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Pals and restaurateurs offer creative drink options at Dos Mamis

Everything from ‘patio pounders’ to ‘sobrios’ at new Petworth hangout spot



Dos Mamis, gay news, Washington Blade
Carlie Steiner (left) and Anna Bran-Leis at Dos Mamis. (Photo by John Rorapaugh)

Dos Mamis is a place for a cocktail. It’s also reflection of self. 

On a recent afternoon, at the outdoor Wine Garden of this intensely purpose-driven Petworth bar, co-owners Anna Bran-Leis and Carlie Steiner sipped chilled Gamay, a fruity, light-bodied cousin to Pinot Noir. Condensation clinging to their glasses, Bran-Leis and Steiner finished each other’s thoughts, energy and side-eye bouncing between them as they discuss plans for the upcoming season (new plants! Frozen Mexican hot chocolate!). 

Their breezy, sisterly banter reflects everything that they have been searching for in a bar to complement the neighboring restaurants on Upshur Street that they already run: Bran-Leis overseeing Taqueria del Barrio, and Steiner of Himitsu (former co-owner Kevin Tien just stepped down to concentrate on Emilie’s, a new restaurant in Capitol Hill). 

The Wine Garden, like Dos Mamis itself, “is our little oasis,” Steiner says. “If we had a rooftop, it’d look like this.” 

Bran-Leis and Steiner are deeply driven about not only what Dos Mamis (819 Upshur St., N.W.;, which opened June 28, would serve, but how it would feel.

Bran-Leis says Dos Mamis is “a space that felt open and inviting.” 

“I identify as a lesbian and I’m as out and proud as I could possibly be,” Steiner says. “I always struggle with the balance of that and the normalization of just existing as a human and not having to identify constantly.”

Before they got together to found Dos Mamis, this award-winning restaurateur-entrepreneur pair would greet each other each morning (or late evening) from their restaurants with a call: “hola, mami” — roughly translated as “hey, girl!” 

Though the phrase can be used as a catcall, the two use it with each other as a form of friendship and empowerment, reclaiming the term. By calling their bar Dos Mamis, they are extending this atmosphere of empowerment and inclusivity to their customers.

When Hank’s Cocktail Bar vacated the Dos Mamis location, it took but a 30-minute conversation over drinks (Cava for Bran-Leis, a cocktail for Steiner) for them to decide to open a bar that harmonized their personalities and culinary experiences. 

Steiner noted that the area lacked for a no-judgment bar for a drink with friends. 

“There’s either fast-casual or your cocktail bar where it’s 20 minutes for a drink and they cost $16. Here, it takes 60 seconds and costs $9.”

Both Steiner and Bran-Leis, who says she’s “on the (LGBT) spectrum,” had been sending customers waiting for dinner at their restaurants to other spots for a drink. By opening Dos Mamis, “we’re able to control the entire customer experience,” Steiner says. “It’s just a place we want to come hang out in.”

“Being a woman, being a lesbian and being a restaurant and bar owner gives me a rather large space to make a difference in my community,” Steiner says.

Working with local designer Natalie Park, the owners have flooded the bar with color and art. 

“Now, it’s bright, airy and safe. There’s no dark corner where you worry about someone grabbing your ass,” Steiner says.

While the bar doesn’t have a theme in terms of culinary or cocktail inspiration, the feel plays like Miami with a touch of Cuba.

Cocktail highlight include two frozen options, including the Buenas Ondas, meaning “good vibes.” A suggestive red, it combines rum, rujero singani, luxardo, lemon, ginger and strawberry for its distinctive color. 

Daiquiris drive home the Caribbean vibe, but the owners also wanted to ensure plenty of low-proof cocktails for measured garden sipping and for those who don’t want to get too boozy.

The list of “patio pounders” is wide-ranging and cheeky: the Kiss Sherry Kill mixes sherry with coconut water; the She Loves Me Spritz combines Luxardo with Cava. 

There’s also Sobrios: completely alcohol-free sippers. In the Jean-Tonic, Seedlip zero-ABV gin is mixed with lemon tonic and herbs. The bar also prepares “summery water,” or waters infused with fruit and vegetable leftovers otherwise headed to the trash. 

A short list of bites allows Bran-Leis and Steiner to concentrate on the drink program for now. The artful cheese plates, though, are nothing to sniff at. Triple-cream brie comes with a bowl of house-candied pecans. A board mixing Madrid and Mexico features marcona almonds, manchego, and a snappy ginger-mezcal honey. 

Finding that balance has been a fun navigation, Steiner says. It’s a “cocktail bar at the end of the day but also an affordable neighborhood bar.” And a place both can call home. 

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a&e features

As You Are Bar offers a place to belong

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



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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Gin & Tonic Festival to benefit restaurants, workers

ThinkFoodGroup celebrates Spain’s favorite cocktail



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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Paraiso Taqueria is a riotous rainbow of a restaurant

‘A vibrant atmosphere where all your senses get stimulated’



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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