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The U Street area of Washington, DC, once an entertainment and music mecca, is once again hopping. In the first few decades of the 20th century, the area was filled with nightclubs, theaters, and after hours joints, places with names like the Cimarron Club, Club Bengasi, The Green Parrot, Club Bali, The Crystal Caverns, The Jungle Inn, Murray's Casino, and of course, the Republic Gardens and the Lincoln Colonnade. In the late 1990s, history repeated itself - many nightclubs moved back to the area, and the people flocked back there, literally stopping traffic on weekend nights. U Street is unquestionably the place to be once again.

The major difference between today's crowds and those of U Street's earlier heyday is the diversity. In segregated Washington, this was the "Black Broadway," the "Colored Man's Connecticut Avenue." Although whites were not restricted from coming into this area (and in fact, some did come, so as not to pass up some of the best entertainers in the country), the area was made up entirely of African American residents. Banned from the downtown entertainment venues, black people found their only place for recreation in the city were these clubs in the neighborhoods in which they lived. Today, African Americans, White people, Hispanic people, indeed people from all over the world come to the U Street clubs.

The following is a list of venues which are attracting a whole new generation of U Street revelers:

Republic Gardens 1355 U Street NW

Republic Gardens PictureFrom the 1920s to the 1950s, the nightclub Republic Gardens was one of the most popular spots in black Washington. Pearl Bailey worked there as a young dancer. In 1999, a club of the same name hosted black icons such as Puff Daddy and Magic Johnson, and once again, its popularity is soaring. It is a club that caters largely to the young black urban professionals of the area, the music played is primarily a mix of R&B and hip-hop. On the weekends, its distinctive spinning spotlight in their adjacent parking lot can be seen all around the city, the crowds are huge, and the lines can be very long.

State of the Union 1357 U Street NW

State of the Union PictureLocated next door to the Republic Gardens, State of the Union gives a stage to Washington DJs, as well as hip-hop and acid jazz artists and spoken word poetry. With a more diverse (but still rather large) crowd and more intimate atmosphere than Republic Gardens, its also a great place to sample Russian delicacies and vodka, which are featured on their menu.

9:30 Club 815 V Street NW

The 9:30 club is an alternative rock club that can accommodate large crowds, with a moveable stage that can change capacity instantly. A four year old state of the art facility, it has three levels, three bars, and a full food menu. Once located in downtown Washington, the club has become legendary for hosting every alternative or modern rock band that has been around for the last sixteen years.

The Bohemian Caverns 10th and U Street NW

The Bohemian Caverns PictureFor decades this club, alternatively known as the Crystal Caverns, or just The Caverns, (or affectionately, "The Cave"), was an after hours jazz hot spot. Performers like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald came to the Caverns after their Howard Theater shows to relax with (and sometimes perform for) the locals. Pearl Bailey was said to have worked here as well. It was a popular night spot well into the 60s, until crime, desegregation, and economic problems forced it to shut down.

In 1999, entrepeneur and club owner Al Afshir began the process of bringing the Bohemian Caverns back to where it once was. He is completely restoring the club, (even bringing back the signature stalagtites that hung from the ceiling), and plans to book nationally known jazz acts to provide the entertainment.

Other U Street Area Clubs:

The Black Catalternative rock, spoken word poetry, showcase for local filmmakers
Metro Cafealternative rock, rap, hip-hop
Chi Cha LoungeLatin jazz band, DJ, filled with stylish, cozy armchairs and couches
The Velvet Loungesmall bar, alternative rock performance space
Bar Nun/ Club 2000DJ spinning hip-hop and R&B, poetry readings
HR 57live jazz
Utopialive jazz on weekends

 

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