Grape Legs may not be as famous as Schneider’s or Calvert Woodley, but the tiny, six-month-old wine shop and its owner, Franco Clark, have quickly built a following around DC’s U Street. Clark’s clientele includes Proof sommelier Sebastian Zutant, veteran restaurateur Ann Cashion (she picked up a case of rosé the other day), DJs from the swank 18th Street Lounge, and what Clark calls the “young cats” infiltrating his block. Clark even lets the young professionals who stop in open tabs if they don’t have cash on hand.
Clark—wearing fatigues, Kenneth Cole mules (sans socks), and a fedora—has an unapologetically blunt, crude sense of humor. He swears he’ll never touch a suit and jokes that he doesn’t even let Zutant, who lives nearby and loves the selection of Côtes du Rhône Villages, come into the store decked out in his work wear. For Clark, stuffiness and wine do not go hand in hand.
Lately, Clark has been sneaking upstairs to put the finishing touches on Bouche, his bistro slated to open in early fall. He’s quick to point out the play on words—Bouche sits on top of Grape Legs—and he’s excited about the low-country-inspired fare he’s creating for the dinner-only menu (beef tenderloin rolled in cracked chili peppers and coffee beans, roasted pork loin with caramelized parsnips). Clark also promises an eclectic mix of live entertainment, including acid jazz, hard bop, and maybe even impromptu performances by his buddy Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation. Clark recently chatted with us about his kitchen favorites. Here’s why he swears by screw tops over cork, what he drinks with Merguez lamb sausage, and more.
Gouda or goat cheese? Goat cheese. Because I like goats a lot and come from a Mafia family. Goats don’t talk.
Favorite mixed drink? Ron Zacapa Centenario, a 23-year-old Guatemelan rum. Andy Goss, a national distributor and friend, gave me a bottle for Christmas two years ago. It’s like liquid caramel. Have it on the rocks with a few squeezes of lime.
Taco Bell or McDonald’s? Taco Bell because they have sour cream. And lots of cheese. My usual order is three crunchy Taco Supremes, a beef Burrito Supreme, and the fried apple pie. Sometimes they don’t have the apple pies, which are so hot they’ll burn the hell out of your tongue. I eat four to five times a day, like a crazy man.
Wheat Thins or Triscuits? Wheat Thins. Got them here next to me right now. I eat them all day. CVS has a really good deal on their generic brand—one buck for the whole box.
Favorite wine paired with lamb? It depends. If it’s Merguez lamb sausage, then Rosada Cava. If it’s lamb shank, then Gigondas, which has inky flavors like tar, pencil lead, and dark red currants. Goes well with the earthy and rich flavor of lamb shanks.
Cork or screw top? Screw top. Because it’s saving one of every ten bottles from premature death.
Favorite New Zealand wine: Te Awa. They have a Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. The Sauvignon Blanc with raw oysters is my favorite.
Tomato or Alfredo sauce? Neither. Puttanesca sauce. It’s nicknamed “harlot sauce” since the whores of Southern Italy would whip it together with pasta and rub it all over each other. That Alfredo s— is what rich people up North eat. I’m from the South.
Favorite nearby U Street eatery: Tied for two: Tabaq and Utopia. I love to go at night since I’m afraid of sunlight. I actually don’t go anywhere during the day. Tabaq is best on Mondays and Sundays. The upper deck has the best view of the city. Utopia has the best jazz in town.
Most influential wine mentor: Ralph Lowry, my brother’s godfather. He doesn’t teach me in a traditional sense but helps me truly understand what wine is and what it symbolizes. I probably started drinking when I was two or three years old.
Grape Legs, 1905 Ninth St., NW; 202-387-9463.