Café Nema’s last notes

Café Nema will close its doors on Tuesday, but only after two final nights of musical send-offs. | Giovanni Russonello/CapitalBop

by Giovanni Russonello
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Café Nema, a U Street jazz hub that helped usher in today’s bustling live music scene, is closing its doors on Tuesday after 15 years in business.

Tonight (Saturday), the Jolley Brothers, joined by guitarist Pete Muldoon, will play their last show at the club. And Muldoon will give Nema its last rites tomorrow night, performing with bassist Eric Wheeler. The Jolleys and Muldoon have held down weekly gigs at Nema for years.

Muldoon told CapitalBop to expect a pair of celebratory shows with plenty of local musicians sitting in. He said this was befitting of a club that had fostered so much artistic growth in D.C.

“A lot of bars where you have live music people aren’t really listening; at Nema you always had people really listening,” Muldoon said. When the club opened, “some people called it Black ‘Cheers,’ because everybody knew each other. Nema is a really important part of modern U Street history. It’s a little spot, but there was some really genuinely powerful music happening there. So yeah, it’s too bad that it’s going.”

A note posted on the club’s website says that the club’s owners are hoping to “establish a ‘New and Improved’ Cafe Nema,” and encourage anyone interested in helping to contact them at [email protected].

Anyone who walked down the steps at 1334 U St. and into the intimate, darkly lit room that was Café Nema couldn’t help being swept up by the club’s vibrancy. The constant cast of regulars amiably mingled with twentysomethings who’d been lucky to have stumbled upon it on a given night.

The Washington Post‘s Fritz Hahn summed it up perfectly when he wrote in 2006,

The first time I walked into Cafe Nema, I knew I’d found a special place.

Located at basement level, a few steps below U Street, the dimly lit room is a riot of conversation and cluttered decoration. Brightly colored oil paintings, both abstract and figurative, crowd the battered brick walls, and a large Somali flag hangs on a section painted fire-engine red. Framed black-and-white pictures of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis are prominently featured above the worn wooden bar, whose counter and stools have been broken in by years of use.

If you valued this place’s warm North African atmosphere and great jazz, or even if you never got a chance to see it, make a point of stopping by to hear some of the final notes for Café Nema tonight or tomorrow.

Momo’s, the adjoining sports bar also owned by the Adens, will close on Tuesday as well.

The Jolley Brothers play with Pete Muldoon tonight at 10:30 p.m. Muldoon plays tomorrow with Eric Wheeler at 8 p.m. No cover, 1-drink minimum.



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