Last Call, the dive-styled bar near Union Market from Buffalo and Bergen owner Gina Chersevani, will bring back Old Fashioneds on tap and palomas this weekend when it reopens as a grab-and-go deli. At 4:30 p.m. Saturday, September 5, a deli counter next to the main bar will start offering dips, sandwiches, and subs designed by chef Autumn Cline.
Cline, the 2018 winner of DC Central Kitchen’s Capital Food Fight, most recently made Asian-American shared plates at Emilie’s. Before that, she was the executive chef at Rappahannock Oyster Bar on the Southwest Waterfront. For her new consulting chef gig, she’s teaming up with her friend Chersevani on a rebooted operation that’s reminiscent of old-school delis the owner grew up with in Brooklyn.
“I wanted to make it fun and Last Call deserves to be a bit more cheffed up,” Chersevanis says, adding that keeping the food affordable was key.
Cline’s sandwiches ($8 to $10) include “the Houston,” with smoked brisket, longganisa sausage, bean sprouts, jalapeno, Thai basil, and Chinese mustard on an English muffin. A hefty meatball sandwich made with ground pork, beef, and veal, comes with red gravy, mozzarella, and Parmesan on a French roll. A riff on Israeli sabich is a veggie tartine built out of a pita with garlic roasted eggplant, soft egg, labneh, cucumber, mint, tahini, red onion, and zhug.
A section devoted to dips includes a Cognac and caramelized onion variety and a Vietnamese-style chicken liver pate served with pickled daikon and carrots, jalapeno, cilantro, and Thai basil. A clams casino dip is “ridiculously, stupid good,” Chersevani says.
Starting Thursday, September 10, Last Call will open at 5 p.m. Thursdays to Sundays with a midnight closing time (last call is 11:30 p.m.). There will be takeout, and delivery starts in a few weeks via UberEats. Limited dine-in seating includes an ordering system pulled up through a QR code.
The original interior will remain vacant with one exception: a Pac Man machine-turned-table for two. The exclusive date night spot is first come, first serve. Chersevani relocated the party to an adjacent storage hallway that extends to 4th Street NE, calling the 2,000-square-foot extension the “OTB” (Other Than the Bar).
The 10-table hallway for 24 max is lined with rows of TVs, and vintage signs from the wholesaler-heavy neighborhood, a nod to Last Call’s past life as a 1940s-era cafeteria space.
Chersevani, a prolific bar manager who also oversees the seasonal Suburbia cocktail cart outside Union Market, expanded her neighborhood reach last fall with the debut of the no-frills, 45-seat bar at 1301-A Fourth Street NE. The city shut down on-site dining five months later, leaving Chersevani no choice but to rework the small, indoor bar.
“We didn’t want to just put stuff up to put stuff up,” Chersevani says, adding the addition of “crappy” bistro lights felt right.
When Last Call opened with a short list of panini and chips, she realized more food options were necessary to absorb all the affordable alcohol served on site.
“After six PBRs, it’s like, ‘Maybe I need a sandwich,’” she says.
The narrow space was originally envisioned as a 200-person “dance hall” before the pandemic. Chersevani still plans to make use of high-end DJ equipment installed by Pike Productions inside the socially distanced setup, which plans to serve $3 Jell-O shots under its reboot.
“I want music to be good,” she says. “That is one thing about ‘streateries’ that are depressing — there’s no music.”
She says Last Call is taking all the right steps to ensure a safe environment: tables have ample spacing (8 feet apart), and an HVAC system pumps air throughout the space. She tried to apply for permits to take the bar outside, but ongoing construction axed that option. Plus, “in another month people aren’t going to want to be outside,” she predicts.
For its opening night, the bar will throw a Kentucky Derby party starting at 4:30 p.m. Guest bartender Rachel Sergi, mixologist at The Next Whiskey Bar at The Watergate, will be on-site, helping whip up Maker’s Mark mint juleps. The traditional bourbon cocktail ($10 all night) will come in strawberry, raspberry, watermelon, and classic ginger mint flavors. To-go kits include a bottle of the bourbon and syrups built for 10 DIY drinks at home ($85); Preorder online. To-go versions are two for $18 and 4 for $32.
Last Call’s drink prices will remain ridiculously cheap by D.C. standards: beers are $4-$6; and cocktails are $5-$13.
She says she tried to bring back the majority of her opening team for the reboot, but some have already jumped ship from the industry during the months-long hiatus.
“Some have moved away. Some became plumbers. One went to trade school,” she says.
During the downtime, Chersevani’s made extra cash by hosting word-of-mouth Zoom parties, shipping guests cocktail kits to make Negronis, martinis, and other drinks she’s known for. To replicate an in-person gathering, she sends attendees photo booth props and screenshot mementos.