Last night, I stopped by the opening party for Mari Vanna, the Russian eatery and bar that officially debuts today in Dupont. Near the end, an employee came through with a fistful of keys with matryoshka doll figurine key chains. She handed them out to all the media, friends, and family present.
The keys, she explained, unlock the front door of Mari Vanna. They also unlock the doors at all Mari Vanna’s locations around the world—New York, London, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Los Angeles.
Um, what? Confused and intrigued, I sought out one of the restaurant’s owners, Tatiana Brunetti. “The key is meant to be a symbol of trust,” she says. “When your grandmother wanted to invite you for breakfast or you have to visit her, you most likely have a key… So that key that we give to people, it’s like you’re in our circle. You’re a resident of Mari Vanna’s house.” (The name Mari Vanna refers to a fairytale grandmother who welcomed hungry travelers into her house for a home-cooked meal.)
On Monday nights, anyone who has a key can let themselves into the restaurant, where there will be an exclusive party with a DJ in the third floor lounge.
If you don’t have a key, you can still visit Mari Vanna on a Monday, but you have to ring the doorbell. The catch? There are a dozen doorbells—six on each side of the door—and only two of them work. “You have to guess which one to call,” Brunetti says.”Somebody will tell you, ‘Excuse me,’ and he walks in front and he takes the key and he opens the door, while you’re still figuring out which doorbell to ring.”
Even if you have a key, though, that doesn’t mean you can enter the restaurant at any time of the day or night. There are multiple locks on the door, after all.
So, who gets a key?
“It’s like how do you decide who’s your friend?” Brunetti says.
And what if someone really, really wants a key?
“They’ve gotta work hard,” she says, “but we’re going to give the key.”
Mari Vanna, 1141 Connecticut Ave. NW; (202)783-7777; marivanna.ru/washington
Photos by Jessica Sidman