Tuesday morning, members of the media got a sneak peek of the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club, the music venue that will open March 1 in the former Bethesda Theatre space on Wisconsin Avenue.
Operators said they hope to “hit all the notes” with the highly-anticipated club– with parking, acoustics, food, service, ambiance and entertainment.
The theater opened in 1938 as an art deco movie house, and was re-incarnated as an Off-Broadway production hub before a flood forced it to go dark in the middle of a run. The theater took a financial hit, struggling to stay open as a rental venue, until it was foreclosed upon in 2010.
Proprietor Rick Brown, of B&B Realty Investments, bought the venue in February of 2012 for $2,895,000 and announced his vision to bring the club back to life.
Brown, a native Washingtonian whose father is a jazz drummer and whose mother was a singer, dancer, and restaurateur, said the club would hearken back to classic supper clubs like the Copacabana.
“It has been my dream for years to bring first-class music to the most amazing venue in Washington, DC area,” he said in a statement. “I have a deep love for music, particularly since it’s a huge part of my family heritage. Now I have the good fortune to share this with everyone.”
Brown has personal ties to the space -- he attended movies there in the 1950s, and his mother, Florence DeSando, walked across the stage in 1947 to receive her diploma from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.
The club underwent a $6 million renovation by the Bozutto group in 2007. To that, operators added a two-level, 1,800 square-foot kitchen and a 35-foot bar that will serve up beer, wine and cocktails. The theater seating was replaced with two tiered levels of table seating for 300 and 200 theater seats to the rear of the space.
“We were blessed to have the property in very good condition to start with,” Brown said.
The acts are set to range from blues and jazz to country and comedy, salsa, Motown and Celtic. Grammy-award winner Irvin Mayfield is set to headline the club when it opens May 1. Local acts, including country star and Potomac native Maggie Rose, are also set to perform.
Operators are hoping the music, when combined with quality food and the added benefit of a 340-car public parking garage adjacent to the building, will draw a diverse audience willing to pay for a more intimate experience.
At larger venues, “you’re paying a big ticket price to be very far away,” said director of operations Ralph Camilli, who has booked acts at storied music venues the Blues Alley and Cellar Door. “I feel like people do value a closer, more intimate experience – we feel like people appreciate that and will pay for that to happen.”
Prices could range anywhere from $20 to $200 depending on the act, with many performances in the $20 - $40 range. Each Monday, the club’s in-house 18-piece jazz band will play for a $10 cover.
Tuesday, Chef Scott Mullen served up samples of the Creole and American cuisine planned for the menu, including coconut shrimp, crab cakes and hush puppies. Dinner will be “quick serve, fine dining” before the show in order to keep the dinner service from interfering with the show, operators said.
Media members were also given a copy of the menu, which includes shrimp and chicken jambalaya, prime rib, honey-grilled salmon, rosemary gnocchi, pork medallions, and mushrooms and walnut beignets.
The club will also host community events, including fundraisers for wounded warriors and “battle of the bands” between Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School and Walt Whitman High School.
What do you think of the new space? Will you check out performances there? Tell us in the comments.