Holmes, an embassy staffer in Kyiv, told the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday that he attended a lunch with Sondland at SHO with two other staffers. “At first the lunch was largely sociable, and Ambassador Sondland suggested a bottle of wine that he shared among the four of us,” Holmes said.
Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said that detail struck him as unusual. “During my 5 years in government, including 2 as an ambassador in Russia, I never ordered a bottle of wine for lunch!” he tweeted on Thursday.
To those who know the Ukrainian capital’s food scene, it is a fairly glitzy locale: A bottle of Grand Cru at SHO can set you back over $240, while an appetizer of black caviar with pancakes is $70. The restaurant is on Mechnykova Street, which is filled with high-end restaurants that often cater to foreign visitors.
Toma Istomina, a senior lifestyle reporter at the Kyiv Post who has written about the restaurant, explained in an email that all sorts of people would visit the restaurant, but “foreign delegations, tourists and business people stand out as frequent visitors.”
A half-hour-plus drive from the U.S. Embassy on the western outskirts of the city, SHO (which means “what” in Ukrainian) is in Kyiv’s central area near government offices. It sits close to a wine-and-grocery store that caters to the city’s elite and a branch of the “Coyote Ugly” bar franchise that stays open till 6 a.m. every night of the week.
On TripAdvisor, a website for tourist reviews, a number of visitors noted that the staff at SHO spoke English; one visitor was dismayed that “not all staff speak in Ukrainian at first.” A restaurant staff member who answered the phone Tuesday declined to comment.
Istomina said that what made the restaurant stand out is the fact that it actually served Ukrainian food — relatively rare despite the location. “Although it seems like the most obvious cuisine to offer in Kyiv, in fact, it is only one of a few eateries to make local dishes,” she said.
The restaurant is known for its modern interpretations of traditional cuisine with plenty of Western influence. You can try varenyk with rabbit or pyrizhky with cabbage; there is not only a selection of vodka, but also matcha lattes and mezcal.
Waiters would have been coming and going as Sondland made his phone call to the president in late July. At least three embassy staffers were dining with the ambassador — Holmes testified that he overheard Sondland tell Trump that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “loves your ass.”
They may not have been the only ones listening in. “In a country that is so wired with Russian intelligence, you can almost take it to the bank that the Russians were listening in on the call,” Larry Pfeiffer, a former senior director of the White House Situation Room and a former chief of staff to the CIA director, told The Washington Post last week.