Click below to listen to an audio clip from Habana Village.
Habana Village is modestly tucked between a design studio and a Peruvian chicken rotisserie in Adams Morgan, and while the inside is narrow, the first floor boasts a dance floor, a bar and a candlelit dining area. A live band played salsa and merengue tunes for a number of older, more experienced dancers last Friday, while upstairs, a DJ played louder, livelier Latin melodies to a twenty- and thirty-something crowd. Although the website spoke of a third floor, it was largely empty, even at 11 p.m.
Despite a mixed-up drink order (the bartender heard “rum and coke” as “mojito”—in his defense, the music was loud) and a refusal to surrender our coats to the coat check, which rendered us considerably more bundled-up than our fellow salsa-dancing patrons, we found Habana Village to be a pleasant place for a (very strong) drink, a delicious late night meal (beware the heat of the bottled salsa verde, presumably straight from Cuba itself,) and a skilled live band. If you’re looking to avoid the mobs at other Adams Morgan bars and enjoy some truly delicious Cuban food, or try your hand (or, rather, feet) at salsa dancing, Habana Village might be the place for you. The bar also offers salsa lessons for all levels of experience in the early evening on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Dukem Ethopian Restaurant, U Street
While Washington is known for its plethora of top-notch Ethiopian restaurants (somewhere around 20 in total) Dukem, on U Street, also offers nightly musical performances and a once-weekly full-blown cultural show. According to a few online reviews, its food is also some of the spiciest, bringing a taste of authentic Ethiopian fare to those who are searching for the real thing.
Last Saturday may have been an off night for this U Street staple—only a few tables were full, and the generously-stocked bar only boasted a small number of occupants. Nonetheless, keyboardist Daniel Gabriel bravely took the stage, seemingly oblivious of the small audience as he played with some electronic backup. The wooden dance floor in front of the stage, however, remained empty.
The service was slow and a little unreliable, with our waitress bringing us the wrong kind of sambusa appetizer to begin with. The age of the average patron seemed to be in their thirties and forties. One got the sense that this was more of a place for people to meet and talk over some injera (a traditional fermented flat bread served with most entrées) and Ethiopian-brewed beer, rather than dance the night away. For a healthy dose of culture, a generous list of cocktails, and music that you can talk over, however, Dukem will certainly do.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Jojo Restaurant and Bar, U Street
Click below to listen to Victoria Parcell and Total Eclipse perform.
Jazz is the quintessential American music, but it has drifted out of the mainstream and into places like Jojo, where an anything-but-amateur band called Total Eclipse, featuring vocalist Victoria Parcell, played tunes both familiar and new to a packed house last Saturday. The space is tight and the first floor is below street level, with small, closely spaced tables. The atmosphere encourages an air of intimacy, with the band performing sans stage, just a few feet away from the patrons. You could see the sweat on the singer’s forehead, and feel the rhythms through the floorboards.
The band was loud enough to appeal to any younger music fan, with a healthy dose of rock n’ roll mixed into the jazz stylings–though the patrons were mostly in their 40s and 50s. The cocktail list was expansive, and a hearty selection of draft beer supplemented the somewhat pricey menu of gourmet bar food. (Our garlic mashed potatoes were squeezed through an icing bag, giving them some extra frills and a smooth texture.)
Jojo is truly a gem of D.C. nightlife, and the lack of empty tables, or empty space of any sort, on a Saturday night seemed proof enough that the management is doing something right. If you are looking to get off your feet and have drinks brought to your table while listening to some first-rate live music, Jojo is the place for you.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Zenobia Lounge, Georgetown
Zenobia Lounge Multicultural Cafe and Bookshop follows the D.C. trend of inhabiting a converted row house on a tightly-packed street, making the space characteristically narrow and deep. (Habana Village and Jojo Restaurant both had similar dimensions.) This fosters a kind of coziness and familiarity that instantly makes the space welcoming, and Zenobia was no different.
Zenobia features Middle Eastern food, Turkish coffee, and other coffee drinks, as well as a hookah selection. It also has bookshelves filled with texts relating to Arabic topics and Islam, with subjects ranging from Middle Eastern cookbooks to biographies of Arab philosophers.
The latté I ordered was delicious, and far tastier (and cheaper) than its Starbucks equivalent. I didn’t partake in any hookah, but the smells wafting in from the enclosed porch set aside for smoking, separated from the main area by sliding glass doors, made me want to. Even in the middle of the afternoon, there were a few people smoking while chatting with a companion or watching a Middle Eastern news channel displayed on a TV on the wall. They all seemed comfortable enough to be regulars.
While Zenobia doesn’t quite have enough space to be a full-fledged restaurant, it does offer a comprehensive menu. Former patrons have complained online that the portions are small and overpriced, but in a small coffee shop setting, undersized portions seemed appropriate (and the tables probably couldn’t hold more than a few small plates.) What Zenobia lacks in food quality and quantity, it makes up for in atmosphere.
Zenobia doesn’t serve alcohol (or tap water, requiring patrons to purchase a bottle,) but if you’re seeking a laid-back hookah session and aren’t too thirsty, this lounge might be the place for you.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5