Henry Yaffe, founder of "Mr. Henry's" eatery below, built the room upstairs for an aspiring singer named Roberta Flack. "I got the oak paneling from the old Dodge Hotel near Union Station," he recalls. "I put in heavy leather- upholstered chairs, sort of a conservative style from the '50s, and an accoustical system designed especially for Roberta. She was very demanding; she was a perfectionist."
That was 15 years ago. Yaffe long since sold his restaurant/nightclub on Capitol Hill; Roberta Flack, of course, is now a star. But the room upstairs -- which has shut down and reopened several times, touting everything from folk to rock'n'roll -- is once again a good place to hear a belted torch song.
In the current incarnation, it's called Dot's Spot -- after Dorothy ("Dot") Palmerton, a one-time food-service manager who settled into the perch two years ago to supply inexpensive meals nightly and a show Thursday through Saturday. In the same block as Gallagher's -- one of few other Capitol Hill spots with regular live entertainment ("open mike" on Wednesdays and a professional on Fridays) -- it's still above Mr. Henry's at Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, and, Yaffe allows, looks much the same as always.
The other night, a singer named Beverly Cosham, her gold lame jacket sparkling in the spotlight, held the tiny stage up front; a chap in tuxedo played the mirror-paneled upright, and a young woman in jeans sat behind the drums. The crowd, ensconced cozily at three rows of tables, hung on every note.
As Cosham sang a selection of standards and show tunes, her voice on the button and miked just right, the patrons belied the club's sedate backdrop. They applauded her numbers warmly, gave the occasional standing ovation -- especially for a rendition of "Over the Rainbow" -- and bantered with her between numbers.
"Do you have little bugs or something floating around out there?" Cosham asked at one point, brushing a hand across her eyes. "Or is it only falling on stage?"
"Fruit flies," came a shout from the back, and the room rippled with laughter.
Dot's Spot, it happens, is largely, though not exclusively, gay. The atmosphere, however, is laissez faire, and everyone gets welcomed with equal enthusiasm. "It's a mixed crowd," says Dot Palmerton, a striking woman with cropped white hair. "Just a very nice class of people."
The prices, meanwhile, are hard to beat: $15 buys dinner for two -- salad, pot roast, chicken, spaghetti, a choice of vegetables all prepared by Dot herself, who also bakes the sourdough bread -- and lets you stay for the two-set show. The sets begin about nine and 11. If you don't have dinner, there's a $3 cover and a (seldom-invoked) three-drink minimum. Drinks run from $1.50 for beer to $3 for Courvoisier. The service is attentive.
To hear Dot tell it, though, the music's the thing. "I'm finally getting the quality of entertainment I've been hoping and waiting for," she announced to the crowd after Cosham finished her act. "And I hope Bev here will make this her home base."
Cosham, in fact, does plan to be back.
"I like a place where I can see the audience," she says. "There's so much electricity there." DOT'S SPOT -- At 601 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, upstairs from Mr. Henry's. Suede, a group from Baltimore, plays regularly on Thursday nights. This Friday and Saturday, the featured performer is Pam Bricker, singing and playing guitar. Beverly Cosham returns Friday and Saturday, October 15,16. Call 546-8787.