Casa Kantuta founders Carla and Juan Sanchez holding a Bolivian flag
Casa Kantuta founders Carla and Juan Sanchez Credit: Courtesy of Casa Kantuta

You won’t be able to miss the diablada mask at Casa Kantuta, a Bolivian pop-up coming to Adams Morgan. The huge, dragon-like mask on the back bar will overlook everything from the multi-colored aguayo textiles to the cholita hats worn by the indigenous women of Bolivia.

Running from July 8 through August 8 in the lower level of sPACYcLOUd Lounge in Adams Morgan, Kantuta will feature cocktails, salteñas (a pastry filled with a savory stew that originated in Bolivia) from Saya Salteña, and a small market showcasing the work of immigrant and BIPOC creators. Weather-permitting, they will use the back patio. The business takes its name from the national flower of Bolivia. 

Co-founder Carla Sanchez had the idea for the business years ago after feeling the need for a bar that told the story of Bolivian culture, and four months ago, she started making it a reality. Her brother, Juan Sanchez, joined as a co-founder. The Sanchezes emigrated from Bolivia in the 1990s. 

They’ve brought on other Bolivians, including Saya Salteña owner María Helena, who was born in La Paz. She led Carla to Bolivian beverage director Luis Aliaga, who works as the assistant general manager of Roy Boys in Shaw. His drink menu will feature six cocktails that utilize Rujero Singani, a popular brand of Bolivia’s national spirit, similar to brandy. Most of the drinks are named after Bolivian landmarks and will cost about $12.

Photo of beverage director Luis Aliaga courtesy of Casa Kantuta

The Alto refers to a city outside the capital La Paz and is inspired by Aliaga’s memories of enjoying the traditional Alto breakfast of bread and milk. Made with green tea-infused Rujero Singani, Pineau des Charentes (an aperitif), Novo Fogo cachaça (a Brazilian rum-like spirit), vanilla, lime, and coconut, it’s topped with Fernet-Branca. The dark amaro sinks into the milk-colored drink for a dramatic effect. The Pachamama, or “mother nature,” is made with Rujero Singani, cognac, Luxardo Abano, Cynar, pear brandy, cinnamon bark syrup, and housemade bitters. 

The mercadito, which operates during the day on weekends, will feature apparel from Bolivian designer Sarah Christie, Black-owned business Sun Gods, Spoken Spanglish, and Carla’s vintage clothing line Ñusta. Helena’s salteñas, filled with a savory stew of potato, olives, egg, Andean spices and a choice of chicken or beef, will be available on Sundays. 

For the decor, Carla plans to fly in cultural touchstones from Bolivia like the diablada mask. Other items, like ekekos, figurines people traditionally toast for good luck, will be tucked throughout the bar. “La Paz is a mysterious place,” Carla says. “It’s full of little things that tell a bigger story.” 

There will be more references to Pachamama as well. “Any festival or any time that we celebrate being alive and happy,” Carla says. “We dedicate our energy to thanking her.” She plans to document the pop-up’s transformation on Instagram.

Other touches come from the Sanchez family, including photos of their grandparents or the music that Carla and Juan listened to growing up. It runs the gamut from Bolivian cumbia and reggaeton to rap and hip-hop. 

More than just pictures though, Carla wants to invoke the spirit of her grandmothers who inspired her entrepreneurship and joie de vivre. “Friends, family, they would travel from anywhere just to be at her parties,” she says of one. “They knew she threw a good one.” 

She hopes to make the patio an homage to her other grandmother. “There was an essence about her that was so beautiful that I wish people could really understand and see,” Carla says. It will be outfitted with roses, in reference to her love for the flower.

Still, they envision an intimate vibe at Kantuta, in keeping with speakeasy tradition. “You walk into something that’s supposed to be one thing,” Aliaga says. “And then it’s something else.”

After a year without bars, they hope the space without a window onto the street will be a venue where bargoers can forget their cares and chat. “Speakeasies are all about disconnecting from the outside world,” Aliaga says. “You go into a speakeasy to mingle, enjoy cocktails, and get to meet people.”

The team, above all, hopes to share what makes their beloved homeland so special. “What we want to bring is something that no one knows, period,” Aliaga says. “Bolivia.”

Casa Kantuta is open Thursdays through Sundays from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. The mercadito is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Salteñas are available on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Casa Kantuta, 2309 18th St. NW