Italian Bar in NW DC offers coffee drinks, cocktails and gelato

Italian Bar in NW DC offers coffee drinks, cocktails and gelato

Italian Bar owners Carolyn and Massimo Papetti. Photo by Rey Lopez / Courtesy of Italian Bar

When the space formerly occupied by a non-chemical dry cleaner became available a few doors down from I’m Eddie Cano in Chevy Chase, DC, Carolyn and Massimo Papetti, the wife-and-husband owners of that Italian restaurant, checked out the property. The diminutive, narrow space—it’s only 684 square feet—had no rear exit, which meant that DC code wouldn’t allow indoor seating. Still, Carolyn was drawn to it and came up with a workaround: a stand-up coffee bar like those common in Massimo’s native Italy, where people stop in for a quick coffee or to socialize with friends or grab a gelato after dinner. (The Papettis met and married in Rome, where Carolyn earned her MBA through St. John’s University, started a company providing custom tours and became a certified sommelier.)

Italian Bar, which doesn’t take cash or tips, opened in May, offering coffee drinks (they use Italy’s Lavazza coffee and a Lavazza espresso machine), pastries, savory snacks, cocktails and gelato. In addition to hot and cold brew and the usual espresso drinks ($2.75 to $4.50), such as lattes, cappuccinos and macchiatos, Italian Bar offers a shakerato—hot espresso is shaken with sugar and ice and served on the rocks or straight up, creating a layer of foam on the top. Among the pastries ($3.25 to $3.75) are plain, chocolate or pistachio-filled cornetti (croissants) and ciambelle (doughnuts). Savories include tramezzini (tea sandwiches with, say, smoked salmon or prosciutto, $3.95); Roman pizza rosso, thin-crusted pizza spread with tomato sauce ($4.25); and pizza bianco ripieno (think grilled cheese made with pizza dough and fillings, $6.75).

Gelato is made in-house at Italian Bar. Photo by Rey Lopez / Courtesy of Italian Bar

On tap, Italian Bar offers two beers ($8), prosecco ($8), pinot grigio ($9) and, for $13, an Aperol Spritz and a Negroni Sbagliato, which subs sparkling wine for gin in a classic Negroni. “We have a full bar, but I’m deterring martinis and the like because we don’t have the glassware,” Carolyn says. “But if we have it, we will make it.” Interesting libations include the sgroppino (lemon sorbet, vodka and prosecco, $13) and frullato, a fruit and milk smoothie ($5.99).

The Papettis invested in a $50,000 Carpigiani gelato machine and a $10,000 blast freezer to make gelato in-house. Carolyn took an intensive gelato-making course in Miami and learned to crank out fanciful, swirly-topped containers for the display case with such flavors as stracciatella (chocolate-flecked vanilla); spagnola (vanilla with cherries and chocolate chips); coffee; pistachios; and hazelnut (two flavors for $4.95; three for $5.95; $9.95 per pint). “Margarita Vasquez, a cook [from I’m Eddie Cano]usually makes the gelato and is much better at it than I am,” Carolyn says, noting that as the soft gelato comes out of the machine, the idea is to mound it attractively but delicately, not pack it into the container, leaving as much air as possible in the gelato to maintain
its creaminess.

Designer Esther Konrad helped Carolyn breathe life into the space. “It turned out prettier than I thought,” Carolyn says. “The deep blue color of the walls and the bar, the pressed copper ceiling, the Roman brick floor…it feels very Italian, a little gritty. Like Rome.”

Italian Bar, 5008 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC, italianbardc.com

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