At Adams Morgan’s new Songbyrd Record Cafe, you can not only shop for records and grab a sandwich, but also go into a recording booth with a guitar and create your own vinyl track on a 1947 Voice-O-Graph for a mere $15.
“In the ’40s and ’50s, we didn’t have answering machines. So primarily this was used to leave messages for your loved ones,” co-owner Alisha Edmonson says of the Voice-O-Graph. The machine, restored by a Bethesda collector, records up to three minutes and ten seconds. “You can talk into it, sing into it, do whatever you want, and it records directly onto a 45 [rpm record] on the spot. It plays it back for you and then spits it out for you to take home that very minute.”
Edmonson, who previously worked at Right Proper, H Street Country Club, and L’Enfant Cafe, and co-owner/avid music lover Joe Lapan say they opened Songbyrd as destination for discovering, consuming, and creating music. The cafe has a collection of 350 vinyl records, with an emphasis on soul, funk, R&B, hip-hop, and indie. Guests can explore the records at listening stations before they make purchases.
Coincidentally, the cafe’s location has a storied musical past. The space used to be home to Showboat Lounge, where D.C. musician Charlie Byrd, who was known for blending jazz and bossa nova in the early 1960s, and jazz saxophonist Stanley Getz reportedly “dreamt up with the idea for their career-making album,” Jazz Samba, according to a press release. Songbyrd is named for Byrd.
“We were interested in the location and then we loved it when we found out about the history,” Edmonson says.
Rest assured, this cafe serves food and (fair-trade, organic) coffee, too. Chef Matthew Richardson, formerly of 1905, the Argonaut, and Gadsby’s Tavern, is primarily serving up simple-but-gourmet sandwiches on the limited menu. Edmonson says her favorite is the baked chicken schnitzel sandwich with red cabbage, brie, bacon kraut, and raspberry sauce. Lapan is partial to a veggie muffaletta. Songbyrd also offers a “mumbo slice” and a “jumbo slice,” which are actually a far cry from the Adams Morgan late-night staple. Rather, the slices are open-faced sandwiches served on focaccia. The mumbo slice comes with mumbo sauce, hot mustard, and eight-hour braised pulled pork, grilled pineapple, grilled red onions, and basil.
“It will still make you just as full as a jumbo slice,” Edmonson says.
Songbyrd is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. until midnight Friday and Saturday with the same menu available all day.
The cafe doesn’t serve alcohol, but Edmonson and Lapan also have plans for a “music house” in the adjacent space. The duo isn’t sharing details about that project quite yet, but expect it to open later this year.
Songbyrd, 2477 18th St. NW. songbyrddc.com
Photo courtesy Songbyrd