At Afro-Caribbean restaurant Lydia on H, a sleek black bookshelf swings open to reveal a “speakeasy” you’ll only be able access if you pass the screening process—and if you meet the spot’s salary requirement.
Vic’s Speakeasy has been open for “showcase” only so far, but will officially debut Friday night. Chef/owner Victor Chizinga is handpicking the members, capped at 40 people. He declined to answer questions about how he determines who gets in and who doesn’t, but he says members will be required to make at least $100,000 a year. “We want to make sure people participating can afford that monthly fee and not stress themselves,” Chizinga says. Membership costs $250 per month if you’re paying month-to-month or $200 if you sign up for six months.
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Chizinga opened Lydia on H in February as a homage to his late mother, Lydia. The H Street Northeast restaurant offers Caribbean food from Chizinga’s travels and Malawian dishes inspired by his heritage and mother’s cooking. Chizinga wants the restaurant, which includes a lounge with live music and outdoor patio called Lake Malawi, to welcome everyone in the spirit of his mother’s passion for entertaining. However, he says the “speakeasy” is more of a “personal space” for him, as Lydia on H is usually pretty busy.
Membership perks for Vic’s Speakeasy include lockers to store bottles or cigars, access to a private bathroom, and the ability to throw private parties in the space. Pretty much everything else remains a secret you can only unlock if you’re a member. Chizinga declined to even share the cocktail list or reveal the opening time.
“What happens in the speakeasy stays in the speakeasy,” Chizinga says, referring to it as a “secret society.”
One thing he is sharing: Every spirit, beer, and wine offered at Vic’s will be from a Black-owned brand. Chizinga, who has about 15 years of local bartending experience, says his favorites include Guidance Whiskey from Tennessee, Blackleaf Vodka from France, and Equiano Rum from Haiti. Chizinga says he’s hoping to offer at least 15 to 20 bottles and has about 13 stocked so far. (You can also find them at Lydia on H, which has a broader spirits selection.) It’s not difficult to find Black-owned alcohol brands, he says, but state regulations can sometimes make it hard to find distributors. (The private bar’s bookshelf door also displays books by Black authors, but don’t expect to be able to read any of them—they’re glued down so people won’t be able to take them.)
“During my days of bartending, it was hard to see on the shelf a spirit or beer that’s owned by Black people,” Chizinga says. “So now that I have my own space, why not make more people aware that there are these spirits that the Black community has been creating?”
Direct message Lydia on H on Instagram to get a link for membership consideration.