Showtime Lounge in Bloomingdale: Come for the jukebox, stay for a beer

May 31, 2013

Washington music fans know Paul Vivari as DJ Soul Call Paul, the man who spins '50s R&B, '60s funk and girl groups at Big Bad City and other dance parties. But tonight, Bloomingdale residents will meet him in another capacity: bar owner.


A mural at the Showtime Lounge in Bloomingdale honors local musicians, including singer Harmon "Mask Man" Bethea and guitarist Link Wray (center), and the famous Shine Records logo. (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Post)

Vivari's tiny new tavern, Showtime Lounge, will open at 8 p.m. at 113 Rhode Island Ave. NW, across the street from Boundary Stone. The focus at this low-ceilinged one-room bar is on cheap drinks and great music coming from one of the city's best jukeboxes. "The city used to be full of dive bars – little neighborhood places like this," he says.

Let's start with the drinks. Four draft beers, including DC Brau Public Ale and Bells Oberon wheat ale, flow from a 1930s water tank. Natty Boh, Tecate and Corona Light cans start at $3. (There will be some "craft beer" options, Vivari says, but they might not be available tonight.) He's also pouring $4 glasses of wine, straight out of the box.

His expertly curated jukebox is stacked with 100 R&B and soul CDs that span the decades from Duke Ellington to Motown, with a focus on D.C. artists, such as Link Wray and Shrine Records. There are plenty of other famous names, too: Howlin' Wolf, Etta James, James Brown, the Marvelettes, and Ike and Tina Turner. Instead of just sticking CD track lists in the jukebox, Vivari created hand-bound books, almost like karaoke books, that list every available song, and will sit on tables around the room. "Getting to put your own jukebox together," Vivari says with a laugh, is "the culmination of decades of being a music nerd. I'll be playing with [the music selection] for the rest of my life."

Something else to note: The jukebox is completely free. (Convenient, since the bar is cash-only.)

Showtime inherited its name from the previous occupant, Showtime Hair Design, that closed in January 2012. Vivari lives upstairs, and when he got the option to take over the space, "it was too convenient to pass up," he says. Vivari, who has worked at bars around 14th and U streets, including the Black Cat, wasn't sure if he wanted to open a bar or a record store. Instead, he opened a record-focused bar that pays tribute to D.C. The walls feature murals of famous Washington musicians and record label logos, drawn by artist Laura Harris. The bathroom is plastered with pages from old Redskins game day programs, inherited from Vivari's grandfather, a longtime season ticket holder. And if you look at the "weird, British colonial wallpaper," the large booths and the wood trim, you'll notice it's just the right shade of burgundy and gold.

Eventually, Vivari says Showtime will open at 7 or 8 a.m., serving coffee to neighborhood commuters. "There's a bus stop right outside," he points out. But for now, the bar looks like the low-key, low-priced hangout that Bloomingdale needs, and a place where music fans will want to linger.


Showtime Lounge, which was still being finished a few hours before its scheduled opening, has the look of a mid-century finished basement, and a capacity of around 40. (Fritz Hahn/The Post)

Owner Paul Vivari -- better known as DJ Soul Call Paul -- created hand-bound books listing all the CDs in the Showtime Lounge jukebox. There's a strong focus on Washington artists, such as Duke Ellington. (Fritz Hahn/The Post)

The draft beer tower is a converted 1935 water barrel. (You can see the year stamped on it.) (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Post)
Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.
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