The basement of Ghibellina has lay dormant since the 14th Street NW Italian restaurant took over the former HR-57 space nearly two years ago. Now, owner Ari Gejdenson and his Mindful Restaurant Group are slated to open a subterranean bar called Sotto on March 3. The place will pay homage to its predecessor by eventually hosting nightly live music from solo artists or small groups performing jazz, soul, blues, and go-go.
The name Sotto—meaning "below"—is the only thing Italian about the space. The menu veers American with smoked meats balanced by vegetable sides. Chef Keith Cabot doesn't call the food barbecue, but he'll be preparing beef brisket, ribs, and homemade sausages (lamb merguez, boudin blanc, and cotechino). To counter the meat, the seasonally changing sides and appetizers range from braised kale to fennel gratin to wood-oven roasted winter squash with crispy sage, brown butter, and toasted pepita granola.
Snacks and desserts draw inspiration from state fair fare. "I grew up in Virginia and my mom's from Wisconsin and Minnesota, so we would always go to the state fair in the summertime," Cabot says. Peanuts and popcorn are dressed in caramel, chili, and lime, while a monkey bread is made with pretzel dough and served with apple mustard. Sweets include a play on a caramel apple: caramel ice cream with poached apples and molasses cake.
A wine cellar shared with Ghibellina lines the back wall, but Sotto's focus is decidedly on cocktails. Dan Barnes, who also oversees the drinks at Ghibellina and Denson Liquor Bar, created a cocktail menu with twists on classics. Duke Ellington gets a nod with a Scotch, Lillet Rose, cranberry, and orange drink called "Ed Ellington" (his given name). Most of the cocktails will be in the $12 range.
A 22-seat bar running the length of the room is made from wood cut from a single tree. Opposite are some high-tops and a huge booth that's partitioned off with a sliding metal gate. Further back, you'll find a communal dining area with several upscaled picnic tables and expansive booths. The windowless space is mostly outfitted with wood, brick, and concrete, although the restroom entrances are padded with tufted pewter-colored fabric. Chicken wire window panes behind the bar come from the Hecht Warehouse, where Gejdenson plans to open more restaurants next year.
See more photos of the space and the drink and food menus below. Read more Sotto Opens Next Week With Live Music, Smoked Meats, and Cocktails