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Marvin: 12 Years of Culture and Community

I’d be lying if I said it seemed like yesterday, but it certainly isn’t difficult to recall. I had just finished having “my first alcoholic beverage,” a spiked hot chocolate at Tryst; back when tattered furniture in coffee shops was still a novelty and DC’s nightlife was a landscape I had yet to truly explore. As I and my group of wide-eyed friends sat wondering where to go next, a voice chimed in and said “It’s Monday! Let’s go to Marvin.”

That would be the first of many experiences at Marvin, an unforgettable night of kinship. I’m sure this story reads reminiscent for many who’ve danced the night away, smoked on the deck or stolen a kiss in a dimly lit corner. It goes without saying though, obviously, I will, that Marvin is a cornerstone of the U Street Corridor.

Starting as a simple idea to establish a welcoming space for all, it took only nine months from inception to be realized. On October 27, 2007, Marvin opened its doors to the public. Poised as DC-centric environment that honored the city’s rich musical history and served up southern cuisine with a Belgian twist, it quickly became a staple on the scene.

The night I described above was my 21st birthday, and interestingly enough it was exactly ten years ago, the same time Marvin introduced the ever-popular “Main Ingredient Monday.”

“It was all Jamil [Jahsonic], when he started it would only be like 15 people plus the staff, but we were always having a great time. Every few weeks there would be more people and after six months we were packed,” explained Liz Szatkowski, Director of Operations and day-one member of the staff.

Surprisingly, Marvin has managed to hold on to several of its founding team members, an element Liz attributes to their ability to create a sense of community.

“A big part of the appeal is that when people come here they see friendly and familiar faces. There is so much turnover in the industry but not here… We’re so fortunate to be like the ‘Cheers’ of the neighborhood,” she added.

Despite this accolade of being likened to “Cheers,” Marvin has not been shielded from the impacts of gentrification. Over the last 12 years, U Street and the city as a whole, has turned into something quite different. Evolving neighborhood dynamics have given way to more hyper-localized bars and restaurants. As Liz notes, “The way people go out is totally different, Saturday day parties changed the game.” Imitation has also cut into Marvin’s clientele with many bars and restaurants attempting to recreate their vibes and programming. Even the once-coveted, heated rooftop is no longer sacred.

In the quest to remain relevant, Marvin has gone through many transformations over the years, they’ve started to collaborate with artists and influencers to attract a wider audience. Partnerships with Throwing Shade, Everything Nice, and Rock Creek Social have been fostered to attract the younger crowd. While the downstairs has been revamped into a live-music venue that serves Marvin classics like chicken and waffles, and crafted cocktails. As the venue continues to carve out a unique musical experience with exciting and emerging artists, expect to see the upstairs morph into a lounge with a sports bar vibe. Of course, keeping continuity in line with change, the deck will always remain.

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