Luke Chesek, left, and Silk play a game of bocce on the upstairs court in Vendetta.
Fans of the now defunct Red Palace were likely saddened to see their local watering hole/alternative music venue go the way of the dodo.
But there’s something to be said for bellying up to the bar at Vendetta (1212 H St. NE), its swankier successor, and losing oneself in the Rat Pack vibe that flows through the mellowed-out establishment.
Restaurateur Joe Englert, who also co-owns several other hospitality joints along the same strip, said the changeover became official earlier this spring. The New Orleans-themed fare and shoulder-to-shoulder rock shows have since given way to a carefully constructed cocktail carte, Italo-American cuisine and indoor bocce courts.
“Bocce makes for quite an addictive pastime. It’s hard to get customers out of the ‘sandbox’ once they enter,” Englert said of the family-friendly hurling pits carved into the first and second floors.
Sporting types certainly seem to enjoy the opportunity to knock one another around from time to time. We watched a father-son duo battle it out in between courses (picking at entrees, bowling a quick set, then sliding back into their chairs for dessert).
Coincidentally, Englert claims the rhythmic clacking of colliding spheres often camouflages the whimpering of unruly children. “The knocking of the bocce balls usually drowns out the kids,” he said.
We prefer the bar’s buzzier distractions.
Pouring It On
The downstairs lounge is modest, accommodating just shy of a dozen guests around an L-shaped counter. A handful of high-tops and cocktail tables provide an outer rim of seating options for those who come to wet their whistles in earnest.
“$5 Peronis?!?! Get out of here!” an imported-beer lover exclaimed one evening after stumbling on the extended happy hour special. (The price has since been shaved to $4.)
Another night, folks camped out for hours, including two pairs of girlfriends who lingered over slowly sipped glasses of wine, buddies going drink for fashionable mixed drink and a married duo casually working their way through a bottle of red wine.
Beverage Director Jimmy Silk is the one who keeps the good times flowing. His tastes range from trendy craft brews (Fat Tire, Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale) and easy-drinking sparklers (they have Montelvini prosecco on draft), to budget-friendly bottles of predominantly Italian wine. There was nothing over $62 (2010 Tuscan chardonnay) during our visits, with most by-the-glass pours hovering in the $8-10 range (2011 Castle Rock Pinot Noir was the outlier at $11).
The signature cocktails, however, are the real show stealers.
Barkeeps shake up everything from woody bourbons to curiously nutty liqueurs, cutting bold stuff with disarming sweeteners, spiking neutral spirits with bitter interlopers and cleverly spicing up everything in between.