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all photos: Stephanie Breijo

When I first arrived to DC almost a decade a go, the Eastern European dining universe seemed to consist of Russia House and a few places out in the suburbs which I never quite motivated enough to visit. Not much changed for a while. Now, in 2013, in the very first month of the year, DC is getting not one BUT TWO legitimate restaurants and bars celebrating the delicious food and the deadly drinks I grew up with. And while Capitol Hill’s AMBAR is a little geographically closer to my former Yugoslavian childhood and teen years, the addition of MARI VANNA’s in South Dupont (1141 Connecticut Avenue, OPENS FOR DINNER TONIGHT!) also has us cheering.

The three storey establishment is pretty much the most instagrammable restaurant we have been to and here are the reasons why:

  • the first floor is the classic dining area. The restaurant starts serving dinner tonight (January 17th) but will also feature a happy hour menu ($5 infused vodka shots for their selection of 70+ offerings) and a late night menu. The space is airy and clean and punctuated with gorgeous lighting and assorted Russian decorations which make you feel like you’re at home almost instantly.

  • but then just as you think that room is cozy, you venture to the second floor. This space, which is more of a salon (and the pastry kitchen is situated here, permanently infusing the space with the most delicious smells) is, in the words of owners, designed to look like you stepped inside your (Russian) Grandmother’s living room (all the while being able to scope the downstairs action from the mezzanine level seats)

  • and then after the meal-the third floor is calling. There you will find a late night bar, a DJ and, what we’re predicting is going to be pretty popular after all those infused vodkas, a karaoke bar. The mood turns a little sexier here (the light wood an rattan are replaced by deep velvets and mini disco balls) but with a great sense of humor about itself (as evidenced by the vintage Russian disco records on the walls and the music selection we experience last night). There may or may not be a guy with an accordion there, just waiting to live accompany your singing.

The endless supply of adorableness extends well into the secondary rooms with Russian ballet themed bathrooms and samovars instead of traditional sinks, but what could somewhere else be seen as overload, here somehow, it works, mainly because when we were there everyone seemed to really, truly be having the best time with it.

The food, it seems, will feature a fair amount of Russian classics (Ruska salata, salmon and herring, lots of sour cream and caviar, pierogis stuffed with egg salad and cabbage and more) but the menu will receive a DC update too (the original Mari Vanna was opened in St. Petersburg, and now has outposts in Moscow, London, New York and later this year, LA and Miami, but each destination is adapted slightly to match the new environments). We will make sure to report more on that as details get crystallized.

The drinks, as we mentioned – are strong. The BYT team powered through horseradish infused vodka, strawberry infused vodka, almond infused vodka, pineapple infused vodka and decent amounts of Russian Champagne, all in the name of research, and we can tell you that they all go down (almost) suspiciously easily. In that sense this place is the very definition of DANGER ZONE (cue the photo below):

still, definitely worth checking out (just hedge the risks and hangovers ahead of time, if you can). It is high time things got the Russian kind of spirited in DC, if you ask us. MORE DETAILS AND RESERVATIONS: check out their facebook page.

AND NOW, FOR MORE GREAT SHOTS, courtesy of Stephanie: