An Early Look at Mari Vanna (Pictures)

From Russia to Dupont with love.

By: Anna Spiegel

We’re calling it now: Pierogies are the new cupcake. Okay, only two Eastern European restaurants debuted lately—another big-time opening happened last week with Serbian-themed Ambar on Capitol Hill—but that’s two more than we’ve seen in a while. And so far, Mari Vanna is opening with all the fanfare of Alex Ovechkin at the Caps’ home opener (with better overall results).

The Ruskie hockey star gave the new bar-restaurant two index fingers up and a supportive tweet on one of his first nights back in town, and other celebrity guests including Omar Epps, Paula Abdul, Matt Bomer, and David Arquette dropped by over inauguration weekend for a Creative Coalition party.

The draw: a three-level space decked out in what’s been described in various ways as Russian grandmother-chic—and as far as the big names go, it doesn’t hurt that the Moscow, London, and New York branches gained star endorsements. The old-school-comfort-with-a-twist trend isn’t going anywhere; here it just takes a more Slavic approach. You’ll find purposely peeling wallpaper, decorative lamps and chandeliers, and the kind of tchotchkes your babushka might keep in Mother Russia, as well as a large, hearty menu of dishes she might serve if she had a full-time kitchen staff. Classics like borscht, beef stroganoff, and blinis with caviar fill the menu, as well as lesser-known delicacies like a salo plate (salt-cured pork fatback with rye toast and mustard) and “herring under a fur coat,” which is a place you’d never want to actually find herring. Hungry guests can tuck into dinner in the dining room, while those looking to knock back vodka and chilled oysters can head to the festive third-floor cocktail lounge—and with 70 varieties of infused vodkas, it will be festive—which hosts deejays and partiers getting down under the disco ball on certain nights. Just remember, Grandma is watching.

Mari Vanna. 1141 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-783-7777.