BABA: Party On!

As I descend the stairs to BABA, the sibling of the popular Ambar in Clarendon, my eyes adjust to the dim light.  I’m feeling tired from the long workday and thinking that I really should have gone home rather than venturing out to explore Balkan-inspired drinks and dinner in far-off Arlington.

But then I remember the meaning of the word Baba- it’s Serbian for grandmother.  And the words on the restaurant/cocktail bar’s website-“my baba can out party me” seem like a personal challenge, since I now happen to be a grandmother. Of course, an intimate cocktail bar isn’t intended for the AARP set, but I decide to take the words literally.  Game on.

BABA is located in the basement of Ambar, and is part of Ivan Iricanin’s Street Guys Hospitality, which also includes Buena Vida and Tacos, Tortas, and Tequila. 

The décor at BABA seems inspired by a basement that is storing furniture and accessories that no longer work in the rest of the house.  There are a mishmash of styles: a black and white tiled floor, brick walls and fireplace, vintage pane glass windows on one wall, clusters of gold-framed art on another, banquettes, leather chairs, brightly patterned upholstered chairs, metal, dark wood, a tiled bar with a reclaimed wood top, and antique glass chandeliers.  Taken in all at once, the eclectic elements coalesce to provide a natural charm, and a speak-easy feel.

BABA interior Photo Credit Christopher Milinauskas


BABA interior Photo Credit Christopher Milinauskas

BABA originated as a cocktail bar. The drink menu features dozens of tantalizing concoctions created by Mixologist Esteban Ordonez. The selections are organized to suit your mood.  Do you feel like drinking something Light and Refreshing?  One option is an herbal and citrus blend called Don’t Forget to Breathe, a combination of gin, grapefruit juice, honey syrup, lemon juice, vanilla and orange.

How about something Strong and Boozy?  Consider Belgrade by Night with rye whiskey, dessert wine, fernet, and orange bitters.

I can’t resist drinks that are Spicy, Smokey, and Sour. There are seven cocktails offered in this category.  Pisco Passion with lemon juice, honey syrup, passion fruit juice, egg white and dried oranges is my drink of choice. I’ve chosen well.

BABA Pisco Passion Photo Credit Ardent Vibe

BABA recently tweaked its menu. The food from Corporate Executive Chef Bojan Bocvarov is a fanciful potpourri.  There are pastas, salads, meats, and seafood, with many of the dishes sporting Balkan accents.

“When we opened BABA in March 2017 our menu focused on European small plates that would pair well with the restaurant’s extensive collection of cocktails,” says Owner Ivan Iricanin. “This fall we decided to shift the direction of the menu as we want our guests to think of us as a restaurant that serves exceptional food and cocktails, not a cocktail bar that also has food.”

My two favorite dishes here share a common ingredient.  Kajmak is a Serbian / Croatian fresh, unripened or “new” cheese made from unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk.

I am not normally a steak tartare fan, but I’m compelled to try it when I hear exclamations of delight from my dining companions.  The meat is ramped up with kajmak, pine nuts, brioche croutons, and crispy capers offering up extra oomph.

BABA Steak Tartare

Kajmak is also an element in Forest Mushrooms The dish is further refined by the addition of crispy polenta and truffles.  One word for this dish: intoxicating.

BABA forest mushrooms

More highlights from the appetizers side of the menu:  beef skewers with kimchi yogurt, and truffle potatoes with lardo, truffle cream, and chives. Salmon tartare meshes shredded beets, capers, quinoa, and pine nuts. The dish pairs particularly well with the smoky cocktail.

BABA salmon tartare

Veggie offerings here are strong.  One example: eggplant with feta cheese, brioche croutons, apricots, kalamata jam, and almond flakes.

You can also soak up the alcohol with more substantial entrees such as salmon with ginger aioli, black oil, mashed potato and leek. Venture over to the meaty side of the menu for burgers, veal schnitzel, 5-hour lamb, and filet mignon.

How do you conclude a BABA experience?  You can stick to sweets like cheesecake with marinated strawberries, citrus madeleines, and almond crocante.  Or try the rich dark chocolate mousse with Madagascar vanilla creme anglaise.

BABA desserts

What about a boozy finish? There are Drinks with Benefits, which come accessorized with a little something extra on the side.  Cinema Manhattan is bourbon, port wine, cola reduction, matched with sweet and spicy popcorn.  The pièce de résistance for me is Gipsy Wedding imbued with a deep pear flavor and a smoky finish.  It’s made with pear rakia, mezcal, lime juice, cinnamon syrup and pear purée and served with a lush pineapple dessert.

BABA Gipsy Wedding

I want to be the grandma that out parties the others, but I have to drive home.  I surrender. Next time I visit BABA, I’m taking an Uber.


BABA, 2901 Wilson Blvd Arlington, VA 22201

Saturday and Sunday: BABA offers a $29 Unlimited Brunch Experience with an array of freshly baked pastries and burek, soups, salads, spreads and sandwiches.  Additional menu items are made-to-order and served directly from the kitchen.  BABA’s Brunch menu also includes unlimited coffee, tea, iced tea, and orange juice.  Session cocktails will also be available at a discounted $.25.


Been There, Eaten That was a guest of BABA




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