WHINO in Ballston Quarter: Blending Art Gallery + Restaurant
July 2, 2021 @ 2:13pm
When entering WHINO a couple of days before opening, the place buzzed with an excitement reminiscent of backstage at a theater production premiere. Large murals fill the space including a Panda face on the ceiling from the upcoming featured artist Woes, and a steampunk-style mural from artist Dragon76 covering the space below and above the bar.
Shane Pomajambo opened WHINO in Ballston Quarter on June 18, with a vision to cohesively blend an art gallery with a restaurant. With high-tops flanking suspended art in the center of the room, and standard dining seating in the back, the space naturally flows.
“I hated that you can only go to an art show once, have your drink, and then it’s over,” says Pomajambo. “But here, you can come and keep coming. If you want your restaurant experience, there are the lower seats. Some people want to make reservations because they’re all into the food. If you want to come out and have a drink and hang out, you have the front experience [the main bar, high tops and gallery]. We’re trying to accommodate whatever people are coming for — including retail.”
A section of WHINO sells featured artists’ works, including toy sculptures, and offers a wide range of prices starting at $100. Pomajambo intentionally chose artists he considers on the rise for the gallery.
“What I try to focus on is artists that are at the cusp of becoming super famous, but the artwork is still obtainable. Dragon76 is one of those guys. He just painted for the United Nations a mural. You can buy his artwork [now] for $2,000, but in 10 years it would be worth $20,000.”
When selecting what artists to feature, Pamajambo’s goal is to introduce the pop surrealism movement from New York and California’s street art scenes to the DMV area. The first three scheduled feature artists Caratoes, Woes and Dragon76 all create in this style, which carries an experimental boldness that lends itself well to WHINO’s innovative concept. The murals painted by each artist will eventually be replaced with another muralist’s work after a year.
“They will be up for one year before we’ll change one of the murals. Then every four months we’ll change the next one. They’re supposed to be treated like street art. It might be gone in a day and it’s not decorations. It’s a living thing.”
In addition to the featured artists, the gallery show will change each month and consist of 12 to 16 pieces from a range of upcoming local and international artists.
“In the gallery artwork, it’s international, national and local artists, so you get a good sampling of all types of genres in pop surrealism. When I say genre, I mean illustrator, street artists — even some people have graffiti backgrounds. It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a cross-section of what people are doing, so it’s very diverse, just like the menu.”
Although the menu is influenced by international artists, it is not a mere accompaniment to the art gallery but rather a standalone feature. The menu spans American, Spanish, Greek, Middle Eastern, Puerto Rican and Peruvian cuisines.
The broad menu choices reflect Executive Chef Eleftherios “Telly” Natas’ eclectic background. Natas is Greek-American and has worked in a range of different restaurant styles including, Mexican restaurant group El Centro D.F., former Italian restaurant Graffiato, Carmine’s in New York City and Virgil’s BBQ.
Some dishes on the menu include ricotta gnocchi, porchetta roast and Telly’s gyro. Natas takes classic dishes — some of which are sacred to their respective countries — and highlights his favorite components while including his own twist.
“I would say the menu is globally inspired and very non-traditional with hints of what’s traditional,” says Natas. “The seafood soccorat (crispy rice) is based on paella. So it’s just sort of the crispy rice [part only] and fresh seafood with lobster broth.”
With the Telly’s gyro, Natas swaps out pita for phyllo and replaces standard tzatziki with whipped feta and leek yogurt.
Admittedly hesitant on all the changes to classics, after trying the zaatar spiced lamb ribs and the asparagus and fava salad, my skepticism was put at ease. Natas skillfully balances textures and is considerate of each ingredient added to the plate. There’s a vibrancy to his dishes, which is due in part to Natas’ focus on using seasonal ingredients
“I want to try to pick as much as I can and try to find things at the farmers market or local farms and incorporate them into the fall and the winter menu. With spring and summer, I want to focus a lot on what’s in their peak season.”
Their signature cocktail drinks adhere to the same ethos. Their Sourpuss cocktail is a bright and sweet tequila-based cocktail that reflects their clean and fresh style. Pomajambo made it a point to focus on using quality ingredients.
“Drinking cocktails sometimes gets really overwhelming when you’re drinking the same processed juicers, and your body’s like, ‘I don’t want anymore.’ It’s not because you’re drunk. It’s just this gross feeling. That’s why we used only the freshest ingredients. There’s no soda guns and the mixers are all done by hand.”
In addition to the art shows, there are multiple upcoming events including cocktail classes and beer and wine tastings. Pomajambo’s overarching goal is for this space to be a place for creatives. He is constantly trying to find innovative ways to bring people together. Creating this space was just a natural next step for him.
“WHINO is the next chapter. I always like to look at what I’ve been doing and how to make it better.”
WHINO: 4238 Wilson Blvd. 2nd Floor, Arlington, VA ; whinova.com // @whinoinc
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content. Support local journalism and start your membership today.