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Guide to U Street
Comments () | Published November 19, 2008
The music venue, the Velvet Lounge, is a popular U Street spot for seeing local bands.

Black Cat. This nightclub, bar, and live-music venue is popular with local hipsters. Downstairs, you’ll find the club’s smaller performance space, Backstage, and the Red Room Bar, a dimly lit spot with a well-stocked bar of microbrews and imports, Belgian beers, bourbon, Scotch, and more. Upstairs is the 7,000-square-foot main concert space, which hosts national touring acts, popular local bands, and monthly DJ dance events. There are a few tables and chairs in the back for conversation, but most people crowd near the front, where the band plays. The no-cover Red Room Bar is open Monday to Thursday 8 PM to 2 AM, Friday and Saturday 7 PM to 3 AM. Doors open for the Backstage at 9, and the act goes on at 9:30. Door times for the Mainstage vary; check the Web site. Tickets for shows on both stages are required and can be purchased from the box office (cash only) starting at 8 PM or through

Bohemian Caverns. When this jazz spot opened its doors in 1926, it welcomed a roster of legends, among them Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. Eighty years later, this music and supper club is still a favorite of locals for its eclectic jazz, R&B, and soul lineup. Performances during the week usually start at 8 PM, on Fridays and Saturdays around 9, but check the event calendar before heading out. Get there at 6 on Tuesday nights to enjoy discounted Belgian beers, including Chimay, Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Leffe, Delirium Tremens, and more. When the weather gets warm, sip beer on the patio on the corner of 11th and U streets. We think it’s some of the best people-watching in the city.

Busboys and Poets
. This coffeehouse/bookstore/restaurant/lounge usually has something going on—it hosts everything from films and book discussions to poetry readings and open-mike nights. Intended as a spot to bring diverse neighborhood residents together, a sense of social action pervades the place. Food and drinks are kept relatively cheap and simple, an invitation for the more budget-conscious to dine there. The bookstore, run by the nonprofit Teaching for Change, stocks nonfiction, poetry, and literature with a progressive bent. Even the name of the place carries significance: It honors Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at a nearby hotel in the 1930s as he was beginning to make his name as a poet.

DC9. This dive bar and venue gets great bands, but it’s the DJs working every Friday night’s Liberation Dance Party that makes it an important U Street stop. There’s a $6 cover to gain upstairs access, but if you get there early enough, you can take advantage of the open bar from 9 to 10:30 (rail cocktails only). Can’t make it until later? Grab a drink or two in a downstairs booth before heading to the dance floor, where the crowd often gets thick and sweaty.

HR-57 Center for the Preservation of Jazz & Blues. This nonprofit cultural center, taking its title from the House resolution passed to name jazz “a rare and valuable national American treasure,” presents concerts from new talent and renowned artists, hosts jam sessions, and offers lectures, workshops, and music lessons. Though wine and beer are available by the glass, HR-57 is also BYOB—so pick up a bottle of your drink of choice and head over on a Wednesday or Thursday, when local musicians gather for an entertaining jazz jam session. It makes for a great date. Admission is $8 Wednesday and Thursday, $12 Friday and Saturday. If you bring drinks, there’s a $3-per-person corking fee.

Lincoln Theatre. This U Street landmark has a storied past steeped in black history. The Lincoln opened its doors in 1922 and welcomed to the stage such entertainers as Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, and Ella Fitzgerald. From the 1920s to 1950s, the U Street corridor was considered a black commercial and entertainment center, but a 1954 Supreme Court decision led to the area’s desegregation and the theater’s eventual closing. In the 1990s, the theater reopened, and today it hosts plays, films, music, and dance as well as community events, galas, and benefit performances. The beautifully restored gold-painted, chandeliered, and red-carpeted theater seats 1,250. The lobby opens about an hour before performances, and seating begins 30 to 45 minutes before shows.

Studio Theatre. This 14th Street performance space houses four theaters, an acting conservatory, wine and coffee bars, and a small bookshop. The theater puts on mainly contemporary plays and modern adaptations of classics. This year’s lineup includes Tom Stoppard’s Prague-based Rock’N’ Roll, Scott Frankel’s cult hit Grey Gardens, and Radio Golf, the culmination of August Wilson’s ten-play cycle.

Velvet Lounge
. Located around the corner from the 9:30 Club, this cozy indie-rock venue offers a steady stream of local, lesser-known acts. Drinks are served at a relaxed downstairs bar, where an assortment of local art adorns the red velvet-covered walls, and an upstairs bar services the small (read: often crowded) performance space. There’s nothing fancy about this dimly lit lounge, and that’s something regulars love about it.


A night out on U Street has to start with dinner, because long, dance-filled nights require sustenance. We like Coppi’s Organic for its selection of delectable Italian-style pizza and its devotion to partnering with local organic farmers. Skip dessert and head to Local 16 for a drink before it gets too crowded. Its rooftop bar—open nine months out of the year—provides a great setting for conversation. Then make your way to DC9, where local favorite DJs such as Nouveau Riche spin tracks old and new late into the night. If you’re more interested in seeing live music, nearby Velvet Lounge offers the best of the local scene. A standard night out ends with a stop at Ben’s Chili Bowl, which serves its famous chili half-smokes until 4 AM every Saturday and Sunday morning.

U Street Dining Guide
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This article is part of Washingtonian's Visitors' Guide. For more articles like it, click here.


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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 11/19/2008 RSS | Print | Permalink | Articles