Update: Baba will open to the public on Monday, Jan. 23.
When Clarendon's Boulevard Woodgrill was transformed into the Serbian restaurant Ambar in October, eagle-eyed regulars of the old bar and grill might have noticed something was missing: the cavernous 3,000 square-foot basement, which Boulevard Woodgrill used for wedding receptions and private parties.
"I went back and forth about what to do with it," says owner Ivan Iricanin, who worried that using the lower level as an extra dining room for Ambar would make the main restaurant feel less intimate. Eventually, he says, "we decided to divide these two spaces."
The result, expected to open in mid-January, is a cafe, restaurant and cocktail lounge called Baba. "It has a completely separate kitchen, separate entrance, separate menu," Iricanin explains.
Baba's ambitious concept is to be an all-day "neighborhood hub" that opens at 7 a.m. on weekdays for coffee and breakfast then transitions into a place for freelancers and teleworkers to "plug in their computers" and get work done over lunch. Once happy hour rolls around, Baba's retro-inspired sofas and furniture will cater to a completely different crowd. At 4 p.m., Iricanin plans to dim the lights, get the fireplace going and turn the space into a restaurant-lounge with a cocktail focus. Thursday through Saturday nights after 11 p.m., he's looking to bring in DJs.
The evening menu features small plates: Expect Balkan-inspired cuisine served in smaller portions than what you might find at Ambar.
Clarendon could use a bar serving creative drinks, and Baba's liquid menu was created in collaboration with New York cocktail consultant Esteban Ordonez, a friend of Iricanin's. Look for house-made espresso-infused liqueurs, pineapple-infused mezcal and plenty of rakia, the fruit-flavored brandy that's popular in Serbia.
The goal is to combine the comfortable and the new: "Baba" is Serbian for "grandmother," Iricanin explains. "It's very traditional. We wanted to invoke a sense of warmth, comfort and always being well-fed. But this Baba is also the life of the party."
Baba, 2901 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. Opening mid-January.