“I want to be the loudest person in the room to say hello.”
With his smiling face and enthusiastic demeanor, Valentine (Val) Restificar is exactly that person. As beverage director of O-Ku DC in Union Market, Val considers hospitality to be the greatest privilege of his job.
“D.C. is a difficult city to run solo in,” he explains. “So, I think, if I wasn’t in the industry, how would I want to be treated? I always try to [introduce] conversations and bring people together because that’s what a bar is all about. You go to a bar rather than drink at home because you want to be around people. I can’t think of any other way, really.”
Born to Filipino parents in Saudi Arabia, Restificar came to the United States when he was around three years old. “If you’re an immigrant and you don’t speak English, you don’t have the most inclusive childhood. It sucks and it is what it is. But that drives my want to include everyone. I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they don’t have a place.”
Restificar even goes as far as to have bottles of “specialty” liquor like Malort and Midiri on his bar shelves. “It’s something for people to identify with,” he laughs. “I want to make this a comfortable space. Not conceited. I like to provide education on what they’re drinking and why it’s something they might care about.”
Providing education in a way that’s extremely relatable is what Restificar truly does best (usually while he’s mixing up killer cocktails). With a background in biochemistry and a strong interest in travel and history of different cultures, Restificar constantly challenges himself to expand his knowledge of beverages. “I like to start small and then build. A good foundation is everything.”
If you pop in to the whiskey lounge at O-Ku DC, have some fun and go off course. “My favorite thing to do is talk to the person, find out what they like to drink and go from there. Spirit forward and boozy? Citrus and refreshing? Something adventurous? Clear or dark spirits? This tells me everything I need to know to build. And I get a level of engagement with my guests.”
Watch Restificar in his element—showcasing his takes on traditional Japanese cocktails.
1274 5th St NE, Washington, DC 20002
Open Monday-Wednesday from 5pm to 10:30pm; Thursday from 5pm to 11pm; Friday/Saturday from 5pm to midnight; Sunday from 5pm to 10pm