Posts Tagged ‘Shaw/Uptown neighborhood’

Mason Dixie Biscuit Co.

I once heard a story about a preacher who was invited to attend a men’s breakfast at a small Southern church in farm country.  As they all set down, the visiting preacher asked one of the older farmers in attendance if he would say grace before they ate.

The old farmer stood, and as everyone bowed their heads, he began by saying, “Lord, I hate buttermilk.” The preacher opened one eye and wondered to himself where this was going. Then the farmer loudly proclaimed, “Lord, I hate lard!” Now the preacher was overly worried.

However without missing a beat, the farmer prayed on, “And Lord, you know I don’t care much for raw white flour either.”  Then, just as the preacher was about to stand and stop everything, the farmer continued, “But Lord, when you mix ‘em all together and bake ‘em up, I do love fresh biscuits.”

The old farmer concluded by saying, “So Lord, when things come up we don’t like, when life gets hard, when we just don’t understand what You are sayin’ to us, we just need to relax and wait till You are done mixin’, and probably it will be something even better than biscuits.”  And they all said, “Amen.”

It’s the kind of made-from-scratch, fresh-baked biscuits I imagine being served at that small southern church that I enjoyed for breakfast this morning.  Instead of what is usually a lunchtime bike ride, today I went for a ride at the beginning of my workday so that I could have breakfast at the Mason Dixie Biscuit Co., located at 1819 7th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood.

Ayeshah Abuelhiga founded Mason Dixie Biscuits in the summer of 2014.  But what started then as neighborhood pop-ups quickly became a small but permanent stall at D.C.’s Union Market.  Then, when loyal customers got tired of her small stall selling out of fresh biscuits by noon every day, she was inspired to expand and start selling frozen biscuits as well.  It was at about this time that a marketing executive from Whole Foods Market bought some of her frozen biscuits at the stall at Union Market.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Ayeshah’s frozen biscuits gained nationwide fame when Mason Dixie Biscuits were launched at Whole Foods and other retailers regionally, and then across the country.  The brand has since climbed the rankings to being one of the top frozen biscuit brands in the country.  And their biscuits are now available in buttermilk, cheddar, sweet potato, and sweet corn.   And there is a test kitchen in their restaurant for experimental biscuit flavors, so there my be more delicious flavors in the future.

Mason Dixie Biscuits also opened its first of what hopefully will eventually be many restaurants, which is where I ate this morning.  The restaurant serves up hearty biscuit sandwiches, juicy fried chicken, delectable Southern sides, and creamy frozen hand-spun milkshakes.  And all of their offerings are made-to-order, using fresh, preservative-free, hormone-free, and high quality local ingredients.  Their breakfast sandwiches and platters are available all day, everyday.  They similarly serve lunch items like chicken sandwiches and fried chicken platters, vegetarian sandwiches, and a variety of traditional sides.  They also serve extras that include “sweet-tooth” sandwiches and “handspun” milkshakes.

This morning I had a hard time deciding on what to order.  I took a look at some of the orders other customers were having in an attempt to decide.  But it was still difficult to choose between the different breakfast sandwiches and the available platters.  I eventually opted for the xxxxx.  But the only way I was able to convince myself to make a decision was to resolve myself then and there to go back again soon and try some of their other breakfast offerings.

I also envision myself going back again and having lunch there too.  Or to put it more accurately, going back multiple times to try different lunch menu items.  On some afternoon once the weather gets warm, and can also imagine myself finding my way there to have a mid-afternoon snack of a chocolate-hazelnut-banana biscuit sandwich and a chocolate swirl milkshake.  Or maybe a strawberry shortcake biscuit sandwich and a vanilla shake.  The cherry and cookies and cream milkshakes look awfully good as well.

I guess I’ll just have to keep going back over and over again.  In the meantime, I think I’ll stop at a grocery store and stock up on their frozen biscuits to have at home.

 

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UPDATE:  After thinking about them all day, I decided to get some biscuits at a local supermarket.  So I checked using the company’s web site to see what store closest to me carries them.  And since my daughter was going out anyway, I asked her to stop at that store and pick some up.  But when she asked, the manager of the store said that they didn’t carry them.  After she went out to her car to leave she remembered while she was still in the parking lot that she had forgotten something else.  So she went back into the store.  And when the manager saw her return he went up to her and apologized.  He said they do carry Mason Dixie biscuits after all, but he didn’t realize his mistake until after she left.  So to apologize to her, he gave her two packages of biscuits for free.  So now I have both Mason Dixie buttermilk and cheddar biscuits in my freezer, and I can have them anytime.

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Howard Theater Walk of Fame

On this lunchtime bike ride, I stopped riding and walked my bike one the sidewalk starting north on 7th Street beginning at S Street (MAP), and rounding the corner onto T Street before ending at The Howard Theatre in northwest D.C.’s U Street neighborhood.  I did this so that I could see the sidewalk medallions that comprise The Howard Theater Walk of Fame.

The concept for the new walk of fame was in development since 2008 by the Shaw and LeDroit Park communities in their passion to preserve and honor the rich history of the historic Howard Theatre, and was subsequently commissioned by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities in partnership with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and Cultural Tourism D.C., a nonprofit that promotes the arts across the city.

After a call for artists in 2016, D.C.-based design firm Hackreative along with sculptors Jay Coleman and Joanna Blake were selected to design the medallions. Their pieces draw design elements from the architecture of the Howard Theatre itself, including the braided arch and banner on the building’s sign, and the block frame around the marquee.

The walk of fame consists of fifteen medallions memorializing and recognizing different artists and musicians that have performed at the Howard Theater since it first opened in 1910, who were chosed by a panel of representatives from the commissioning groups, plus a few Shaw and LeDroit Park leaders.  The medallions honor Pearl Bailey, Chuck Brown, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Cab Calloway, The Clovers, Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Hampton, Moms Mabley, Abbie Mitchell, Billy Taylor, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and a combination of Howard Theatre managers and owners.  Upright signs that detail the history of the theater and the artists represented bookend the project.

After today’s ride, I later went home and listened to performances by the artists recognized by the walk of fame.  That music was a perfect way to end the day, and a long workweek.

 

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Two of the most well known murals in the city are located on either side of the iconic restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl, located in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, next to The Lincoln Theatre, in an historic building at 1213 U Street (MAP).  The one on the east side of the building, entitled “Alchemy of Ben Ali,” depicts the restaurant founders, Ben and Virginia Ali.  But it is the other one that became controversial, leading to its removal.

In 2012, the Ali family commissioned its first mural with backing from the city’s graffiti prevention initiative, MuralsDC.  A few years later, however, public pressure to redo it started to grow as sexual assault allegations began to accumulate against one of the prominently featured people depicted in the mural – comedian Bill Cosby, who was accused and has subsequently been convicted of sexual assault.  Last year, the mural was first whitewashed, and eventually replaced.

The old mural featured local disc jockey Donnie Simpson, D.C.’s Chuck Brown – the Godfather of Go-Go, President Barack Obama, and Cosby.  Three of those men returned on the replacement mural.  Cosby, who had been a longtime friend of Ben’s, did not.

The newer mural, entitled “The Torch,” painted by D.C. muralist Aniekan Udofia, who also painted the original mural, celebrates D.C. history and black culture.  The mural depicts abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman holding a lantern that spreads light onto the other figures in the mural.  In addition to the three holdovers from the previous mural, those figures, who were chosen through a public voting process on the restaurant’s web site, are:  boxer and activist Muhammad Ali; former D.C. mayor-for-life Marion Barry; comedian and D.C. native Dave Chappelle; singer Roberta Flack;  comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory; actress and singer Taraji P. Henson; D.C.’s non-voting Delegate to the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton; the late singer Prince; longtime local newscaster Jim Vance; D.C. rapper Wale; local radio disc jockey Russ Parr, and; former First Lady Michelle Obama, who now accompanies her husband.

But Virginia Ali, Ben’s widow, says the decision to repaint was based on the state of the mural alone, which she contended had become so soiled, damaged and weather-beaten.  Which means, years from now the mural may need to again be replaced.  So despite not making the cut for the current mural, I still have a chance.  I’ll just have to be patient and wait.

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Original Mural

The Whitewash

The Torch

         

         

         

         

         
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Frelinghuysen University

If someone were to mention a university in northwest D.C. that was founded to serve African Americans, it’s likely that 99 or maybe even 100 out of every 100 people would think of Howard University.  But on this bike ride I visited the site of another, lesser-known university, named Frelinghuysen University, which beginning in 1921 was housed in a two-story residence located at 1800 Vermont Avenue (MAP), formerly known as the Edwin P. Goodwin House.

Frelinghuysen University was founded in 1906 when a group of local African-American educators and leaders met at the home of Jesse Lawson, a Howard University educated African-American attorney, educator, and sociologist, and his wife Rosetta C. Lawson, an advocate for temperance and low-income housing, to organize a branch of the Bible Educational Association, with Kelly Miller as president. They also established the Inter-Denominational Bible College, naming Jesse Lawson, as president.  Eleven years later the two groups were combined and renamed Frelinghuysen University, in honor of New Jersey Senator Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen, who had worked to promote civil rights during Reconstruction with Senator Charles Sumner, for whom The Sumner School, one of the earliest schools for African Americans in D.C., was named.

Frelinghuysen University provided academic programs, vocational training, social services and religious education for working-class African-American adults.  It was accredited and conferred degrees from 1927 until 1937.  But after losing its accreditation, and with the racially motivated laws increasingly limiting the future of the institution, in 1940 the school became the Frelinghuysen Group of Schools for Colored Working People, and Anna J. Cooper became its registrar.  The institution finally dissolved in the late 1950s.

The historic building eventually fell into disrepair until it was purchased by it’s current owners in 1992 for $90,000, and subsequently renovated back into a private residence.  The Queen Anne-style home follows a triangular plan with an octagonal corner tower, and includes such architectural features as corbelling, a patterned slate roof, and intricate iron finials.  It was designated by D.C. as an historic site, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in 1995.

      
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Union Row

As with most large cities, there are a lot of alleys throughout D.C.  But some alleys are better than others, and they can vary as drastically as the neighborhoods of the city where they are located.  I often ride through alleys when I’m riding my bike.  But the alleys are usually there to simply to provide a narrow passageway between or behind buildings, or for off-street parking and storage space for trash cans.  But on this bike ride I happened upon an alley which had recently been renovated into some trendy living spaces.  And being able to imagine myself living there quickly made it one of my favorite alleys in the city.  Located at the corner of 14th Street and V Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s U Street corridor in the Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, the residences are known as The Warehouses at Union Row.

Union Row is a contemporary housing and business complex developed in 2007 by the P.N. Hoffman real estate development firm.  The Warehouses at Union Row were previously used for car storage, but were transformed into modern, industrial-looking three-level town homes that feature open floor plans with high ceilings and oversize windows to maximize natural light, and include private terraces on two sides of the home.  European kitchens with stainless appliances and granite countertops flow into spacious living and dining areas.  Additional amenities include a concierge, elevators, a courtyard, community meeting and party rooms, and off-street parking for cars (or bicycles).

The Warehouses at Union Row are within walking distance of the U Street Metro Station, and is conveniently located near a number of neighborhood cultural attractions.  These include the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, the Howard and Lincoln Theaters, Meridian Hill Park, as well as some of the city’s best jazz clubs and dance halls, the 14th & U Streets Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings, and a wide variety of shops and restaurants, including Busboys and Poets across the street, and the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl.

As I wrote earlier, I could easily imagine myself living in one of town homes that make up the Warehouses at Union Row.  However, for two reasons I am fairly certain that changing my address to Union Row will not be happening anytime soon.  First, there are no units available at the present time.  And the other reason is because units can sell in the half a million to million dollar range.  So absent winning the Powerball lottery, I think there are a lot of other alleys I could wind up living in before I become a resident of Union Row.

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Uprising Muffin Company

During these recent dog days of summer, when the temperatures have been reaching the mid to upper 90’s by early afternoon, I have been opting to go for my daily bike ride early in the morning rather than waiting for lunchtime. This deviation in my routine has allowed me to try out some breakfast spots that I had not been to before.  And one of these places has become one of my new favorite places – the Uprising Muffin Company – which is located at 1817 7th Street (MAP), just outside of the entrance to the Shaw/Howard U Metro station in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood.

Uprising offers muffins on a rotating basis in almost three dozen different flavors. Every day they have some of the more commonly-found flavor selections, such as traditional Banana Walnut, Blueberry Streusel, and Chocolate Chip.  By the way, you don’t have to wait until autumn to enjoy their delicious Pumpkin muffins, because they also offer daily and on a year round basis.  Uprising also serves up some additional and unusual choices on a rotating basis throughout the week.  These include Maple Pancake, Snickerdoodle, Strawberries and Cream, and Piña Colada.  On top of that, they occasionally also offer seasonal selections, such as the delicious Peach Cobbler muffin that I sampled this morning.  There are just too many varieties for me to list. So I guess you’ll just have to check them out for yourself, either in person or on their website.

They also offer a couple of savory options, which are Uprising’s take on breakfast sandwiches. The Bacon, Egg and Cheese muffin and the Southwest Veggie muffin are available every day. But they are often available only in the morning because they sell out so quickly. Uprising also features made-to-order signature sandwiches and fresh salads, along with coffee and espresso drinks featuring coffee from the Stumptown Coffee Company, which is roasted in small batches for freshness.

Uprising was opened by Donnie Simpson, Jr., a former local radio industry employee and the son of the popular longtime WPGC radio host Donnie Simpson. And from the beginning it seemed to be an overnight success.  But Uprising was actually four years in the making by the first-time restaurateur.  And taking the time to make sure they would get it right is evident in the quality of their muffins and other offerings. Every muffin they make starts from scratch and always contain 10 ingredients or less, which are obtained locally whenever possible. And what does go into their muffins is almost as important as what doesn’t. What doesn’t go into Uprising muffins are preservatives, artificial colors, or anything the average customer can’t pronounce.

One of the best things about Uprising muffins aside from their deliciousness is their consistent freshness.  And you can be assured that they are always fresh because at the end of each day they take any unsold muffins and donated them to the less fortunate in the local community.  Then the next morning they make more muffins, which are always simple, fresh, delicious, and ready to join or maybe even replace cupcakes and doughnuts as a local pastry favorite.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

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Marvin Gaye Mural

Change is sometimes good and sometimes bad, but it is always inevitable. And sometimes change has unintended consequences. One type of change that can have consequences that occurs here in D.C. is the construction of new buildings and the renovation of existing ones. An example of this was the mural of Marvin Gaye that was painted by prominent local artist Aniekan Udofia on the side of the building at 711 S Street in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown Neighborhood. Construction of an adjacent eight-story building next door to the mural resulted in the destruction and covering up of this piece of public art.

The mural of one of D.C.’s most beloved native sons was not up for very long, but it made quite an impact on the neighborhood.  Aniekan (the artist who usually goes by just his first name) knew when he undertook the original mural that it would eventually be covered up. So he used that as motivation to make it not just noticeable, but unforgettable.  And he succeeded. In fact, the mural became so well liked in such a short time that after its destruction, he was commissioned to create/recreate a new Marvin Gaye mural nearby in the neighborhood, next to the Hollywood Barbershop at 710 S Street (MAP). It was this replacement mural that was my destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

The replacement mural is similar in its bright, colorful composition, and possesses the same spirit as the original. But according Aniekan, it contains more “soul.” In fact, the artist suggested entitling it “The Soulful Return of Marvin Gaye.” I think many residents of the neighborhood are glad to see the reincarnated mural, as are fans of the artist like me.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Martha's Table

Martha’s Table

Two years ago today The Washington Post published a very interesting and uplifting article about Patty Stonesifer, former Chief Executive Officer of The Gates Foundation, who had agreed to lead a local food pantry here in D.C. named Martha’s Table.  Patty, who had previously overseen The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s endowment of $39 billion and a staff of more than 500 for nearly a decade, chose to manage Martha’s Table’s comparably small $6 million budget, 81 paid employees, three vans and a thrift shop.

Martha’s Table is a well-regarded but decidedly local food pantry and family-services nonprofit organization. Beginning with humble roots in 1980, Martha’s Table was originally a place for children to receive free sandwiches and food after school. It gradually grew to address the additional needs of the community by finding solutions to poverty in the short and long term. They also address emergency needs with food and clothing programs and break the long cycle of poverty with education and family support services. The organization impacts over 1,100 people a day with its programs, including those for children and youths from ages 3 months to 22 years old, and their families.

Anyway, after reading the newpaper article, I decided to ride to Martha’s Table to check it out on this lunchtime bike ride.  Their main office and their thrift store are located at 2114 14th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Shaw / Uptown neighborhood.  It is not very far from my office, so after riding there I had a some extra time before I had to be back at my office and decided to wander around a little on my way back.  As I was riding several blocks away I saw a commotion cause by a large number of people in a small alley. I paused to watch from a distance and, when it appeared to be benign, I rode down the alley to see what was going on.

I could barely believe the coincidence when I found out that the commotion was the result of food distribution of the Emergency Food Program of Martha’s Table. As I later found out from their web site, the last Thursday of every month is Pantry Day at Martha’s Table, when they offer emergency food to anyone.  The grocery bag give-away is held between noon and 1:00 pm only, and I just happened to be riding by when it was taking palce. As I stopped to watch what was going on, I noticed one of the volunteers because she looked oddly familiar. After watching for a little while it struck me that I recognized her from The Washington Post article.  It was Patty Stonesifer.  She was there, working on the front lines with the employee’s and volunteers, and handing out groceries to those in need.

It was near their closing time as I was standing around in the alley watching the activity when Patty noticed me dressed in several layers of old sweatshirts and sweatpants to brace myself against the cold during my ride.  I probably looked hungry too, since it was lunchtime and I hadn’t eaten yet.  So she thought I was there for some food but was too apprehensive to ask.  She came over to me and offered me a bag of groceries.  I declined but thanked her, and then I was able to talk with her for a few minutes.  I told her about my bike rides and how I had gone by their building on today’s ride because I had read about her in the newspaper.

She’s a very interesting woman, who is now leading a very worthwhile organization.  In addition to her previous position as the former chief executive of the largest philanthropic institution in the world, Patty has an impressive résumé. She was a senior vice president at Microsoft responsible for developing MSNBC, Encarta and Slate magazine. Patty was also asked by President Obama to chair the White House Council for Community Solutions, was the chairman of the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents, and sits on the Board of Directors for Amazon.com.

So with what would have been a lot of corner-office options to sift through, including a university presidency and the top jobs at a national charity and an international development agency, why did she chose a shift in scale comparable to the coach of an NFL football team deciding to coach high school football instead? After moving to D.C., Patty began exploring the city by foot and Metro, much like I do by bike. During these explorations she was astounded by the level and extent of poverty and hunger, especially among children that she saw. So the answer is simple – she saw a need and decided to do something about it. I think that’s a lesson from which we can all learn.

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The Howard Theater

The Howard Theater

The Howard Theatre, which is located at 620 T Street (MAP) in the U Street Corridor of northwest D.C.’s historic Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, is an entertainment venue with a storied history of highs and lows since opening over a century ago. And that is the reason I decided to make it my destination on this lunchtime outing.

The Howard originally had a capacity of more than 1,200, and featured orchestra and balcony seats and eight private boxes, with a lavishly decorated interior. And the theater’s original exterior matched its lavish interior, combining architectural elements of the Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance, and neoclassical styles. However, it lost its original ornate facade in 1941 when it was redone in the then-fashionable Streamline style. And it has been reduced in size over the years, currently being able to seat only half of its original capacity.

After its initial opening in 1910, The Howard became known for its variety of acts, including vaudeville performers, plays, and even circuses. However, despite its early success which lasted through the 1920’s, the Howard was forced to close down at the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.

The building became a church for a short time, but was was able to reopen a couple of years later under new management, and this time became a venue devoted to discovering and hiring only the best in black talent. Though The Howard did not discover, Duke Ellington, a native Washingtonian, it was responsible for launching many other careers, such as Ella Fitzgerald’s. The astounding success of The Howard resonated throughout the East Coast as it energized the debuts of other black owned theaters, such as The Apollo in Harlem, The Uptown in Philadelphia, and The Royal in Baltimore, or, what was known at the time as The “Chitlin’ Circuit.”

Over the next couple of decades, many notable Jazz performers headlined at The Howard, including Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Nat King Cole, “Moms” Mabley, and hometown favorite Duke Ellington, bringing along with them an unparalleled level of fame and prestige to The Howard. Other types of performers were intermittently mixed in with these acts during this time. These acts included performers like Danny Kaye, Abbott and Costello and Cesar Romero, as well as Pearl Bailey, who made her debut at the Howard.

Then in the 1950s and 60s, The Howard became a venue for rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues, including such artists as Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis, Jr., James Brown, Lena Horne, Lionel Hampton, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, and Marvin Gaye, to name but a few.

After the riots which followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, coupled with societal changes brought about by desegregation, brought about unrest and disturbances which served to debilitate the area, drive out many locals, and eventually cause degradation of the once vibrant neighborhood. This made it difficult for The Howard to attract patrons, and in 1970 it was forced to close down once again.

Many attempts were made to revive The Howard in the years that followed. One attempt occurred in 1975, and attracted many stars and received significant publicity, both from the audience and performers. Acts such as Redd Foxx and Melba Moore were among those featured at the reopening. Later in the decade, Go-Go bands played the venue, including the Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown, another native Washingtonian, along with The Soul Searchers, also performed at The Howard. Despite this success, this run lasted only five years. The venue failed to regain its former glory or financial viability, and closed down once again in 1980.

Most recently the theater, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was reopened after a 32-year hiatus and a $29 million multi-year renovation project. After being listed by the D.C. Preservation League as one of its Most Endangered Places in the city in 2002, groundbreaking for extensive renovations of the theater was held a couple of years later, and The Howard finally reopened in 2012 with a grand re-opening gala and benefit concert hosted by Bill Cosby and Wanda Sykes.

Today the reopened theater honors the glory of the past while ushering in an exciting future. Through the addition of state-of-the-art acoustics, and video and recording capabilities, The Howard is able to retain the intimate feel of its classic space for traditional audiences, while expanding to include new digital-age audiences as well. It is open six days a week, year-round, with dining amenities

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Bohemian Caverns Jazz Club

On this bike ride I went by Bohemian Caverns, a legendary jazz club located in the U Street Corridor at the corner of 11th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood.

The club started out in 1926 as a small basement venue named Club Cavern, and was one of the spots where many prominent musicians of the day, including native Washingtonian Duke Ellington, came to relax after local shows to enjoy after-hours jazz.

In the 1950s, the club’s name was changed to Crystal Caverns and then to Bohemian Caverns, during which time it became the premier jazz venue in D.C., hosting such famous artists as Miles Davis, Shirley Horn, John Coltrane, and Ramsey Lewis.

During the late 1960’s business at the club began to decline, and as a result of the destruction of many nearby business during the riots that following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the club suffered additional financial difficulties and was ultimately forced to close its doors in September of 1968. Three decades later, as re-development of the U Street Corridor was underway, the club reopened and returned to its earlier prominence.

Bohemian Caverns is one of the few clubs from the 1920s to have survived, and despite some periods of shutdown, it remains one of the premier jazz hot spots of contemporary D.C.