The closest Keri Foster could get to Jamaica without hopping on a plane was a rooftop bar on 14th Street NW. Foster, born in Kingston and now a D.C. resident, was supposed to fly to the island last month for her 100-year-old grandmother’s funeral, but doctors told her not to make the journey because she was seven months pregnant.
To get a feeling of home, the 38-year-old mom-to-be went to Marvin restaurant for a night of Jamaican music, drinks, and food put together by former employees of Patty Boom Boom, the nearby reggae dance hall that closed in 2015.
“Walking in and seeing the Jamaican flag means a lot to me,” Foster tells Eater. “I feel almost like I’m there with my family.”
For five years, Patty Boom Boom served as a major hub for Jamaican culture in D.C. When it closed to make way for Cloak & Dagger, it left people like Foster without a place that felt like home. But for a night in late February, Patty Boom Boom was back, and more than 140 people showed up to pack the house.
Tim Slayton and Jay Bynum, former bartenders at the U Street dancehall, organized the takeover. It was successful enough that they hope to make it a regular event. The next pop-up could be as soon as May, they say.
“It feels good to be able to fill a void that’s obviously needed in this city,” Slayton says.
Several people at the pop-up lamented the Patty Boom Boom closure as another example of rising rents in the neighborhood. Eric Hilton, an owner of both Marvin and Patty Boom Boom, said that the reggae bar closed because it struggled to turn a profit.
“It’s a very gentrified area, and it was one of the few places left where black people could [feel] fellowship, dance, and have fun, so it was a good spot,” says Adrienne Cooper, one of the club’s past regulars.
Instead of dancing in a tiny, hot room like they used to, people at Marvin huddled under heat lamps with their hands in their pockets. Many kept their coats on as they bounced to the music.
Slayton and Bynum served four rum cocktails, Heineken, Guinness draught, and Ting, a soda made with Jamaican grapefruit.
Nick Owen of Nick’s Jerk Seasoning took over the kitchen to churn out jerk chicken, beef and veggie patties, coco bread, and vegan tacos stuffed with plantains and black beans. DJ Mutaal provided the island soundtrack.
For the next pop-up, guests can expect more staff on hand to take care of them and to get food from another area in the building. At the last pop-up, three people served food and drinks from the bar, creating a wait times of up to 20 minutes for orders.
Patty Boom Boom used to add to a diverse music scene on U Street, where the rich jazz history was reflected at the Bohemian Caverns. That club shut down in 2016.
“I’ve lived in D.C. for about 15 years, and so you kind of get used to the spots that you love closing,” says Toni Minor, another former regular at Patty Boom Boom. “And then these kind of events bring people together and make you just reminisce and hope it comes back.”