IF YOU WERE looking for a new couch on which to lounge and sip martinis, 2002 was your year. Lots of new spots opened in Washington this year for you to while away your time doing nothing but drinking and talking, and though that's not a bad thing, one of my main joys in life -- seeing live music -- suffered some heavy blows over the past 12 months.
This year we said goodbye to the Metro Cafe and the State of the Union, two clubs that brought nearly every kind of music to their stages -- rock, hip-hop, reggae, ska, funk, soul, electronica. They also both gave strong support to local acts, so they'll be missed terribly, despite their sometimes sketchy sound systems. (Owners of Metro Cafe say they're looking at properties for a possible 2003 reopening, but no word so far, and Dream owner Marc Barnes took over State and still maintains he's renovating it, though there are no outward signs of that yet.) The continued sturdiness of the 9:30 club, the Black Cat, the Birchmere, the Barns of Wolf Trap and IOTA as first-class live music venues gives hope to those distressed by the rising tide of dance clubs.
Other disappearing acts include the Kaffa House, which closed and reopened, then closed again, leaving reggae, punk, ska and hip-hop without a cozy little breeding ground. It was just another dim light on U Street, where Republic Gardens remains closed, Bohemian Caverns hasn't lived up to its potential (and is rumored to be for sale), and generally things seem to be missing the vitality of two years ago, when "The New U" was in full swing. Out in Gaithersburg, the Corner Kick, which was a haven for young area ska bands, closed, weakening a scene that loses a bit more steam every year.
Speaking of losing steam, the end of country line-dancing in the area seems near, now that Spurs down in Waldorf shut down recently and reopened as the top-40 dance hall Mixers Nightclub. Maybe Nick's in Alexandria and the gay and lesbian Remington's on Capitol Hill will have to carry the boot-scootin' torch by themselves for a while.
The biggest dance night in the city, Buzz (at Nation) closed down after years as one of the most important electronica and DJ nights in the country. The closing was preemptive, after organizers got wind of impending police raids said to be targeting the club in search of illegal drugs. Word of some kind of resurfacing of Buzz keeps circulating, but no details yet on that, so you have to drive to Baltimore for Sting (run by the Buzz folks) to see some of the big-name turntablists that were once a regular feature on Friday nights. You can catch some of those big names at the much smaller Five, but there's not much room to dance.
The enterprising folks who run Eighteenth Street Lounge, Dragonfly and Red opened the beautiful and bustling lounge/bar/restaurant Local 16 (one of the few new bright spots on U Street), as well as Mondo Sushi, a sister joint to Dragonfly in Pentagon Row. Tucked in among the retail shops there, Mondo Sushi is trying to bring some measure of hipness to that Northern Virginia shopping mall, where its newly opened competition is the cookie-cutter Irish bar Sine and the Champps Americana sports bar.
Coppi's in Cleveland Park gave way to the Bricks Tavern sports bar and Caddie's opened in Bethesda with lots of TVs tuned in to sports, but the hipster sports-themed spot, the Rock, closed down, showing that proximity to MCI Center is no guarantee of success. The grandfather of area sports bars, Champions in Georgetown, said so long, and was transformed into the 1206 Lounge and Bar. Another Georgetown institution, Chelsea's, was reborn (under different ownership) in Rosslyn this year, offering live salsa on weekends. Another Latin club, Wheaton's El Boqueron, gave birth to El Boqueron II in Rockville, bringing in name acts from south of the border on a regular basis. Ortanique opened where BET on Jazz used to be and immediately became a favorite of mine, with its excellent food and live Latin music on weekends.
The world of red velvet ropes expanded significantly this year with the addition of the VIP Club, which appeared in the space where the decrepit DC Live once was, decked out in Dream-like decor. Down the block from VIP, Home finally opened, next to Platinum, a spot that once housed Babylon, the Casbah, Volt and the Vault. Fifth time's a charm?
In Georgetown, the Harbour Club joined Cafe Sole as a late-night destination for the well-dressed, and near the busy 18th and Connecticut intersection, the almost-swank Acropolis opened to dim reviews, and chic Toka (taking its name from its owners' hair salon and spa) opened with a sleek interior and nice food and drink offerings, but people seem to be having a hard time finding its below-ground location because it's rarely as packed as I thought it would become.
A couple of blocks away MCCXXIIII added a third-floor lounge inspired by Miami's B.E.D. called Spank. Not nearly as naughty as its name, it's decorated with chandeliers and, yes, beds, though they're really just long couches. Spank is transforming itself into a private club, something Washington isn't good at supporting, but the money demographic here is changing so maybe it will survive a members-only bid. Above the always-interesting Zanzibar on the Waterfront appeared another private lounge, SkyClub, which has become a celebrity magnet.
In Adams Morgan, the Reef joined Ortanique in offering tanks of live fish to keep patrons entertained, and both its rooftop bar and its ground-level lounge were welcome additions to the neighborhood. Down the street the Pearl turned into Soussi, Tom Tom reopened to huge crowds, and Whisper opened where the downstairs Showboat bar used to be. Down 18th street a bit, the Felix folks opened the Grille 88 piano bar where 1910 used to be, and the piano bar Staccato fended off threats of closure by adding much soundproofing and continues to offer a nice mix of live music.
Hotel bars finally became significant players on the city's nightscape, though not to the degree they are in, say, London or New York. But big props to San Francisco's Kimpton Group (the company that brought us Rouge and Topaz last year) for adding Firefly, Helix and Poste to the list of nice places to hang. Le Bar in the new Sofitel Hotel, the Washington Plaza's International Lounge and the bar in the Washington Terrace Hotel's 15 ria restaurant are all excellent new choices for meeting up with pals for a cocktail.
Other notable happenings this year include Chuck Brown getting some more recognition in the form of both a DVD release, "Put Your Hands Up: The Tribute Concert to Chuck Brown" (recorded live last year at the 9:30 club), and the release of the go-go documentary "The Pocket"; the arrival of the D.C. Sessions free summertime concert series; Franklin's opening in Hyattsville, becoming Prince George's County's first brew pub; Teddy's House of Comedy taking over the space that was once the Smokeless blues club; Badlands becoming Apex and remaining one of the most popular gay clubs in town; the closing of Yesterday & Today Records in Rockville; Revolution Coffee Lounge in Herndon saying goodbye; Polly Esther's (downtown) opening the Up lounge and dance club; the Abyss dance club opening and closing in S.E. and the closing of Glen Echo Park's Spanish Ballroom for renovations.
R.I.P. to Piedmont blues guitarist John Jackson and music store mogul Chuck Levin. Bon voyage to two musical couples: Pete and Maura Kennedy, who now make New York their home; and Al Petteway and Amy White, who moved to North Carolina in 2002.