Lauren Winter and Sebastian Zutant are the real definition of a DC power couple, and they are far, far away from politics. Winter is the studio head for Edit Lab at Streetsense, and the creative mind behind a slew of the District’s most eye-catching restaurant layouts. Meanwhile Zutant has risen the ranks in area restaurants, leading the wine program at Proof and beverage resurgence at Rasika and opening popular spots Komi in Dupont and Red Hen in Bloomingdale. Now, the husband-wife team has joined forces to open French bistro and wine bar Primrose in Brookland, the up-and-coming neighborhood they call home. From the light and whimsical décor and disarming appeal to the unique natural wine selection and insanely talented French chef, Primrose is once again putting this couple at the top of their game. On Tap interviewed the duo on their inspiration for the charming neighborhood spot, upcoming projects and their must-haves (an obscenely priced espresso machine is on the list!)
On Tap: What brought about the concept for Primrose? Was it a specific influence or feeling of something missing in the area?
Sebastian Zutant: Originally, it was going to be a Mediterranean or Moroccan-influenced restaurant with a wine bar aspect, but I was having a hard time verbalizing my own concept, which seems odd. And then I was just thinking about it, and thought, “I’m a sommelier, and no one does wine better than France and no one does food or cheese better.” The fashion is pretty dope, so I said to Lauren, “What about French?” and she was all about it too, so we changed the concept.
Lauren Winter: I’ve always thrived on discovering what is missing in neighborhoods and pairing restaurant/bar owners with areas that might suit them. Opening a restaurant among the already established neighborhood restaurants and bars of Brookland was a recommendation from a friend who owns a nearby restaurant, saying our concept would be a welcome addition.
OT: Why Brookland and what does Primrose bring to the neighborhood?
LW: Brookland has always been special to us because our kids go to school in that neighborhood and we recently moved there to be close to the school. We think the natural wine focus and French food fills a gap in Brookland. The corner lot was ideal and having operable windows on two sides was the main draw to the space. The size, location and space just seemed too perfect for what we wanted, so we couldn’t pass it up.
SZ: We love the neighborhood. We live there – it’s quirky and super artsy with funky houses and the people that live there are super neat. We just wanted to bring a cool neighborhood wine bar and bistro [to the area]. Ultimately, our goal was to open a little wine bar, but fortunately the space is larger than a wine bar. We are trying to keep it humble [with] a neighborhood vibe, so anyone feels they can walk in any time of day or night and grab a glass of wine and pâté and be on their way or stick around and relax.
OT: What is the daily grind like for you all?
LW: Sebastian does the day-to-day in the restaurant with our amazing management team. I still hold my day job in the design world and try to do some upkeep for the restaurant on the weekends relative to the furniture, lighting and plants. With two little boys, keeping our private lives busy, it’s important to balance out home and work life.
OT: What makes Primrose stand out from other wine bars? What is distinct about it?
SZ: I would argue right off the bat that the physical presence of the place is very different. Lauren really knocked this one out of the park. Everyone focuses on the feathers and chandeliers, but for me, it’s that turquoise back bar that sets it apart. You walk in and it’s a breath of fresh air in terms of overall design. And 90 percent of our wine list is natural – the grapes are grown organically . [It is] minimalist winemaking to its cleanest core that doesn’t take anything out of the wine. And our chef definitely sets it apart. He was at The French Laundry [in California] a couple years ago and cooked at Daniel [in NYC] for a year and has some serious chops.
LW: Sebastian has always looked to push the envelope, offering wines that are reasonable priced and accessible. I think the most unique aspect is that we feature the Lightwell Survey Wines that Sebastian and his partners make locally.
A really good wine key
Properly temped wine refrigerators
A stereo system that only functions on one channel, so I can literally plug in my phone and press play
An espresso machine that I spent an ungodly amount of money on, and my partners and wife were like, “Wtf?” and I said, “This thing is amazing, and it will keep me running forever.”
Respect for different types of people and personalities
A familial atmosphere with great lighting
Wine poured at the proper temperature
A maintenance program
Plenty of laughter, like the loud belly laugh or snort that you sort of get embarrassed about (but not really)
OT: Sebastian, how does Primrose play a role in the evolution of wine drinking in the area?
SZ: I think we are in the chat when it comes to best wine bars in the city. It’s a fun, small crowd of wine bars and we all vibe together and know each other. My style is very different than everyone else’s – totally left of center. I’m selling a sauvignon blanc that is nothing like a sauvignon blanc. It’s funky and really rich. I have a fun staff that gets really nerdy and excited about wine who thinks that is so cool, and I educated my staff to educate the consumer. Our approach is more about information and changing people’s minds.
OT: Lauren, tell us about the fantastic design of Primrose and how it came about?
LW: The space was naturally light and airy, so there was no way to fight that with anything dark or heavy. We pulled a lot from our visit to France – items like the entryway with the restaurant’s name and logo – and the zinc bar was a must-have statement piece that we fell in love with when in little Paris bistros. There are other items that aren’t specifically French, but a nod to French design: the ostrich feather chandeliers, the floor-to-ceiling graphic wall covering and tiles in the restroom, and the Haint blue bar, which was pulled from the French side of New Orleans porches.
OT: Any projects coming up that you can tell us about?
SZ: Lightwell Survey will be doing a collaboration with Right Proper Brewing, where we will take the yeast from the wine and age one of the beers on it and then do a riesling/beer mash-up. Expect that to come out some time in September. And we’ve got some other projects in the works but can’t talk about that just yet.
Learn more about Primrose at www.primrosedc.com.
Primrose: 3000 12th St. NE, DC; 202-248-4558; www.primrosedc.com