As the fourth generation owner of his family’s Cuban cigar company, Arian Castaneda is not shy about expressing his pride in his homeland. Since moving to the US in 2011, Castaneda found himself yearning for a place that conjured Cuba and its nightlife.
Tomorrow, Castaneda—along with friend Vinoda Basnayake—is bringing his vision to life in DC’s West End with the opening of his intimate Casta’s Cuban Rum Bar & Cerveza Garden. Besides a dining room, the space will have indoor and outdoor bars, plus a patio that seats 150 people. Basnayake, who owns DC entertainment and lifestyle company Versus, says that his experiences in Cuba last year made him want to bring that same hospitality and vitality to the city.
Castaneda, who gave the bar his family’s nickname, eschews the vibrant colors characteristic of tourist traps. The indoor dining area includes a custom-build wood bar and walls lined with exposed brick and tropical plants. “I want to show people the Cuba that we have now, the Cuba that if you go right now you are actually going to experience,” says Castaneda.
Outside, the patio walls feature hand-painted murals by local artist Nicolette Capuano. Antique high tops flank a mural featuring El Capitolio and the vintage Ford cars that line the streets of Havana. Paintings of the original Castaneda family factory and singer Celia Cruz overlook the smoking lounge, where guests can pair pours of aged rums with a cigar.
The menu, crafted by chef Alberto Vega, showcases the Cuban staples Castaneda grew up on. There’s a classic Cuban sandwich, made with bread flown in from Florida and filled with roast pork, glazed ham, swiss cheese, and pickles. The picadilo empanada encases all those fixings in a smaller package. The corvina ceviche is served with plantain chips for easy snacking.
On the cocktail front, the $12 rum drinks include a honey-sweetened canchanchara and the classic cuba libre. Look for musical performances from duo Blanco y Negro in the evenings. As in Cuba, dancing is always encouraged.
Casta’s Rum Bar & Cerveza Garden. 1121 New Hampshire Ave NW.