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Soaking In the Artmosphere

Patrons Stacy Johnson, left, Donnell Baldwin and others find music, coffee and more at Mount Rainier's Artmosphere cafe.
Patrons Stacy Johnson, left, Donnell Baldwin and others find music, coffee and more at Mount Rainier's Artmosphere cafe. (Photos By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)

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By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, October 26, 2007

If you're not familiar with Mount Rainier, along Rhode Island Avenue on the Maryland side of Eastern Avenue, you may want to get to know the place better, thanks to cool spots such as the funky little Artmosphere Community Digital Cafe, which has built a following for its weekly jazz and neo-soul concerts, espresso drinks and free WiFi.

The cafe is an outgrowth of the Gateway Arts Project, which is creating an arts-friendly zone in the area. Joe's Movement Emporium hosts concerts and multicultural dance performances. At the Washington Glass School, artists such as Tim Tate and Michael Janis create sculptures from glass, steel and recycled materials. H&F Fine Art gallery features exhibitions by local and regional artists. The crowning achievement (so far) might be the gleaming new building called the Mount Ranier Artist Lofts, which provides subsidized living and studio space for working artists.

Housed on the first floor of the Lofts, Artmosphere makes use of its neighbors' talents. Vibrant paintings hang on the walls, and original artwork and collages cover several of the larger tables. Overstuffed sofas invite you to sink in and let your eyes wander.

Owners Dyrell Madison and Andaiye Scott-Madison played in the funky go-go band Devine Nature (she sang, he was on drums), but the husband-and-wife team have much more than that in common: Both are painters, and both worked in the coffee industry (he as a consultant for Baltimore Coffee & Tea, she as a barista at a Seattle's Best shop). Residents of the Arts Lofts, they envisioned Artmosphere as a community gathering spot for artists, who'd drop in for a veggie wrap, a cup of fair-trade coffee or a glass of wine and talk about their work.

Over time, it has become Mount Rainier's cultural community center. One end of the room becomes a makeshift stage on Friday and Saturday evenings, when the entertainment could include soulful songstresses Afi or Tamara Wellons, conscious rapper Bomani Armah (of "Read a Book" fame) or maybe jazz vocalist Ayana Gregory. Weeknights could feature African drumming or local quartets. (Check the board by the front door for the latest schedule.) The cafe is about more than music, too: Andaiye hosts dance sessions and story time for children on Sundays, and poets read every Wednesday.

Service can be hit or miss; one night I sat at the bar for a good 10 minutes without being acknowledged. Other, better visits found the baristas offering tastes of the house's ginger lemonade. The music, too, fluctuates: I showed up to see local jazz group the Young Lions one night -- after checking the Web site schedule and calling to confirm -- only to discover they weren't playing, and some concerts that were supposed to go until 10:30 wrapped up about 10.

This is not a singles-heavy crowd or a place to drop by after going somewhere else. Events rarely go past 10:30, even on weekends. And although the cafe has a small selection of wine and organic beer, even happy hour finds more people with herbal tea or fruit drinks than alcoholic beverages. I've been on Saturday nights when I saw one person sipping a beer while everyone else was enjoying coffee. But that's okay. Artmosphere is about the cultural experience, of which the bar scene is just a small part.

Artmosphere Digital Cafe 3311 Rhode Island Ave., Mount Rainier; 301-927-2233 Vibe: Works by local artists fill the eclectic coffee shop and bar, which grooves to live jazz and neo-soul performances on weekends. Artmosphere Digital Cafe 3311 Rhode Island Ave., Mount Rainier; 301-927-2233 Vibe: Works by local artists fill the eclectic coffee shop and bar, which grooves to live jazz and neo-soul performances on weekends.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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