchanges that happen across our spaces,” West says.

But not every stylish, socially conscious hotel needs a radio station. With a focus on modern budget travelers, Pod DC has led the way in integrating city life into its amenities and using them to move guests out into the District beyond the museums and monuments.

Photo: courtesy of Pod DC

Guests can access Cove, DC’s homegrown coworking brand, to get work done or network with local entrepreneurs. And rather than operate an onsite gym, guests use the nearby Washington Sports Club. Local guides lead walking tours from the lobby, and guests are encouraged to use the bike and scooter sharing services to get around.

And Pod DC has not sacrificed style in the process. Guests entering the lobby are mesmerized by the 60-foot-long multimedia art piece, created by painter Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann and glass artist Joseph Corcoran. The building also features other local artists through a partnership with CulturalDC, a nonprofit that partners with real estate developers and government agencies to ensure that arts and culture efforts are showcased across the city.

DC’s urban development incentives have certainly helped hotels looking to embrace local arts and community initiatives. But these Washington hotels have baked social and cultural dynamism into their brands as well as their business plans, and in the process are anchoring themselves in local life in a way that hotels have too often missed out on. I think it’s time for a staycation.

Eaton DC: 1201 K St. NW, DC; www.eatonworkshop.com/hotel/dc
LINE DC: 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; www.thelinehotel.com/dc
Pod DC: 627 H St. NW, DC; www.thepodhotel.com/pod-dc

Photo: courtesy of Mi Vida

Beautiful Bathrooms: The Cool, The Creative + The Selfie-Ready

Photo: courtesy of Call Your Mother

Call Your Mother

Park View’s bagel shop has become a fast favorite for delicious bagel creations worth waiting in lines out the door for. In keeping with the theme of being a “Jew-ish” deli, the spot pays homage to another Jewish icon – musician, rapper and overall cultural phenomenon Drake. Photos of Drake and his mom are on view throughout the bathroom, complemented by the pastel wallpaper and kitschy colors Call Your Mother is known for. 3301 Georgia Ave. NW, DC www.callyourmotherdeli.com

Photo: courtesy of No Kisses on Instagram

No Kisses

No Kisses’ lush rainforest-meets-the-70s vibe is apparent even in their three differently designed bathrooms. In one, lemurs, owls, peacocks and more watch over you while you do your business, or can perhaps star in your next social post. The spot’s overall use of wallpaper is enough to make me want to plaster my own home with the most interesting patterns I can find and accent everything with jewel tones. Come for the cozy neighborhood bar vibes, stay for the bathrooms and their woodland creature stars.
3120 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.nokissesbar.com

Photo: courtesy of Bayou Bakery

Bayou Bakery

Arlington’s Bayou Bakery brings Southern charm to the DMV. Its bathrooms are plastered with old-school recipes torn from the pages of Southern cookbooks. Ladies can look upon desserts and pastries, and guys can get the inside scoop on the savory side of Southern cuisine. 1515 N. Courthouse Rd. Arlington, VA; www.bayoubakerydc.com

Photo: courtesy of Satellite Room

Satellite Room

The classic Shaw bar has four bathrooms, but you know you’re in for a good night when you find yourself in a stall that’s plastered with stickers. You can spot Stranger Things’ Eleven, NSYNC-era Justin Timberlake and Keith Haring drawings on the wall in this bathroom. There’s something new to be spotted with every trip. 2047 9th St. NW, DC; www.satellitedc.com

Photo: courtesy of Mi Vida

Mi Vida

The Wharf’s destination for modern Mexican fare is visually stunning across the board, and the bathroom is no exception. The bold colors and low lighting make the spot the perfect background for your next Instagram story or selfie. Don’t just take it from us, though – last summer, People Magazine included it in a roundup of best bathrooms nationwide, and the bathroom was up for supply company Cintas’ award for “Best Bathroom in America.” 98 District Sq. SW, DC; www.mividamexico.com

Photo: courtesy of Maydan

Maydan

Maydan quickly became a favorite in the city’s burgeoning dining scene upon its opening in late 2017. The large oven that centers the restaurant is a design element itself, as is the colorful food the travel-inspired spot serves. Its bathrooms feature a fish-shaped faucet, graffiti-like drawings and even a depiction of a tiger asking, “Please let me watch.” Don’t worry, he’s just a drawing and he can’t actually see you snap a selfie. 1346 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.maydandc.com

Photo: courtesy of Kendra Kuliga

Drinkable Designs

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

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

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

Michael Van Hall’s Design for Stillwater Artisanal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: courtesy of Maggie Dougherty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: courtesy of Tenbeete Solomon

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

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

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

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

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

Punjab Grill // Photo: Greg Powers

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

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

Coconut Club

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: courtesy of Kaliwa

Kaliwa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: courtesy of Jennifer Hughes

Punjab Grill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: courtesy of Service Bar

Service Bar

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

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

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

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

Photo: Rey Lopez

Spoken English

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

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

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

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

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

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


Foodie Design Inspo

DBGB Kitchen + Bar

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

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

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

Espita Mezcaleria

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

Hanumanh

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

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

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

Mi Vida

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

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

Photo: courtesy of www.isiphotos.com

USMNT Kicks Off Gold Cup Run at Audi Field

The U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) is gearing up for the 2019 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Gold Cup, squaring off against Jamaica on June 5 at Audi Field in a rematch of its 2017 Gold Cup finals contest, which saw the U.S. team win 2-1.

The game is the first for the U.S. following its official submission of the team’s 23-player roster for the tournament and marks their first appearance at Audi Field as a full unit under head coach Gregg Berhalter.

“We’re in the beginning of a new time with a new coach and younger players, and anytime you get new energy, it creates excitement,” says forward Paul Arriola of D.C. United fame. “After the few games we’ve had under Gregg and his system, it’s been very positive. We’re all very optimistic and fans should be excited about the future and our first real competition with the Gold Cup.”

Previously, the team played its DC matches at RFK Stadium. Arriola is looking forward to playing at Audi Field – his home field when he suits up for the D.C. United.

“It’s exciting because I play at Audi Field week in and week out,” he says. “The fans never disappoint and are extremely loyal. It’s a great stadium and atmosphere.”

Aaron Long, a defender with the New York Red Bulls, is happy that he’ll be finally be cheered on when he steps foot onto Audi.

“I’ve been going there with the Red Bulls and playing against DC, so it will be nice to be in this new stadium and be rooted for instead of against,” he says. “It feels super up close and personal. The fans are right on top of you and it’s an amazing place to play.”

The National Team opens this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, which takes place from June 15 to July 7 in the U.S., Costa Rica and Jamaica. This year’s lineup includes a game against Guyana on June 18 in Minnesota as the USMNT looks to win its seventh title in the tournament’s 15-year history. The team will also have games against Trinidad & Tobago and Panama.

The trio of Jesse Gonzalez (FC Dallas), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge) and Sean Johnson (NYCFC) will serve as goaltenders for the tournament. The team’s defenders will consist of such superstars as Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Tim Ream (Fulham) and Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact).

Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Tyler Boyd (MKE Ankaragucu) and Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders) join Arriola as top forwards, and Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) and Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy) lead the talented collection of midfielders.

“We take this tournament so seriously and we want to make our country proud, so to be part of this team just means everything to us and we’re going to go out there strong,” Long says. “We’re really starting to gel and these games right before the Gold Cup are going to be the last thing we need to bring this team together and go out full force.”

Jamaica is one of the favorites in the tournament, making it to the finals in each of the past two years, so the road to the Gold Cup won’t be easy.

“Our team is no joke,” Arriola says. “We are here to win and continue to build as a national team and be respected around the world. It never gets old putting on the jersey and seeing your national flag on it and knowing you are representing a huge, powerful country with a lot of history and the history of U.S. soccer.”

Don’t miss the USMNT at Audi Field on Wednesday, June 5 at 7 p.m. Learn more at www.ussoccer.com.

Audi Field: 100 Potomac Ave. SW, DC; 202-587-5000; www.audifielddc.com

Photo: courtesy of Sony Music

Zara Larsson Is Proud To Speak Her Truth

Swedish pop sensation Zara Larsson has been making waves since the tender age of 15. Now 21, the outspoken singer of hits like “Ruin My Life” and “Never Forget You” prioritizes using her massive platform to advocate for herself and what she believes in. She’s headlining this year’s Capital Pride concert on June 9, and spoke to us about why Pride is important to her, being a role model to her fans and sticking up for herself.

On Tap: Why do you want to perform at the Capital Pride concert?
Zara Larsson:
I always try to go to Pride in Stockholm. It’s something I really support. I’m lucky enough to have parents who raised me to believe that everyone has the right to love whoever they want. It’s really an honor to be performing at Pride, because it’s still needed. It’s an important cause for people to come out and be able to celebrate being themselves.

OT: What can your audience expect from your performance? Do you have anything different planned?
ZL:
I know we’ll have a great time because I know when I perform with my band, we always have so much fun. Most of my set is up-tempo and fun and dancey, so I hope to bring a little party. I’m very spontaneous, but I have something rehearsed that I’ve been doing for awhile.

OT: In addition to your participation in Pride, you’re known for being outspoken about your beliefs in general. Is this something you always wanted to use your platform for?
ZL:
I think that some people might be worried because they have a career in singing and acting, and might be scared of voicing their opinions because of what other people might think. I think that human rights will always be more important than my career. I just believe it’s a part of me. I stand up for what I believe in. I have no problem with voicing that.

OT: Why is that something that’s very important to you in both your personal and professional life?
ZL:
I think it’s important for me to do that because I know I have a lot of followers who are young people looking up to me. I’d like to be a good role model in that kind of scenario. A good role model to me isn’t to not drink or party or curse. It’s more how you treat people. That’s what defines a good person to me. I’d like to influence as many people as possible. I’m very loud. If I don’t agree with something, I’ll let you know. In school, I was always arguing with teachers and my parents. They raised me in a way where they allowed me to have discussions with them, question things and ask, “Well, why is that?”

I think that kind of shaped me into the person I am.

OT: That’s a very admirable way to be, especially as someone in the public eye. Do you ever feel pressure when acting as a role model or voicing your opinions?
ZL:
It’s hard because of course you want to make people open their eyes and be more empathetic and understanding. But it is hard to argue and be sensitive when someone is saying, “Oh, but if you are gay…” Some parents will say, “You don’t deserve to live under my roof anymore. I don’t want to have any contact with you.” And when things are to that point, it’s very hard to realize how to talk sense into someone like that. It’s a f–king art form. It has to be. But it’s hard. I don’t think it’s impossible. I think that’s why we need to have this debate and talk about it all the time.

OT: You’re a huge advocate for yourself, too, especially in having creative control over your work. What’s it like for you as an international pop star to exercise that kind of agency?
ZL:
I think that everyone can kind of relate, whether you’re in music or not, just as a woman in regular life. I feel like women in general don’t get a lot of credit. People don’t really want to believe immediately that you did all this by yourself or you’re capable of doing it. The songs that I love that have been doing well are songs that I had to fight for. Growing up, I had to learn that I don’t need to listen to every single person who has an opinion on what I do. I know what’s good and what’s not, and should have control over that.

Catch Zara Larsson at the Capital Pride concert on Sunday, June 9 from 6-7 p.m. at the Capitol concert stage. The concert begins at 1 p.m. and is free and open to the public, with VIP and pit passes available for purchase. For more Capital Pride programming, visit www.capitalpride.org. For more on Larsson, visit www.zaralarssonofficial.com.

Capital Pride concert: Pennsylvania Avenue and 3rd Street in NW, DC