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Photo: courtesy of The Arctic Refuge Experience

A Story of Beauty and Hope: The Arctic Refuge Experience Comes to DC

Adventurers, explorers and friends of the outdoors, pull out your maps and point to where the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is. If you are not sure where to find it, your GPS should steer you toward Northeastern Alaska.

However, hold off from strapping your hiking boots, because for a limited time you won’t have to leave DC for a chance to experience the refuge. From November 8-11, The Arctic Refuge Experience. Step in. Step Up. is taking over the AutoShop near Union Market to provide a 4-D sensory art installation, with a look and feel that mirrors a walk through the Alaskan wildlife safe-haven. The exhibit is presented by The Wilderness Society and the Gwich’in Steering Committee, in conjunction with the Arctic Refuge Defense Coalition. 

This opportunity is something you do not want to miss out on because the ANWR, naturally, is difficult to visit. Every year only 5,000 people manage to make the trek, making this exhibit a can’t miss opportunity for both art lovers, people invested in environmental issues and even people who work on projects directly related to the refuge. 

“It is incredibly difficult to visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” says Edit Ruano, the director of regional communications strategy for The Wilderness Society. “So difficult that I, who, have worked on protecting the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, actually have never been.”

Upon entry, explorers will reach a threshold where the ground beneath you will suddenly change from the DC streets to the arctic tundra. Thanks to dozens of filmmakers and visitor testimony, you will see the region teeming with life through video and artistic recreations. Ruano and other team members wanted make the experience feel authentic, including the Gwich’in community.

“The Gwich’in are an indigenous community who rely on the Arctic Refuge for their way of life,” she says. “We had the head of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, Bernadette Demientieff, in New York, [where] we got to share the video of the experience with her and the council members, and they told us that it felt like being home. We teleported them home [from] New York. For us, that was the biggest compliment we could have received.” 

This 4D experience allows you to feel the arctic wind brush against you and even provides smells of the land. One of Ruano’s favorite experiences was when the wildlife surrounded her. Its artistic qualities not withstanding, the Arctic Refuge Experience also has a deeper purpose as this exhibit demonstrates how this beautiful land is in danger because of oil and gas drilling. 

While the Arctic Refuge Experience is designed to warn and inspire everyone, Ruano and her team spent a year designing it because of the urgency regarding the situation.

“Oil and gas companies and the administration have been trying to fast-track, and expedite sales of the Arctic Refuge ever since the 2017 Tax Act, which included a hidden provision opening up the refuge to oil and gas drilling,” she says. “Since then, they have been expediting the scientific review process, and not doing the due diligence and listening to the voices of people who know about the refuge.”

The experience is a story that shows the beautiful land, the villains, but also the heroes working to save it. This is a tale full of hope and serves as evidence of people working collectively to take action. By attending, you can help take action too, as there are physical phones on location that will empower you to call key individuals and leave voicemails wherein you can express your opinions. During the exhibit’s stop in New York, they managed to get 1100 voicemails declaring that the ANWR is too precious to drill.

Visitors will also become “shareholders” in the No Waaay Corp., the first-ever collective action corporation created with the intention of stopping “ big oil” from harming public lands.

Hopefully, The Arctic Refuge Experience will bring out your inner activist. With climate change constantly in the news, this exhibit hopes to truly connect and engage. This immersive experience is on the first leg of its tour, and Ruano wants to expand and reach other areas so the young people can make their voices heard. “We’re hoping that this that activism happens across the US: In red, blue and purple states alike.”

Though you do not need to be politically active to enjoy this one of a kind experience, the exhibit serves as an opportunity to see the beauty of a difficult place to physically explore, with grander designs to inspire you to protect it. All net proceeds will go to the Gwich’in Steering Committee and Gwich’in Youth Council. 

For more information about the exhibit, visit here.

AutoShop: 416 Morse St. NE, DC; www.unionmarketdc.com/retailer/autoshop

O-Ku Martini // Photo: courtesy of O-Ku

Behind the Bar: Inside Union Market’s Thriving Cocktail Scene

Neighborhoods grow, dynamics shift, and restaurants and bars find their groove among these transitions. For Union Market, a neighborhood that’s recently seen dramatic change, there’s plenty of room for everyone to enjoy a drink. Whether a dive bar or a sophisticated sushi spot, the message is clear: all guests are welcome to take part in the conviviality that only comes from a shared drinking experience.

Last Call

Gina Chersevani’s Union Market footprint continues to grow this fall with her love letter to dive bars, Last Call, which opened in late October. The proprietor of bagel, soda shop classics, and cocktail-themed Buffalo & Bergen and nostalgic, cocktail-slinging airstream Suburbia is setting up shop just steps from Union Market.

This new spot pays homage to watering holes from a bygone era when quality drinks and affordable price tags were the standard.

Amid the new high-rises and shiny eateries, Chersevani identifies a missing Union Market element: a corner bar, a neighborhood pub, a local gathering spot – all things that once dominated the scene. Chersevani’s vision for bringing back that culture and creating a space where “you can be in and out of there for $15 bucks” comes to life at Last Call.

“I want to refresh what your vision of your local watering hole is,” she says. “I want to refresh what a dive really is. A dive is a place to hang out, have great conversation [and] chill with your friends.”

Photo: Rey Lopez

Upon entry, guests are greeted by a long bar. The bones of the space haven’t seen much change from the building’s past life as a retro cafeteria, other than the removal of decades worth of grime and buildup. Blue, green and white-colored facades were revealed after weeks of scrubbing the walls, and the team decided to keep them as a nod to the past.
Another design quirk is the alley door painted green – perhaps a vestige from the days of Prohibition marking the spot as a booze-friendly locale, with stories from neighbors strengthening the myth. From the history to the innate charm, everything about the space seemed to be the “right fit for me,” according to Chersevani.

“It spoke to my soul,” she says of the space.

Cocktails are inspired by old-school favorites, travels and drinks from past haunts. A frozen Irish coffee comes by way of Chersevani’s penchant for the version served up at New Orleans’ bar Erin Rose, a must-stop for her when visiting the Big Easy. Another drink dubbed the 169 Bar, a carbonated old fashioned, gives a nod to the historic New York City bar of the same name. And there’s even a divey take on the Aperol spritz: an Aperol Schlitz.

The food menu is influenced by staff favorites, featuring “a rotation of sandwiches inspired by dive bars we love from across the country.”

Whether you’re a local or someone stopping in for the first time, Chersevani wants all guests to feel at home. A visit to Last Call “should be fun, and you should want to be a little dancy.”

When Queen comes on and the familiar sounds of “Another One Bites the Dust” signal the end of the night at Last Call, what will you find Chersevani drinking? Miller High Life.

“Ice-cold beer [and the] ‘dun dun dun’ of Queen always remind me of pure fun.”

1301-A Fourth St. NE, DC

Photo: Rey Lopez

Last Call’s Aperol Schlitz
1.5 oz. Aperol
5 oz. Schlitz beer
Orange slice to garnish

O-Ku

As one of the first standalone restaurants to open outside of Union Market, this DC offshoot of the Southern-based Japanese eatery focuses heavily on fresh ingredients and elevating customer experiences.

O-Ku Beverage Director Alvaro Umaña weaves seasonal flavors into his cocktail menu, playing off of what the kitchen works on to “enhance the experience and the food.” For example, a carpaccio dish featuring green apples is hitting the menu soon, an apt pairing for a highball Umaña is finalizing that will include a green apple shrub.

“We switch the menu at the same time the kitchen does,” he says. “I want to put items on the menu that really go with the food we’re serving and really enhance it.”

What makes the Union Market locale stand out from other O-Ku locations? With the exception of a few staples on the menu that remain constant across all locations, the spot offers a larger variety of products.

Photo: courtesy of O-Ku

“Other than [a] couple of items, we really run free,” Umaña continues. “We’re empowered to do what we feel is best, and I think that’s really been one of the keys to [our] success.”

The O-Ku team has seen their fair share of locals come through the doors, in addition to out-of-towners who recognize the brand from its Southern counterparts. With an eclectic customer base, it can be challenging to curate a drink list that appeals to regulars and newcomers alike.

“One thing we like to do is change our menu regularly,” Umaña notes. “But if there are select seasonal items, let’s not shy away from them because they’re not on the menu. The flexibility to add and build [upon] the menu is what helps keep everyone excited.”

Boasting a lineup of stellar whisky and gin, O-Ku’s cocktail offerings are also impressive.

“We have a lot of great cocktails,” the beverage director adds. “The one that O-Ku is known the most for is the Sugar and Spice.”

The mix of habanero-infused vodka with passion fruit is “wildly popular” among guests, but the most impactful drink on the menu for Umaña is a simple martini. Guests choose a base of Japanese rice vodka or Japanese botanical gin, which gets mixed with one part sake for an effervescent take on the classic cocktail. As a gateway sake drink for a lot of his guests, he notes that the soft introduction to the spirit is appealing to those who may have preconceived notions about it.

It’s rewarding for Umaña to see the genuine experience when guests opt in for trying something out of their comfort zone and are pleasantly surprised.

“It’s nice to see someone veer away from what they traditionally have. It changes their perspective when people are willing to give it a chance.”

Umaña’s martini is the embodiment of the restaurant’s aesthetic: “simple yet flavorful, which is what we strive to do at O-Ku.”

1274 5th St. NE, DC; www.sushirestaurantwashington.com

O-Ku Martini (pictured above)
1 1/2 oz. Roku Gin or Haku Vodka
3/4 oz. Spring Snow Sake
Stir cocktail + garnish with lemon twist

Photo: courtesy of Puddin’

A Day in the Life with Puddin’ Food Truck Owner Toyin Alli

Toyin Alli, founder of DC’s beloved soul food staple Puddin’, knows what people like: great ingredients, comforting flavors and a second to experience bliss in the middle of a busy day. Cooking is a thread that runs through her entire life, first as a way to bond with family, then as a hobby and ultimately as a calling. DMV residents gravitate toward Alli’s warmth and the sense of fun she brings to food. With two food trucks, a Union Market stall and a spot at Eastern Market’s Saturday farmers market, Puddin’s growth has tracked right alongside the District’s food truck scene. We caught up with her to learn more about where she’s been and where she’s headed next.

On Tap: What drew you to cooking?
Toyin Alli: I come from a family of people who love cooking. My dad is Nigerian and my mom is African American, so they’re always trying to merge those two things in the kitchen. I gravitated toward Cajun and Creole food because they have the influence of West African cuisines, French, Native Americans – it feels like the most American food there is. I ended up using a lot of West African ingredients and when I went to Louisiana [to research], I saw so much stuff that my dad was using, like okra. It felt like food that was very familiar to me.

OT: How did Puddin’ come to be? How did you pick the name?
TA: I started in 2005 just doing all different kinds of puddings – bread pudding, mousse, panna cotta – literally any kind of pudding I could think of. But it didn’t really take. People just started calling me Puddin’ and it stuck. It’s also a common Southern nickname. People come up to the truck all the time and say, “That’s MY nickname!” I started again after I graduated from grad school [in 2010]: gumbo, shrimp and grits, banana pudding. This wasn’t an overly thought-out business idea. It came from a love of cooking and it was a thing I did on the weekend. I was working a full-time job and I was rushing around getting ingredients. I quit my job about six months after I started the business. It was scary, but it ended up paying off. I was able to incrementally build my business by starting in the Eastern Market farmers market.

OT: Now you’re at Eastern Market and in Union Market, and you’ve got the food truck. How does your clientele differ at each location?
TA: We have die-hard Eastern Market people who come every weekend for our po’boys because I put a twist on it. It’s still traditional with big fried shrimp, but we put our remoulade and a vinegar-based slaw on them. We use local Rappahannock oysters and wild blue catfish, which is different too. They’re an invasive species and they’re not bottom feeders so they don’t have that muddy taste, plus getting them out of the water helps the ecosystem. Union Market is changing. We have people who come because they support me as a black-owned, female-owned business. The new market people are trendy millennials, tourists – and they’re having a different experience. It’s all cool. It’s all great.

OT: What’s your bestseller? Why do you think that is?
TA: The bread pudding is always a hit. It’s an old-timey dessert you either love or hate. What’s fun for me is taking one of those old-school desserts and turning it into something people really enjoy. Getting people to try it is a challenge. “That’s wet bread! Who wants wet bread? I don’t!” But ours is no nuts, no raisins, no cinnamon, and who doesn’t love butter and bread with sugar and bourbon? Rather than try to overcomplicate it, I made something simple – and people love it.

OT: What does comfort food mean to you?
TA: When I think of comfort food, I think of anything that makes my body tingle [while I’m eating it]. It’s so good, I’d rather be doing that than any number of things that also make me feel good. Comfort food to me is, you need this not only for nourishment, but to feed your soul. I know you can’t indulge every day, but sometimes you just need some fried shrimp, you need some gumbo. Ultimately, if it feels like home.

OT: What’s next for Puddin’?
TA: I’m working on Puddin’s Community Kitchen. We’re hoping to open in November. I purchased warehouse space in Capitol Heights, Maryland, right outside DC. It’ll be an incubator space and a commercial kitchen, but also a community space for cooking classes and whatever else the community needs. I’m trying to create a space that can be used to fill that gap. Additionally, there’s going to be a carry-out space so people in that community can buy Puddin’ food without coming into the city.

 Learn more about Puddin’ and where to find Alli’s food trucks at www.dcpuddin.com or on Instagram @dcpuddin.

Monday through Sunday at Union Market: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.unionmarketdc.com

Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Eastern Market: 635 North Caroline Ave. SE, DC; www.easternmarket-dc.org

Photo: Doug Van Sant

All Things Go Fall Classic Brings Music, Activism and More to Union Market

With a name like All Things Go Fall Classic, the festival’s attendees would likely expect a laid-back day of tunes enjoyed in the crisp autumn air. But those who joined the two-day celebration at Union Market in the infamous DC humidity experienced an energy and crowd that wouldn’t have been out of place at Coachella’s annual music festival.

Saturday’s sets featured an all-female lineup with acts ranging from Billie Eilish to festival curator Maggie Rogers. Sunday proved an equally as jam-packed schedule of various genres with everything from classic pop to R&B – check out our highlights below.

The Provo, Utah-based band The Aces brought their take on guitar-driven power pop early on Sunday. While the assumption could be made that many attended for bigger names, scores of Aces fans made their way to the front and sang along to every word of the songs the four-piece group played. Bandmates even brought a cake onstage for drummer Alisa Ramirez, who celebrated her 21st birthday, prompting fans to join a spirited “happy birthday” singalong.

Following the high-energy dance party that was The Aces, New York-born, DC-based R&B artist Cautious Clay mellowed out the crowd with his smooth lyrics and choir-layered choruses. “Cold War” was easily the crowd-pleaser with dreamy, electronic beats and truth-seeking lyrics asking “but if we spoke like we meant it/would you reference/this open part of me” had the crowd closing their eyes and swaying in time.

Up next was rising indie star Two Feet a.k.a. Bill Dess. The New York City native’s relatively quick rise in popularity started with a drunken online upload of seductive, electric guitar-heavy song “Go F*ck Yourself” that had the All Things Go crowd dancing. The bluesy, beachy “I Feel Like I’m Drowning” where Dess sings of a “suspicious” lover also proved a fan-favorite, including getting lots of radio love as of late. Talking to the crowd, Two Feet was both funny and perhaps a little unsure of himself, but one thing’s for certain – the guy can shred on guitar.

The fun wasn’t just in the music though; in between music acts, concert attendees could grab a pint of ice cream from Vice Cream while waiting in line for a photo booth or to sign their name on one of two giant globe-like balls. There was even a tent where hairstylists braided festival goers’ hair thanks to emBRAZEN – a wine brand that celebrates bold women from history with their selections, including a Celia Cruz chardonnay, Josephine Baker red blend and Nellie Bly cabernet sauvignon.

After hair braiding and stocking up on Vice Cream, a packed crowd started to form in front of the stage as everyone waited to experience the effervescent MisterWives. Singer Mandy Lee encouraged the audience to sing along to hits like “Drummer Boy” and “Our Own House.” Most songs were met with extended jam sessions via Lee and her bandmates, even incorporating Destiny’s Child’s hit “Survivor”at one point, as a dedication to survivors of sexual assault. The powerful stance was also, in Lee’s words, a reflection of the love and light she felt at the festival besides the tumultuous goings on in DC that weekend.

The aforementioned MisterWives joined the concert bill days before the festival began. They took the slot previously occupied by singer songwriter Garrett Borns, better known as BØRNS, after several people came forward stating the singer was responsible for sexual misconduct. The festival, which touted an all female lineup on Saturday had a choice to make – turn the other cheek or serve as an example to others in the music community by disallowing an alleged abuser a platform.

All Things Go issued a statement that Borns would no longer perform at the festival. By doing so they clearly and confidently sent the message that their festival was no place for misconduct and one that would amplify voices aiming to make the music world safer. Sunday was surely a celebration of that, and All Things Go provided a winning combination of hope, fun and progress. It’s like no other festival in DC, or perhaps the country, and we’re already counting down to the next one.

For  more information about All Things Go Fall Classic, click here.

Photo: Doug Van Sant

Homegrown Festival All Things Go Highlights DC Music Scene

Zack Friendly has been committed to advancing DC’s music scene for more than a decade. Determined to share his taste and talent for spotting artists on the verge of making it big, he did what everyone within his niche did in the mid-2000s: ran a blog. What started out as an online side project would eventually become the All Things Go Fall Classic, a fast-growing music festival in the District.

This year’s festival will be held at Union Market on October 6-7, with an all-female lineup the first day. All Things Go is focused on highlighting as much female talent as possible to help combat the myth that female festival headliners are economically lesser than their male counterparts, and the statistic that only 14 percent of headliners are women, according to a 2017 Pitchfork study.

Headliners Maggie Rogers and Lizzy Plapinger, formerly of the band MS MR but currently performing as LPX, collaborated with the festival’s founders to help curate the performer lineup. Artists like Ravyn Lenae, OSHUN, Billie Eilish and Jessie Reyez are a few of the kickass women they’ll share the stage with, but the female-powered partnerships don’t end there.

Rogers and Plapinger – along with other women in the music lineup and prominent women in the DC food and distilling communities – will speak on free-with-RSVP Women X Music and Women X Entrepreneurship panels at the new Eaton Hotel on October 5 to kickstart the festival weekend. The event is also partnering with the Women’s March to register festivalgoers to vote in their Power to the Polls initiative.

Friendly and his fellow founders (Will Suter, Adrian Maseda and Stephen Vallimarescu) chose Union Market as this year’s festival host, a spot brimming with local food vendors, brewers, artists and other DC-based businesses highlighting the District’s cultural contributions. The NoMa locale has morphed from a large wholesale area to a bustling metropolis of cuisine and distilling, with a “block party” vibe that Friendly is particularly excited about.

His blog-turned-festival got its start in 2006, when he and Maseda were searching for a way to share their musical preferences with the world.

“It was when music blogs were the source of new music, rather than Spotify or Tidal,” Friendly says.

As streaming services proliferated, they pivoted to stay relevant. Rather than sharing music directly, they began curating playlists, using the platforms to promote their discoveries. From 2009 to 2010, Friendly took one step closer to launching the festival by setting up a series of live music components with the help of publicists, labels, managers and agents. They hosted shows at venues like U Street Music Hall, 9:30 Club and SXSW, as well as other pop-ups around DC.

The inevitable transition from smaller events to a larger-scale festival was a “natural progression.” The group launched the first All Things Go in 2014 to spotlight emerging artists from the DMV and beyond. It’s extremely important to the founders to provide a homegrown spirit to the festival.

“We grew up going to music festivals, like the DC101 Chili Cook-Off and HFStival,” Friendly says. “[We’re] trying to bring some of what Lollapalooza brings to Chicago or Austin City Limits brings to Austin. We wanted to highlight DC. It’s a real destination for music.”

Friendly adds that the DC music scene has been alive and well for a long time, citing the city’s contributions to the punk scene and the birthplace of go-go music. With that in mind, the All Things Go founders always pay close attention to musicians cutting their teeth in the area. Among this year’s local acts are FootsXColes, Cautious Clay – a Brooklyn transplant who moved here to attend George Washington University – and the now New York-based OSHUN.

But highlighting DC as a music destination goes beyond drawing in famous performers for the festival. As All Things Go continues to grow with innovation and inclusion, Friendly knows there will always be room for improvement.

“We always joke that the first year we made 100 mistakes, and we fixed 90 of them and created 20. There’s just a constant back-and-forth. What’s been great for us is trying to find our way to get it perfect. We’re not there yet, but I just love seeing these fans buy tickets on the first day who I recognize and who were there [from] day one. Slowly seeing the audience build organically and [hearing] people say ‘Hey, I don’t know who [this artist] is, but I trust you guys.’  That feeling is why we do this.”

Don’t miss the 2018 All Things Go Fall Classic from Saturday, October 6 to Sunday, October 7 at Union Market. Tickets start at $65 and can be purchased at www.allthingsgofallclassic.com.

Union Market: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; 888-512-7469; www.allthingsgofallclassic.com