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Twins Jazz, the U Street Club that Grew Out of an Ethiopian Restaurant, Closes for Good

Twin sisters Kelly and Maze Tesfaye started their business in Brightwood in 1987

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: The R&B Jazz Quintet: Kenny Rittenho
The R&B Jazz Quintet onstage at Twins Jazz in March 2017.
Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Twins Jazz club, the live music institution owned by Ethiopian-born sisters Kelly and Maze Tesfaye, announced today it will close after 33 years of business that includes iterations in Brightwood and on U Street NW.

In a statement published on the club’s website, the Tesfaye twins said the business couldn’t sustain the “harsh economic circumstances brought on by the ongoing pandemic.”

“We came to this country from Ethiopia with a dream of owning our own business and we have done more than we could have ever imagined,” the announcement says. “The decision to close was very difficult, however we knew the safety of our patrons, musicians and staff was our top priority.”

The sisters, born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, brought their thriving jazz club to its address at 1344 U Street NW in 2000. The original opened in Brightwood in 1987 and closed in 2007, in part, due to neighborhood noise ordinance issues, according to the Washington Post.

What originally started as an Ethiopian restaurant became a popular music venue, hosting both up-and-comers and famed pianists. Its affordability factor — around $15 a show — kept ticket sales flowing. It was named one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world by Downbeat Magazine. Popular food orders included wings marinated in a spicy Ethiopian garlic and ginger sauce and traditional dishes like doro wat: chicken stewed in a red pepper sauce with “Twins famous spices.”

High-profile performers included Miles Davis collaborator Shirley Horn and a one-night show from Tonight Show pianist Kenny Kirkland, a Washingtonian guide notes.

Twins Jazz managed to survive as D.C. has lost a string of respected jazz clubs (Moore’s Love and Peace, Mr. Y’s Gold Room, One Step Down, Les Nieces and HR-57, Cafe Nema, and U Street’s rebooted Bohemian Caverns, to name a few).

Georgetown’s 55-year-old Blues Alley is still streaming live shows at prices for $10 to $15.

The live music industry is especially at risk of collapse due to COVID-19. While restaurants and bars have begun to reopen, clubs and music venues face months of further inactivity while mass gatherings remain off limits.

Nearby on U Street NW, decade-old underground DJ haven U Street Music Hall told DCist in April it may not make it through October without help.

According to the ReOpen DC plan, bars and nightclubs are to remain closed until Stage 3, when the city’s COVID-19 figures show “sporadic transmission.”

In May, a group of 19 club owners representing some of the District’s most popular dancing, drinking, and live music venues asked the city to enact legislative measures to help them save their businesses. One of those clubs, Eighteenth Street Lounge, already lost the fight and closed after 25 years this summer.

Local favorites 9:30 Club, Merriweather Post, and the Anthem — founding members of NIVA (National Independent Venue Association) — penned a letter to Congress in June asking for urgent financial support.

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