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We’ve got beer gardens, oh boy do we have beer gardens. D.C. has beer gardens that are 100% outside, beer gardens that are half inside / half outside, beer gardens with killer views, beer gardens with good food, beer gardens of every possible variety… But on the corner of 11th and U Street, you’ll find something a little different. Instead of boot shaped glasses full of beer and hot dogs straight off the open grill, Lulu’s Winegarden has transformed the old Vinoteca space into a warm and welcoming wine paradise, complete with ice bucket shaped holes cut into their long communal tables and plenty of indoor / outdoor space for when the weather officially warms up.

But until that famed patio is open, Lulu’s has made their bar and “dining room” feel as sunny as any patio. Inspired by co-partners Paul Carlson, Brittany Carlson and Cable Smith’s warm weathered childhoods, Lulu’s design draws inspiration from the decks, patios and rooftops where they all grew up eating family meals. Decorated with hanging lights and breeze blocks, bright colors and a wall of dried flowers made by a florist in Guatemala (the same ones the Carlson’s used to decorate their wedding), Lulu’s is comfortable and will look good as hell on your Instagram feed.

The same could be said for the food, which pairs bottles of wine (don’t worry, you can also get by the glass wine, cocktails and beer) with the type of unpretentious (yet beautiful) food you could find at a beer garden. Just like The Royal (where Chef Cable Smith also runs the kitchen), the food is deceptively simple and scratches culinary itches you didn’t even know you had. Pair a bottle of champagne with the “corn dog bleu” (a chicken sausage corn dog stuffed with swiss cheese and paired with a ham fat dijonnaise dipping sauce) and you’re in for a wild flavor ride. A kid’s menu, brunch and delivery options are coming down the pipeline, making it even easier to indulge if you’re trapped at home or getting creative with your babysitting.

And speaking of those bottles of wine, Lulu’s wants to take the guesswork out of buying a bottle (or two). Each and every bottle is at $49, so you can go for any “big bad red” or “crushable white” without feeling weird for ordering the lowest priced bottle (or upsetting your dining companions by ordering something that’s too expensive for the group). Try new things! Explore new wine areas! Or just get the same bottle you always get. It’s your choice. Either way, the bottle math is a little easier now.

Paul Carlson, Brittany Carlson and Cable Smith

I can’t finish this article without talking about Lulu’s pork belly pastrami sandwich, a menu item that has wormed its way deep into my heart. The succulent pastrami is piled high on thick slabs of Texas toast, topped with bright red fermented sauerkraut and a pillowy pile of crispy shallots, plus a BBQ aioli and some homemade pickles. It’s decadent as hell and at times difficult to eat (it’s a big sandwich!), but every bite is packed with meaty, briney, fried goodness. Slice this baby in half and share it with a friend, this is a sandwich worth talking about.

Lulu’s Winegarden is best shared with friends (or family or dates), which feels a little counter intuitive and maybe a little scary considering the constant coronavirus updates and self-quarantine practices. The key is to keep calm, be smart and do what makes you comfortable (while still following CDC guidelines). Wash your hands, split a bottle of wine with friends and then wash your hands again.

Lulu’s Winegarden is located at 1940 11th Street NW and is open Wednesday thru Sunday.