Blues and Jazz Clubs, Washington D.C.
Naturally, the home town of Duke Ellington would have to have a nightclub named after him.
This is a fine jazz club and restaurant, in the Eastern Market area. Small and unpretentious, this is the kind of laid-back place where one can relax for a few hours, enjoying a good meal and then some good music. The food is mainly Afro-Caribbean. Rather pricey, but very tasty.
Dress Code: Casual.
This club, like a number of others on U St, features good Ethiopian cuisine. It also has some outstanding jazz players, as well as good local artists. One recent guest was David "Fathead" Newman, whom you may recall from the movie "Ray." Another was Reggie Workman, one of Art Blakey's original Jazz Messengers in the mid-1950s.
This is NOT to be confused with Twins Lounge in northwest DC (see my tip on that one). In fact, the owners of these clubs are twin sisters. Many thanks to them for providing these two fine clubs.
Be sure to arrive early; this place gets full well before showtime. It's upstairs, above the pizza parlor. Like its sister club, Twins Jazz serves up some very good Ethiopian cuisine.
Dress Code: Come as you are.
If you have never heard of New Vegas Lounge, you are missing some of the best hometown Blues in the District. This little, recently remodeled Blues club is run by Dr. Blues and his son. It is located on P St. NW across from the hardware store.
Dr. Blues and Vegas Lounge has been in the same spot for years now. It was there long before P St. became a respectable neighborhood with the opening of the Whole Foods Market several years back. This was where you went to really get the local DC feel, but now it has succumbed to the yuppifying of the District, although the music is good as ever.
The one major difference is that they now have a full Menu and an actual stage. The band used to play in the corner on a small makeshift stage for the drums. They are now open Weds thru Sun. Before it was strictly a weekend joint. Go check it out, and pay the cover, it seems high but with concert tickets now going for almost a $100, $10 to hear some live Blues is not bad.
Dress Code: I would dress like you are going out.
HR-57, the Center for Preservation of Jazz and Blues, is the Washington version of historic Preservation Hall in New Orleans. Here, the focus is on mainstream jazz, not "smooth" or "fusion". This is the real thing.
One of the recent shows featured the great New Orleans clarinetist Dr. Michael White. Dr. White lost nearly all his possessions in Hurricane Katrina. But he's still working to keep his music alive.
The name comes from House Resolution 57, passed in 1987, which called jazz a "a rare and valuable national American treasure". Which it is, at least to me.
Dress Code: Come as you are. Smart casual is good.
A MUST visit when in D.C.
"One step down" jazz club
Address: 2517 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20037
Open: MON 10:00 am-2:00 am
WED-SUN 10:00 am-2:00 am
The Nema Cafe is a modest, unpretentious club on the south side of U Street. It has some very good local talent, such as the Potomac Jazz Project. While bar-hopping on U Street, drop in for a bit. It's worth a visit.
Dress Code: Smart casual.
On historic U Street, near the African-American Civil War Memorial, is one of Washington's oldest, most celebrated, and most unique nightclubs. The Bohemian Caverns has entertained jazz fans off and on since 1926. It opened in the basement of a drug store.
Since then, it has been through good and bad times, very much like U Street itself. During its heyday in the 1950s and 60s, this club hosted the likes of Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, Cab Calloway, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Sarah Vaughn, Wynton Marsalis, Bill Cosby, and Ramsey Lewis (who recorded a Grammy-winning live album here).
Not so many famous performers come here these days, but the club still has some top-notch local talent and a special ambiance. A visit to this place will not soon be forgotten.
Dress Code: Smart casual.
Blues Alley has hosted many of the biggest names in jazz, for many years. It is a regular Georgetown institution. The food is very good, too.
It is, as the name says, in an alley off of Wisconsin Avenue. At first glance, it appears to be nothing. Nothing about its modest exterior suggests that it's one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world. But it is.
While there, check out the T-shirts, CDs, and other merchandise. This is the only place to get them. Be prepared to spend a LOT of money, as the food, drinks, and tickets are VERY pricey. If you love the music, then it's worth it.
Dress Code: Casual, but not too casual.
IMAX Jazz Cafe at the National Museum of Natural History (one of the Smithsonians). Enjoy live jazz while you munch on dinner, drinks, dessert, and coffee.
Good jazz, great dessert and coffee. Admission is free, so you pay only for food and beverages.
Dress Code: Casual
701 Restaurant for the jazz pianist Alex Jenkins. Great service and once you visit for a second time, everyone knows your name!
Excellent champagne selection!
Dress Code: Dress the part. When Congress is in session, you are bound to see anyone from William Cohen to Senator Moyahain
I'm a blues fan. Blues Alley in Georgetown on Wisconsin was excellent but expensive ($18 cover mid-week, $6 drinks, some $1.95 surcharge I never figured out.
I also went to the New Vegas Lounge (I think that was the name) near DuPont Circle on P Street which had a locals jam going the Thursday night I hit it which was GREAT. The only sour note was that the drummer and bassist, who appeared to be the foundation for all the drop-ins, didn't get much chance to strut their own stuff. Say hi to George, the owner, who was a terrific host.
This is the place to go for a late-night jam session. The band I heard, on a Friday night, was excellent, with some fine players sitting in. Weekend shows begin at 11:00 and run to about 2:30.
Dress Code: Casual.
The Bohemian Cavern is a legendary Jazz Bar on the famous U Street Corridor. The decor gives you the feeling of being inside a Cavern. The music is excellent and the people very friendly.