This story has been updated to reflect that the permanent Anacostia location is not opening June 15. That is the date they will begin offering food out of sister restaurant DCity Smokehouse in Truxton Circle.
For decades, go-go culture has boosted a variety of small black-owned businesses. Income generated from shows has supported musicians, sound engineers, club and concert promoters, and venue owners. Then there are the photographers who take and sell photos at the shows, the artist who paints the elaborate backdrops for these portraits, and the entrepreneurs who once sold live PA tapes, now CDs and downloads, and those selling go-go apparel and accessories.
Go-go’s stars are wildly popular locally, but none have traded on their celebrity to venture into the local restaurant business. That’s about to change with Rare Essence vocalist Charles “Shorty Corleone” Garris’ new restaurant, DCity Wings & Shorty’s, slated to open at 1301 Good Hope Road SE in Anacostia.
While the team finishes up work on the space, Washingtonians can get their first taste of DCity Wings & Shorty’s at sister restaurant DCity Smokehouse in Truxton Circle starting June 15. Shorty is part-owner of the venture, partnering with Melvin Hines of DCity Smokehouse and Wicked Bloom Social Club, and a silent partner.
Shorty’s new endeavor is the culmination of a long-held ambition. “It’s been a lifelong dream for me to be in the hospitality restaurant business,” he says, recalling the family barbecues he cherished as a child. “It was all hands on deck. My grandfather is from North Carolina and had a whole garden in the backyard—corn, collard greens, turnips. He even had a peach tree. When he would barbecue, he’d bring a whole hog in the backyard, and four or five people would help carry that hog from the truck on Yuma Street into the backyard.”
Shorty grew up in Southeast D.C.’s Washington Highlands neighborhood, “up on top of the hill,” on Yuma Street SE, just one block over from Rare Essence headquarters on Xenia Street SE. He was still in elementary school when he used to cut through the alley that led him to the back of Xenia Street SE. He’d park himself along the back fence and to listen to the go-go band’s rehearsals, entranced but unaware of Rare Essence’s tremendous popularity.
“I’d be learning on that fence, until Miss Mack would come out and say, ‘Get from ’round here, before I call your grandfather,’” he says. Annie Mack Thomas was the Rare Essence matriarch, serving as the band’s early manager and mother of band members James “Funk” Thomas and Quentin “Footz” Davidson.
A remarkably gifted vocalist even as a young teen, Shorty was signed to Warner Brothers Records as a solo artist when he was 14. He later moved to Brooklyn, New York for a while, living with his manager while trying to establish himself as a national star. But ultimately, his experience with several New York labels proved to be isolating, frustrating, and deeply disappointing: “You get signed and you get your bonus, but then something happens and the record you’ve been working on doesn’t get released,” he says.
Returning home to D.C. was humbling. At age 22 he says he felt like he was starting from scratch. But in 1994, with some help from the man he now calls his “musical mentor,” keyboard player Mark “Godfather” Lawson, Shorty joined Rare Essence. Before long, he was singing the main vocals for the band’s thumping cover of the Bar-Kays’ funk classic “Holy Ghost.” He also co-wrote some of the band’s party classics, including “Overnight Scenario” and “Body Snatchers,” both regional hits.
“I realized, what did I need to leave home for? I could make it in my own city,” he says. Now he steps away occasionally for film and TV work in Los Angeles. Last year, he served as music supervisor for two BET film comedies, Angrily Ever After and Twas the Chaos Before Christmas. But Rare Essence will always be home: “I’m RE for life,” he says, adopting a slogan often used by the band’s fans.
Shorty’s restaurant dream moved closer to reality in 2017, when he met Hines, owner of Southeast Restaurant Group, whose properties include DCity Smokehouse, Wicked Bloom, and a catering company. Hines, who grew up in Capitol Heights, describes himself as a “super huge fan of Rare Essence.” When Shorty approached the group about a reality cooking series for his nonprofit children’s performing ensemble, Capital Kidds, Hines recognized him immediately.
They got to talking, and after collaborating on a few events, they floated the idea of a restaurant. “This opportunity came up in Southeast to expand the DCity brand, and the DCity Wings & Shorty’s concept was a natural,” says Hines, who was thrilled at the chance to work with Shorty. “Just the energy that he brings in terms of trying to bring something fresh, he is bringing something to this community that’s just a little different from what we ordinarily get at the end of the day.”
Discussions are still underway as to whether the spot will feature live music, a DJ, and dance floor, but the menu is already set. Along with its Smoking Crispy Chicken Wings, which Shorty says are seasoned to make the chicken pop, the restaurant will offer “shortys”—beef and pork short ribs.
The Q-Dog Half Smoke, with brisket, barbecue sauce, sauerkraut, coleslaw, mustard, and ketchup, honors the memory of Shorty’s younger brother Quincy, who died in a car accident 14 years ago.
Side dishes are named after various go-go luminaries. Lil Benny’s Baked Beans, for example, are a nod to gatherings at Anthony “Lil Benny”Harley’s Suitland house after Rare Essence’s Sunday night shows at The Classics. “The first time I ever had baked beans with pineapples was with Little Benny,” Shorty says. “People don’t know that Benny loved to bake. He would be cooking at three-something in the morning, and baked beans with pineapples was his signature dish.”
Grandma’s Yuma Street Collard Greens pay tribute to Shorty’s grandmother, Mary Shackleford, who tended the greens in their backyard garden before cooking them to perfection. “She prepared them with love and turkey necks,” Shorty says. “You would shake your head after every bite.”
The idea behind Sugar Bear’s Brisket Chili, dedicated to Experience Unlimited’sGregory “Sugar Bear” Elliot, is more prosaic: “Sugar Bear loves burgers and chili,” Shorty says.
Some go-go stars will be lending a hand by appearing on a new single, “DCity Wings & Shorty’s,” extending the catchy jingle Shorty describes as “an infectious sing-along that’s go-go influenced, but with a hip-hop undertone.” The single will be produced by multi-platinum producer Mark Henry, best known for his work on Wale’s“Clappers” with Nicki Minaj and Juicy J.
“Being from D.C., I’m naturally a go-go fan, so it was fun to be able to blend hip-hop and go-go again,” Henry says. “Because I don’t get to do that too often.” Even better, he adds, “I was able to sample the wings, and they gave me carryout vibes.”
Hines recently bought a house not far from the new restaurant, and he’s hoping to bring positive change to his new neighborhood through good food and hospitality. “If we are part of the community, the residents will come and support us,” he says.
Go-go culture’s sense of community has always been just as strong as its entrepreneurial instincts, and Shorty is counting on that to make DCity Wings & Shorty’s a success.
“I think it brings a sense of excitement for the community that they see something like this from a homegrown talent, someone out of Ward 8 who is one of theirs,” Shorty says. “This is something that we can call ours.”