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New Year's Eats

Courtesy Travis Vaughn Photography
Mari Vanna chain, which started in St. Petersburg, recently landed just south of Dupont Circle.

The tri-level retreat integrates faux old and unabashedly new rather seamlessly, sprinkling candy dishes brimming with exotic sweets and lace doilies throughout the cozy second-floor dining room, while outfitting the loungetacular top floor (karaoke nights coming this March) with spinning disco balls and wall-to-wall plush sofas.

The ground floor boasts a serviceable bar, carved from hardwood rather than marble, and a surprisingly small open kitchen; lots of exposed brick and pre-aged wood are in the main dining room, while the kitchen benefits from colorful tile work.

The cocktail crowd can whet its collective whistle with an army of imported vodkas, ranging from the down-to-earth Russkaya to the lofty Beluga line. The restaurant also infuses vodkas year-round, a production cycle that yields up to 60 flavor combinations at any given time.

And while the menu allows guests to feast on traditional Russian cuisine — think sour cabbage-stuffed hand pies, cured pork with hearty rye toast and bracing mustard, caviar-studded crepes — the real draw is power.

“The Clintons are fans of the New York location, so we hope to have them soon,” restaurant spokeswoman Dannia Hakki said, adding that the D.C. location has a Secret Service-friendly VIP entrance designed to accommodate privacy-seeking politicians.

That secret pathway undoubtedly got a workout during inauguration weekend, as Mari Vanna welcomed a host of celebvocates to town for the Creative Coalition’s “Night Before Dinner.” D.C. shadow Sen. Paul Strauss made it out, spending the evening mixing with the likes of entertainers Tim Daly, Paula Abdul and David Arquette.

Not yet a household name?

Mari Vanna still has you covered.

The restaurant has already distributed about 150 “front door keys” to lucky Washingtonians and visiting guests. The totems, which actually do unlock at least one security catch at every location, grant the bearer special access to future events. “The keys are given out as part of essentially a loyalty program,” Hakki said, noting that key holders are privy to “secret parties, cutting lines and global VIP services.”

“It is meant to make you feel like you are walking into your own home,” Hakki suggested. “And your home is at Mari Vanna.”

Mari Vanna: 1141 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-783-7777; marivanna.ru

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