Evan Caplan, DC Eater:
Casa Kantuta’s 18th Street NW residency includes singani cocktails and a weekend market with salteñas
A new pop-up cocktail bar in Adams Morgan aims to give the busy nightlife district a taste of the drinks, food, sites, and sounds of the Andean plateau in South America. Siblings Carla and Juan Sanchez, who grew up in the Bolivian capital of La Paz, introduced Casa Kantuta inside of vegetarian restaurant Spacycloud (2309 18th Street NW) on Thursday, July 8. The pop-up, which includes savory Bolivian hand pies and a retail market on weekends, will run through August 8.
Luis Aliaga, assistant general manager and bartender at Roy Boys, created the cocktail menu for Casa Kantuta. Aliaga, who has Bolivian and Venezuelan roots, relies on singani, a muscat grape-based brandy that has a reputation as the national spirit of the country. Half a dozen drinks ($12 to $13) are named for cultural touchstones. The Pachamama, named for the Incan deity representing mother earth, mixes Rujero Singani, cognac, Cynar aperitif, pear brandy, and cinnamon bark syrup. A more modern Angry Llama adds tequila and jalapeño syrup to the singani base “because I love spicy,” says Carla Sanchez, the lifestyle blogger behind influencer Instagram account @spicycandydc and an accompany social media agency. Drinks are available Thursday through Saturday from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Weekend markets and brunch run from 11 a.m. to 3p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, Casa Kantuta will serve salteñas, a traditional street food that’s similar in shape to an empanada, but comes filled with savory stews. Slightly sweet dough envelops creamy potatoes, egg, olives, and chicken or beef. The snacks come from fellow La Paz native Maria Helena, who owns Saya Salteña.
On weekend, Casa Kantuta will also host a mercadito, or marketplace selling goods from BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) makers, including clothing from Bolivian designer Sarah Christie. The soundtrack is a retro throwback to hip-hop of the early ’90s — when the Sanchez family immigrated to the D.C. area — and R&B mixed with Reggaeton, Cumbia Villera, and traditional Bolivian tunes.
Carla Sanchez decorated the bar to make it a “cultural immersive environment,” she says. Bowler hats and textiles hang on the walls, both nods to indigenous cholita style. Ekekos, the mustachioed ceramic figurines that represent luck and prosperity, sit on shelves alongside framed art and images depicting life in La Paz. Sanchez family photos also dot the space, surrounded by gold accents representing Bolivian mines. Casa Kantuta takes its name from the national flower of Bolivia.
Carla Sanchez refers to the pop-up as a speakeasy because she wants to build an intimate atmosphere. “La Paz is a mysterious and beautiful city,” she says, “and the speakeasy environment helps dedicate the space to our patria, or ancestors.”
“I’m putting my heart and soul into this project,” Sanchez adds. “My hope is that the D.C. community embraces and admires Bolivian culture the way we do.”