U Street bistro and bar Marvin closed at the start of the pandemic after a 13-year run and never reopened. Now owner Eric Hilton, of Thievery Corporation fame, has teamed up with fellow DC nightlife veterans Scott Herman and Ken Brobeck to open the Owl Room, a DJ-centric venue dedicated to underground dance music, on Friday, March 10.
Both Herman and Brobeck have been heavily involved in DC’s underground dance-music scene for more than 20 years as promoters, DJs, and managers of U Street Music Hall, which also closed due to the pandemic.
“There’s always been a scene in DC. I think that there’s not a ton of options,” says Herman, the Director of Operations for H2-Collective, the parent company of the Owl Room (as well as places like Brighton, El Rey, Players Club, and more). “Some promoters that are highlighting this type of music bounce around to different venues… We wanted to create a space that would be permanent and have all the infrastructure and have great sound and a staff that is really just understanding of the needs of the community.”
The Owl Room will focus on a range of genres—house, techno, drum and bass, disco—from the kind of artists you aren’t going to find on mainstream radio. “It’s not music that you’re going to just hear without maybe seeking it out a little bit,” Herman says.
The Owl Room will continue to host some of the same DJs who were regulars at Marvin—like Keenan Orr, Mathias, and Nativesun—while bringing in a range of other local and national talent that will give the place an identity distinct from its predecessor. The opening weekend lineup includes Baltimore-based Ultra Nate’s Deep Sugar and DC’s own Dance Club. The venue will have DJ booths on both of its two levels, but there will also be space for a live-performance stage on the main dance floor downstairs.
“Our success in the past has always been cultivating a really diverse crowd of music fans, so that is what we’re aiming to continue doing,” Herman says.
The space has a fresh look with striking owl-esque murals and a massive disco ball above the dance floor. The red-toned second-floor “parlor” features vintage stereo ads and ’90s-era rave flyers on the walls, plus an outdoor patio.
The Gibson general manager Jewel Murray is behind the short menu of $12 cocktails, including a negroni riff dubbed “Bitter Bitch” and a vodka-elderflower drink called “Disco Daisy.” There are also a couple non-alcoholic options like a spirit-free mule named “Kicks Like a Mule,” named after the early ’90s rave duo. There’s no food to start, but look for some nibbles down the line.
Here’s a look at the full menu:
The Owl Room. 2007 14th St., NW.