It’s hard to operate a bar when bars aren’t really allowed to be bars. So one of the city’s top cocktail spots, Service Bar, is turning its attention even further to food. Owners Chad Spangler and Glendon Hartley have teamed up with former China Chilcano chef Carlos Delgado for a Peruvian comfort food pop-up, which launched this week. It’s a warmup to the group’s forthcoming Peruvian restaurant, Chelita, which will bring ceviches, anticuchos (grilled skewers), and plenty of pisco to Blagden Alley next spring.
The menu for the pop-up, dubbed Criollo (the term for Peru’s native cuisine), will essentially be “Peruvian 101.” Expect staples such as lomo saltado (sautéed beef chunks, red onion, and tomato topped with fries) and causa de pollo (pureed potato cakes with aji amarillo, chicken salad, and avocado). There are also plenty of seafood dishes, including octopus ceviche, arroz con mariscos (rice with seafood), and sudado (a brothy tomato fish soup) with mahi mahi.
For now, Service Bar will continue offering some items from its previous bar food menu, such as fried chicken and sandwiches.
The bar will also keep its regular cocktail menu but is adding a few classic Peruvian drinks, including a pisco sour, chilcano (pisco and ginger ale) with mandarin orange, and a seasonal pisco punch (apple flavor to start).
The new menu is available for takeout or on the 40-seat winterized parklet patio, where gloves, blankets, and hand-warmers are for sale.
When Chelita—named after Delgado’s grandmother—opens next spring, it will offer a completely different menu focused on ceviches and anticuchos downstairs and Amazonian-inspired cocktails and pisco upstairs. Delgado plans to prepare a dozen types of ceviches, including vegetarian and customizable pick-your-fish options. An accompanying market will sell whole fish, which can be sliced up to make ceviche at home. To aid with that, Delgado will supply leche de tigre (citrus marinade), cancha (toasted corn nuts), and other ingredients and sides, along with recipes.
Delgado will also embrace the melting pot of cultures represented in Peruvian cuisine with many Japanese techniques, including the use of a robatayaki grill with binchotan charcoal. The grilled skewer menu will highlight everything from octopus to lamb belly and sweetbreads. The chef also has a charcoal oven that can be used for whole roasted fish.
The greenery-filled Amazonia bar will incorporate lots of exotic fruits and smoke. “Just think of everything inspired by the rainforest,” Spangler says. The bar team also hopes to have the largest pisco collection on the East Coast and a pisco tasting club, which will meet monthly with presentations from different pisco producers.
“It’s a very under-appreciated and underrated spirit, but it’s one of the most beautiful spirits on the planet,” says Hartley.
The group initially had planned a fine-dining concept called Causa on the first floor, but they’re putting that on hold because of the pandemic. In a Covid-free world, they hope to bring it back and find a separate home for the cevicheria. In the meantime, they say the cevicheria concept is suited for takeout, and they have a rooftop patio for outdoor seating.
Hartley previously worked with Delgado at now-closed H Street Northeast Peruvian restaurant Ocopa. (Spangler was a regular.) Back then, Delgado says he and Hartley made a pact: “We said one day we’re going to do this but instead of having investors as owners and having them in business, we’re going to be the owners. We’re going to do what we want to do.”
Service Bar. 926 U St., NW. 202-462-7232.