MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We conclude today's show with one of our favorite series of 2012, "D.C. Dives."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1
What is a dive bar?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1
It's a glorious dump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2
It's got to have an interesting staff and an interesting crowd.
It's got to be dark, it's got to be old, typically, it's got to be cheap.
This time around, we'll head to a place that may have one of the best voicemail messages in the city.
You have reached Players Lounge and S&G Catering. Today's menu, filet of catfish, filet of trout, bacon fried chicken, jerk and curry chicken, crab cakes, (word?), liver and onions, wingettes...
That's what you'll hear when you call the Players Lounge, a southeast D.C. spot that local residents say is more than just a bar. Jerad Walker takes us there.
MR. JERAD WALKER
It's oldies R&B and soul music night at Player's Lounge, a restaurant and bar so ingrained in the Congress Heights neighborhood of southeast D.C. that Washington City Paper once described it as Ward 8's living room. And while Player's is now the go-to meeting place for residents in this corner of the city, tonight's DJ, Wayne Hartridge, AKA DJ Ultra Mix, says it wasn't always so friendly.
MR. JERAD WALKER
I heard a story that this was a strip club when it first opened.
MR. WAYNE HARTRIDGE
I was actually the DJ when it was a strip club.
You were the strip club DJ?
So you've seen it change over the years.
I've seen it change over the years.
How has it changed?
It went from negative to positive, let's put it like that.
The clientele, everything is a complete turnaround. Imagine a strip club environment in the '80s at the start of the crack epidemic and the whole nine yards. And it just made a complete turnaround, and that's why it's still here.
The architects of that turnaround were owners Steve and Georgene Thompson. The Thompsons got rid of the dancers and put the focus on the soul food and drinks. After a brief drop in business, the customers began flocking to Player's and haven't stopped coming since. Georgene thinks the laid back nature of the place is a big draw for folks.
MS. GEORGENE THOMPSON
We don't ask them to dress up or nothing like that, you just come the way you feel. You know, just like as long as you have clothes on. That's it. And they really like that.
Georgene's daughter and bar manager, Angie Thompson-Hines, agrees, but goes a step further.
MS. ANGIE THOMPSON-HINES
We treat them right, we treat them like, as is they're all family. I mean, that's why they keep coming and coming and coming.
And the bar really is a family affair.
Most of us are all family that work behind the bar.
Really? How many family members do you have working here?
It's me, Josephine, my husband, Michael, who's in the kitchen, which is my brother, my mother, my father helps out every now and then, my son, who's 22 years old now, and he runs it at night.
DJ Wayne Hartridge says Player's is more than just a place to have a beer.
The owners really take care of the community and Steve and Georgene, you know, they emphasize that.
And that pride and respect for the community has rubbed off on those around them. Wayne's a member of The Fat Boys, a social club and sort of service fraternity associated with the bar.
Can you tell me what the Fat Boys are?
It started out as a club that was about having fun, and then it just got to be community-oriented. We just fed 150 people for Thanksgiving. As you see, we've got a toy drive going on this Saturday, toy and coat drive. So you know, we're a community-based club.
Beyond the good deeds, this place means a lot to regulars like Nick Johnson, a radio DJ at local station WPFW. He remembers the dark days when Player's Lounge was a refuge and the only sit-down restaurant in Ward 8.
MR. NICK JOHNSON
I grew up in this part of the city. I saw this part of the city go through the riots of 1968. I saw this part of the city become desolate, become burned down shells, almost every other building.
Although Nick says he's seen progress in the past decade, with the arrival of new restaurants and bars, he remains loyal to Player's for one simple reason.
They have not let this establishment become part of the blight of the city. Through all those years of strife elsewhere, it has never lost the friendliness. It's never lost the appeal of being a friendly neighborhood bar.
Tonight, as I sit in the corner listening to R&B classics, folks are talking, laughing, and watching football as the smell of fried food floats through the air. This really could be anyone's living room in America. I'm Jerad Walker.
You can see photos of the Player's Lounge on our website, metroconnection.org. And if you have a favorite dive bar you think we should visit, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet us, our handle is @wamumetro.
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza, Emily Berman, Sabri Ben-Achour, Jonathan Wilson, Lauren Landau, and Jerad Walker. WAMU's managing editor of news is Meymo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Rachel Schuster. Lauren Landau, Rachel Schuster and John Hines produce "Door to Door." Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.
Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts" and our "Door to Door" theme "No, Girl" are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.
Also on metroconnection.org, you can find our Twitter and Facebook links, you can read free transcripts of stories, and if you missed part of today's show, you can hear the whole thing by clicking the this week on "Metro Connection" link. To hear our most recent episodes, click the podcast link or find us on iTunes.
We hope you can join us next week when we'll bring you our year in review. We'll revisit a story about young Washingtonians living with HIV, and visit the monks of Holy Cross Abbey. Plus, we'll spend some more time with alley cats, and the people who love them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #2
I'm quite sure I've made -- ruffled a little bit of feathers around here, but I can't worry about that because I'm the one who fed them.
I'm Rebecca Sheir, and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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