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Life of the Party

Serbian restaurateur Ivan Iricanin shows how smarts and style have propelled him to new heights, one savvy (and risky) idea at a time.

Ivan Iricanin says he never sleeps, as he lures the DC party set into a world of food and fun.

Ivan Iricanin slyly opens his navy blue pinstriped sport coat to reveal a Hickey Freeman label. He grins. “In Serbia, we think like Italian designers, so we dress stylishly, no matter what we’re doing. It sets the tone for everything,” he says.

While Iricanin, who landed in the District on a work/travel program in 2005, is on the short list for the best-dressed restaurateur in DC, he’s also proving he’s one of the hardest-working.

In just four years, he has helped Richard Sandoval Restaurants launch smash hits Masa 14, El Centro D.F. and the just-opened 75-seat Ambar on Capitol Hill, a food concept so risky—Balkan recipes from his youth—it seems only the force of Iricanin’s personality could propel its success. Another El Centro D.F. (Georgetown) opens this summer, and Toro Toro, a Brazilian steakhouse with a mammoth club­—in the likeness of its sister spot in Dubai­—opens early this fall.

“I love this city. It’s like Belgrade, only, in DC, there’s a culinary explosion going on,” says Iricanin. Sit with the blue-eyed Serb for a few minutes in Ambar’s loft—framed by 120-year-old floor joists recovered from the home he’s refurbishing on Seventh and Q—and it becomes clear why Sandoval recently tapped him as the company’s national director of operations: You want those few minutes to bleed into 60 or, well, all night. He’s the right man of the moment, in a town pining for the blessed combination of culinary and nightlife bliss all in one spot.

“When people visit a restaurant of ours, it’s like they’re in my home. I treat them like royalty, and they do something it’s occasionally hard to do in DC: relax,” he says. These words come from a man who admits he never sleeps. “I’m not a 9-to-5 guy,” he says. He’s about changing your life after dark.

Iricanin’s Hots 
The Coffee Bar on 12th, Don Ciccio & Figli liquors, alfresco dining, O Street Market

Iricanin’s Nots 
Cupcakes, blended scotch, parking tickets, photo-enforced speed traps