“I live above a restaurant on 17th Street and work below another one,” chuckles Dupont Circle neighborhood bar manager Dito Sevilla. It’s clear that is where he feels most at home.
“Entertaining has always been in my blood,“ the offspring of a prominent ambassadorial family says. Sevilla’s paternal grandfather served as Nicaraguan envoy to the U.S. for nearly four decades, until 1979, later becoming a dean of the Washington diplomatic corps. His father would also serve as an emissary, first representing Nicaragua in Argentina and later as United Nations ambassador. Sevilla’s elegantly beautiful mother, who stops by to see her son at his bar on occasion, was a Miss Nicaragua international pageant contestant in her youth.
“I fell in love with hospitality,” explains the 35-year-old Sevilla, “and find it extremely rewarding.” “Serving guests is an expression of my best traits, the ones that come naturally to me.” The suburban Maryland native studied finance and marketing in college, but made a “conscious decision to stay” in the business.
Sevilla can be found most nights orchestrating the cozy conviviality for which Dito’s Bar at Floriana restaurant has long been known. Tucked away down a short stack of steps behind a door obscured from street view, the small lower-level bar at 1602 17th St., N.W., opened 10 years ago next month. The business moniker, like the friendly familiarity that often develops among the bar’s patrons, naturally evolved.
As the venue became a popular destination and pop-by hotspot, “we discovered we needed a name,” explains Sevilla. Floriana restaurant management and staff suggested referencing it as the customers already did – using the bartender-host’s name.
Dito’s Bar is part of the 65-seat noted culinary contributor on the commercial stretch. Known for its well-regarded modern Italian cuisine and extensive wine list, Floriana relocated to a previously converted multi-level row house near Q Street in 2000. Sevilla launched the basement bar a few months after he joined the staff of the upscale yet comfortable dining venue.
The restaurant menu is also available at the bar, enlisting early evening customers following a 5 p.m. opening each night. The bar generally stays open until 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, extended to 1 a.m. on weekends.
“Guests refer to the bar as ‘the bunker’,” Sevilla jokes. Its 450 sq. ft. size is smaller than most studio apartments in the area but is surprisingly spacious. The set-up offers 16 stools at both an angular bar and alongside wall-hugging ledges.
Seated patrons engage in private conversations amid the bustle of others standing and moving about, as if at a house party. Sevilla will wave a hand or shout out a greeting as new arrivals enter – welcoming both frequent customers and first-timers alike.
Although Sevilla considers contrived the “speakeasy” motif adopted in recent years in the industry, “we have a sort of clandestine feel,” he admits. The exposed brick walls and subterranean environment give the bar a decidedly “underground” vibe and “hideaway” ambience.
Devotion to conveying high-quality cocktails, utilizing his own specially batched mixers infused with natural ingredients, along with a personable service style have earned Sevilla a high-profile reputation as “ambassador of 17th Street.” He regularly assists nearby businesses in promoting the area and coordinating community events. “Cobalt/Level One manager Mark Rutstein and JR.’s bar manager David Perruzza are my mentors,” he says, giving them “huge credit” for their business acumen and “understanding the constant need to reinvent.”
Dito’s Bar is “a community room with liquor,” Sevilla laughs, describing the diverse clientele. “The more different types of people spend time together the better we understand one another,” he adds. “That’s what happens here.”