Photo of Dante Datta and Suresh Sundas by Laura Hayes

When Dante Datta draws up the cocktail menu for Daru, he’ll turn to a pantry of Indian spices such as fenugreek, black and red cardamom, tamarind, and coriander in addition to a fridge full of mangos, guavas, and gooseberries. The cocktail whiz who is currently the bar manager at Ellē is partnering with Chef Suresh Sundas to bring an Indian-accented cocktail bar to the H Street NE corridor in late 2019.

The bar, named for the Hindi word for hooch, is going into the first floor and basement of 1451 Maryland Ave. NE where Star Grocery is currently located. Datta says the store is migrating to a larger location and the owner will be fixing up the historic red brick building at the intersection of 15th Street NE, Maryland Avenue NE, and Benning Road NE.

Datta calls the neighborhood “incredibly vibrant” and looks forward to joining the community of businesses. “Us being able to be a part of the changing landscape is very exciting for us,” he says. “To be a part of the rolling future of it all.” 

The pair first met in 2012 when they were on the opening team of Rasika West End. Datta was making drinks and Sundas was working his way up from line cook to “tandoor master,” cooking meat and seafood in the traditional oven. They began dreaming up Daru about two years ago. 

Sundas is currently perfecting the bar food recipes he’ll pair with Datta’s drinks. Sample dishes include a jackfruit kati roll, various chaats, kebabs, and “achari” chicken wings with a stinging pickled mango sauce. Vegan and gluten-free items will be available.

The chef is from Nepal and came to the U.S. in 2007. While many of the same spices are found in Indian and Nepalese cuisines, Sundas notes the Indo-Chinese influence found in Himalayan food. He hopes to introduce Nepalese momo (dumplings) and noodles once Daru finds its footing.

Datta is a first-generation American. His parents came to the U.S. in 1980 from West Bengal. He sees his forthcoming bar as a celebration of his roots. “This is a personal statement of what Indian cuisine and culture means to us,” he says. “I grew up in America and have a huge American identity, but you have this whole background and history that you discover as you get older. For me, it was this exploration of where my parents came from.”

The partners emphasize that Daru is first and foremost a neighborhood bar. Cocktails will highlight spirits from India and Southeast Asian countries. (Datta’s resume also includes stops at Bibiana and Columbia Room.) There will be room for about 40 people and Sundas says he’s hoping for a casual, fun atmosphere.

Over the past year and a half, D.C. has seen an influx in Indian restaurants. Newcomers include RASA, Pappe, Bombay Street Food, Masala Story, Karma Modern Indian, and additional locations of Bindaas and Spice-6. Two more, Glassey and Punjab Grill, are on the horizon. Datta and Sundas believe Washingtonians are attracted to the way Indian food layers one bold flavor on top of another using fresh herbs and spices.

“We’re getting to work with some of the spice traders showing up on the East Coast,” Datta says. “The idea is really caring about what spices are coming in and how fresh they are. The more we see of these kinds of restaurants open, the more we’ll see those things prosper.” 

Daru, 1451 Maryland Ave. NE