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Photo: courtesy of INWEGO

INWEGO Brings City Experiences At Reasonable Price

The District has much to offer from its historical monuments, the Smithsonians, its defending champion baseball team, performances at The Kennedy Center and larger than life festivals that take place around the city. INWEGO, a newly created subscription-based app has hit the market to give Washingtonians the opportunity to experience the city life at its finest with a acceptable price tag. 

On Tap sat down with General Manager of INWEGO Chris LeCraw, to get the inside scoop on the game-changing app that can turn your mundane weekend into a memorable practice. 

On Tap: What sparked the initial idea for INWEGO?
Chris LeCraw: We saw a trend in the consumer marketplace to subscriptions in general, such as Netflix and Spotify, and over the last five or six years you start to see everything from clothing to food to kids toys, and subscriptions are becoming a newer and engaging way to deliver services and goods. We saw a gap in the events subscription, and by bringing a lot of different needs together in one place we thought we could deliver a one-stop-shop new discovery experience for people to find things to do in their city. 

OT: If you could pin-point one main purpose for INWEGO, what would it be?
CL: Feeding off the one-stop-shop mentality, we want it to be the best way for people to both discover and attend the fun things in their city. 

OT: What is the benefit of using INWEGO?
CL: We find that people get a lot of value from attending things for the first time [that] they may not have otherwise experienced, that’s one of the primary values. On top of that, just the way you can link your tickets with friends and invite guests, and if your plans change it [INWEGO] gives you the opportunity to let go of your tickets. I think all of that social flexibility is something that we try to do really well. 

OT: What’s next for INWEGO? Are there any plans or changes we can see happening in the coming months?
CL: It’s good timing because we actually just released a pretty big new feature that we’re excited about, our Plus One plan. We heard feedback from customers and now have the ability for the user to essentially have two memberships at once so that way there is more flexibility to take different people. In the coming months we’re going to try to continue to expand on that, and we’ll get feedback and find ways to make it work as best as we can while still trying to focus on getting that out. Spring is right around the corner, so in a market like DC for example there’s tons of outdoor festivals and events, so we’re just trying to get to another round of fun and exciting stuff. 

OT: What would you like to see from INWEGO by the end of the year?
CL: We would love to see this new Plus One feature really impact a lot of people in a positive way, so we’d love to see a lot of new people on the app. 

OT: What are your personal favorite events to attend, search for?
CL: Personally, I’m a big foodie and I like to be outside, so I love the experiences that bring people together, so something like a craft beer, barbecue or an oyster festival. I personally like the food and drink things the best. I’d say second to that, I enjoy concerts at smaller venues that are more intimate places. 

OT: What has been the most rewarding aspect about launching INWEGO?
CL: We love hearing from customers and we’re constantly trying to listen to them and interact with them through social media and through our own line of communication. I think my favorite thing is when I hear someone tell us, “I’ve never been to a Nationals game before or I’ve never been to a Wizards game before, and now I want to go all the time,” I think connecting people to those experiences for the first time and watching those experiences stick with them and become a part of their fan energy, that’s the most rewarding thing from my perspective. 

OT: If you could give a pro tip to a first time user of INWEGO, what would it be?
CL: I would say, don’t be afraid to try something completely new. We love the newness of it. That’s pro tip 1.A, and pro tip 1.B is bring one of your friends with you. 

OT: Is there anything else you would like us to know?
CL: We love trying to find the best things in the city and sometimes the best way to do that is to hear directly from our members themselves. So if people know of things going on that are maybe not in the app or they themselves know someone in the event industry, we love getting direct ideas and direct matching from our members, because they’re the ones using the product in their city we’re very receptive to that type of feedback and always want to do our best to get those events in the app right away. 

For more information about INWEGO and its services, visit here.

Todd Thrasher // File Photo: Trent Johnson

Todd Thrasher Looks Back At First Year Making Rum, Not War

It has officially been more than a year since bartender Todd Thrasher crossed the Potomac River from his mainstay in Alexandria’s Old Town, to open a rum distillery and bar at The Wharf, the now-established megadevelopment in Southwest DC. Thrasher’s bar, Tiki TNT, brings a healthy dose of island vibes to a city of people often in desperate need of a chill pill.

After years of, in his words, “fancy bartending” at Old Town’s PX and Restaurant Eve, Thrasher was ready to open a place that didn’t take itself too seriously. He also wanted to try his hand at making his own Guyanese-style rum, his favorite liquor. Both of those concepts came to fruition in late 2018, complete with a bar spanning three floors, a giant waterfront smokestack that reads “MAKE RUM NOT WAR,” and polynesian-inspired food and drink. 

Potomac Distilling Co. currently churns out gold, white, spiced and green spiced rums. Thrasher has been working on adding a coconut to the lineup, due out this spring, just in time for warm-weather flavors.

With the first year of his joint bar and distilling venture behind him, On Tap caught up with Thrasher to talk about what’s next for Tiki TNT, Potomac Distilling Co. and why he’s over chasing accolades. 

On Tap: Looking back at your first year dipping into distilling and having opened Tiki TNT, were there any growing pains or do you wish you had done anything differently?
Todd Thrasher: Yes, yes, yes. I wish I would have added another bathroom and need to make sure I nail everything down on the walls. People like to steal things. 

My whole life has been fancy bartending. You know you make six ingredients, take your time, pour ‘em in, go nice and slow. I knew I was opening not that, but I didn’t realize how fast-paced it was gonna be.

On any given night in the summer time we’re doing almost 2,000 menued cocktails a night. You can’t do six-ingredient cocktails, have everything broken apart, and make them in front of the people. I’ve never been a proponent of batching things out, but I had to. 

I went to Mai-Kai in Ft. Lauderdale and they showed me how they do everything. I watched how they did stuff, I took a cue from them, and we learned and changed and adapted. So now if a cocktail calls for four or five rums, we mix those ahead of time based on the recipe and have it in a 5-gallon carboy. Instead of having four pickups for that we put all the alcohol together and only have one. It’s almost bartending for dummies at this point. 

OT: What does 2020 have in store for Tiki TNT and Thrasher’s Rum?
TT: With Tiki, we’re enclosing the rooftop patio and putting heaters and fans up there. We’re enclosing all that to make it a little more comfortable up on the roof. For the last week in March we’re changing the cocktail menu, the food menu. One of our chefs is leaving to open his own restaurant so we’re in the process of looking for a chef so our food menu will grow. Right now it’s a very big drink destination and we want more people to come out and eat.

As far as the rum we’re in the process of getting a warehouse. Our production is up and we’ve signed on with a new distributor in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Florida. 

I haven’t really announced it too much but we added a coconut rum to the lineup. We sold through the first run of it and we’re halfway through the second run. Trying to ramp up the production of the coconut rum especially because I think it will be a big summertime flavor. We made it at 80 proof and there’s no sugar added after distillation. People that are used to Malibu maybe won’t get it at the beginning because there’s no sugar added, but I think people will really dig it. We’ll have a lot more coconut cocktails. We’ve also laid a bunch of barrels down we’re not releasing this year. In June 2021 we will be doing our first barrel release.

Photo: Jonathan Thorpe

OT: Craft beer in America has exploded over the past several years. Do you foresee a sort of ‘rum boom’ like that of the craft beer industry?
TT: I think artisan distilling is at a level of where craft beer was 15 years ago. Kind of on that verge of hopefully exploding and blowing up. I chose rum because it’s what I like to drink, but also there was a hole in the artisanal rum market.

OT: The Washington Post’s Tim Carman called Tiki TNT “critic-proof.” What’s your take on that?
TT: I opened a bar, right? I spent more than 15 years worrying about critics. Between Cafe Atlantico, Restaurant Eve and PX, it was always a concern of mine to make sure the critics understood and loved what we did. I opened [Tiki] not for critical approval or to be on any kind of “Best of” list. I opened up Tiki TNT for people to have a neighborhood gathering space. It just so happened I’m in a super touristy area that’s in a new development. 

I opened this not for the love of critics. If people come in and they dig it and they are excited about it, that’s great. We’re a neighborhood bar that happens to be at the Wharf. I think a lot of people will do things that they know critics will like and adore and that’s all on trend. That’s not what I set out to do. I just set out to do a bar that hopefully serves really good bar food. 

For more information about Todd Thrasher, Tiki TNT or Potomac Distilling, visit here.

Potomac Distilling Company: 1130 Maine Ave. SW, DC; 202-900-4786; www.tikitnt.com

Photo: Craig Boudreaux Photography

Old Glory Brings Pro Rugby To DC, Unleashes The Beast

Being the first to do something is challenging in any field. From getting familiar with new surroundings to dealing with doubters, it never really gets easier until time passes. Some thrive with increased pressure. Others don’t even want to take the risk. Old Glory DC is part of the first group, boldly venturing into a profession no sports team has gone before, producing DC’s first professional rugby team in Major League Rugby.

Old Glory DC will play their first home game this Sunday, February 16 at Catholic University against the Seattle Seawolves. It will be one of eight home games they play at Catholic (their home field) between now and May 31.

“Professional rugby is here in Washington, DC,” co-owner Chris Dunlavey opened with at the team’s media day on February 13, “and it’s here to stay.”

Dunlavey founded the team alongside DC rugby legend and former US National Team member Paul Sheehy in 2018. Two years later, their dream is finally coming to fruition as part of the MLR, a 12-team group that’s considered the top level of rugby competition in the United States.

No one is going to confuse rugby with basketball or the MLR with the NFL, but DC’s newest pro team will expose people to the sport who wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. Rugby, after all, is foreign to so many in the United States. Go and ask 10 people how you even score in a rugby game (or match?) and you’ll be lucky to get one or two correct answers. That’s where a pro team can be so valuable. Just by watching one game here or there you’ll learn the basics, maybe fall in love. Without a real team, you don’t even have the chance.

“One of the words used continuously throughout a rugby game is bind. And that’s what we want to see,” Sheehy emphatically told a jam-packed room at the St. Gregory Hotel in Dupont Circle. “Rugby is a game that binds us together. We have a lot of international players and an international community. It’s a co-ed sport and a youth sport, and I think we need that now more than ever  –  something that binds us together.”

“We want to see rugby flourish,” Dunlavey added.

While rugby is foreign to many, there was a palpable buzz surrounding Old Glory’s media day. In particular, everyone wanted a piece of their biggest star, Tendai Mtawarira, who had just touched down in the DMV from South Africa. Nicknamed “The Beast,” Tendai helped South Africa to a gold medal at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and was featured in recent public campaigns by the NBA and Dove Men’s Care.

“The reality is that I want to make an impact,” Mtawarira said. “I want to grow the game globally. So for me to be a mentor to the young guys in America, to teach them how to play at the highest level, it’s something that I really cherish.”

“I just want to give more than I take,” he added.

Being in DC also played a role in bringing Mtawarira to Old Glory. He noted that the NBA was his “second love” so going to Wizards’ games are definitely in his future, as well as some of the city’s museums.

“I hear they’re free,” he said with a laugh.

Moving forward, the star plans on being with his team for their home opener. The matchup versus Seattle will air locally on NBC Sports Washington at 3 p.m., one of eight games that the local sports network will carry. Other games will broadcast on CBS Sports Network, with WTEM ESPN 980 serving as the official radio home for Old Glory. For more information about Old Glory Rugby, visit here.

Catholic University Cardinal Stadium: Varnum St. NE, DC; 888-841-2787; www.oldglorydc.com

Evan Daves (Melchior) and Cristina Sastre (Wendla) // Photo: C. Stanley Photography

Round House Theatre Delivers Intimate Spring Awakening

Round House Theatre is in the midst of an ambitious run of Spring Awakening – the now revered Tony-winning musical adaptation of a once-shunned play turned cult classic – directed by Alan Paul.

When playwright Frank Wedekind introduced Spring’s Awakening, A Children’s Tragedy to Germany in 1891, he ignited scandal and censorship that carried through to 1917 when an English-language production in New York was shut down after only one run. 

Why? Wedekind’s Spring’s Awakening called attention to the injustices inflicted on generations of youth at the hand of a draconian society, with open condemnation of sexual repression, physical and emotional abuse, and antiquated educational systems. 

Revived in 1999 as a musical with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, the new Spring’s Awakening was well-received by a relatively more “woke” audience, but one not unfamiliar with nor immune to the original play’s commentary and its characters’ struggles. 

In a book that is overloaded with every kind of struggle possible – incest, potential rape, suicide, teen pregnancy, abortion, death, ignorance, child abuse – it is a delicate balance that must be attained to ensure your audience isn’t simply overwhelmed. 

Paralleling the stubborn persistence of the play itself and its enduring themes, we lose sense of time during Paul’s production – not a flaw, but rather a nod to his successful creative direction. For example, the wayward bohemian Isla is skillfully handled such that we never know whether she ever really existed among the other children, or rather as one of those theatrical spectors meant to ferry us through the ephemera of time and space that is at once Victorian-era Germany, contemporary America, the stage, and our own real lives. The Roundhouse rendition runs through February 23. 

Tonya Beckman (Adult Women), too, functions as a touchstone. It is perhaps ironic that while Beckman’s character is meant to represent repression and/or willful ignorance, her familiar dynamism guides and balances the rest of the young cast’s green energy. 

There’s not a bad seat to be had in the newly renovated Round House. Updates to the stage including a mechanically rotating floor offer the players opportunities to effectively explore movement, choreography and attention, which is ultimately this production’s greatest strength.

There is value in playing a piece that illuminates eternal aspects of the human condition. But the mere fact of timelessness does not grant abdication from responsibility to progress. That doesn’t come in the form of a pop-punk score, Doc Martens and dyed hair. Instead, for the show, Paul brought on Lorraine Ressegger-Sloan as the team’s Intimacy Coordinator.

Ressegger-Sloan’s work is part of a growing trend seen in theaters across the country, wherein rather than being told to embody the physical and emotional state of a character, actors are being taught how to convey emotion through physicality in a way that protects them from potential trauma. 

Having worked for several years as a movement director, predominantly with women and female-identifying actors on work that was intimate in nature, Ressegger-Sloan says becoming a Theatrical Intimacy Educator was a natural progression and that her role is twofold. 

She serves as an asset to the choreography team, ensuring movements are repeatable, safe and specific, and that actors are consenting to the work – making important distinctions of work on stage as, for example, simulated sex scenes, not sex scenes. She also functions as a kind of HR for actors.

“I’m there to help them articulate and set boundaries, to be an advocate for them, to voice any issues that may arise for them to the production team. I’m holding the space and making it as safe as possible, knowing that it will never be completely safe, holding myself and everyone else accountable. In this way we build a ‘brave’ space so that we get to a place where people are comfortable being uncomfortable,” says Ressegger-Sloan. 

This work translates, too, to the audience’s experience of the performance. In considering the gaze, and expectations of performance, Ressegger-Sloan is able to help the performers navigate what it means to challenge the idea of consent, for example. Who is consenting to be seen, in what way, and when? 

“Break down the audience’s expectations is the most important part of getting the truth and allows the audience to also bask in the truth of that moment,” she says. To accomplish this she incorporates a lot of breathwork. “We use breath and expectation in a way so we can have the audience on the ride with us, but we’re [in control]. How can a physical movement convey an emotion?”

In this way, actors are freed from the intimidation of chemistry and considering how much of themselves they’ll have to give away – which can be especially important to a young cast experiencing scenes intimate in nature for the first time. 

In addition to Ms. Ressegger-Sloan’s work with the cast and crew, Round House is providing access and educational programming in conjunction with the show’s run, including free tickets for teens and college students, and events like a February 6 post-show discussion with SIECUS and Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington on the importance of consent-based sexual education and youth advocacy in 2020. 

Spring Awakening runs through February 23. For information about dates, times and tickets, visit here.

Round House Theatre: 4545 E W Hwy. Bethesda, MD; 240-644-1100; www.roundhousetheatre.org

Mark Murphey (William Joad) and Tony Sancho (Martín Jodes) // Photo: Margot Schulman

Playwright Octavio Solis Expands American Narrative With Mother Road

Mother Road, Octavio Solis’s play-form ‘sequel’ to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, begins several generations after protagonist Tom Joad’s journey from Oklahoma to California. William Joad, a direct descendant of Tom Joad, finds an unexpected heir to the family farm through Martín Jodes, a young Mexican American ex-migrant worker. Mother Road explores complicated themes surrounding immigration, family and survival, as Martín Jodes travels from a migrant farm in California to inherit familial land in Oklahoma.

Playwright Octavio Solis began creating his Grapes of Wrath continuation after traveling Old Route 66, the land that wielded suffering and hope for the original Joad family. Solis encountered an unexpected friend that eventually inspired him to tell the story of Mother Road. The play runs through March 8 at Arena Stage

“We went down the same path as the fictional Joad family, and I met someone, a young man, at a migrant workers camp near Bakersville, and he was a spoken word artist. He told me, ‘I am the new Tom Joad, and we, the Mexicans, are the new Okies.’ And I said, ‘I have to tell that story.’”

Stereotypes and racism infiltrate Mother Road as William Joad struggles to accept his heir, Martín. Despite it being a hard story to tell, Solis expands the narrative of The Grapes of Wrath to include migrant workers and redefines the concept of American survival and resilience.

“The message I’m trying to put forth with this play is that there’s room for us at the table, not that we’re trying to take the table over. The time has come for some people to move aside so that we can have a seat at the table. And that requires generosity, understanding and empathy on everybody’s part.”

Solis hopes Mother Road will help audience members understand the value of Mexican Americans in society, and emphasized that “[Mexicans] add to the mosaic of the American experience in such a vital, powerful way.”

As a migrant worker, Martín’s story emphasizes inclusion by reshaping the American narrative. Solis crafts a stunning storyline that showcases the goodness of humanity while confronting current American issues.

“I felt like I had Steinbeck there with me in the room. I felt like I had his permission, and I felt a big responsibility to continue the legacy of humanism that Steinbeck brings into his work.”

While chatting with Solis, I asked him what the legendary American author would think of Mother Road. Solis answered without much hesitation.

“I think he would I appreciate that I’m continuing the legacy of pointing out things that are wrong with our society while at the same time pointing out things that make us all one people.”

Solis does more than analyze American and Mexican culture; he makes it his responsibility to include “the lives of the downtrodden, the poor and the under-represented,” and helps their voices gain strength, which he believes Steinbeck would respect.

Mother Road reinvents a modern-day Joad family, but the story is consistent with Steinbeck’s original structure. Characters make the inverse journey from California to Oklahoma, acquiring new members and, unfortunately, losing some along the way.

“In The Grapes of Wrath an entire clan of Joads piles into one vehicle and as soon as they set out, bad things start to happen. [In the end], Rose of Sharon’s baby is stillborn and it’s the final blow to this family. Even the future dies at the end of the book.”

However, Solis does not let the story terminate here. Many generations down the road, when Martín begins the journey of his ancestors, the story gains traction and hope.

“In [Mother Road], the story starts with one person, and then two. They head East in the opposite direction, and they start building a family. They even bring back the bones of the dead with them. They build a new family, a family that is different from The Grapes of Wrath. And I think this is the thing Steinbeck would appreciate the most.”

Mother Road enjoys its first East Coast run at Arena Stage through March 8. Tickets are $115. For more information, click here.

Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

Moritz Wagner #21 of the Washington Wizards // Photo: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Trio Of Wizards Rep DC At NBA All-Star Weekend

The sign of being an NBA superstar usually starts with getting chosen for the league’s All-Star Game. Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal definitely falls into the superstar category, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at this year’s rosters. One year removed from his second consecutive selection, Beal was snubbed by voters (made up of players, coaches and fans) despite career-bests with 29.1 points and 6.3 assists per game. The slight is disappointing for DC basketball, yet someone had to hold the bag for the Wizards’ league-worst defense, and it turned out to be Beal.

On the bright side, All-Star weekend is the NBA’s crown jewel. Even with Beal’s snub, there are plenty of reasons to camp in front of your television Friday-Sunday. Three Wizards are making the trip to Chicago  – Latvian sharpshooter Dāvis Bertāns, rookie Rui Hachimura and Moritz Wagner  –  and the whole weekend is a celebration of basketball culture. There will be no shortage of entertainers and legends on hand, plus a murderer’s row of @LeagueFits and gratuitous branding.

Bertāns will join odds-on favorite Trae Young, reigning champ Joe Harris, and five others in the 3-Point Contest. The 27-year old could legitimately win the event. He’s probably the best shooter the Wizards have had this decade (though Beal has a case) and ranks near the top of the league in made 3-pointers per game (5th) and three-point percentage (8th). At the very least, he’ll be neck and neck with Harris for the night’s best beard.

“My experience with the Wizards has been great since I arrived this summer,” Bertāns told the Wizards website. “It will be an honor to compete in the 3-point contest on behalf of all of them and to represent Latvia during All-Star weekend.”

This year the contest will have a new wrinkle. In addition to the racks of balls worth one point and infamous multi-colored two-point moneyball, the league added two green balls way beyond the arc worth three points apiece.

The 3-Point Contest is part of All-Star Saturday Night, which also features the Skills Challenge and Slam Dunk Contest. From a pure competition standpoint, it’s the best part of the entire weekend so make sure you tune it to TNT at 8 p.m.

On Friday night, the Wizards will send Hachimura and Wagner to the Rising Stars Challenge. It will be the first time any Wizard has played in the game since a baby-faced Bradley Beal got in on the action way back in 2014.

A lot has changed since then; the game now features a USA-vs.-World format, measuring the best young foreign stars against those from the United States. Hachimura and Wagner, who both returned recently from long stints on the injury report, are teamed up together on Team World.

Hachimura, after all, grew up in Japan before making a name for himself at Gonzaga, while Wagner is a native of Germany.

Even with the Wizards’ struggles, Hachimura and Wagner have managed to separate themselves. Hachimura as an all-around offensive player and plus-defender and Wagner as Davis Bertans-Lite.

“I am very honored to be chosen for the Rising Stars Challenge,” Hachimura said to the Wizards website. “I look forward to representing the Wizards organization, our fans and the country of Japan during All-Star weekend.”

Rui Hachimura #8 of the Washington Wizards // Photo: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The 22-year-old Hachimura is putting up 13.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game this year and is certainly part of the team’s plans moving forward. Wagner, who’s also averaging double-figures and hitting 37.1 percent of his 3-pointers, should be a guy who sticks around but, you know, Wizards.

“My improvement this season prior to getting injured shows the confidence they had in me and the work our coaches put in with me, so I’ll be proud to represent them and my home country of Germany in Chicago,” Wagner told WashingtonWizards.com.

The Rising Stars Challenge will be the first major event of NBA All-Star Weekend. It will air nationally on TNT at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 14. For more information about All Star weekend, visit here.

For more information about the Washington Wizards, visit here.

Photo: Liz Lauren

The Leading Ladies Of The King’s Speech At National Theatre On Relationships, Power And Class

Here to fuel our generation’s obsession with British royalty, National Theatre is bringing British-American playwright David Seidler’s The King’s Speech to DC from February 11-16. If you’ve seen the 2010 Oscar-winning film, and not the play it was based on, you know the story of a shy, speech-stuttering King George VI (Bertie) who becomes a leader of a nation on the brink of the World War after his father passes and his older brother is abdicated.

While the film has a heavy focus on the relationship between Bertie and his unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue, the play is sure to shine a light on the power of the three main female characters who we don’t see enough of in the movie. We chatted with Maggie Lacey (Elizabeth, Duchess of York), Elizabeth Ledo (Myrtle Logue) and Tiffany Scott (Wallis Simpson) about their characters’ strong presence in the play, and their take on the importance of the relationships that unfold in The King’s Speech at DC’s National Theatre.

OT: Tell us about some general differences between the 2010 film directed by Tom Hooper and David Seidler’s theater version of The King’s Speech.
Elizabeth Ledo: The play is very different than the film in many ways, one being some of the characters in the film are either more or less flushed out than in the play. I think it’s two different experiences for audiences, which is thrilling. If you’re more of a history buff, the play is a little more exciting. 
Tiffany Scott: The screenwriter David [Seidler] made some changes to the script [more recently] than what you would have seen in the film version. He’s still actively involved in the process, and we’re kind of focusing on the human side and love scene between Wallis and Edward. She shows up quite a bit as a powerful player in the story of the constitutional crisis that led to the abdication. They’re working on flushing her out more. She shows up every now and then to cause some trouble.

OT: That’s great that you still get to actively engage with the original playwright. Any fun facts or tidbits that you’ve learned from him?
EL: When we worked on this in Chicago, he spent a couple days with us. He wrote Myrtle very differently than what was historically accurate. She was happy to be in London. She enjoyed some of the perks that came [with] Lionel’s profession. She had some fun. He needed to create dramatic tension and create this idea that she desperately wanted to go back to Australia. It’s not historically real, and we’re tweaking the story for dramatic effect. 

OT: How do the characters of  Elizabeth, Myrtle and Wallis differ from each other and how are they the same?
Maggie Lacey: All three have different backstories, regardless of rank or country of origin. They’re all in love with a man who is challenging for them to support, but who also supports their desires in the relationship. 
EL: The audience gets a little surprise from how much they end up meeting these threads in the play, too. The relationship between Lionel and Bertie is so fabulous to watch and rewarding, and I think that David has given a voice to these three women in a way that’s kind of a surprise to the audience. They’re going to find the importance that the women play. Maggie and I have a quick uncomfortable moment together between Myrtle and Elizabeth, then Wallis and Elizabeth have this equally awkward fascinating exchange in the top of that queue. 

OT: Has it been a learning experience to interact with such a large number of important roles in the play?
ML: It’s been helpful for me to look at the other women’s journeys in the play and learn more about the queen’s. Myrtle for instance, her and the queen are obviously of a different class. It’s a really rich dichotomy there. Wallis, when you [Tiffany] spoke in the rehearsal hall the other day, it was so exciting to hear because it was an American voice coming through. I like the women’s stories and they may not be at the forefront of the play at first glance, but these other actresses have helped me understand my own job. 

OT: What do you love most about your characters and what do you wish they did more of or had more of?
TS: I’m really digging the fiery energy that Americans bring into this world, as Maggie mentions, she’s [Wallis is] the one American voice, so I’m trying to find ways she might move around stage differently than everyone else and have her own voice, which is what this play is about.
EL: Myrtle has a heart of gold, she’s kind of salt-of-the-earth. A grounded woman. Lionel and Myrtle’s scenes are fast, generally a page long, and we’re trying to get a lot accomplished in them, so the the challenge of that is a good challenge and I embrace it, though there’s a couple scenes where I’d want them just a little more flushed out. 
ML: There’s something about the character [Elizabeth] that I feel is specifically British and wry that I am really interested in. It’s not in our blood as Americans to be loyal, so I’m trying to explore the culture and be as authentic as I can. The conciseness of the language seems to support the concise sort of way that they have of talking and collecting their thoughts and at times is wry and right to the point, which I like a lot. 

OT: What are some of the themes in the play that you think are relevant to today’s modern world?
ML: Michael Wilson, our director, talked about the people in this play acting not just for themselves, acting for people connected to them and society as a whole, and that is relevant today. There’s these moments in the play where you’ll know the time is very volatile and we’re on the cusp of the second world war. Hitler is rising to power and fascism, and all this political unrest is happening. These individuals in the U.K. are trying to stay on the right side of history; and that’s all around us right now. History’s never too far from the present.

OT: What are your thoughts on the score behind the play? How big of an impact does the music have on moving the story along?
ML: It’s very cinematic, it’s beautiful, it’s thrilling. The actors are fully encapsulated by the score. I think the set design elements are cinematic in many ways. So you really feel like right away you get drawn in. There’s no way you don’t know that you’re on something that’s a bit epic because it’s just so operatic. It feels like being on a film set at times, and it moves so fast. You go on this wonderful ride as the audience. The design elements on this play are top, top, top notch. He put together quite an incredible group of artists.

OT: Is there anything special that the audience should be on the lookout for?
ML: I wish I had more time in costume, which may sound superficial but it’s not. The costumes are done by David Ward, and he’s a genius. I have all these beautiful dresses that I get to wear for maybe 30 seconds each, so I wish I could show off the clothes for a little bit longer. If you come to see the play, look quickly. Pure artistry is on display.

See The King’s Speech runs at National Theatre from February 11-16. Visit www.thenationaldc.com for times and ticket prices.

National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-628-6161; www.thenationaldc.com

Photo: courtesy of Dram & Grain

Dram & Grain Makes Happy Hour Debut

If the fictional high school chemistry teacher Walter White from AMC’s Breaking Bad put his talents toward making cocktails instead of methamphetamine, he’d be Andy Bixby. At a cocktail tasting hosted at Dram & Grain in Adams Morgan, Bixby threw around terms like “spherification” to describe how he trapped applewood-smoked cucumber juice in a bubble using calcium chloride. He often spoke of cocktail “molarity” to illustrate the balance of his craft beverages. Bigsby even gets dehydrators and pressure cookers involved when he’s experimenting with new tinctures, spirits and syrups for the cocktail menu. 

I nodded like I knew what he was talking about, recalling chemistry as my worst subject in high school. Had high school chemistry class been directed toward creating fun drinks using the periodic table of elements, maybe I would have paid more attention. 

Bixby is the creative director of beverage at Dram & Grain, the speakeasy-style bar that originated in the secluded basement of the Jack Rose Dining Saloon. He is joined by wine director and cocktail collaborator Morgan Kirchner. After a 15-month hiatus, Dram now lives in a much larger, but still intimate, candlelit space down the street under the team’s newest venture, The Imperial. The bar and restaurant opened in November at the corner of 18th street and Florida avenue. 

Dram & Grain is the bar to go to to find a cocktail you couldn’t possibly conceive of alone and have literally never had in your life. I’m not sure where else you could come across a drink that combines ingredients like miso, cucumber juice and ham fat “pearls.” Or what Bixby calls the “anti-Blood Mary,” a light and clean crowd favorite that includes toasted mustard seed and tomato water garnished with a strawberry salt-covered cherry tomato. 

The former umami-forward cocktail with ham fat beads is called Pearls Before Swine and was inspired by a dish Kirchner had in Copenhagen. 

“My background is in culinary arts so taking those things and putting them into a cocktail glass is like, my obsession,” Kirchner says. Its base is tamaro, one of the three house-made base ingredients. 

Tamaro pulls flavors from tamari, dark miso, shoyu, lemongrass and ginger. Base potions anisette and baked citrus amaro join tamaro in the foreground of Dram’s cocktail menu. “I wanted to show others the power of a quarter of an ounce,” Bixby explains. “I wanted to make the base the star of the show. Showcase the versatility of how that ingredient works.” 

In fact, the cocktail menu is organized by base ingredient, followed by the varying drinks that can be made using it. Currently, all three bases get their chance to shine in three different cocktails each. The menu is designed to show guests how tamaro’s complex flavor profile, for example, works just as well in a vodka-forward martini drink as it does in a tiki-inspired rum one.

Before you make a choice and order a drink, however, the Dram & Grain experience begins on arrival. Every guest is greeted with a “Welcome Punch of the Day.” The current iteration carbonated on draft is a blend of Jamaican rum, PX sherry, black walnut liqueur, red verjus and wine. The rotating draft cocktail serves as a little preview of what imaginative concoctions are to come.

Though such rare and intricate cocktails come at $13-$18 a pop (which isn’t so steep considering the time, science and trial-and-error Bixby and Kirchner put into them), these drinkable creations are about to get a lot more accessible: the bar just launched a happy hour for the very first time.   

Starting this week Monday through Friday between 5-7:30 p.m., you can snag one of those detailed, technical-forward out-of-the-box cocktails for $11.

Shareable snacks of note on the happy hour menu include Carroll’s Clam Dip with crème fraîche, horseradish and sea salt lavash and five other delectable dishes

Dram & Grain offers both reservation and open seating sections, and both tasting menu and a la carte options. The cocktail menu will change every couple of months but remain centered around the three house bases. Reservations can be made through Resy and there is a cozy 24-seat fireplace room available for private events. The bar is open Wednesday through Saturday starting at 5 p.m. For more information, click here.

Dram & Grain: 2001 18th St. NW, DC; 202-299-0334; www.dramandgrain.com

Photo: Rey Lopez

Tonari Comes To Chinatown, Blending The Comforts Of Japanese And Italian Cuisine

The Daikaya Group is known for its quartet of ramen shops, each bringing the flavors and culture of Japan straight to DC. The team’s latest venture, Tonari, takes a different turn, swapping noodle soups and dumplings for crispy pan pizzas and twirls of pasta. Known as “wafu” cuisine, the blending of Italian and Japanese food is unlike anything else coming out of DC kitchens. 

“Whenever we do a restaurant, one of the big reasons that we choose the cuisine is because it’s something we want to eat and we can’t find it here,” says Daisuke Utagawa, one of the restaurant’s partners. 

Both Tonari’s name and concept were inspired by its Chinatown location. “Tonari” translates to “next door,” and the focus on pizza and pasta echoes the building’s past history as Graffiatto, chef Mike Isabella’s Italian eatery. The restaurant is set to open tonight. 

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TONARI IS NOW OPEN FOR DINNER! Celebrated Daikaya Group partners Yama Jewayni, Katsuya Fukushima, and Daisuke Utagawa are thrilled to announce the opening of their fifth restaurant in the District – Tonari – meaning ‘next door’ or ‘neighbor’. We are open today, Friday, February 7th, at 5pm for dinner service, and we will serve as the first restaurant in Washington, D.C. to showcase Japanese-style or ‘Wafu’ pasta and pizza. Lunch service and a dessert tasting experience on the 2nd floor within Tonari is slated to launch in the coming weeks. Read more about our opening in @eater_dc at the link on our profile, and scroll through for photos of some of our new menu offerings! Many thanks to @gabehiatt, @rlopez809 (photographer), and the Eater DC team for the feature exclusive! #tonaridc

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“In a sense, we really wanted to repurpose and recycle the restaurant,” says partner Yama Jewayni.

Pairing Japanese and Italian cuisine may be an unfamiliar style to many Americans, but it’s a well-established cuisine in Japan, explains executive chef and partner Katsuya Fukushima.

The wafu style reportedly originated in 1953 at Kabenoana, a small Tokyo restaurant serving affordable plates of pasta. Working with his customers, the chef began creating dishes that incorporated Japanese ingredients like cod roe and sea urchin. 

Tonari’s menu and vibe – down to the ingredients in the kitchen –  draw heavily on this tradition, including sourcing custom noodles and pizza dough directly from Sapporo, and embracing design elements like a moss garden and “horigotatsu” seating on the second floor. Dining at Tonari is a bit more refined than the Daikaya Groups other locations, with a pace that is more laid back than the rapid churn of a ramen counter. 

The opening pasta menu includes a half-dozen dishes ($12-$18) with vegetarian, seafood and meat options. Cooked al dente, the pastas retain a firm yet chewy texture, allowing the flavor of the noodle to come through with each bite. For something fancier, go with the briny and buttery uni pasta folded together with soy, mirin, sake, kombu dashi and seaweed. There’s also the shirasu, a more adventurous plate of tagliatelle topped with baby sardines and a simple sauce of garlic, olive oil and red pepper. And don’t write off the kitchen’s Napolitan offering, a homey sausage, peppers and onions spaghetti dish with a ketchup and Tabasco sauce. 

In addition to pasta, Tonari bakes up a few different pizzas ($14-$16) with a unique 100 percent Hokkaido flour that produces a bready, air texture and a crispy crust. The best of the bunch is the white clam variation, a nod to New Haven-style eating. If red sauce is the move, Tonari offers takes on classic Hawaiian and pepperoni pies. The pizzas are generously topped and filling, with one easily being enough to share along with a couple of other dishes. If dinner leaves you itching for something sweet, the tiramisu and chocolate budino are both satisfying.

The bar sticks mostly to classic cocktails and Italian wines, with a few twists. Fans of vermouth and amaro can enjoy neat pours before or after eating, or taste them in one of the signature drinks. The Reverse Martini, for example, mixes a high ratio of vermouth with vodka, Maraschino liqueur and bitters. Whiskey drinkers will like the Smoky Manhattan, made with smoked amaro and rye. 

Tonari truly does feel different than anything else around town. The wafu combination of Italian and Japanese flavors and cultures seems odd at first, but it all comes together. Subtle at times and bold elsewhere – it’s an experience worth checking out for yourself.

For more information, click here.

Tonari: 707 6th St. NW, DC; www.facebook.com/tonaridc

Photo: courtesy of WRAIR

WRAIR’s Clinical Trials Helping To Cure the World

Clinical trials are necessary for discovering new treatments for diseases, as well as finding new ways to detect, diagnose and decrease the chance of developing a disease. 

The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), located in Silver Spring, Maryland, regularly studies what are often referred to as, “neglected tropical diseases,” or diseases that cause significant illness among the world’s poorest populations as well as pose a health threat for U.S. military members traveling overseas. These include malaria, dengue, yellow fever, Ebola, leishmaniasis, as well as certain types of viral hepatitis, infectious diarrheas and meningitis, among others.

Like all clinical research in the U.S., studies at the WRAIR are conducted on human volunteers under very strict safety regulations to test if new drugs, vaccines or devices are safe and effective – and everything is first tested extensively in labs and preclinical safety testing, before testing is ever allowed on people. 

Lt. Col. Melinda Hamer, MD, an emergency medical doctor by training, serves as director of WRAIR’s Clinical Trials Center (CTC) and has spent a significant portion of her career researching infectious diseases.

After stints with Johns Hopkins Emergency Medicine and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, she was asked to join the WRAIR CTC in 2017.

“This is a unique place to be and there are really few places like it in the world,” she says. “In addition to discovering and manufacturing new vaccines and drugs, we are able to conduct clinical research to assess candidates that have the potential to combat some of the world’s most deadly pathogens. We like to say we address diseases from Anthrax to Zika.”

Although the U.S. Army and the WRAIR have a long history of conducting clinical trials, the CTC was formally established in 1992 to conduct these highly-regulated clinical trials to evaluate the safety of the vaccine products and learn if they actually work to fight these diseases.

“Our center has been involved in a number  of different key milestones and breakthroughs in terms of new vaccines and new treatments,” Hamer says. “For example, there’s a disease called Japanese encephalitis virus, and our center did several significant clinical trials that helped pave the way for a product to be licensed to prevent this disease.”

That was important for U.S. soldiers who deploy to the Southeast Asia region, and the vaccine is also commercially available to help prevent the disease for those who live in areas where the virus is endemic – particularly children, who are more susceptible to death or permanent neurological problems from malaria.  

Other examples include helping with several anti-malaria drugs, and all of the different ones used by U.S. soldiers today were touched in some way by researchers at WRAIR.

“More recently, with the Ebola outbreak in 2014-15, we were selected as the first site in the world to test the Ebola vaccine and that is now being used to stem the tide of the current outbreak,” Hamer says. “It’s the one that is being used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and it appears to prevent folks from getting Ebola and spreading this terrible disease.”

In her role as director, Hamer is responsible for the safety of everyone who receives test vaccines and ensuring they are appropriate for participating in the clinical trials, as well as doing safety assessments during the trial. She leads a team of about two dozen clinical research professionals including three doctors and eight research coordinators, and she notes that success is really a team effort. 

Hamer emphasizes that there is a tremendous amount of planning that goes on just to start a clinical trial.

“We are constantly having meetings with study sponsors and all the different people on staff who are participating in the trial – different clinical coordinators, experts making sure we are adhering to all the regulations, and then plotting out what phases we should focus on and what grant or funding proposals we should apply for next,” she says. “It’s really cool work and I’m here with a lot of really amazing scientists.”

Once a study is over, the data needs to be reported to the FDA and study findings published. It takes a lot of research and several different studies in human beings for a new vaccine or drug to be approved by the FDA and licensed. It can often take 10 years or more.

At any one time, 5-10 studies are being worked on at the WRAIR Clinical Trials Center, and some new ones are in the works for 2020. The CTC plans to be recruiting for these studies soon.

“For those interested, they should know that although there is always some risk associated with testing new products, each study is vetted thoroughly to see how we can make the study as safe as possible. There are quite a few essential safety studies in the laboratory, and in non-clinical safety evaluations that go on before any of these products are even thought about for testing in human beings,” Hamer says. “There are very strict regulations and product review that both the Army and the FDA require.” 

The CTC is housed in what looks like a typical doctor’s office. There’s a waiting room, three exam rooms and labs where things are being studied. 

For those who volunteer, Hamer explains the initial visit or “screening” visit will have study personnel collecting information about a volunteer’s medical history and any medications or specific criteria that will determine if one is eligible to participate in a particular study. Typically a brief physical exam is also involved. If volunteers are eligible for the study, a vaccination or medication dosing visit will generally be the first official study visit.  At that visit volunteers will be briefly checked by a doctor to make sure they are doing ok and are healthy and to confirm their continued willingness to participate, and if so, they will get the first shot or dose of medication. After they receive the dose, someone will watch them for thirty to sixty minutes, and then they will be reassessed before allowed to leave. 

Throughout the study, volunteers may be asked to come in for evaluations including blood tests so researchers can look at the volunteer’s immune response, or antibodies, to make sure they are producing the right response to potential infection, and to ensure there are no abnormalities are going on. Antibodies, as many may know, are Y-shaped proteins in the blood to help stop intruders – such as bacteria and viruses – from harming the body. Other safety checks, such as regular blood tests and questions about any doctor visits or medication changes, are also performed at the study visits to ensure that volunteers have had no problems or concerns associated with any of the research products.

Volunteers are compensated since it requires a  commitment to participate, and those who want to become part of it also need to be serious about their involvement. Although volunteers have the right to leave a study at any time, Hamer says it’s a little bit like a job in that people will have scheduled times they need to come in and they may have other obligations associated with it.

Studies can last anywhere from 2-3 months to 18 months or longer, but the majority fall in the 10-month to a year range. A recent study involved eight total visits by participants, but some require more. 

“We get a lot of repeat volunteers. Once they understand what it is and what we do, many will come back and even invite family and friends to participate,” Hamer says. “We see people in our clinic starting at 6 a.m., so a lot of folks will just come before work and we can accommodate work schedules.”

Hamer is proud of her work and believes that the research is extremely important, and is thankful for all the scientists and volunteers who are involved. 

“It’s incredible to think about that we’re coming up with potential solutions for some of the world’s most challenging and terrible diseases,” she says.  

For more information on current studies or upcoming ones seeing volunteers, visit here.