Bohemian Caverns || This club has hosted greats such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Ramsey Lewis — who even recorded a couple albums there in the 1960s. But the spot closed at the end of that decade, remaining shuttered until Amir Afshar reopened it a decade ago. Thank goodness he did. Afshar reinvigorated the historic club before himself selling it to the three current owners, who have maintained its status as a jazz haven. The subterranean club retains the decor that made its original incarnation famous: craggy, mud-hued walls truly look like the inside of a cave. But far from a gimmick, the Caverns deliver the aural goods. A stellar, in-house big band (the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra) performs every Monday, and some of D.C.’s top acts play on weekends. The genres of music vary here, so if you can’t stand R&B or neo-soul, check the CapitalBop calendar to be sure there’s jazz on the night you want to go.
Basic info || Cover varies, 1-drink minimum | Food $$, Drinks $$ | Jazz Mon., Fri.-Sat., some Tues. and Thurs.
Contax || 2001 11th St. NW | 202-299-0800 | Official site | Official listings
Twins Jazz || Walk past 1344 U St., and the first thing you’ll hear is the swinging clatter of the drums, or maybe the squall of a trumpet. Turn into the doorway, start up the flight of stairs and you’ll begin to hear the stabbing chords of an accompanying piano. By the time you’re at the club level, with the bar on your left and bandstand to the right, you’ll find yourself strutting to the bassist’s rhythm. Every night of the week but Monday, Twins Jazz offers up exciting acts, usually tilting toward younger musicians on both the national and local scenes but often showcasing D.C.’s jazz elders on the weekends. The club is named for the twin sisters who first opened the place as Twins Lounge in Takoma Park in the 1980s; one of them, Kelly Tesfaye, still keeps a watchful eye on the club every night.
Info || Cover varies ($5-$25), $10 minimum | Food $$, Drinks $$ | Jazz Mon.-Sat., some Sun.
Contax || 1344 U St. NW | 202-234-0072 | Official site, with listings
Note: Utopia is closed for a 13-month renovation process, but will return in mid-2013
Utopia || Utopia stands out as one of D.C.’s most aurally and aesthetically satisfying environments. The brick walls are adorned with owner Jamal Sahri’s paintings, colorful explorations that refer boldly to expressionism and Afrocentrism. But make no mistake: The music’s central here. The howl of whatever top-notch bop or Latin jazz is playing on a given night will reach all corners of this restaurant’s deep main room. And it’s a good thing, because the bar is typically packed — and those who arrive too late on a Friday or a Saturday may lose out on snagging a table.
Info || No cover, 1-drink minimum | Food $$, Drinks $$ | Club is on hiatus
Contax || 1418 U St. NW | 202-483-7669 | Official site | Official listings
JoJo || This charming restaurant and club situated down U Street between 15th and 16th leaves little to be desired — except maybe more jazz. Currently, there is no jazz scheduled at JoJo, but one never knows when rotations in their scheduling will bring bop back. The space is sleek and hospitable, its walls dotted with old black-and-white photos of jazz players. Factor in a double-edged happy hour ($3 beers!) that ends at 7 p.m. then revs up again at 10, and JoJo is a solid destination for a night out on U Street. Now about that jazz programming.
Basic info || No cover, 1-drink minimum | Food $$, Drinks $$ | Currently no jazz
Contax || 1518 U St. NW | 202-319-9350 | Official site | Official listings
Café Nema || R.I.P.
View U Street Corridor Jazz Clubs in a larger map
About the hood
Dubbed “Black Broadway” more than a half-century ago by singer Pearl Bailey, U St. might have lost some of its stately swagger since the days when a teenage Duke Ellington lingered in pool halls and theaters, pestering the pianists for lessons. But it is still the spot for D.C. jazz. And a perfectly hip place to hang out, at that. On the western edge of the historic Shaw neighborhood, the U St. corridor has a storied history of Black-run and -owned businesses — from the Lincoln Theater, founded in 1922, to Ben’s Chili Bowl, which came along in 1958. Today, some of the most beloved such institutions are jazz clubs. The strip that once nurtured native talents like Ellington, Bailey, Billy Taylor and Jelly Roll Morton now plays host to a strong cast of local pioneers. Bassist Tarus Mateen; trumpeters Joe Herrera and Thad Wilson; and saxophonists Lyle Link, Antonio Parker, Brent Birckhead and Elijah Balbed all call the corridor their musical home. Plan a night out at any of the clubs listed below and you can expect an evening of D.C.’s finest bop. Granted, with so many talented musicians populating the street, you can’t expect the same lineup to play for the whole night. Which, of course, is the best part of the experience: The constant regeneration of jazz is never more captivating than when a gaggle of horn players, vying for spots on a crowded stage, engages in a friendly bout of creative one-upmanship.
- For Bohemian, Twins, Utopia and Jojo: Take the Metro to U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo (Green/Yellow Lines). Exit the stop via the 13th St. escalator. For Bohemian, walk east on U St. and the club will be on the left side of the street. For Twins, Utopia and Jojo, walk west on U St. and the clubs will be on the left side.
- For HR-57: Take the Metro to to U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo (Green/Yellow Lines). Exit the stop via the 13th St. escalator. Walk west on U St., then turn left onto 14th St. Walk four blocks and the club will be on the right side of the street.