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Sometime in July, Shaw/U Street will welcome another soul food restaurant to an area already crowded with southern comforts. The 3,000-foot space formerly occupied by Bohemian Caverns, the restored jazz club/restaurant that gambled in 2000 that U Street would become the next Adams Morgan, will become Mahogany.
But before you get your trumpet in a twist, the new proprietors at the historic address, where the likes of John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington once let the notes fly, have no intentions of ditching jazz. “Not at all,” says Boston native Omrao Brown, one of three partners who recently bought the place from Amir Afshar, the man who put the Bohemian Caverns back on the map after nearly 30 years of silence. “I grew up with the music, and love it.”
The partners, however, have dragged the subterranean nightclub with the cavern motif out of the Stone Age—sort of. They’ve left the stalactites but have replaced the old tree stump seats with “much more comfortable seating,” Brown says. They’ve also added a lounge area to the club, which just recently reopened after the renovations. The biggest alternation, however, comes at the expense of the smooth jazz and R&B artists who have dominated the music calendar. The owners have shown them the door and have brought back the old-school, straight-ahead jazz that made the Bohemian Caverns famous. Brown says to expect local and regional acts at the club, which (breathe easy) will keep its original name. “We may bring national acts in every once in a while,” Brown adds.
Bigger changes are planned for the renamed restaurant that sits atop the club. Mahogany, which will open in July following some “cosmetic” renovations to the dining and bar area, has hired chef Jarobi Murray (formerly of Zanzibar, Georgia Brown’s, and J. Paul’s) to install a soul-food menu to replace the American/Middle Eastern fare of the old place. Murray’s dishes will have to compete with several other southern-minded operations in the area, from newcomers Crème and A Taste of Carolina to local favorites Oohhs & Aahhs and the Florida Avenue Grill. “We’re going to cater to a younger crowd,” says Brown, whose spacious restaurant also hopes to skim some of the cream from Crème’s almost daily wait list.