Pocket the airfare: Local bar offers taste of Spain with flamenco, Spanish wines

November 29, 2019 | Local couple brings flamenco art and culture to D.C. (WTOP's Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON — Most Sunday nights on U Street, football fans wearing jerseys and stale beer pack into the local bars, and music fans in skinny jeans and thin tees line up outside the area’s clubs.

But inside Vinoteca, things look a little different.

All eyes are on Sara Jerez, a flamenco dancer with dark brown hair that’s pulled back and secured with an oversized red flower. She stands on a piece of plywood in the middle of the 11th Street wine bar wearing a fitted black-and-red dress that flares at the bottom.

With one glance at guitarist Richard Marlow and singer José Oretea, the music starts. Jerez begins to move her feet and the castanets in her hands.

Jerez has been dancing flamenco for 20 years. The Nicaragua and Clifton, Virginia, native says after taking her first lesson she “just fell in love with it.”

“I don’t think you find flamenco, I think it finds you,” says Jerez, who studied the traditional Spanish dance in the D.C. area before moving to Madrid to further immerse herself in the flamenco culture.

When she moved back to the States, she met and married flamenco guitarist Richard Marlow. Ever since, the two have built their lives and their careers on spreading flamenco throughout the nation’s capital.

“Especially in the last 10 years, the popularity of flamenco has skyrocketed, ”Jerez says.

Most major cities have a tight-knit flamenco community, she adds. In D.C., that community is anchored at Vinoteca.

Owner Paul Carlson originally decided to bring flamenco to his wine bar eight years ago. He wanted to offer a form of live entertainment that has a deep connection to wine.

“And wine is such a big part of the flamenco show and the flamenco culture,” Carlson says.

In the past, the weekly show was somewhat casual. Jerez would dance on a piece of plywood set down in the bar area, while her husband, Marlow, would play alongside. But now, Vinoteca is rebranding the show in an effort to bring more attention to the art.

“Tintos y Guitarras” is now offered every other Sunday, and the performance is set up in the cozy dining room space. Guests can reserve a front-row table for $5 and nibble on complimentary tapas. Spanish sherries and $25 bottles of Spanish wines are also available.  

Of course, those who want to relax in the bar and keep one eye on Sunday night football can do so at no cost, while also watching and listening to the flamenco in the distance.

Carlson says over the last several years, the show has cultivated a following. Now, his goal is to expose even more Washingtonians to flamenco and to grow its popularity in D.C.

If you’ve never seen flamenco, Jerez says you’re in for a high-energy experience. “It’s very rhythmic, it’s very percussive with the feet,” she says.

“The guitar playing, the singing, it’s all quite an overwhelming experience sometimes if you’re seeing it only for the first time, but I think people fall in love with it.”

The next “Tintos y Guitarras” will take place Sunday, Jan. 31 from 7 to 10 p.m. at Vinoteca (1940 11th St. NW). The show is free, but tables can be reserved for $5.

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