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Barkada leans into its friendly name

U Street wine bar offers organic, small batch selections

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Barkada, gay news, Washington Blade
To sit in Barkada is to visit your gay best friend’s living room. (Photo courtesy of Barkada)

Opening a new wine bar on U Street might be challenging enough. Doing so against the headwinds of a pandemic makes doing so doubly tough. Fighting off accusations of cultural appropriation in the midst of a nationwide racial and social awakening might represent the proverbial third strike. 

Not for Barkada, a wine bar at 12th and U streets featuring a sommelier with an award-winning pedigree and three determined owners (all gay men) behind it.

To sit in Barkada is to visit your gay best friend’s living room. Or, at least your gay friend who has a soft spot for organic skin-contact wine from Slovenia. 

Anthony Aligo and business partners Nicholas Guglietta and Nathan Fisher founded this cozy, loungey bar with low-slung banquettes focused on small-batch wines. They tapped Sebastian Zutant as wine consultant (Zutant also owns acclaimed Primrose in Brookland).

Barkada sits in the former Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt location, which Aligo also owned. None of the current owners has a background in food outside of the Menchie’s outpost, but after connecting with Zutant over several bottles of wine, they decided to make the change from fro-yo to rose. 

“The concept,” Aligo notes, “is to create an atmosphere where people would want to frequent because it provides a comfortable place for them to visit, make new friends, and have unpretentious wine learning.”

Zutant ensures that Barkada focuses on natural, small-batch wines sourced from “the most interesting things from the farthest reaches of the earth,” says Aligo.

Zutant adds that “the wine program features an eclectic mix of interesting producers from around the world. The wines are all low intervention in practice, showcasing hands-off wine making techniques.” Zutant helped the team to open and “has set us up on a good path,” says Aligo. Zutant has since stepped back from Barkada day-to-day in order to dedicate time to Primrose.

Currently stocking about 15 wines by the glass ($13-$17) and upwards of 50 by the bottle ($45 to $130), the bar splits its offerings into sparkling, red, white, rose, and “extended skin contact,” or orange. A handful of classic cocktails (Aperol spritz, Americanos) are also available. 

The bar opened on July 25. It quickly found itself dealing with controversy over its name.

Barkada is a Tagalog slang word meaning a group of friends, a term the trio used with a gay, former Filipino roommate of Aligo’s to describe themselves. But commenters on social media quickly pointed out that the concept of four white men using a Filipino slang term without context smacked of cultural appropriation. 

On July 30, the owners posted an apology on Instagram, stating that “it was never our intention to appropriate or capitalize on Filipino culture…we are actively looking to change our identity and brand.”

Yet soon after, in August the owners began to reach out to members of the Filipino community. The Filipino Food Movement, a group dedicated to the promotion of Filipino cuisine, held a virtual meeting with the owners to discuss the name and what it represents. The organization expressed its support for the bar, says Aligo, after he explained the rationale behind the name. 

Aligo and team pivoted – again. They decided to lean in on the name. A message posted on the bar’s website states that the team “looks forward to hearing more of your thoughts, and how we can better capture the ideals with which we started this project. We will be donating proceeds from our opening to support the Filipino community…. Barkada is a beautiful word with a deep meaning of friendship.”

Barkada now carries not only raw-milk cheeses and imported tinned octopus, but also, in celebration of Filipino-American heritage month, offered rotating features of Filipino dishes. October featured lumpia, or Filipino egg rolls (notably baked and not fried as traditionally prepared, in a nod to the health-conscious patron). The team hopes to continue to highlight similar products.

Aligo also notes that since August, the bar has received overwhelming support from the Filipino community.

“We’re three gay men,” Aligo says, “so we’re sensitive to things. Our goal has always been to be more inclusive and bring the underrepresented or marginalized to light.” 

It’s not just the woman-owned winemakers or the unfiltered, unprocessed, small-vintner Slovenian vintages that the owners want to showcase, but also its dedication to community – whether the gay community, the U Street neighborhood, or the Filipino population.

Barkada must still confront the challenges of operating a wine bar in a pandemic, and months after opening, continue to smooth hiccups in processes and sourcing. Yet Aligo emphasizes that after their soul-searching over the summer, that “we’re not giving up our values, we believe in them, and what the name represents.”

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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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