It’s a Thursday night on H Street NE, and just past the valet’s in front of the Atlas theatre and the queue of Georgetown-esque individuals waiting to enter the Country Club, a musical twang floats from the second floor of SOVA Espresso & Wine. Upstairs, warmth: the warm wash of bluegrass standards with their four-part harmonies, brick and deep red and brown hues, upholstered antique chairs, a bar din subdued by listening. Every other week on Thursdays, the cafe hosts Bluegrass Night, alternately dubbed Banjo Insanity.
In my most recent visit to Bluegrass Night, the SOVA bartenders were enjoying the full force of their expanded bar. It was late, around 10:30, and they were out of almost all of their beers (bottles only, but of the delicious variety — Bells, Brooklyn Ale, etc.). They were humoring those seated at the bar, though, by offering to make them any cocktail they could imagine. There was an impressive spread of fruits for zesting and fancy bar implements. The bar — which became beloved for its organic and fair trade coffee — also now has a pretty long wine list.
In the next room, local band The Extension Agents were playing, though in smaller numbers than I had previously witnessed (they were missing a bassist, among others). Past events have not only drawn crowds large enough to pack the upstairs of the cafe, but have attracted any musician with a fiddle in a 5-mile radius. Errant fiddlers and banjo players will open their cases and join in the playing with little ceremony. In the past, the Banjo Insanity Collective (which is somehow different from your run of the mill Bluegrass Night in some way I can’t quite understand) has also hosted bands from outside the district. My favorite outside performer has to be The Toughcats, a group from Maine whose drummer bore a distinct resemblance to Animal from the muppet show while playing — in a good way.
It’s a funny scene — some 40 mostly white hippies packed into a magnificently renovated townhouse on H, listening to American roots music, as played by fresh-faced 20-somethings in button-downs and khakis. But enjoyable for that, and quaint. And fun. Once a few glasses of Merlot or bottles of Delirium Tremens have gone down, the dancing and the clapping, so intrinsic to a good bluegrass experience, begins. The music goes on well towards midnight with the musicians fielding requests until you feel you must either pull yourself away or curl up onto the sofas and spend the night. If this were an option, I’d clearly choose the latter.