“All things to all people.” It’s rare for that term to be used in a flattering sense. It implies hubris, a sort of impossible ambition.
But maybe, just maybe, Bayou can pull it off.
The newest addition to D.C.’s growing list of jazz venues is a sorta-restaurant-sorta-sports-bar, half-Beltway-half-Big Easy joint that’s right smack in between Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, West End and Georgetown.
The New Orleans-themed venue opened its doors for the first time on New Year’s Eve, ringing in the new year with a guest performance from Glen David Andrews, a Crescent City trombonist and singer. “We flew him up from New Orleans,” General Manager Eaghmon Banks told CapitalBop, calling the opening an “incredibly awesome party.” The following Wednesday, Bayou began its regular schedule of jazz.
Nowadays, Bayou is firing on all cylinders musically. D.C.’s 20-year-old tenor saxophone sensation Elijah Jamal Balbed is heading up the offerings, performing
with a quintet every week from Wednesday through Saturday. He plays sets of background fare during dinner on each of those nights, but on Wednesdays he plays a “listening set” – music to the fore – from 8:30 p.m. to 10. (Other nights, the late set is reserved for pop and blues bands.) Updated: Balbed’s dinner sets are with a trio, typically with saxophone-guitar-bass instrumentation, while his late sets on Wednesday are with a quintet.
Balbed told CapitalBop that he and the management are considering moving the listening set to Thursday nights. And Banks says he’s thinking about adding jazz for Sunday brunch.
No matter what they decide, this is clearly a venue that values its music. It’s complete with a full-sized stage and a sound technician – more than can be said for your average restaurant and bar that adds the cursory jazz act once in a while.
Last night, Balbed and his quintet swung jauntily through a selection of hard-bop standards. The hearteningly diverse clientele exhibited dishearteningly uneven levels of interest in the music, and after most of the solos people simply didn’t think to applaud. But give it time, folks – this could become a real destination for jazz lovers.
With prominent TVs locked on ESPN and game-day food and drink specials – as well as a vibe that’s as Capitol Hill friendly as most Pennsylvania Ave. establishments – Bayou’s also going to appeal to a largely male, white-collar contingent.
But such is the venue’s dual identity. And with great food (try a po’ boy sandwich or the BBQ pork wings) and beer (the Big Easy-based Abita beers are highly recommended) at reasonable prices, Bayou is something to get behind.
As long as the music keeps swingin’, it looks like the lobbyists and the jazzbos might soon learn to coexist.