Get To Know The Mastermind Behind Some Of DC's Hottest Lounges, Vinoda Basnayake

Kristen Schott | July 5, 2019 | People


If you’ve been to a lounge in DC, chances are it’s a Vinoda Basnayake spot. And, now, the lobbyist and law firm partner by day (Nelson Mullins) and hospitality entrepreneur by night (Versus—concepts include Morris American Bar, Heist, Sheppard) is adding another project: Casta’s ( The Cuban rum bar is a partnership with longtime friend and local cigar mogul Arian Castañeda. “We want our guests to feel like they were transported to a hot bar in Havana the minute they walk into the space,” says DC native Basnayake, who visited Cuba last year and was charmed by the hospitality scene. “We were obsessed with keeping the design superauthentic, from the murals to the fixtures.” They’re even importing Cuban bread from Miami weekly for the signature sandwich. Is that it? No. Basnayake was appointed earlier this year to chair Mayor Muriel Bowser’s commission on nightlife and culture. “Nightlife economy brings in over $300 million to the city annually,” he says. “It feels pretty badass to say I am the chairman of nightlife and culture for my hometown.” And he’s just getting started.

YOUR HAIR IS AS ICONIC AS YOUR CLUBS. EVER GOING TO CUT IT? “Ha. I’m kinda feeling long hair right now.”

DO YOU EVER SLEEP? “Hey, as they say, ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss…’”

SHARE THE CITY THAT INSPIRES YOU. “I love Montreal. Their hospitality ethos is among the best in the world. There are so many incredible cocktail bars and restaurants, and none of them come off as pretentious while still giving a five-star experience.”

SERVE UP A TASTE OF THE BEST DC MEAL YOU’VE EATEN. “I recently had a 10-course meal in the private dining room at Punjab Grill with an unreal cocktail pairing. It [was] unforgettable.”

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW? Originals by Adam Grant. It’s a great read for entrepreneurs and people thinking of starting their own business. I highly recommend it. I’m sure if you ask any of my friends, it’s getting annoying how much I talk about it.”


Photography by: Greg Powers; SHOT ON LOCATION AT CASTA’S