Hidden in plain sight on bustling U street in Washington, DC, the restaurant on the ground floor of Marvin offers a step away from the club scene into a warm space reminiscent of another era.
Dedicated to the memory of Marvin Gaye, Marvin embodies a simple yet classy feel. Attention to details like a distinctive cocktail list and warm lighting facilitates a sense of being effortlessly enveloped. The wood-paneled walls and globe lights evoke a strong tie to the past, with musical memorabilia lining the walls from greats of the 20s and 30s like Nina Simone. But while these tributes could feel dated or anachronistic, here they coalesce with the menu and music into a rich sense of continuity with tradition.
The menu at Marvin held true to their theme of a perfect blend of old and new—traditional classics presented in fresh ways. The crispy brussels sprouts were paired with a pleasant contrast of crème fraîche and the sweet nuttiness of pumpkin seeds. An unexpected Asian twist on the mussels resulted in a beautiful coconut-curry broth, which was perfect for dipping the grilled bread. The chicken fried oysters, a signature item, were wonderful on their own, but rose to a new level when paired with remoulade and pickled celery. And "The Pope" (a custom cocktail designed by one of Marvin's star bartenders for Dante Pope) was refreshing—just the right balance of spiciness from jalapeño syrup toned down by the coolness of lime, cucumber-infused Tanqueray, and thyme.
Dante Pope at Marvin // Photo: Rose Gebken
The show of the evening was hosted by Dante Pope, a multi-genre drummer, and vocalist who has traveled the world performing and teaching classes on American music. He introduced the evening as a musical celebration of his recent union with his wife, Blaine. The couple met through their involvement in music (he in performance and her in production) and have been together over five years. Blaine Pope, in her soft-spoken voice, described what it was like to support her partner and what it meant to watch his growth as a musician. What was clear—both in the quiet strength of her presence and the theme of songs to her throughout the night—was that her husband did not make this journey alone.
Dante Pope and friends at Marvin // Photo: Rose Gebken
Pope was joined by an ensemble of artists who are each established in their own right. Stanley Banks, Jr. sustained a powerful, sensitive rhythm on the drums throughout three full sets. Down from New York, Zachary Cutler wove the steady guitar line in and out of eclectic set lists. DeAnte’ Haggerty-Willis supported on the bass guitar, bringing in a sexy bass line during the group’s take on “Wade in the Water.” The ensemble following a tradition of jazz performance riffing and solo moments, but brought in their own blend of blues and soul, as well as African rhythms and hip-hop. Bee Boisseau created an eery, shimmering sound on the keys. He followed Pope’s liquid, mobile vocals, and then lifted above and below to riff, compliment, and then branch off into something new. And over it all, Pope’s joyful leadership infected the room with his passion and sincerity.
At Marvin, the clientele is part of the establishment’s charm. For the most part in their 30s to mid-40s, all were present to the place and come intentionally for the music, food, and drinks. They seem to understand instinctively what Blaine Pope said earlier in the evening, that Marvin “allows DC artists to reach out to the people of DC.” The vibe from the crowd was somehow classy without being exclusive. “It’s a great place,” Pope said, “for people who have no idea what’s going on to get exposed.” Musicians and clientele alike demonstrate a reverence for this privilege, of having a place to gather and share a deep and intimate experience of music.
The evening ended with a slow dance for couples—Pope singing while he danced with Blaine out on the dance floor. “It’s about these precious moments,” Pope crooned. “Don’t waste time, you gotta love on each other.” Based on this evening, folks at Marvin are going to continue doing just that for some time.
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