Living in Washington isn’t cheap. You find the proof in the cost of a pint of beer or in the big bill waiting after a dinner of small plates. That’s why I’m thrilled that two new nightspots are offering marquee-quality DJs in cool settings with no cover charge in sight.
Den of Thieves
2005 14th St. NW. 202-747-2377.
Over the past two-and-a-half years, the building next to Marvin has had multiple personalities. It opened as Blackbyrd Warehouse, an oyster bar with late-night movies and DJs, before becoming the Vietnamese restaurant Hanoi House, which offered a late-night karaoke bar. That eventually morphed into a Toki Underground pop-up restaurant and then a password-only lounge.
Something about the space never quite jelled for me — or owner Eric Hilton, who’s best known as one half of Washington’s famous DJ duo Thievery Corporation. “I got talked into doing the restaurant thing a few times, but I always thought, ‘I like this place as a bar,’ ” Hilton said last month. He kept asking himself, “Why don’t we put in a permanent DJ booth and let it be a bar?”
He finally got his wish: It’s now an intimate lounge called Den of Thieves that keeps Hanoi House’s dark, sexy vibe but adds top-drawer DJ talent, starting with Hilton himself. Since Jan. 18, he and select friends have been spinning on Saturday night, and Hilton plans to stay there “until further notice.” His sets are eclectic, drawing on vintage reggae, funk and Brazilian, arranged with a musician’s ear. A line forms outside when Hilton’s on the decks — his band can sell out 9:30 Club at the drop of a beat — but it’s not the only night worth visiting.
On Fridays, DJ Jahsonic hosts Behind the Line, where the mix of ’70s funk and ’80s R&B and hip-hop turns the room into a house party. (Skip the line with a password, which you can get via Twitter, @BehindTheLineDC.) Thursday rocks a little harder — it’s curated by John Thornley, the singer for local indie group U.S. Royalty — and Sunday is an LGBT party called Beat, with a stellar lineup of Natty Boom, Keenan Orr and Jazmine joining Jahsonic on the decks.
There’s not much of a dance floor, so the atmosphere is focused on listening to great tunes and sipping drinks while talking to friends and doing some serious people-watching. The cocktail list is reasonably priced: Everything costs $8, from the classic Negroni and daiquiri to the honey-touched whiskey highball called the Den of Thieves. Beers from Lagunitas and Bell’s are $6; house wines are $8.
On the right night, you’ll just post up at the bar, drink in hand, and wonder why anyone on 14th Street is waiting in line to get into Marvin.
The lodge at redrocks
If you walk by the H Street RedRocks on a Saturday night, it looks like a classy pizza restaurant: high ceilings, exposed brick, couples noshing on pies topped with prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella. But if you climb the stairs, you’ll find a startlingly large dance floor with its own bar. Head up another flight of steps and you’re faced with a mezzanine looking down onto the dance floor, a spacious bar and a sizeable rooftop deck. “You watch people, and it’s like they’re discovering new secret space for the first time,” says Shaun Starkey, who’s responsible for organizing Friday and Saturday nights, and DJing a fair few himself.
There’s plenty to like: an airy space to get down; great sound; a solid list of beers and wines starting at $6; and groups of couches if you want to take a breather. This would be just another recommended weeknight destination on H Street’s crowded strip if Sharkey wasn’t booking special guests like acclaimed hip-hop MC Talib Kweli, New York mixtape legend Tony Touch and, this Saturday, Afrobeat and hip-hop party-rocker Rich Medina.
Sharkey got his start as a hip-hop producer in the late ’90s; he worked with Eminem and Rick Ross before releasing his 2004 debut “Sharkey’s Machine,” which included guest spots from Jean Grae, Grand Puba and Cannibal Ox. Sharkey says he’s built “personal relationships” with a lot of artists and DJs, which enables him to ask them to come to RedRocks without having to go through booking agents.
Then again, Sharkey isn’t just bringing in out-of-towners. He’s leaning on veteran groove suppliers Stereofaith and Tom Lim, among others. Two weeks ago, he coaxed Liv’s long-running “jheri-curl funk and champagne soul” retro event, Axel F, over to H Street, with returns possible.
RedRocks’s dance floor is only full on Friday and Saturday, with Sharkey considering an expansion to Thursday nights. “H Street is hard to do on weeknights,” he says. After previously booking events for Little Miss Whiskey’s, Tropicalia and Sticky Rice, he may lean on his rolodex to fill other nights on the calendar.
Next up: Rich Medina, Jahsonic and Sharkey perform Saturday. Doors open at 8 p.m.