An all-day cafe and cocktail bar with a vintage luxury feel and food from a Del Mar alum opens Saturday inside the former Pursuit Wine Bar space (1421 H Street NE).
D.C. native and Army vet Mark Abraham is behind Ella Grace, which had a short-lived stint on M Street NW earlier this year before looking for a permanent home.
Abraham amassed a talented team to help run his first restaurant venture. Managing partner Bryce Heyn formerly stirred drinks at cozy Shaw cocktail den 600 T. Chef Jacob Heyn, Bryce’s brother, most recently made pastries at Del Mar, Fabio Trabocchi’s acclaimed Spanish place on the Wharf. Hospitality manager James Mansour hails from Seattle and is well-versed in the coffee world. Ella Grace’s pour-over program will star locals roasters like Vigilante, Red Rooster, and Grace Street.
The menu, while super short to start, looks promising. The three dishes ($7-$10) are meatballs with goat cheese and dried currants; a bowl of Japanese Koshihikari rice, kimchi, egg, and imported, barrel-aged Iwashi fish sauce; and black sesame chiffon cake.
“It’s not on the menu until I’m in love with it,” Abraham says, adding that the menu will grow down the line. He plans to also honor his grandmother inside by adding some of her Cuban recipes to the menu (think black bean soup).
The bar’s namesake cocktail, the Ella Grace ($14), is a riff on a French 75. It has Plymouth gin, St. Germaine, lemon, thyme-infused simple syrup, and a bubbly topping.
Cocktails ($12-$15) also pay tribute to Abraham’s family. The “Egyptian-Cuban” — referring to his parents’ backgrounds — includes white rum, mint, fig-cardamom syrup, lime, and angostura.
“It’s got Middle Eastern flavors with the refreshingness of the Caribbean,” he says.
The team took over the two-story space in early August soon after Pursuit left. One of the reasons the turnaround was so quick was because much of Ella Grace’s decor was already in Abraham’s grasp — even before he had ever planned to open a bar.
After his Cuban grandmother in Miami passed away, he inherited her gold mine of tapestries, hand-stitched chairs, and carpets that any vintage shop would die to get. The bar also benefitted from the luxurious estate, utilizing gold utensils and delicate crystal glassware from her collection.
“It’s like a gift from the past. She was so bougie,” Abraham says.
The tricky part was translating the former wine bar’s space from day to night, making it “clean, inviting, and open” for daytime coffee, then an “intimate, sexy” cocktail lounge at night. Newly installed light fixtures, including a pineapple-shaped glass chandelier at the entrance, dim after sunset.
The partners did much of the overhaul themselves, repainting the inside and out with a deep navy (the DIY ladder-required paint job saved them around $5,000, he says).
Abraham is going for a “tropical and fresh” feel throughout, bringing in yucca plants and leafy palms he bought from Ikea. He says he saved up during deployments, and later flipped real estate to save enough money to open his first bar. He plans to donate 10 percent of sales to his close friend and Navy doctor Thomas Catena, who’s currently filling a crucial medical void in South Sudan’s Nuba Mountains.
Ella Grace will open daily from noon to midnight and could set up shop earlier on weekends (8 a.m.) when brunch joins the mix.