The freshly poured amaretto sour cocktail at DC Vegan’s incoming Botanical Bar proudly sports a frothy head. But instead of employing egg whites, the cocktail’s foamy top comes courtesy of an animal-free chickpea liquid.
Exactly a year after DC Vegan launched its Dupont deli, the meatless restaurant sprouts a surprise cocktail counterpart one level below. The lush, subterranean setup, opening Saturday, May 28, centers around craft cocktails, local beer, wines, and a host of zero-proof options.
DC Vegan founders and husband-wife duo Leah Curran Moon and Michael Jantz Moon launched a vegan catering business in 2015 out of Union Kitchen. Just a year ago, they grew into a brick-and-mortar “fine-casual” deli (1633 P Street NW). Next up: an ambitious basement bar project that’s evocative of “being in the Garden of Eden at midnight or a little hideaway,” says Leah Curran Moon, who also designed the bar.
Upon entry, local flora and nocturnal fauna frolic across the walls. “Dark and sexy” wallpaper she sourced from Transylvania, alongside “rich, inviting colors, twinkly lights and dreamy textures,” fill up the balance of the rectangular-shaped drinking den with room for 55.
Bar manager Starla Newman creates cocktails and mocktails using only plant-based ingredients, placing a heavy emphasis on herbs and flowers. The drinks are available at the indoor bar space, as well as the dog-friendly parklet outside. Hours are 4 pm to 12 am to start.
In sour-style drinks, Newman swaps out traditional egg white foam in favor of aquafaba, or chickpea liquid. When whipped, its light, airy texture mimics the frothy head obtained from egg whites. Oat milk – a heftier, plant-based milk that most – subs in for dairy creams.
The vegan oasis showcases cocktails like a delicate peach Bellini, upon which sits an edible flower garnish, and a limoncello topped with droplets of homemade basil oil. The bright pink seasonal Flower of Life drink uses vodka, hibiscus tea syrup, a dash of lemon oil, and that aforementioned aquafaba.
Jantz Moon notes that commercial wine is often filtered through isinglass, derived from fish bladder, or other animal products like chitin or gelatin. As a result, Botanical Bar only serves vegan-certified wines. The beer selection leans on local, albeit the obvious milk stouts. Jantz Moon also does not drink liquor, so he ensures that there’s a hefty zero-proof list.
“We have lots of plant-based clientele are health conscious and we want to be inclusive with customers. We want to be intentional – we do not want to have just soda and lime, ”he says.
DC Vegan’s menu, available for dine-in, takeout, and catering, leans into Italian American fare for inspiration. A cross section of DC Vegan’s most popular bar snacks make their way downstairs.
“We wanted to stop eating animals but did not want to give up our culture and the traditional foods we grew up eating,” says Curran Moon. “We spent years finessing my Italian grandmother’s recipes maintaining the flavors and textures while making them vegan.”
At Botanical Bar, lightly fried king trumpet mushroom rings with just the right chew factor get tossed in cashew parmesan for a believable bowl of calamari. Cauliflower bites are its spin on chicken wings, doused in flavorful barbecue or Buffalo sauce.
“I grew up near Buffalo, so I’m a big fan of the wings,” she says. The rest of the regular menu will also be available.
The bar will debut dinnertime mains and table service in the coming months, with options like a hearty lasagna and Chesapeake fritters, or “crab” cakes made from hearts of palm.
Following its big weekend kickoff party, Botanical Bar has big plans for June. Located right on the Pride parade route and nearby many LGBTQ nightlife destinations, DC Vegan will host Pride events, including drag shows and other themed nights.