I love D.C.’s history. Think about it: It’s the birthplace of our country. Hand-selected by George Washington. Dreamt about by Martin Luther King. It’s even where the Da Vinci Code can be found. Just kidding… I think.
Hell, even my condo is in a building that’s 106 years old. The ceiling creeps upwards because the building has settled into its center over the past century. CENTURY. That’s amazing, people. I lament that I can never have crown molding, but I smile because it’s charming and historical.
So when the Howard Theatre blew open its doors after a $29 million renovation, I was the first in line to celebrate its renewal and its amazing history.
People. This is where Ella Fitzgerald performed. Ray Charles. The Supremes. All these phenomenal artists, and many more, had the Howard Theatre as their home, and the music history is still pouring from its doors.
Take its gospel brunch. It’s not just a gospel brunch, it’s the Harlem Gospel Choir accompanying a brunch menu designed by Chef Marcus Samuelsson. Sign this Bitch up.
This brunch was a bit tricky to coordinate, however. You have to buy tickets in advance online – $45 a piece – and you have to make sure all your friends buy them too, before that day’s show sells out. Just coordinate as if it’s a Sunday afternoon concert, but with food.
When I visited, we had bought our tickets nearly a month in advance, so the expectations were high. Also, a week prior to the brunch, they sent us an email saying the time had changed from 12:30 to 1:30. OK, we thought, no big deal.
My boyfriend and I saddled up to the Howard Theatre at 1:45, thinking it was perfect timing. But as soon as stepped from the sweltering heat into the air conditioned theater, we could already hear the choir belting out its tunes.
Were we mistaken? Did we read the email wrong? Seems that way, perhaps. All tables in the orchestra were full – and people had clearly finished their brunch. So, here’s my lesson to you Bitches for this Howard Theatre brunch: Make sure you get there when the doors open. Because it’s general seating.
Especially if you’re with a group, you want to get in, grab a big table, mark your territory in front of the stage, and then head to the buffet.
Ah, the buffet. I had such high expectations. It is a Marcus Samuelsson menu, as I mentioned. I wanted amazing food.
Alas, it was a buffet. And by the time I got to it, it had been sitting out for over an hour, likely. At the buffet line was fried chicken, waffles, grits, fruit, bacon, sausages, eggs, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and all sorts of usual buffet things. But it was just that: a brunch buffet. And Lord, forgive me, but I hate buffets. Unless it’s the Four Seasons, you are not excused.
They did serve drinks to your tables in the orchestra seating, but a small mimosa (in an old fashioned glass) was $10! After a $45 price tag for a bad buffet and a $10 cocktail, I was not too pleased.
But then I opened my ears and listened to the music. And those gospel singers were phenomenal. There were about seven of them singing, total, backed by a few guitarists and a drummer. This was a surprise; was I ignorant to expect a full choir?
Regardless, it didn’t matter my expectations, as the six of them sang like they were fifty. They belted it out—strong, powerful voices—singing praises and raising the energy in the room. They were singing and clapping and joshing us to join in and raise our hands. I was totally in the grove, dancing in my seat with a fork in my hand.
Then they got us to really participate, and invited people from the audience to come up and sing a refrain from a song. Suddenly, there was a line at the side of the stage, and women and men were jockeying to sing into the microphone with the one-and-only Harlem Gospel Choir backing them up.
What a thrill! What a fantasy! I was tempted, but didn’t get up there. This girl sang with a girls’ choir and has had opera training, but my fears took over and the mimosas were too expensive for me to say “screw it.”
After the sing-along, the mistress of the choir invited all those with birthdays and anniversaries to get on the stage. How nice, I thought, as each person announced what they were celebrating. It was a great way to end the performance.
I had been so distracted by the show that I didn’t get up for seconds at the buffet (which at that point had probably been out for over an hour), and I left hungry.
The Bitches say: A for the show. C- for the food and drinks. Go if you have visitors, and they want a piece of D.C. history with a great show. Do NOT go hungover, or with D.C. friends, who just want a regular brunch to socialize over.
The Howard Theatre
620 T Street N.W.
The Howard Theatre hosts gospel brunch on Sundays.