Mug Shots: H St. Coffeehouse Adds Wine Bar

Posted April 1, 2008 at 4:54pm

The closing of Murky Coffee may have left a void for many staffers. But never fear. A new coffeehouse has opened on the Hill, and this one also serves wine.

[IMGCAP(1)]SOVA (1359 H St. NE) first opened as a coffeehouse on the H Street corridor a few months ago, but it recently received a liquor license. Now the two-story establishment serves specialty coffee on the first floor and wine on the second, offering more than a dozen low to moderately priced wines by the glass. The selection hails from all over the world and includes wines from New Zealand, South Africa and Germany. For those who are less fond of vino, several beers also are available.

“The wine bar only made sense because now I had a property that was directly between the Atlas Performing Arts Center and the H Street Playhouse,” owner Frank Hankins wrote in an e-mail. “It was also right in the heart of the entertainment district of H Street, where Joe [Englert] was building all of his bars and restaurants, so I knew I couldn’t survive without adding some sort of nighttime option.”

Wine bars seem to be springing up all over town, but while many are dimly lit and pretentious, SOVA is bright and welcoming. The bar offers only a few stools, but patrons can spread out on large chairs and couches scattered throughout the two upstairs rooms. The bright walls are decorated with art created by local students at the Two Rivers Public Charter School, bringing a local flair to the shop. The pieces are being previewed at SOVA before being auctioned off on April 12. Hankins hopes to continue bringing local art into his shop.

“[The art] is a perfect complement to the purpose and vision of SOVA, and that is being an extension of the community we’re in and bringing community people together in different ways,” Hankins said.

With the addition of wine to the shop, Hankins is hoping to expand the menu beyond desserts. Paninis, wraps, cheese plates and charcuterie will be available as soon as he is able to get more refrigeration space.

[IMGCAP(2)]“I will also start serving wine by the half litre carafe within the next month or so,” he said.

SOVA is Hankins’ first venture into the bar and restaurant arena. Prior to opening the shop, he worked for Merrill Lynch and then E-Trade Financial on K Street, all the while dreaming of opening his own restaurant. That dream became a reality when Hankins spoke with Englert, who is largely credited with rejuvenating the H Street corridor, about the possibility of opening a coffeehouse in the neighborhood. According to Hankins, Englert kept him in mind and, a few months later, made him aware of a space that was for sale near the Rock and Roll Hotel.

“It wasn’t until I looked at the entire space that I even considered doing a wine bar in addition to the coffee idea,” Hankins said.

Now, a year and a half later, SOVA is open and Hankins is happier than ever.

“I’m just thrilled to be here. I get great customer support from a lot of people in the community, and I’ve become friends with many,” he said. “What else could be better? I get great coffee in the morning and a good glass of wine in the evening at my own comfortable place surrounded by family and friends.”