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Bartender Ashley McPherson // Photos: M.K. Koszycki

Behind the Bar: Cane Brings Island Life to the District

Intimate, colorful Trinidadian restaurant Cane popped up on H Street just three months ago, and everything about it will instantly transport you to the islands. The restaurant, co-owned by chef Peter Prime and his sister Jeanine Prime, pays homage to their experiences growing up in Trinidad.

The restaurant is small, but its vivid colors make for a unique and welcoming experience. From the yellow wall decorated with beachy shutters to oil paintings (one even capturing former President Barack Obama in Trinidad) to the textured feature near the bar made of recycled sugar cane, everything about the restaurant is intentional and well thought out to make for a one-of-a-kind dining experience.

While the cuisine and ambiance may be the primary allure of this brand-new spot, the well-rounded cocktail program has become more than an added bonus.

“It’s just like the cherry on top,” says Cane’s bartender Ashley McPherson. “The food is already amazing and then you get a nice, refreshing cocktail that brings out the flavor of the food.”


Carnival
Real McCoy 5-year rum and white rums
Pineapple shrub
Coconut orgeat syrup
Angostura bitters


Nestled by the small bar are shelves stacked high with a wide array of Caribbean rum hand-selected by Peter. Selections include standouts like El Dorado, Scarlet Ibis Trinidadian rum and more. Each cocktail is made to perfection with a different type of rum in each glass adding its own flair to the menu.

“It was a lot of fun to play with these drinks,” McPherson continues. “As we got more rums and more cocktails, we thought, ‘Let’s educate more people on rum.’”

Cane’s drink menu was originally only going to include four cocktails. But because of its growing collection and the menu’s success, they saw it as an opportunity to bring more Caribbean rum into their collection and educate DC foodies on how rum has played a significant role in Trinidadian culture.

The District is no stranger to rum bars, and the steady influx of these locations can partially be associated with the start of Rum Day DC in 2011. However, Cane takes a different approach, highlighting the cultural aspects of the spirit.

Whether it’s the food or drinks, everyone is bound to experience the sweet and spicy kick of flavor found in Trinidad while at Cane – from the Cane Fever, which includes a pineapple-habanero shrub that soaks for a week to bring out the best flavor, to the Carnival containing coconut orgeat syrup and the Indian spice garam masala complemented by Cane’s West Indian and Caribbean style.


Cane Fever
Scarlet Ibis Trinidadian rum
Pineapple-habanero shrub
Lime
Sparking water


McPherson also recommends the Irie Old Fashioned. It’s a particularly great option for those that aren’t as keen on rum, as its ingredients of sugar cane and house-made vanilla bitters have a sweet flavor comparable to a traditional old fashioned.

Although the cocktails tend to take center stage at Cane’s bar, they pair well with appetizers like doubles – a popular Trinidadian street food that consists of two pieces of flat, fried dough filled with curried chickpeas – and the jerk wings.

As for entrées, the tiffin box is a popular option for a party of two or more, depending on your appetite. The four-level pyramid is a traditional dish in Trinidad and India, served with Indian bread and an assortment of chutney and curry samplings.

Cane’s sous chef Kyle Burnett says servers break down the shareable entrée, showing diners what the assortment consists of and the variety of sauces that can be paired with them. Needless to say, the dish will leave you full enough to need a to-go box. The team at Cane plans to continue highlighting their variety of rum cocktails through late summer and fall.

“It’s a pretty intimate space and we are packed out every day, so we are just riding that wave,” McPherson says. “We’ll come up with even more fun cocktails for the fall season.”

Cane: 403 H St. NE, DC; 202-675-2011; www.cane-dc.com

Seoulspice's No Kings Mural // Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Real-Time Change for NoMa’s New Identity

In her office situated among the packed NoMa neighborhood, NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) President Robin-Eve Jasper recalls how about 12 years ago, nothing much was built north of K Street. Looking out over the packed neighborhood now, it’s hard to imagine anything else in this evolving spot.

“BIDs in neighborhoods that are a little bit neglected are established by property owners to do a better job keeping it clean and well-marketed,” Jasper says. “In this case, it was a place where a lot of different owners could say, ‘We are all competitors, but we can also collaborate to make this neighborhood really exciting.’”

Exciting might be an understatement. Since its establishment in 2007, the BID has seen the neighborhood experience rapid growth that skyrocketed once-vacant lots into a dense hub for business, retail, food and drink. A hallmark of the neighborhood’s ability to foster businesses and establish a sense of identity in a location that once had virtually none is a fierce emphasis on community and mutually beneficial relationships.

“I think we looked for opportunities that felt authentic,” Jasper says of the businesses that now call NoMa home. “People came to us with ideas. Wunder Garten is a great example. One of the people who started it is Bavarian by birth. He was an employee at NPR and he said, ‘We have no place like a beer garden to go hang out. We should have a beer garden.’ We listened to that and thought, ‘You know, that really does sound right to us.’”

NoMa’s recent notoriety in the food and drink world is all the more interesting given that when development of the area started, the focus was almost solely on office space. As the area evolved and people created homes instead of just workplaces, the turn to retail, food and drink space grew at lightning speed.

“We’ve got a whole lot more coming,” Jasper says. “I think what’s going to ultimately be a hallmark in the neighborhood [is] that there’s this great, nontraditional mosaic of retail.”

This progress can perhaps account for why some of the hottest and newest names in dining have taken up NoMa as their home. Breweries like Red Bear Brewing Co., game bar The Eleanor, sunny and spicy Laos in Town, and fast-casual fun Seoulspice – to name just a few – add to the mosaic Jasper speaks of. As the BID continues to grow and more people find themselves living, working and playing in NoMa, a strong sense of community and willingness to adapt to change will make this neighborhood even more dynamic.

Community Corner

We took an inside look at the community aspect of the neighborhood that’s been instrumental in incubating food, drink and reciprocal relationships among business owners.

Seoulspice

This spot for fast-casual Korean food uses fresh, local ingredients that call back to founder Eric Shim’s heritage and family recipes. Now with three locations, the restaurant differentiates itself from a sea of local fast-casual concepts by “always trying to improve so that the customer experience [is] one they can’t find anywhere else,” general manager Danielle Wilt says.

“We want people to want to come here because they feel like they are loved and appreciated.”

Beyond providing quality Korean food to residents and visitors, the spot has been able to foster a similar sense of community among other area businesses.

“The [BID] provides us with so many opportunities to make those connections and [is] willing to go out of their way to make a more close-knit community,” Wilt continues.

You can now find Seoulspice in Tenleytown and College Park, but Wilt says their home base of NoMa was instrumental in giving them a platform to perfect their business model and community aspect before spreading their wings locally.

“As the BID began to expand and the residential buildings began to pop up and really develop, we have been able to gain a following with residents – people that call this place home as opposed to just calling it their place of work. We’ve been able to really grow. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the community in the past three years and really taken that to help us with our quality of service and quality of food.”

145 N St. NE, DC; www.seoulspice.com

Laos in Town

Laos in Town opened its doors merely months ago but is already making a splash by bringing the cuisine of Laos – along with an excellent bar program and thoughtful décor – to NoMa. When owner Nick Ongsangkoon and chef Ben Tiatasin set out to create a new destination for Laotian food in the District, they took a handful of different trips touring Laos to get a true, authentic feel for the food and the community they wanted to take home and share with diners. Upon returning home, Ongsangkoon looked for a place to set up shop and NoMa quickly became an obvious fit for all he wanted to accomplish.

“A couple of years ago when we started to launch this concept, we would go around eating and looking at other restaurants,” he says. “We fell in love with this particular neighborhood.”

He speaks of seeing restaurants, bars and beer gardens throughout the easily walkable, tree-lined area. The sense of community found throughout NoMa is a great platform for Ongsangkoon’s ultimate goal: to familiarize visitors of Laos in Town with the food and the culture of Laos that inspired him to open this spot in the first place.

“I would like to showcase the culture,” he says as he lovingly recalling his travels throughout Laos and all the cooking techniques his team has brought back to DC. “I believe that if Washingtonians would at least open up, they’ll fall in love as I fell in love. I want them to step into the restaurant and feel like they’re in Laos.”

250 K St. NE, DC; www.laosintown.com

Wunder Garten

Born out of a desire for a Bavarian-style beer garden and a way to fill a vacant lot in the middle of the neighborhood, Wunder Garten has become a go-to outdoor watering hole since its evolution as a pop-up in 2015 to its current location on First Street. Co-owner Biva Ranjeet says that although their transition from pop-up to permanent locale was not unlike other businesses that have made that jump, they “focused on the location, the neighborhood and our unique event programming.”

The space is open year-round and provides a whole host of unique programming along with a robust beer, wine and drink program. The CaliBurger food truck can be found for those wishing to snack, and the large space is conducive to intimate conversations or large groups wishing to catch up.

“We’ve built a dedicated, hardworking team that has become like a second family and cultivated a community both within NoMa and the region as a welcoming backyard in the heart of NoMa,” Ranjeet says of Wunder Garten’s unique digs. “We recognize that we’re not just another bar but a place where people can enjoy some great drinks, food and music in the midst of a carefully curated backdrop of flora – and from time to time, also some great programming. It’s a relatively simple formula but it takes a lot to get it right.”

She also notes that outside of the community it has curated within neighborhood walls, Wunder Garten has become “one of the large attractions to the neighborhood.” The spot draws both locals and visitors to their urban oasis, especially around Oktoberfest and other beer-driven Bavarian celebrations. NoMa resident or not, the once-vacant lot provides something special for all who visit to partake or imbibe in.

1101 1st St. NE, DC; www.wundergartendc.com

Notable NoMa

Carving Room NoMa
Known for:
A second location of Carving Room, featured on the Guy Fieri-led Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, popped up in NoMa this spring. The spot brings an array of gourmet sandwiches, small plates and burgers along with an open-air watering hole to the neighborhood. 140 M St. NE, DC; www.carvingroom.com

The Eleanor
Known for:
This spot features two mini-bowling lanes (pro tip: reserve your lanes online before you and your friends venture out), an inventive food and drink program, and perhaps the most DC namesake of a restaurant to date (its name is a shout-out to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton). 100 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.eleanordc.com

Lily and the Cactus
Known for:
An innovative blend of cuisines from the Southwestern U.S. and Africa, this restaurant offers classics and combinations of flavors you won’t find anywhere else – NoMa or otherwise. 1225 1st St. NE, DC; www.lilyandthecactus.com

Menomale
Known for:
Another beloved spot that decided to bring their offerings to NoMa, the pizza and salumi restaurant set up shop in the bottom of The Belgard apartments this summer. Residents and visitors alike can indulge in the Neapolitan-style pizza that’s made it a mainstay at the original Brookland location, which will open soon in NoMa. 2711 12th St. NE, DC; www.fb.com/menomaledc

Red Bear Brewing Co.
Known for:
Creative brews that are fun to drink and even more fun to order (think the Dom Peri-yaaaas!, a brut kölsch made with hops and full of floral, wine-adjacent flavors), lots of board games, and a fun, inclusive environment for all beer drinkers who walk through their doors. 209 M St. NE, DC; www.redbear.beer

Streets Market
Known for:
Providing visitors and residents of the AVA NoMa apartment building in which it’s situated with a one-stop food shop, plus 30 draft lines and a killer happy hour. 51 M St. NE, DC; www.streetsmarket.com

Free for All

As another way to foster community, the NoMa BID offers all its programming – often involving local businesses – as free to all who wish to attend.

“We make all of our events free so we never exclude anybody,” Jasper says. “It’s another dimension of welcoming people. It’s part of the DNA here and I think it’s had an impact on how people feel about being in the neighborhood.”

Catch some of the following programming throughout the summer. For more information on year-round events, visit www.nomabid.org.

THROUGH SUNDAY, AUGUST 4

FRESHFARM NoMa Farmers Market
Every Sunday this summer, you’ll find purveyors of the best local goods take to the streets of NoMa to share all they have to offer with the community. Find coffee, produce, prepared foods, flowers and more for sale. Visit the NoMa BID’s website for a full list of vendors and special events. FRESHFARM NoMa Market also accepts and matches SNAP, WIC and SFMNP benefits, and is family- and dog-friendly. Located at the corner of 2nd and L Streets in NE, DC

WEDNESDAYS THROUGH AUGUST

NoMa Summer Screen
Back for its 12th year, NoMa Summer Screen’s 2019 theme is “Who’s Got Game?” Don’t miss sports films new and old such as Bend it Like Beckham, Remember the Titans and She’s the Man. Every movie is subtitled, dogs are allowed on leashes and you can indulge in fine food truck cuisine. Visit www.nomabid.org/summerscreen for a full list of films and food trucks. Begins at sunset. Lot on 1st and Pierce: 1150 1st St. NE, DC

FRIDAYS THROUGH SEPTEMBER

Feel Good Fridays
Kick off your weekends every first Friday this summer with a visit to the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro Stop or CNN Plaza for free treats from NoMa vendors Galley Foods, Streets Market and Sweet Science Coffee. You’ll find coffee, breakfast food, friendly neighbors and a much brighter Friday await you. 7:30-9:30 a.m. NoMa-Gallaudet Metro: N Street in NE, DC // CNN Plaza: 840 1st St. NE, DC

THURSDAY, JULY 4

July 4 Bash
This family-friendly celebration of all things patriotic is the perfect way to spend your Independence Day. Come for the cookout and stay for face painting, moon bounces, live music and more. 12-3 p.m. Lot on 1st and Pierce: 1150 1st St. NE, DC

Photo: Vita Images

Diner en…Pick Your Color

“I have to buy a ticket and preorder my drinks – then pack food, table, chairs, flatware and decorations and drag them on foot, dressed entirely in white, across the city to a mystery location?”

My friend usually loves my party invites, but she was struggling with Diner en Blanc.

“In August in the swamp – are you serious?”

But she accepted. And she loved it.

From a spontaneous picnic three decades ago in Paris, Diner en Blanc has evolved into a yearly multicity extravaganza complete with waitlists, hashtags and FOMO.

“It’s the allure of the unknown,” says Bryer Davis, cohost of DC’s Diner en Blanc. “Everything is a mystery until the day of: the location, who you’ll sit next to, the spectacle, the weather.”

And the finished product is genuinely magnificent: a diverse gathering of thousands of Washingtonians clad in white, eating dinner, making friends, waving sparklers and framed by a DC landmark.

But what if your sartorial preferences forbid white? You’re in luck: the last three years, DC has also embraced Diner en Noir (DEN), an evening of feasting and celebration while clad in…all black. But these are not dueling events.

“While there may be similarities, DEN is a community-based event that aims to promote the local arts and business community,” says founder Howard N. Cromwell, who has also attended Diner en Blanc and encourages others to do so.

“It’s a magical, one-of-a-kind experience,” he says of Diner en Blanc.

While Diner en Blanc events around the world feature local artists, the global umbrella organization imposes more restrictions in terms of local charity and small business involvement, which DEN does not have. This year, DEN will make donations to the Northeast Performing Arts Group and the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation.

As for its part, Diner en Blanc offers a global experience with a deep history. Friendships have been formed through the years as enthusiasts travel the world to participate in other cities. Of course, the Holy Grail is Paris, where it all started.

“Diner en Blanc brings people together who want to experience it in as many places – with as many people – as possible,” Davis observes. “Everyone makes the evening uniquely theirs.”

Both Davis and Cromwell attended this year’s Diner en Blanc in Paris on June 6. The evening was also an opportunity to celebrate the 75th birthday of its founder, François Pasquier.

“The night was nothing short of spectacular,” Cromwell says. “We learned a great deal from some of the event’s original European organizers.”

David says he was blown away by the pop-ups, local artists and activations in Paris.

“It gave me so much inspiration for DC,” Davis adds.

I asked both Diner wizards for advice for participants.

“Preparation is always key,” replies Cromwell. “Great preparation prevents poor performance.”

“Pack your patience!” Davis exclaims. “Ultimately, the event is what you make of it.”

Diner en Noir will be held Saturday, July 20; more information available at www.dinerennoir.com/dc. Diner en Blanc is on Saturday, August 24; more information available at https://washington.dinerenblanc.com.

Photo: Hayley Olivenbaum

Behind the Bar: Staycation Edition

Vacations, no matter how lovely, are never quite long enough. You deserve more than a weeklong romp on the beach and there are ways to recreate that magic without straying far from home. Enter Coconut Club, located catty-corner to Union Market, and The Wharf’s Tiki TNT: two places that can help you recreate vacation vibes while whipping up drinks that are tasty and tropical. While I fully encourage taking as many trips as you can fathom, you can make any day a little sunnier when you walk through the doors and up to the bars at both of these locations.

Coconut Club’s Chris Chapman, Tina Hatano and Adam Greenberg // Photo: Aliviah Jones

Coconut Club

Four months ago, a brightly colored storefront popped up near Union Market on Penn Street – a quickly expanding destination for food and drink in the District. It belongs to Coconut Club, the creation of Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay champion Adam Greenberg.

It’s an airy oasis in a neighborhood that still feels charmingly industrial – think an open-air door, bright murals, tropical flavors and plenty of plants. Greenberg drew from his travels to warmer climates in places like California, Cuba, Hawaii and Miami.

“The idea is that you are on vacation,” Greenberg explains. “You’re at the beach so it should be carefree, whimsical, a little bit fun. It shouldn’t be so serious.”

Chris Chapman, who manages the bar along with Tina Hatano, echoes that the laidback sentiment plays into all they do. The bar anchors everything from its location in the middle of the space, and is slightly reminiscent of a swim-up bar at a destination beach club.

“We wanted to be approachable and not overwhelming,” he says. “There are not a lot of decisions to make – just fun. We try to keep that rolling and stick with that vibe on both sides, from the bar and the kitchen.”

Not one to skew tropical, beachy or sunny when you order a drink? Coconut Club still has you covered.

“There’s something for everyone,” Hatano adds.  “If you want wine, it’s not going to be something that requires a 20-minute description. It’s going to be something like a really nice, classic sauvignon blanc. If you want a cocktail, you can get something spirit-forward. You can get something fruity.”

In the four months since they’ve opened their doors, the team has kept a pulse on what everyone who’s taken a mini-vacation at Coconut Club has had to say, and looks for ways to conduct their brand of fun in an even more effective manner.

While wildly Instagrammable drinks like the “That Thing’s On Fire” will stay on the menu, Chapman notes they’ve got some changes up the sleeves of their tropical shirts. “A classic cocktail list with Coconut Club’s variations [and] classic tiki and beach drinks that everyone wants to have and everyone loves” are all slated to make appearances on the menu.

The Rum Manhattan exemplifies this ethos – a smooth but not saccharine twist on the classic dark drink that uses toasted coconut, fat-washed rum for a cocktail that’s approachable but distinctly Coconut Club. The foodie destination recently introduced brunch, and plans to roll out a happy hour later this summer.

Coconut Club’s Rum Manhattan // Photo: Aliviah Jones

“Be on the lookout,” Greenberg says. “Even though [people] like what we’re doing, we’re only going to get better at what we do, which is great.”

It’s evident that even though the dedicated team desires to improve whenever possible, they’ve already tapped into a desire for whimsy paired with quality food and drink.

“We get people that come in dressed up for Coconut Club in Aloha shirts,” Chapman says. “It’s a thing! It’s like, ‘This is what we’re doing Saturday. Everybody get on Amazon and buy your stuff.’”

Hatano agrees.

“And that’s the whole point: just come here and have fun.”

540 Penn St. NE, DC; www.hellococonutclub.com

Tiki TNT’s Todd Thrasher // Photo: Hayley Olivenbaum

Tiki TNT

Tiki TNT’s giant smokestack can’t be missed by anyone entering the city via 395. Proclaiming the motto “Make rum not war,” the distillery and bar helmed by Todd Thrasher lets patrons know it’s a place to abandon personal and political troubles before crossing the Virginia state line and entering the three-story haven.

“We have a president that we all want to forget about – at least that most of us want to forget about,” Thrasher says as he explains the concept behind his latest creation, the potent TNT Problem Forgetter. “So, this was the kind of cocktail where you can come in and forget about everything that went bad during a bad day. You can have one, and you start feeling good right away.”

Much like the motto on the smokestack, it captures the essence of the spot, shaken into a colorful zombie glass.

“Every tiki bar seems like they have their one cocktail that represents who they are,” he continues.

For years, Thrasher has been known for his careful craft, making bitters and other cocktail ingredients around the DMV while also running the Eat Good Food Group (speakeasy PX, Kaliwa, and Virtue Feed & Grain, to name a few). With Tiki TNT, he’s able to enact a new level of craftsmanship with every drink as Thrasher’s Rum is distilled onsite.

“I make the rum how I want the rum to taste,” he explains. “I’ve been making cocktails and ingredients for years and years and years now. It just gives something extra. Now I can make ingredients. I can make bitters and the base spirit, too.”

In the case of the signature TNT Problem Forgetter, there’s a two-drink limit. But the boozy offering will certainly make you forget your problems as the name suggests, as will the vibrant atmosphere Thrasher and his team work tirelessly to cultivate. While there are plenty of structural details that delineate Tiki TNT from the norm, he says it’s the “spirit of Aloha” that truly makes the whole experience come together every day.

TNT Problem Forgetter // Photo: Hayley Olivenbaum

“You have to live Aloha – live nice and live friendly. We tell the staff, ‘You have to have that Aloha spirit. You have to be warm. You have to be welcoming. You have to be fun because we live in DC, which is a high-stress place.’  Last night, everyone that came in here was like,  ‘Oh, this is like a vacation.’”

With Tiki TNT’s third-level rooftop now open, providing a stunning view of The Wharf and across the Potomac, it’s easy to forget you’re not in the tropics with locally crafted rum in hand and a holiday-esque feeling surrounding you.

1130 Maine Ave. SW, DC; www.tikitnt.com

Founder Tristan Wright // Photo: Misha Enriquez for Visit Alexandria

Lost Boy Cider Plants Itself in Alexandria

When former banker Tristan Wright was diagnosed with a severe soy allergy a few years ago, he realized he wanted to make some changes in his life.

“I had spent 16 years in the industry,” he says. “And one day when looking in the mirror, I realized I was doing something that I didn’t love and wasn’t passionate about any longer. A lot of that had to do with that diagnosis. As you get older, you begin to hear that ticking clock and think more about your mortality. I didn’t want to wake up in a hospital room one day and not be able to say I had done something in life that was worth the risk.”

Wright had recently started drinking cider because he needed to give up whiskey and beer. He researched what was out there, and couldn’t find too many ciders that he wanted to drink. Like kismet, he was sitting on the couch one day watching a ballgame when a commercial for Angry Orchard cider came on, and he had a light bulb moment.

“It was almost like someone was telling me I should start a cider company. I was looking for something to do, and here was an opportunity to do something really cool.”

A month later, he found himself at Widmer Brothers Brewery in Portland, Oregon sitting in a cider production class led by cider professionals from the Pacific Northwest.

“I immediately connected with those in the room and spent a couple of weeks out there going through 19 different cideries,” he says. “From there, I enrolled in Cornell’s viticulture and enology [the study of grape cultivation and the study of wines, respectively] program, studying yeast cultures they use in wine and the science behind the craft.”

His business plan was finally on its way. On June 8, Wright opened Lost Boy Cider – the first cidery in Northern Virginia – in Alexandria’s Carlyle neighborhood. His cidery produces a variety of traditional and innovative hard ciders, with almost 100 percent of their sourced apples grown in Virginia.

“Our ciders are all bone-dry with no residual sugars. They are in the 6.9 percent range. Our belief is you can go and source very good apples, hand ferment them and introduce dry cider the way it should be.”

For now, the cider is coming from trees on Glaize Apples’ properties in the Shenandoah Valley. The process involves Lost Boy fermenting the squeezed apple juice and then crafting the liquid into one of the cidery’s signature ciders. The menu features Bottle Rocket, made with jalapeños; Spicoli, made with pineapple; and Slasher, made with raspberries.

Lost Boy Cider has an apple orchard onsite adjacent to its tasting room with semi-Dwarf Golden Delicious varieties from Stark Bro’s, a Mississippi Delta-based company. Once fully grown to roughly nine feet, the apple trees will produce nearly 80 gallons of juice. The first harvest is planned for fall of 2020.

“We are licensed in the state as a farm winery and you cannot do that in the state without controlling land where 65 percent of your product comes from,” Wright explains. “You must control an orchard in continuous or adjacent space to where your tasting room operates from.”
Lost Boy Cider will also receive a $60,000 Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) program grant.

“We’re incredibly grateful for it, and we’ll use that money to build out and deepen our laboratory area so we can continue to understand what type of ciders we are making. The money comes in waves and it requires me to utilize Virginia resources, which we planned on doing anyway. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

The theme of the Lost Boy logo is to motivate people to explore the opportunities they are presented with.

“It’s not about being lost, but really about being found.”

Lost Boy’s instant popularity at the grand opening last month proved to Wright this is a place people wanted to see.

“I knew our cider was good and we worked very, very hard on it, but I had no idea that the community would support us in the way that they did. I opened the doors at noon and by 12:04, we had exceeded our occupancy load. There was a line of 80 people outside and throughout the day, people were waiting up to 45 minutes in line to get in.”

About 1,400 people came through the doors by day’s end, and cider was flying off the shelves.

“It was just incredible and we’re looking forward to more. It feels really good to know the hard work we have put in the last couple of years is hopefully going to pay off.”

Lost Boy Cider: 317 Hooffs Run Dr. Alexandria, VA; 703-868-4865; www.lostboycider.com

Thamee // Photo: Mariah Miranda

New and Notable: Blend 111, Laos in Town, Queen’s English 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

Blend 111
Open:
May 18
Location:
Vienna
Lowdown:
Tech CEO Michael Biddick has long had a passion for food, wine and coffee, so when he got out of the business of software startups, opening a restaurant was a natural next step. A Vienna resident, Biddick often wished for an upscale, modern restaurant in his neighborhood. Blend 111 was born out of that need, and soon, neighbors invested to make the restaurant a reality. The name is a nod to the many influences involved. The investing families’ connections to Venezuela, France and Spain drove the menu, Biddick’s extensive wine knowledge shaped the beverage program, and a sense of responsibility to sustainability resulted in careful sourcing, compostable to-go containers, a composting program, renewable energy and carbon offsets for imported goods. Chef Abby McManigle, whose resume boasts several respected West Coast restaurants including Chez Panisse, works to source ingredients for her seasonal menus as locally as possible – within a 200-mile radius of the building. The summer menu stars dishes like a watermelon salad that mimics watermelons on the vine in a garden, a Mediterranean grilled octopus dish with pepperonata, green garbanzo bean puree and crispy shallots, and Venezuelan arepas with manchego and cotija cheese. Biddick, a certified sommelier and author, created a wine list that shines a light on small-batch French and Spanish wines – organic or biodynamic – that lack representation in the U.S. He also roasts organic coffee in house for the espresso bar. 111 Church St. NW, Suite 101, Vienna, VA; www.blend111.com

Laos in Town
Open:
April 30
Location:
NoMa
Lowdown:
Two Bangkok natives enamored with the flavors of Laos have opened a new restaurant to share the cuisine they fell in love with. Fresh off a research and development trip to Laos, restaurateur Nick Ongsangkoon and chef Ben Tiatasin opened Laos in Town in NoMa. Ongsangkoon is also a co-owner of Thai restaurant Soi 38. Tiatasin managed the front of the house at Bangkok Golden and Thip Khao, and also worked as a chef at Esaan. Tiatasin’s menu focuses on traditional Laotian food with other Southeast Asian influences sprinkled throughout. Standbys like papaya salad and crispy rice salad are represented, as well as less familiar selections like marinated, deep-fried quail and basa fish steamed in banana leaves with curry paste and herbs. Many of the items can be made vegan, and there’s an entire menu dedicated to vegan options. The two desserts – coconut custard or fresh mango – are both accompanied by a sweet sticky rice, lightly tinted green by pandan leaves. The bar offers wines, cocktails with Southeast Asian ingredients, and Laotian and local beer. The windows at the bar open to a large sidewalk patio, and the modern, airy interior is punctuated by traditional touches like birch trees lining the walls and fishing traps hanging from the ceiling. 250 K St. NE, DC; www.laosintown.com

Queen’s English
Open:
April 10
Location:
Columbia Heights
Lowdown:
Chef Henji Cheung, who grew up in Hong Kong, has teamed up with his wife Sarah Thompson to bring the cuisine of his childhood to DC. Cheung runs the kitchen, while Thompson leads the front of the house and beverage program. The two met working in the industry in New York at Little Beet Table. Their synergy has produced a restaurant that features food Cheung is passionate about, alongside Asian-influenced cocktails, beer, cider and natural wines. The food menu is succinct but jumps all over the map with flavorful vegetables like soy-braised enoki mushrooms with a coddled egg and bok choy with XO sauce, as well as show-stopping proteins like crispy fried, salt-and-pepper blowfish with goji berry and a golden half-chicken lacquered with soy sauce and seasoned with lots of ginger and scallion. Other crowd favorites include the two-tone, hand cut noodles dyed with squid ink and the soft daikon fritters showered in pork sung. The cocktail list is topped by two barrel-aged blends: a medicinal Manhattan and a Chinese five-spice negroni. There are also lighter options like the Lilibet with mezcal, damiana flower, pineapple and ashberry. While walk-ins are welcome for the dining room, chefs counter and patio, they also offer limited reservations. 3410 11th St. NW, DC; www.queensenglishdc.com

Thamee
Open:
May 15
Location:
H Street
Lowdown:
For mother-daughter duo Jocelyn Law-Yone and Simone Jacobson, Thamee is a deeply personal restaurant. The name means daughter in Burmese, which is a word Law-Yone’s daughters knew growing up even though they didn’t speak the language. Law-Yone was born in Burma and says she comes from a family of storytellers, with food and laughter at the center of her upbringing. Jacobson was born in the U.S. and says food is what connected her to her heritage. The pair, along with a third co-owner, Eric Wang, aim to share the stories and tastes of Burma with curious diners in DC. While Burmese cuisine is influenced by bordering nations China, Thailand and India, there are many ingredients and dishes unique to the country. Specialties like pickled tea leaf salad, white flower mushroom salad, mohinga – a catfish curry typically eaten for breakfast – and butterfly pea flower negroni are rare finds, even in a city with a robust Asian dining scene. Colorful decorative touches in the space complement the food, like tabletops based on colorful Burmese tribal textiles and custom aprons made with traditional fabrics from Law-Yone and Jacobson’s personal collections. The family restaurant has a diverse team behind it made up of industry veterans, refugees and first-generation Americans speaking 10 different languages. Thamee also supports diversity in their partners with beer supplied by Sankofa Beer, the city’s only black-owned brewery, and coffee from Nguyen Coffee Supply, the first Vietnamese-American-owned importer, supplier and roaster of coffee beans from Vietnam. 1320 H St. NE, DC; www.thamee.com

Notable

New Pastry Chef at Kith & Kin
Location:
The Wharf
Lowdown:
The law of attraction is clearly at work at Kith & Kin. Chef, newly minted author and James Beard Award-winner Kwame Onwuachi recently added another rising star to his team. Pastry chef Paola Velez joined the Afro-Caribbean restaurant this spring, bringing her tropical flair to the dessert menu. Velez trained under chocolatier Jacque Torres and was recently recognized by RAMW for her work at Iron Gate. She grew up in New York and the Dominican Republic, the latter cultivating her love of tropical fruits. Highlights on her new menu include a Caribbean rum cake accented with sorrel leaves and passion fruit sorbet, and a chai soft-serve sundae topped with Nigerian puff puffs – a sweet fried dough. 801 Wharf St. SE, DC; www.kithandkindc.com

New Wine Director at Jug & Table
Location:
Adams Morgan
Lowdown:
Casual neighborhood wine bar Jug & Table is heading off the beaten path with their wine program, now helmed by sommelier Chas Jefferson. The new list of more than 30 wines by the glass and eight on tap showcases rustic table wines from small, thoughtful producers. The selections will change seasonally, but the focus remains on sustainable, natural, biodynamic and organic wines. This inaugural list introduces more obscure varietals and emerging regions, offering a chance to try grapes and producers you might have never heard of. Jefferson keeps things approachable yet stimulating, and he can expertly suggest a fascinating new pour that will appeal to a guest’s preferences while expanding their understanding of wine. First floor of 2446 18th St. NW, DC; www.jugandtable.com

Spotlight On

Dudley’s Sport & Ale
Part American sports bar and part local crafthouse, Dudley’s brings a space to Shirlington for all types of beer drinkers to enjoy. Carrying the “sports bar” moniker, the Arlington spot features countless TVs and a 20-seat, theater-style space to catch the game. Swing by for weekend brunch with $5 champagne bottles, a “Hail Mary” Bloody Mary, frosé and frozen margaritas. And don’t exclude your furry friends – the ground-level patio is dog-friendly (weather permitting). No matter your pleasure, Dudley’s has a spot at the bar for everyone. Write-up provided by venue. 2766 S. Arlington Mill Dr. Arlington, VA; www.dudleyssportsandale.com

The Sally's Rickey on the Row // Photo: Mynor Ventura

The Rickey: A Distinctly DC Cocktail

A city with a heated climate – literally and politically speaking – the rickey is a cocktail to cool them all down. From a bourbon-based drink to one that utilizes gin, the simple ingredients leave much room for experimentation for DC’s mixologists.

Summertime in the nation’s capital brings out all the jokes about DC’s swamp-like qualities, so it’s no wonder July was dubbed Rickey Month in the District.

“We’re one of only two cities that has our own identified cocktail,” notes Hunter Douglas, bar program manager of Hank’s Oyster Bar and Hank’s Cocktail Bar.

“The rickey is up there on the pantheon of drinks that cocktail bartenders in DC really care about. Everyone has a good way that they like to make a rickey.”

The first-ever rickey was sipped in the District and has remained a distinctly DC cocktail ever since. Shoomaker’s Saloon is credited with mixing up the first one in the late 1800s – the local bar stood where the current JW Marriott is downtown. Named for Colonel Joe Rickey, the original libation mixed bourbon with lime juice and sparkling water – a simple enough drink that gained popularity with the substitution of gin for bourbon. These days, say “rickey” and the latter is what comes to mind for most.

The leap from bourbon to gin seems understandable, but the addition of lime foam, cumin or pickled lime? These days, the drink has been elevated with mixologists putting their own stamp on the classic. From more understated additions to some rather unexpected ingredients, bars are continuing to transform the drink further.

“The rickey, first and foremost, should be refreshing,” Douglas continues. “It should be able to cool you down. It should be a light, refreshing drink while you’re in 90-degree weather.”

Douglas manages the menu and team behind the recently relocated cocktail bar (now in Dupont Circle) from the Hank’s brand. Among the nearly 40 cocktails on the menu, the Rick Rolled presents itself as a slightly fresher, sweeter upgrade to the classic. Aviation Gin infused with dehydrated cucumbers works as the base upon which lime and honey are layered on top. Shaken and strained over fresh ice and soda water, it’s “light, refreshing and not overly sweet, and you get these cool herbal, floral notes from the citrus oil, honey and cucumber.”

Just down the street from where the original was created, The Occidental’s version from mixologist Frankie Jones adds earthy notes with coriander, turmeric and white pepper. The spices provide an unexpected flavor that plays well with the gin. The I Only Had A F.E.W. Rickeys is an off-menu item, and can be ordered as Jones had intended or customized to any guest’s palate.

“I just ask people, ‘What kind of flavor are you into?’” Jones says. “Literally, I can make a rickey with anything. Choose bourbon or gin. If you want a fruity rickey, we can do that, too.”

The rickey is a blank canvas of sorts because of its simplicity.

“It leaves so much room for experimentation and the addition of flavors and textures, so it’s quite fun to play around with,” Jones adds.

His former stomping ground, 14th Street’s The Gibson, has been in operation for a decade, and the team is well-versed in making the rickey.

The Gibson’s creative director Julia Ebell notes, “We are so classically focused here. It’s a place where you can come and get a really fantastic standard rickey or Colonel Joe anytime, year-round.”

The DC heat makes the rickey a bit of a necessity come summer months, but that doesn’t stop the team from having a little bit of fun with it.

“We have an outdoor space, so rickeys are a formula we love playing around [with] here,” Ebell says.

The speakeasy’s latest iteration, made just in time for Rickey Month, was born of a multilayered conversation between staff members about everything from Rick and Morty to Little Women to realizing how much they “love putting pickled and preserved product into our drinks.”  The Beth’s Cure: A Pickle Rickey features Brooklyn gin, turmeric and pickled lime and ginger soda over ice and garnished with a pickled lime.

On why the drink remains as popular in the District as it has for so many years, Ebell notes, “It’s kind of spirit(ual) air conditioning. DC is warm and muggy, and just having something you can drink outside without feeling like you’re drowning yourself is fantastic. It’s something that comes out of the place where it was born. It’s as much DC as go-go is.”

From a non-DC resident’s perspective, Pyramid Hotel Group Director of Restaurants Davide Crusoe points out that very few cities have a signature cocktail, and the draw comes from the rickey’s history and unique DC character.

“[The rickey] will be forever and always on our [menus].”

He designed The Sally’s cocktail menu, located in Dupont Circle’s The Fairfax at Embassy Row, which includes the Rickey on the Row made with Hangar 1 vodka, kaffir lime, Plymouth gin, The King’s Ginger, lime foam and egg. The cocktail is intended to be “a fun play with a lot of different things that we think are cool.”

Of all the elevated versions and plays on the original, Crusoe says, “It sort of morphed over time with people’s palates. The rickey has grown up with time and it’s stayed synonymous with the city.”

For some bars, the key rickey ingredient comes from an unexpected source: bubbles. Micah Wilder, mixologist and partner at Zeppelin, explains how the Shaw newcomer’s program is focused on Japanese spirits and bubbles.

“The Toki Highball is a really great example of a whiskey rickey: just super classic and simple,” he says of his rickey concoction.

Zeppelin is able to increase the fizziness of the cocktail by nearly freezing it using a special machine, which helps retain carbonation.

“The way the temperatures are working with the machine, it’s just really amazing.”

Made with Roku Gin, Italicus Rosolio Bergamot Liqueur, grapefruit, lemon and baller bubbles, Zeppelin’s Kabuki Springs cocktail is “a little bit more of a signature gin rickey [that tastes] like you’re drinking this Japanese soda.”

Wilder adds, “It’s super simple and good, and really what it’s supposed to be.”

No matter how it’s shaken, stirred or garnished, Jones says the rickey is still “the perfect cocktail for our weather.”

“It’s just this refreshing thing that you can drink fast and it cools you down a bit,” he elaborates. “And if you have enough of them, it’ll probably warm you up but you won’t care about the humidity anymore.”

Despite differences (political or not), DC denizens can all agree on one thing: the rickey belongs to the District.

The Gibson: 2009 14th St. NW, DC; www.thegibsondc.com
Hank’s Cocktail Bar: 1624 Q St. NW, DC; www.hankscocktailbar.com
The Occidental: 1475 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.occidentaldc.com
The Sally: 2100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, DC; www.thesallydc.com
Zeppelin: 1544 9th St. NW, DC; www.zeppelindc.com

DC Weekender: Friday June, 28 – Sunday, June 30

Did you have a hard week?If you answered yes, then here are some food and booze festivities that will make you forget all about your worries this weekend. Cheers!

FRIDAY

Friday Night Margarita Cruise on the Potomac (DC)
Your heart will go on at this cruise around the Potomac. Sail around the city and forget about all your worries with a Margarita in hand!

Red, White & Rosé Party (VA)
Rosés are for the brozes at this 4th of July kick off. With 20 different wines, you’ll sure to find one that fits your taste buds!

Capitol Riverfront Friday Night Concert Series (DC)
Fridays are for good music. Spend some time by the water too, because its gonna be one hot one!

Caribbean Summer (DC)
Are you jealous of all your Instagram followers’ vacay pics? It’s okay, you can pretend you’re in the tropics this summer without stepping out of the District.

SATURDAY

Port City Saturday Food Truck (VA)
No need for an event, or any other excuse, to kick back at Port City.

BallstonGives Presents Pride Drag Brunch (DC)
There is nothing like a good brunch to kickoff your sinful weekend, but what about a Drag Brunch? Sip on some mimosas while seeing some true queens!

Cigar Lounge Grand Opening  (DC)
While food is for the soul at District Soul Food and this is a cigar lounge opening, you can dance a little. Eat a lot. Drink a little (or a lot, we’re not judging.)

Sicilian Ball at the Embassy of Italy (DC)
Did someone say caprese salad? Eat pray love in the district with an authentic Italian cuisine.

SUNDAY

Free Weekly Bar Bingo w/ O’Sullivan’s Irish Pub (VA)
Make Sunday a funday by bringing your daubers to O’Sullivan’s! Did I mention there will be occasional free drinks?

DC Series: Rainbow DC (DC)
Paint the DC skyline the colors of the rainbow and live life colorfully.

Block Party at Milk Bar Logan Circle (DC)
What’s a summer without Block Parties? Enjoy some soft serve and a good ole burger.

Yappy Brunch at Santa Rosa Taqueria (DC)
What is better than booze, puppies and tacos? Nothing. Make it a pawty with your furry friends at Santa Rosa Taqueria this Sunday.

Mean Girls Trivia at City Tap Penn Quarter (DC)
Wear pink and drink, and try your best not to be personally victimized by Regina George at this trivia extravaganza.

Photos: Trent Johnson

Behind the Bar: Design Edition

In a city filled with bars touting the best craft cocktails, local beer programs or even late-night eats, what’s bound to make patrons stick around and even more importantly, come back time and time again? The atmosphere created by a bar can make or break its overall experience, no matter how good the drinks on hand.
Two new additions to DC’s ever-growing cocktail scene, however, prove that providing the best of both is possible. And while the overall style and décor of these locations is not similar at first glance, they share a common goal: unpretentious, enjoyable sips in atmospheres unlike anything else in the city.

Astoria

Eli Schwarzschild

Owner Devin Gong and Bartender // Partner Eli Schwarzschild

“I always rode trains when I was little, and I loved the dining car of the train where you had the bar in the middle and the seating on either end,” owner Devin Gong says of the narrow but inviting locomotives that inspired the look of his newest venture, Dupont Circle’s Astoria. “When I first walked in, it was a very long and narrow space, and it reminded me a lot of a train car.”

With the help of CORE architecture + design, Gong brought his childhood nostalgia to life. With nods to his flagship spot on H Street, Copycat Co., the space invokes the kind of intimate setting you’d perhaps get from a drink on a bustling train car in the midst of a grand adventure. A talented artist himself, Gong painted the three works of art that hang over large, cozy booths – they even look like train car windows at first glance.

It’s a subtle callout, however, and Gong was careful to make sure he didn’t “hit people over the head” with his interior inspirations. Similarly understated is the bar’s approach to food and drink. Astoria’s beverage director Eli Schwarzschild points out that while the concept is inherently creative, they aren’t trying to overthink things.

“It’s a combination of classics paying homage to drinks that have stood the test of time,” Schwarzschild explains. “If the drinks aren’t broken, don’t fix them is partially our philosophy. We want to respect the drinks. But on the other hand, there’s creativity in a sense. We have originals, but it’s not about us per se. We’re just trying to put out drinks that could perhaps be mistaken for a classic; not so many infusions, just going back to the basics and staying true to the ingredients, which is a very French idea.”

One thing that’s present at Astoria but not necessarily at other outposts serving classic cocktails is an array of doodles flanking the menu, hand-drawn by Schwarzschild himself. They’re incredibly detailed and time-consuming to produce, so why do it?

“Not many people notice it, but it’s the one person in a million who does that makes it worth it,” Schwarzschild says. “It’s just that characteristic of art that is almost existential. Whatever you decide and whatever matters to you, that’s what it is. It’s kind of meanderings – left-brain kind of thoughts. As long as there’s a feeling there, I let my brain go with it.”

The bar provides a welcome combination of outside-the-box elements with unpretentious but well-crafted drinks. At the end of the day, it’s clear Gong and Schwarzschild are able to incorporate personal passions into this endeavor, and the bar is even better for that energy.

“I don’t have lofty goals to change the scene or anything like that,” Gong concludes. “I know what I do, and for me this is more self-indulgent than anything else.”

Hummingbird

HUMMINGBIRD
St. Germain
Punt e Mes vermouth
Lemon
Honey
Cinnamon
GF

Astoria: 1521 17th St. NW, DC; www.astoriadc.com

Hex

Kit Yarber

General Manager Kit Yarber

The second floor of The Passenger in Shaw was home to a sporadically used space, only opened on the rare occasion that the neighborhood bar was hosting a band. Kit Yarber saw an opportunity to transform the underutilized level into what he now describes as the “a little goth, a little kitschy” Hex.

As general manager of the newly minted space, Yarber decided the décor and menu would take cues from astrology, tarot and the occult. Numerology comes into play as well, as “hex” indicates the number six and the menu is broken up into six categories. All 12 astrological signs are represented on the menu, and Yarber says he based it off people he knew when deciding what sign to name the drinks after.

“It’s been funny because people come in and want to order their sign, of course, and they’re like, ‘How did you know?’” he explains. “I just tell them I based it off of someone who was that sign.”

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can draw a rune – or divinatory symbol – from a bag behind the bar, and you’ll be presented with a drink that corresponds to the symbol hidden on the menu. There are also runes flanking the wall to the right of the bar, along with a stuffed unicorn head, lovingly called Ophelia.

“I always loved the Victorian haunted mansion, pictures on pictures on pictures look,” Yarber says of the plethora of design elements that adorn the walls and tables. “We talked about having a curio aspect. Everything kind of mismatches but it ends up working out together. We just had fun with it.”

The resulting space is a nod to the supernatural and spiritual without feeling spooky. It’s overall feel is intimate and inviting. Since opening, it’s been a mix of lovers of the elements present at the bar and those who are completely unfamiliar that have stopped in for one of Yarber’s creations. The spot has even caught the attention of local pan-Pagan group The Firefly House, who plans on hosting a handful of regular happy hours at the spot. You can also catch occasional tarot readings.

Whether you’re the type to pull a daily tarot reading and analyze everything through the lens of the zodiac or just want to enjoy a drink in an inviting space, Yarber wants Hex to be a place where you can sit, relax and connect.

“I wanted Hex to have a different ambiance,” Yarber says. “I love the craft cocktail scene and craft cocktail bars, but I feel like they get stuck in a certain era. I don’t want it to feel pretentious. I just want it to be chill. I want to get people up here who love talking to people and [offer] a different ambience that can still be appreciated as something unique.”

The Incantation

THE INCANTATION
Rittenhouse Rye
Sacred Bond Brandy
Averna
Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
Punt e Mes vermouth
Orange bitters
Angostura bitters

Hex Bar: 1539 7th St. NW, DC; www.hexbardc.com

Brian Miller and Jason Maringola // Photo: Trent Johnson

Streetsense Cultivates Neighborhood Hospitality

Bars are more than the drinks they serve. Behind the beer, cocktails and spirits is the lay of the land, the setting, the vibe. It goes without saying that without good product, any establishment will falter, but a backdrop that melds with its culinary offerings will only serve to heighten the experience for the customer.

One way to achieve this elevated interior ambiance is by allowing professionals to take over, because it’s often not as simple as taking the ideas from your brain and putting them into practice.

That’s where Streetsense comes in. The company is described as an experience-focused design and strategy collective, and has continually delivered spectacular interior architecture on an international level. You’ve likely seen their decadent design around the District, including at Ivy City’s Coconut Club, Shaw’s The Dabney and Penn Quarter’s Daikaya, to name a few.

Coconut Club // Photo: Rey Lopez

One step into their Bethesda office and you’re greeted with a number of creatives all huddled up, sketches adorning drafting boards, posters lining the walls and retro knick-knacks placed throughout the space. And while the Streetsense office has a certain feel, the company’s aesthetic is as diverse as their extensive roster of clients.

“We do more than just design and we think differently because we actually understand the analytics and demographics of our areas and bring people to the table,” design director of interior architecture Jason Maringola says.

Variables for the Streetsense process include the typical timeline, budget and service, but one goal that never wavers regardless of scope is the team’s ability to connect with the client. This can mean traveling to South Carolina and visiting dive bars or hopping on an international flight to tour dojos in Japan.

“There are a number of restaurant projects I’ve worked on where we’ve gotten to travel with the clients to really dig in beyond mood boards, Pinterest and Instagram and figure out what they’re trying to draw from,” says Brian Miller, senior design director of interior architecture of Edit Lab at Streetsense. “We want to know how they think people get together over food and drinks, how people socialize, about how communities are oriented around those concepts.”

Daikaya // Photo Nikolas Koenig

This part of the process is what has always driven Miller and Maringola, who both grew up with a strong unwavering desire to work in architecture. As a child, Miller’s family moved around from town to town and he took note of buildings commanding attention. And for Maringola, even at an early age he’d memorize floor plans of homes his parents toured, sketch them out and offer critiques.

The collective childhood wonderment of all things hospitality design is reflected in their day-to-day, including the neverending goal of getting inside the brains of bar and restaurant owners to render artistic mockups that reach beyond visually interesting interpretations of what could be pretty or trendy. Instead, Streetsense seeks to establish a dominant thematic concept able to operate as a focal throughline. From there, they’ll determine one clear option with secondary layouts.

“I think we try to drive an approach that’s not to get us excited or the client excited, but about the people walking in the door of that business,” Miller says. “What’s going to make a really good experience for them? Is it a quiet night out? Is it a birthday?”

Maringola adds that their design isn’t really for the client. And while discussing the looks and feels of their babies, striking a balance between doing something personal and artistic is the toughest part of the process.

“Our clients are taking a risk, they’re putting a lot of money out to create a space and to trust us. The most rewarding thing for a client to tell us is that it’s better than they imagined. Most clients aren’t visual, so when they see the space and people interacting in the space, it goes from night to day. Then, they realize we really created something unique for the community,” Maringola says.

Moxy Atlanta // Photo: courtesy of Moxy

Some of the clients they work with aren’t backed by a corporate entity with limitless coffers, Miller says. When dealing with mom and pop shops, decisions are made with an understanding that livelihood could be on the line.

On the flip side, with larger clients, out of towners might require an entire education on the culture of a location or neighborhood. What makes this particular area unique? What does it need? For this, Streetsense sets up tours and activities to help the companies learn about their future clientele.

“The work our studio does [is] with extremely neighborhood driven places,” Miller says. “Clients look to us for that understanding, and some of our more exciting projects are when we get to work on a lot of places within a small area. This allows us to kind of create an ecosystem like [we created] in Blagden Alley.”

Big or small, Streetsense’s interior hospitality designs craft unique experiences for visitors. And with backdrop details such as lighting, theme and decor under their supervision, our favorite restaurants, coffee shops and bars can do what they do best; serve you.

“I always think of it as production design for a movie,” Miller says. “If that setting isn’t right, you know it’s not right.”

“But, the big thing is we could do all the beautiful design in the world but if the food sucks, service sucks, whatever we do won’t mean a thing,” Maringola says laughing. “That’s the catalyst.”

To learn about Streetsense, visit www.streetsense.com.

The Bygone // Photo: Maxine Schnitzer