Monday, January 11, 2010

Music Monday: Utopia? That's Setting The Bar Pretty High...

Greetings DB readers and Happy New Year! The first month of the year can be the hardest; The holiday season is behind us, the biting cold has decided to stay, and musician's are all taking time off - so there are only a few shows to see.

Now that I've bummed you out, let me bring a ray of musical hope: DC has tons of amazing places to get warm and hear weekly performances. Many bars and coffee houses have great house bands who cannot be deterred by bad weather and the doldrums of the first quarter of the year. "I have not found them!" you say? "Where, oh where can these band be found?" you ask? You didn't think I'd keep you out in the cold, didja?

U-topia Bar and Grill (Link)

Utopia is located right in the heart of the U St. neighborhood's jazz corridor and is a welcoming cavern of music, drinks, and art. The medium sized two room establishment serves up date-worthy ambiance; red brick walls, dark woods, high ceilings, and candle light create nice ambiance. Drinks are reasonably priced and the beer selection will keep all but the Brickskeller crowd happy.

The crowd on the night of my visit was in their young 30's and was interested in music - the room where the band plays was full, but the other room (where conversation can more readily happen, but the band is a bit further away) was mostly empty.

As for the music - the important part of this review - Wayne Wilentz, who plays every Sunday and Thursday, was really great. Those who have read my last post know that I am a fan of "understandable jazz", or jazz that is accessible to those who need to tap or hum along to make sense of what they are hearing. I'm happy to report that Wayne's style is understandable while still complex (I know that sounded like an ad for whiskey, but I mean it) and is fun to listen to. He played a few songs that I have heard before as well as some that were new to me. I'd love to go back and check out his Brazilian Jazz Trio there on Thursdays.

I would absolutely recommend Sunday evening (in particular) at U-topia as a nice stop on a date or as a place to meet up with friends for a drink. I had no problem getting a seat or talking to my date and we enjoyed the experience immensely. We'll be going back.

A few insider tips:
1. Mondays are "industry night" and the bar gets a bit more clubby. Not recommended for those looking for a quiet evening.
2. Sundays and Tuesdays are the quietest for conversation. I have not yet been on a Tuesday, but I'll be going to hear Bill Heid (who plays every week) in the not-so-distant future.
3. They have a couch area in the back that is open on Fridays and Saturdays or by request during the week. Ask for this area to be away from the music (though it is audible anywhere in the bar), particularly if you are with a group of four or more.

Have you been there? Feel free to leave a comment below with your two-cents.

I'll be checking out more places with house bands soon. In the meantime, stay warm!

Here's a video of Wayne you might want to check out:

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