Bolivian Cocktail Pop-Up Coming to Ambar’s Baba
Casa Kantuta's five-day run in Clarendon aims to capture the vibe of a "grandmother's living room."
When Carla Sanchez emigrated from Bolivia to Falls Church as a child in the 1990s, she had a bit of culture shock.
“Here, everybody works,” she says. “In Bolivia, people do work but their job is not everything to them—family’s most important.”
As youths in La Paz, Sanchez and her brother Juan enjoyed birthday parties for extended family members, visits to local markets, meals shared with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Fast-forward a few decades, and the siblings are bottling up that same spirit of human connection and serving it in the form of a weeklong pop-up bar celebrating Bolivian culture.
Casa Kantuta, which debuted last year as a monthlong pop-up in D.C., is coming to Baba in Clarendon for a five-day limited run starting Sunday, Aug. 7. The Bolivian concept will serve cocktails and Ambar-prepared bites in a setting made to resemble the proprietors’ grandmother’s house.
Sanchez, who runs a social media agency, notes that Ambar’s basement lounge could hardly be more ideal for their second pop-up, as “baba” is Serbian for “grandmother.”
“The entire space already looks like a grandmother’s living room,” she says.
The siblings will build on Baba’s existing decor with photos of their ancestors, images of life in La Paz and elements of Bolivian folklore. In addition to the ’90s hip-hop they adored as teens in the U.S., they’ll also play cumbia and other genres popular in Bolivia. The cocktail menu includes several allusions to their native country.
Incas’ Child, named for the indigenous people who ruled a swath of western South America before the 16th-century Spanish conquest, is a blend of singani (Bolivian brandy), pisco, Cocchi Americano, grapefruit juice and absinthe. The Bufeo, another singani-based cocktail, is a nod to the pink river dolphins Bolivia has named as part of its “natural heritage.”
“There’s little references of education for anyone who hasn’t been to Bolivia,” Sanchez says. “And if you’re Bolivian, it gives you more of a pride, like, ‘Wow, that’s my country.'”
The cocktails, designed by Roy Boys beverage director Luis Aliaga—who lived down the street from the Sanchezes in La Paz as a child, yet only met them decades later in the U.S.—can be accompanied by small plates from Ambar tailored to complement the drinks. (At their 2021 pop-up in D.C., they served salteñas from D.C.-based Bolivian eatery Saya.)
In the fall, Sanchez plans to conduct market research in New York for a potential pop-up there. She and her brother are also discussing the possibility of a brick-and-mortar location in D.C.
In lieu of the llamas and alpacas that Sanchez says are overused symbols of Bolivian culture, Casa Kantuta is named for a Bolivian national flower. The kantuta is “a little bit feminine too, and strong,” she says.
“[It’s] one of the only flowers out there that doesn’t die throughout the year. We thought that was a pretty good reference in terms of what we want to build—we’re here to stay, hopefully for a very long time.”
Casa Kantuta will be located at Baba, 2901 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. The pop-up will be open Sunday, Aug. 7 from 8 p.m.-close; Wednesday, Aug. 10 through Friday, Aug. 12, 6 p.m.-close; and Sunday, Aug. 14, 6 p.m.-close.