The owners of the U Street NW corridor’s newest wine bar found a resourceful way to repurpose a key part of the space that used to house a frozen yogurt shop called Menchie’s. After some tinkering with temperature controls, a walk-in freezer now refrigerates a selection of obscure whites curated by co-owner Sebastian Zutant, who also owns beloved Brookland wine bar Primrose. The new bar opened Wednesday under the name Barkada, a controversial reference to Filipino slang that will ultimately change. Inside, the owners graffitied the words “wine cave” on the front of the old walk-in.
“It’s very indicative of where are all are at mentally,” Zutant says. “We are silly ... and know we are kind of shooting for the stars on this, with a strange goal of introducing people to some weird shit, but we are also really dedicated to it and passionate about it.”
Opening a neighborhood wine bar is an idea that Menchie’s partners Nick Guglietta and Anthony Aligo had cooking for years. After going into business with Zutant, they introduced Barkada (1939 12th Street NW) at the height of a steamy summer season last week. Starting Wednesday, the bar will open regularly from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, with a noon opening on weekends. Limited indoor seating is available, and there’s a 12-seat patio shaded with aqua umbrellas.
Zutant stocks 60 wines by the bottle ($45 to $130) and 16 by the glass ($13 to $17). While the wine list is “stylistically” similar to the one at Primrose, there’s little overlap. Zutant’s label, Lightwell Survey from Shenandoah Valley, is an exception.yet. Like rosé? Zutant might suggest an offbeat orange wine from Puglia, Italy, instead. There’s no happy hour yet.
Lyon Bakery in Hyattsville provides sourdough breads that from the foundation of a food menu that includes pan con tomate, sandwiches, and accompany smoked fish platters served on attractive “B” branded wooden boards. Ivy City Smokehouse offers smoked whitefish and smoked salmon. Stachowski’s Market in Georgetown supplies duck, pate, and mortadella fill out a charcuterie section.
Like the adventurous wine list, there’s also some surprises in store on the food front. A fish section is filled out by tinned anchovies, sardines, and clams imported from Europe. Dyllan’s Raw Bar Grill, which closed last year, helped put the trend on the map in D.C.
“I spent time in Portugal and was in awe of people sitting around eating tinned fish. I was like, ‘Alright, this is a thing,’” Zutant says.
Some fro-yo remnants obviously had to go. The group removed the 10 yogurt machines around the perimeter to make way for a slick white bar lined with 12 soft brown leather seats. That’s where Zutant, an alum of Komi, Rasika, Proof, and the Red Hen, plans to introduce inquisitive wine drinkers to offbeat varietals they won’t easily find at their neighborhood liquor stores.
One of the weirder pours, Zutant says, is a 2017 Hiyu, ‘Cratageous’, Field Blend from Colombia Gorge, Oregon.
“It’s pretty rad. Those guys are doing really interesting stuff,” Zutant says. “It’s super elegant, super energetic with a lot of fervor in the wine.”
Another label to note is the 2016 Julien Courtois, ‘Originel’, Menu Pineau from Loire, France — “it’s crazy salty but really vibrant, bright, and juicy,” Zutant says.
While importing wines is trickier — and more expensive — these days, Zutant was able to capitalize on his longstanding connections to open with a strong list that represents Austria, Spain, Italy, and France. Zutant says his partners support his “wild ideas” and “pull me back when I need to be pulled back, which is frequent.”
Barkada is a Tagalog word from the Philippines that refers to a tight-knit friend group. The owners identified with the term, and they said it also helped that “bar” is in the word. Zutant goes back 15 years with Guglietta and Aligo. The pair also roped in their friend, Nate Fisher, on the project.
After the original publication of this story, the four white male owners received criticism in social media comments accusing them of appropriating Filipino culture by using a Tagalog term for the name of their bar. Many comments called them “colonizers.” One Facebook commenter responding to a link to this story wrote, “Four white guys using a filipino word to name your bar is the 1990’s spiritual equivalent to getting tattoos of chinese symbols on your triceps ... this isn’t the kind of representation anyone was looking for but thanks for the appropriation!”
In a statement published in an Instagram post on Barkada’s account Thursday, July 30, the owners apologized while saying they “missed the mark” and “are actively looking to change our identity and brand and engage in further dialogue with each of you.” Eater confirmed they plan to change the name of the bar.
The 35-seat space is intentionally designed to look like a modern apartment, with bookshelves stocked with reads from their own collections (Madonna, The New California Wine), pillow-lined couches, soft drapes, and abstract artwork.
The bar hopes to be a place where friends meet over a shared mutual love for natural wine — similar to what Dio was for H Street NE before it began an indefinite hiatus.
While wine comes from far and wide, the bar shows lots of love for local spirits. Civic Vodka and Green Hat Gin appear on a short list of cocktails like an Americano, spritzes, and a French 75.
Along with his friend squad at the new bar, Zutant also considers fellow sommeliers and wine bar owners Brent Kroll (Maxwell) and Paul Carlson (Lulu’s Winegarden) his close friends. He says he was pretty nervous to let them know he was opening a competing place nearby. It turns out he didn’t need to be.
“I called Brent before we opened and said, ‘Man, don’t be mad at me — I’m opening a wine bar not too far from you.’ He said, ‘What do you mean? That’s awesome!’”
Update: Thursday, July 30, 5:30 p.m. This story has been updated to reflect that the owners of the wine bar say they are changing the name.