The final piece of Ambar owner Ivan Iricanin’s new three-level Mexican food complex in Clarendon is complete. Buena Vida Social Club, a colorful rooftop bar serving shared plates, make-your-own taco platters, and five types of spritzes, opened yesterday above Buena Vida and Tacos, Tortas, Tequila (TTT).
The newest addition to the former La Tasca space, now dubbed La Esquina de Clarendon, draws design inspiration from the vintage beach style of Acapulco, Mexico. The name owes a debt to legendary Afro-Cuban band Buena Vista Social Club.
The 4,700 square-foot rooftop holds up to 144 guests, including 20 people on the small portion inside the building. In addition to two bars, tropical-looking booths and banquettes provide ample seating. While the blue trellis roof isn’t retractable, a button opens its slats to let the sunshine in.
The food menu, designed by Mexico City-based celebrity chef Gerado Váquez Lugo, is exclusive to the rooftop. Traditional Mexican dishes meant for sharing include molletes, or open-faced sandwiches, stuffed with chorizo or crab gratin.
Guests are encouraged to eat with their fingers. Taco platters incorporate fish in a Zarandeado style, a grilled preparation from the state of Nayarit on the Pacific coast, as well as lime chicken in burnt tomato sauce and Baja-style fried cod or shrimp in a spicy beer batter. Dishes cost from $9 to $16.
“This is like a social club,” general manager Marijana Skerlic says. “We want people to be social through drinks, through food, through vibe, through everything.”
The rooftop’s bars have their own cocktail menu with signature spritzes ranging from a Tropical Spritzer — with sparkling wine, aged rum, mango, pineapple, lime, and simple syrup — to the American Spritzer, made with Aperol, grapefruit, lemon juice, and club soda.
The social club plans to serve pina coladas and two other cocktails that are being developed out of fresh coconuts with crushed ice. Most cocktails range between $11 and $15. At $17, the coconut concoctions will be the rooftop’s most expensive drinks.
The rooftop’s design is meant to channel Acapulco when it was a glittering celebrity playground in the 1960s, when it attracted visits from Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor.
Think brown concrete tables shaped like drums double as stools. Turquoise chairs, a round, red couch, tropical potted plants, and banquettes upholstered in retro-inspired, flowered fabric.
Designer Nya Gill, who’s married to Ircanin, says the rooftop decor is intended to pay homage to the carefree era of good music, dancing and food. Ircanin is the founder and executive director of Street Guys Hospitality, which also owns Ambar, Baba, a modern Mexican Buena Vida/TTT complex in Silver Spring, and several restaurants in Serbia.
Although Buena Vista Social Club is known for pre-revolutionary music from Cuba, Buena Vida Social Club won’t play pre-Castro bolero and danzón. Guests at the rooftop will jam to Latin house. Skerlic is making plans to hire a DJ on Thursdays through Saturdays, and the club hopes to have someone aboard by the second half of July.
Within the next two weeks, the lounge section of the rooftop will roll out hookah services for the 30 patrons there.
And in July, workers will install a dry-misting system to keep everyone cool on those sweltering summer nights.