D.C.’s New Bar Alegria Grates Grandma’s Chocolate From El Salvador


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Jun 03, 2023

D.C.’s New Bar Alegria Grates Grandma’s Chocolate From El Salvador

Scents of slow-burnt palo santo wood wafting through the air welcomes customers

Scents of slow-burnt palo santo wood wafting through the air welcomes customers to Bar Alegria. "This is our special ritual to help settle us into the night shift," co-founder William Martinez tells Eater. Smells of the sacred tree from his native South America is just the start of many sensory reminders of home.

The 26-seat offshoot of Columbia Heights hit Tequila & Mezcal helped activate the shiny new Bryant Street Market food hall this spring (680 Rhode Island Avenue NE). The family-run group includes D.C.'s revered Taqueria Habanero, which was also part of the opening lineup.

"Our vision with Bar Alegria is to showcase flavors that we typically grew up on as kids raised by parents from Latin America," says Martinez. His cohort is D.C. bartender extraordinaire Jose Cox, who's stirred drinks at places like Barmini, Oyamel, Albi, McClellan's Retreat, and the Gibson, to name a few.

The bar's espresso martini is deeply personal for Martinez, who finishes off the caffeinated coupe with shavings of tablea (ground-up cacao beans) made by his grandmother back in El Salvador. Instead of traditional vodka, Bar Alegria's espresso martini is spiked with mezcal. Agave spirits edit other classics like a Manhattan with mezcal-washed mole.

The Dona Margarita is an homage to Taqueria Habanero‘s destination marg, taken a step further with layers of passion fruit espuma (foam). Continuing with the tropical tone is the Ojos Verdes that Martinez calls a "fun, refreshing play" on a tiki drink with the unexpected integration of avocados.

The L-shaped bar framed in slick tiles and billowing palms builds on the success of Tequila & Mezcal, the family's 14th Street NW Mexican mainstay that opened on Taqueria Habanero's same strip in 2019.

For the beverage team's latest act across town, drinks loop in lots of Latin flavors like hibiscus and various fruits. Their decided communal favorite is the banana clarified punch. The unconventional marriage of cinnamon-roasted banana notes with Mexican and Haitian rums results in "something you’ve never tasted before," promises Martinez. The creative cocktail comes with a cup of mezcal served on the side.

Shots are especially encouraged during happy hour, when Ilegal and Jose Cuervo is $6 a pop (3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday). Discounts also include $10 cocktails (normally $15) and $6 Pacifico drafts. The beer list also shows love for lesser-known breweries like Hyattsville, Maryland's Streetcar 82.

Bar Alegria is open Tuesday to Thursday (3 p.m. to 9 p.m.); Friday 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Look for hours to expand in July.

A short food roster leans into Latin street snacks like fried yucca, chicken or seafood croquetas, mole-slathered plantains, and summery ceviche with shrimp, mango, pineapple, cherry tomatoes, and lime.

Israel Mendez, Wilfredo Castillo, and Martin Parreno round out the Bar Alegria team. Yicela Alvarado, Habanero's director of operations and the family's oldest daughter, helms both new Northeast locations.

Founded by husband-and-wife chef duo Dio and Mirna Montero, Taqueria Habanero offers a spot-on taste of Mexican street foods from their native Puebla. Regional specialties have generated a devoted following since its 2014 debut in Columbia Heights, and a follow-up location in College Park caters to University of Maryland students.

The flashy new food hall near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station is part of MRP Realty's rapidly expanding Bryant Street development, which also includes Alamo Drafthouse and giant new pickleball pad Kraken Kourts & Skates.

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