“At first, we wanted to name it Daruwalla but we decided to go with Daru because it’s easier to pronounce and sounds a little cooler.”
In Hindi, a native language of India, the word “daru” is derived from “desi daru” which is the most popular form of cheap liquor in India’s villages that has been distilled for centuries. While considered legal, it’s consumed primarily by India’s poorest population and for the purpose of getting intoxicated as quickly possible, as opposed to social drinking and enjoyment. A “daruwalla” simply refers to someone who makes or sells this liquor. In India, people often use the word “daru” the same way American’s would use the word “hooch”.
So, why is it that two mainstays of D.C. dining are coming together to open a bar with a name that isn’t exactly a positive connotation?
“It’s an ode to what’s happening in India,” explains Dante Datta, co-owner and beverage director of Daru. Known for his work at critically acclaimed Ellē and Rasika, Datta is keen to celebrate spirits, beers, and wines coming from India. Datta’s inspiration comes from his days at Rasika with Chef Suresh Sundas.
“We wanted to make a bar based on food that Suresh just used to make for us casually,” Datta continues. “Chaat…kebabs…breads…and, of course, some Indian dessert options. Fun plays on things that are inspired from everywhere.”
The atmosphere of Daru, which recently acquired a space (1451 Maryland Avenue NE) is going to be “casual, fun, and vibrant with a focus on high level service in a convivial atmosphere.” The space itself will be small, with an equally small staff that will be heavily trained in the cultural significance of every beverage and food item served.
“We want to do a deep dive on the culture and significance of the food and ingredients, placing that alongside the beverages themselves,” Datta describes. “Understanding how the beer or wine goes together with the food and how it influences flavors, all while having fun and being pretty casual.”
One of the paired items that Datta and Sundas are working on is a mezcal punch paired with an avocado sev puri chaat (a streed-food style mix of puffed rice with crispy crackers, mint chutney, tamarind chutney, and sweet yogurt chutney). This will be available for tasting at New Kitchens on the Block.
Rather than focus specifically on large main dishes and Indian dishes one traditionally sees on a menu (like butter chicken), Chef Sundas wants to get playful. “We will use Indian ingredients but with techniques from other places around the world. And we’ll take ingredients from other places and prepare them Indian-style. When you’re referring to India, you’re referring to a mix of cultures.”
Ultimately, Daru will be less restaurant, more bar. “It’s a place for the neighborhood,” Datta definitively says. “We’re excited to be in the NE community. We’re excited to live in a time where this kind of bar is possible.”
Daru aims to open by end of 2019.