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NoMa’s Red Bear Brewing Co. opens

Three gay friends from Seattle unveil inclusive, fun ‘safe space’

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Red Bear Brewing, gay news, Washington Blade
Red Bear Brewing Co. co-owners (from left) Cameron Raspet, Bryan van den Oever and Simon Bee open their new bar March 23. (Photo by Evan Caplan)

On a rapidly expanding corner of NoMa just past the shadow of a Metro underpass, stands the city’s newest industrial-chic watering hole. 

Gay-owned Red Bear Brewing Co. (209 M St., N.E.) opened this month, a place where inclusion is as critical to the business as the hops.

Bryan Van Den Oever, Simon Bee and Cameron Raspet — all gay — own this brew-bar-hangout that’s campy in every sense of the word. As central to anything else at the brewery, “Red Bear Brewing Co. is a safe space,” say the owners. 

The three hail from Seattle, a city where beer can be seen as another food group. Their geographic origin inspired the name. It’s also a subtle signifier, as bear is a term used to describe certain members of the gay community. Two of the founders are also redheads.

The brewery encompasses 7,000 square feet abutting the new REI outpost. Red Bear mashes, ferments, matures and carbonates, from grain to glass, its own craft beers in its on-site facility. 

The industrial design echoes similar spaces in the neighborhood — unfinished concrete sits underfoot and exposed steel beams and piping and string lighting drop from the ceiling. 

One half of the floor plan is dedicated to the taproom for guests. It’s split into two spaces: the Front Yard and the Backyard, bisected by an enormous U-shaped bar. Bee oversaw the building of picnic-style tables and benches and high tops, all sourced from reclaimed timber. Board games abound, stocked high on shelves in the Front Yard section, where painted planks form a mountain range mural. The lively area is equal parts campground and living room. 

The Backyard space is more relaxed, hidden from the entrance behind that ample bar. Notably, the Backyard hosts a stage for events like drag performances. Other community events in the works include yoga, comedy, ASL trivia and live music.

Beyond the taproom are several gender-neutral restrooms, detailed with offbeat prints of Jeff Goldblum and space cats.

Alongside are all 10 enormous barrels and lots of shiny machinery. A small kitchen churns out beer-friendly noshes. 

Down to the brew: Two dozen lines snake to the bar to feed 50-plus taps for the diversity of beers, from sweet and fruity to dark, thick and malty. Selections from the initial 10 offerings (the owners aim to have a total of at least 16) are self-referential: Skookum Red Ale, using barley from Washington State, pays homage to the owners’ home Pacific Northwest region; Twinsies (a Double IPA clocking in at 10 percent ABV) notes that Van Den Oever is a twin and keeps his “hop-lust at bay”; and Swampoodle, an Imperial Oatmeal Stout, jokingly includes “400 pounds of four-leaf-clovers to capture the luck of the Irish” and refers to the neighborhood’s original name before the North of Mass Avenue portmanteau took over. 

The brewery supports local by serving City Winery vintages and ciders and meads from Maryland distilleries. There’s also a full bar and discussions for beer cocktails are in the works. Hard liquor from neighboring Northeast distilleries like Republic Restoratives are poured from bartenders, some of whom are already conversant in ASL, though all certainly speak the language of beer.

While Red Bear is not a gay bar, it’s proudly loud about its identity and its inclusivity. It’s a community space first, insists Van Den Oever. While he also takes ASL classes, Braille menus are in the works and there’s space at the bar for wheelchairs. 

The owners are proud they’re helping turn the gay community onto beer, providing customers with creative offerings, wide flavor profiles, tongue-in-cheek explanations and a playful environment. 

“The gays are not exclusively about spirits,” Van Den Oever says. “In fact, I think they aren’t exclusive to anything.”

On opening night of March 23, a line of patrons flowed well past REI to make it in the doors in time for the show. A few minutes after 6 p.m., drag queen Kitti Chanel Fairfield owned the Backyard, setting the stage for the grand-opening ribbon cutting of the taproom. Bearing oversized scissors, the three owners — Van Den Oever donning a bright-red sequined dinner jacket — officially opened the brewery for business.

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As You Are Bar offers a place to belong

Bar-coffeeshop-danceboutique to open brick-and-mortar soon

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AYA, gay news, Washington Blade

Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

Vodka soda, pinot grigio, light beer, ginger ale, or all of the above: whatever your tribe, As You Are Bar recognizes your flavor.

Currently virtual and soon physical, As You Are (AYA) Bar is the new joint venture from bar industry veterans Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, partners and both queer women.

Launched earlier this year, AYA is “a virtual queer space with a priority of safety and inclusion,” says McDaniel.

McDaniel, who has been recognized by the Washington Blade in the past for her cocktail crafting skills, began her career at now-closed gay bar Apex, and later as a bartender at Phase 1, Phase 1 Dupont, Freddie’s Beach Bar, and Cobalt.

McDaniel went on to open and then manage A League of Her Own (ALOHO), located aside Pitcher’s in Adams Morgan. For her part, Pike started in the industry in security at Nellie’s, and was also on hand to open ALOHO. She moved up to lead security and bartender at ALOHO.

At ALOHO, the duo teamed up to make it “as safe a space as possible,” says McDaniel. But, as for the entire industry, the pandemic threw a wrench in their in-person abilities to do so.

When the pandemic hit, “we realized it was time to do more,” she says. “Humans are made to connect, and we couldn’t support them well at a brick-and-mortar-space. Thus, AYA bar was born.”

Having left ALOHO to expand their dream bar model, AYA allowed them to entirely rethink the bar space. At times, they admit, “the 21-35 crowd can dominate nightlife. The goal is to pull away from that,” McDaniel says. In addition, Pike notes that “pandemic, and the time off, opened many people’s eyes to so many injustices, inequities and racism in our world.” They want to address those concerns at AYA by accepting every part of the queer rainbow.

Right now, AYA is creating that welcoming space virtually. One popular event on the AYA website is Click in with Coach, a Zoom-based happy hour hangout. It’s a place to have bar talk without the physical bar. McDaniel hosts Hey Jo, an Instagram live interview show where McDaniel speaks with a guest from the community to discuss queer spaces, ways to support community causes, and lessons over the years and from this time in a pandemic. Other events include a YouTube virtual dance party hosted by DJ MIM (a popular queer DJ) and Our Side of the Bar, at which McDaniel and Rach take the hot seat and dish what life is like on the other side of the bar.

Regardless of location, McDaniel stresses that the team wants “to expand our reach and center marginalized communities within this larger community: Black, brown, and indigenous people of color (BBIPoC), queer youth, and queer elders.”

The two are actively searching for a physical location, and hope to have more news on its opening by the summer.

Their goal is to make AYA a daytime-to-nighttime café-cum-danceboutique. In the morning and afternoons, it will serve as a coffeeshop for families and youth, and welcome after-schoolers. In the evening, a part of the space will dim the lights and turn up the tunes, allowing the bar to transform into an accessible, everyone-welcome bar. They hope to include the 18+ crowd on certain nights, too. The café section will likely stay open for those looking for a quieter nook at night.

“Because we identify under the queer umbrella,” says McDaniel, “our passion to provide safety to this community courses through us in everything we do. Because we’re white, we believe we have a responsibility to BBIPoC to center the needs and voices of marginalized people. We were both also young queer people at one point looking for a place to belong, come as we were, and feel safe. Everyone deserves a space that is theirs. A space they can be who they are and know they will be respected, protected, and nurtured. As You Are is for anyone that couldn’t find that place elsewhere.”

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Dining

Gin & Tonic Festival to benefit restaurants, workers

ThinkFoodGroup celebrates Spain’s favorite cocktail

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José Andrés (Photo by Blair Getz Mezibov)

José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup celebrates Spain’s favorite cocktail with its annual Gin & Tonic Festival April 9-29 at all Jaleo restaurant locations in the D.C. area.

The Botanist Gin will donate $5 of every Botanist Gin and Tonic sold during the festival to the Independent Restaurant Coalition. Donations will be doubled to $10 on International Gin and Tonic Day on April 9.

The Independent Restaurant Coalition is a grassroots movement formed by chefs and independent restaurant owners across the country to protect the independent restaurants and their workers impacted by the ongoing pandemic.

For more information, visit ThinkFoodGroup on Facebook.

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Dining

Paraiso Taqueria is a riotous rainbow of a restaurant

‘A vibrant atmosphere where all your senses get stimulated’

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Paradiso, gay news, Washington Blade
Scenes from the new Paraiso Taqueria in Capitol Hill. (Photos by Evan Caplan)

Green tortillas, pink mole, and blood-orange margaritas: the new Paraiso Taqueria in Capitol Hill is a riotous rainbow of a restaurant.

Launched last December, Paraiso Taqueria is just coming into its stride, as the city government relaxes dining restrictions, chef Geovany Beltran expands the menu, and the restaurant debuts a funky coffeeshop.

Beltran, a native of Mexico, has seized the opportunity in his first starring chef role at a restaurant, having previously worked at Jinya Ramen Bar, among other area eateries.

“Growing up in a mezcalero family in Guerrero, Mexico and being a D.C. local for many years, my dream has been to share those recipes and memories here in Capitol Hill,” he says. 

Unlike other recent taqueria openings, this one takes inspiration from both street food and home kitchens, as well as international influences. But Mexico is front and center. According to the restaurant’s Brand Director Tahmina Ghaffer, “we source our heirloom masa [corn flour] from Oaxaca, Mexico. This flour used for tortillas has been nixtamalized, or treated with slaked lime to remove the hulls, soften it, and improve the digestibility of its nutrients,” she says.

About those tortillas: Beltran livens up the Insta factor by mixing batches of masa with beet or cilantro, resulting in brilliant pink or green colors, in addition to the traditional yellow. Siting on those tortillas are a bevy of taco options, from traditional al pastor (with braised pork, pineapple, and cilantro) to a creative salmon crudo (with chamoy honey sauce, pickled onions, and mango). There is also an eggplant taco with tomatillo jam for vegetarians. All salsas that accompany the tacos are made in-house.

For bigger plates, look to the adobo lamb, served aside red and green salsas, escabeche, and tricolor tortillas, as a kind of DIY table side taco party. Another creative dish is an elegant cauliflower burrito, painted with a pink mole fragrant with beets, thyme, pine nuts, almonds, and pink peppercorns, and then elegantly drizzled with in a white chocolate sauce.

Beltran also takes cues from the sea, serving ceviche and coconut-curried mussels that would be right at home in an Indian restaurant.

On the sweet side, pastry chef Blenda Navarette crafts desserts like a tres leches topped by mango gelee and a chocolate flan; a pan dulce is in the works. 

The drink list, Ghaffer notes, is heavily focused on an extensive collection of mezcal and tequila. Bar manager Jose Diaz aims to “tell the myths, legends, and stories of Mexico through drinks.” 

The Oaxacan Old Fashioned is inspired by the classic cocktail, but Diaz uses mezcal and agave. The El Chamongo marries tequila with mango, lime, chamoy, and the popular Tajin spice mix for a spicy-salty kick.

Paraiso takes over the space formerly occupied by Emilie’s, where star chef Kevin Tien helmed the kitchen. When Tien left, owners Sam Shoja and Johann Moonesinghe revamped the space and handed the reins to Beltran (Shoja also owns several Jinya Ramen franchises). Beltran and his chef team are also partners in this operation.

“This team have been the true heroes of the restaurant industry and we want to give them a space where they can be celebrated and have ownership,” says Ghaffer.

The industrial-chic design with a 360-degree open kitchen (seats at the kitchen bar are not being used during pandemic restrictions) is brightened by prints from a family favorite Mexican illustrator, Ana Leovy. “She celebrates diversity through her work, weaving stories through shapes and colors, inspired by feelings, dreams and everyday life,” says Ghaffer. Neon lights and lots of greenery round out the space. 

Paraiso’s aim is to create “a vibrant atmosphere where all your senses get stimulated,” she says. 

An immigrant herself, Ghaffer (who hails from Afghanistan) notes that “being a minority has shaped our work, and we are here to set an example. As immigrants and people of color, we had to break barriers and now we want to help others do that. We want to let people know that anyone who puts in the hard work will achieve their dreams.”

Moving forward, Paraiso will soon house an all-day café-bookshop, decorated with photography from Mexican women, selling fresh coffee, packaged treats, goodies, and bottled drinks. The restaurant also has plans to set up a “mezcaleria” bar area, expand its outdoor patio, launch a monthly wine club series, and host specials for Cinco de Mayo.

(Photo by Evan Caplan)
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