The nearly 104 year-old Howard Theatre in Shaw has suddenly found itself in a part of town with trendy bars on every corner and young residents with enough disposable incomes to fill them.
The historic theater, which reopened as mainly a music venue in 2012 after a $29 million renovation and 32-year hiatus, is now looking to get in on the boozy nightlife action: The theater is aiming to open an onsite beer garden this summer.
One of the city-owned theater’s trustees, Roy “Chip” Ellis,says the team will apply for a new liquor license this week to expand its alcohol offerings outside to the space behind the theater. Ellis says the theater’s in-house chef will likely create a barbecue menu to accompany the beer.
Ellis says the beer garden will offer local beers, with a focus on beers actually brewed in the neighborhood. Right Proper Brewing Company is right next door on the 600 block of T street NW, and Ellis says he hopes to collaborate with them. (Right Proper does not have any outdoor seating.)
Historically, the Howard Theatre was a hub for black musicians in D.C, both those from the city and on tour; Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder, and The Supremes have all performed there. The demographics of the theater’s surrounding neighborhood have become more diverse in recent years, and Ellis says he wants the new beer garden to cater to everyone.
“We are just hoping that it is something that the community and Shaw community will take in,” he says. “Everybody’s welcome; we think it is a different way for the residents to come together.” The beer garden is loosely slated to be open this June and will likely stay open until 11 p.m.
The blog Short Articles About Long Meetings first reported today that Ellis presented his plans for the theater at a recent Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B/U Street meeting. Ellis says he hopes to use the Ellington Plaza—named for Duke Ellington—in front of the theater for weekly or monthly events beginning in July. He’d like to close off T Street NW in front of the theater on weekends for a market in which local Shaw vendors and artists show off their stuff. (Alcohol will not be served in the front of the building.)
“We hope to bring in some great artists from all over the neighborhood, and really bring a visual art component,” Ellis says. “We pride ourselves on being this landmark place.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery