Marvin doesn’t exactly stick out. Situated on the corner of 14th and U streets, Northwest, the dark, glass-paneled front—sandwiched between construction and deteriorating storefronts—is marked only by a small enamel plaque. But inside this new bistro and lounge you’ll find good Belgian beers, solid bistro food, and an upscale yet laid-back atmosphere.
Marvin is dimly lit and charming. The restaurant is on the first floor, with a small bar toward the front. Dark wood tables line the narrow space; chalkboards stating the wine specials hang from the walls, and an enormous, colorful painting of singer Marvin Gaye (for whom the place is named) overlooks the room.
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Looking for Belgian beers and more of a nightlife scene? Head upstairs to the bar. (The bouncer will greet and ID you at the top of the stairs.) There’s a very small lounge area, and on a weeknight it’s cozy and low-key—you can grab a seat at one of the small tables with high-backed banquettes and sip your drink. A DJ booth dominates one side, and a short bar sits at the front. On weekends, when the space gets too packed for comfort, make your way to the roof deck in the back. The expansive deck is impressive—the covered bar is long and stretches the length of the space, and a row of stools line the opposite side. Given the mild fall we’ve been having, it’s an enjoyable spot to sit out with a light jacket and a Belgian beer to warm you up. The deck is lined with heat lamps, and the owners have talked about tenting it during the colder months.
What’s to drink? Marvin serves a few beers on tap (Abita Turbodog, Stella Artois, and Hoegaarden among them) and around 30 bottled Belgian beers. There are the standard glasses of wine and mixed drinks as well. The bar food is solid, if pricey—but the baby back ribs I nibbled on were worth the $11. Marvin does not offer any happy hour specials.
The only problem? Marvin isn’t yet as huge a destination as Eighteenth Street Lounge or Local 16 (operated by the same folks who own Marvin)—but it clearly soon will be. Those two bars are atmospheric spots with great, loungey vibes, much like Marvin—and they’re both nearly unbearable on weekends: Lines stretch out the door, it takes you 20 minutes to grab a drink, and their rooftops get crowded to the point of insanity.
Marvin, for the moment, is less crowded and more laid-back, but it’s already showing signs of succumbing to the masses—the upstairs lounge was packed at 8 on a Wednesday night. And as word gets out about the newest addition to the U Street nightlife, I fear that the buzz could overtake its genuine charm. But for now, get there as soon as possible and enjoy it for what it is—an appealing neighborhood bistro and lounge that’s about to hit the big time.
Marvin, 2007 14th St., NW; 202-797-7171; marvindc.com.