Bohemian Caverns || This club has hosted greats such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Ramsey Lewis — who even recorded a couple albums there in the 1960s. But the spot closed at the end of that decade, remaining shuttered until Amir Afshar reopened it a decade ago. Thank goodness he did. Afshar reinvigorated the historic club before himself selling it to the three current owners, who have maintained its status as a jazz haven. The subterranean club retains the decor that made its original incarnation famous: craggy, mud-hued walls truly look like the inside of a cave. But far from a gimmick, the Caverns deliver the aural goods. A stellar, in-house big band (the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra) performs every Monday, and some of D.C.’s top acts play on weekends. The genres of music vary here, so if you can’t stand R&B or neo-soul, check the CapitalBop calendar to be sure there’s jazz on the night you want to go. Basic info || Cover varies, 1-drink minimum | Food $$, Drinks $$ | Jazz Mon., Fri.-Sat., some Tues. and Thurs.
Contax || 2001 11th St. NW | 202-299-0800 | Official site | Official listings
Twins Jazz || Walk past 1344 U St., and the first thing you’ll hear is the swinging clatter of the drums, or maybe the squall of a trumpet. Turn into the doorway, start up the flight of stairs and you’ll begin to hear the stabbing chords of an accompanying piano. By the time you’re at the club level, with the bar on your left and bandstand to the right, you’ll find yourself strutting to the bassist’s rhythm. Every night of the week but Monday, Twins Jazz offers up exciting acts, usually tilting toward younger musicians on both the national and local scenes but often showcasing D.C.’s jazz elders on the weekends. The club is named for the twin sisters who first opened the place as Twins Lounge in Takoma Park in the 1980s; one of them, Kelly Tesfaye, still keeps a watchful eye on the club every night.
Info || Cover varies ($5-$25), $10 minimum | Food $$, Drinks $$ | Jazz Mon.-Sat., some Sun.
Contax || 1344 U St. NW | 202-234-0072 | Official site, with listings
Note: Utopia is closed for a 13-month renovation process, but will return soon.
Utopia stands out as one of D.C.’s most aurally and aesthetically satisfying environments. The brick walls are adorned with owner Jamal Sahri’s paintings, colorful explorations that refer boldly to expressionism and Afrocentrism. But make no mistake: The music’s central here. The howl of whatever top-notch bop or Latin jazz is playing on a given night will reach all corners of this restaurant’s deep main room. And it’s a good thing, because the bar is typically packed — and those who arrive too late on a Friday or a Saturday may lose out on snagging a table.
Info || No cover, 1-drink minimum | Food $$, Drinks $$ | Club is on hiatus
Contax || 1418 U St. NW | 202-483-7669 | Official site | Official listings
This charming restaurant and club situated down U Street between 15th and 16th leaves little to be desired — except maybe more jazz. Currently, the only straight-ahead jazz scheduled at JoJo falls on Tuesday nights. (The house band features the swinging saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed and the slicing electric guitar man John Lee, two very different but, at times, fascinatingly complementary voices.) The space is sleek and hospitable, its walls dotted with old black-and-white photos of jazz players. Now how about adding more jazz programming?
Basic info || No cover, 1-drink minimum | Food $$, Drinks $$ | Jazz every Tuesday
Contax || 1518 U St. NW | 202-319-9350 | Official site | Official listings
Often celebrated as one of D.C.’s best Ethiopian restaurants, Dukem recently added live jazz to its offerings. Every Thursday, the eatery welcomes a different local jazz band to its stage for a two-set performance beginning at 9 p.m. Curated by area enthusiast Jeff Stacey, the Dukem Jazz series offers a surprisingly robust lineup of talent. There’s no cover at Dukem, and it often turns into a dynamic musicians’ hang. For an affordable, low-key glimpse into the D.C. jazz world, this is one of your best bets.
Basic info || No cover, 1-drink minimum | Food $$, Drinks $$ | Jazz every Thursday
Contax || 1114-1118 U St. NW | 202-667-8735 | Official site | Official listings