The Owners of Hit Local Barbecue and Tex-Mex Joints Are Building a Capitol Hill Bar Together

© Rey Lopez/Eater DC Sloppy Mama’s pitmaster Joe Neuman (pictured) and Republic Cantina owner Chris Svetlik are joining forces with bartender Ben Alt to open a new project in the former Wisdom gin bar space in Capitol Hill.

The owners of popular local barbecue operation Sloppy Mama’s and hip Tex-Mex joint Republic Cantina are teaming up to build a new bar in Capitol Hill.

Sloppy Mama’s pitmaster Joe Neuman and Republic Cantina owner Chris Svetlik signed a lease this week to take over the space that used to house gin bar Wisdom at 1432 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. Neuman and Svetlik are also partnering with longtime D.C. bartender Ben Alt, previously the co-general manager of Reliable Tavern in Petworth, on the new project. Broker Ken Johnson of City Grid Real Estate represented the landlord in the deal.

Neither Neuman nor Svetlik were ready to share plans for the bar, and they’re still discussing what to name it. But Neuman says it will represent a new direction for both of them. In other words, don’t expect the new bar to focus on barbecue or Tex-Mex.

“We’re not ready to quite announce it yet,” Neuman says.

Over the past six years, both entrepreneurs have built a loyal customer base with their Southern delicacies. At various points, Neuman and his wife and business partner, Mandy Neuman, have run Sloppy Mama’s out of a truck, a pop-up at U Street bar Solly’s, and food hall stalls at Union Market and Ballston Quarter. They have since closed those initiatives and consolidated operations at a restaurant inside a converted Pizza Hut building in Arlington. Along the way, Sloppy Mama’s regularly appeared in the top 10 of the Washington Post’s annual barbecue rankings, winning high marks for its chopped pork, homemade sausage, and pickles.

Svetlik, meanwhile, has built a community of “Texpats” since co-founding a Republic Kolache business that grew from an instantly successful pop-up into a wholesale operation that shuttered during the pandemic. At Republic Cantina, he’s found a successful formula by serving some of the city’s best breakfast tacos and polishing up the Tex-Mex format with items like gochujang-marinated beef fajitas, tequila Old Fashioneds, and suddenly trendy ranch water cocktails.

Neuman says he and Svetlik became friends when both were in the early stages of building their businesses out of the Mess Hall restaurant incubator in Edgewood. “Me being barbecue and him doing kolaches, we both had weird hours,” Neuman says.

For their new collaboration, Neuman says they plan to do some work on the kitchen and is “tentatively optimistic” they could open by the spring of next year.

Wisdom, which boasted one of the city’s largest collections of gin, closed in October 2020.

Tierney Plumb contributed to this report

  • The D.C.-Area Bars and Restaurants That Have Closed During the COVID-19 Crisis [EDC]
  • Republic Kolache Will Shut Down, Removing Its Popular Texas-Czech Pastries From D.C. [EDC]
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