Before Georgetown became the site of the D.C. cupcake wars, it was home to a constant battle of the bands. Over the past few decades, the neighborhood’s once diverse array of live music venues has slowly dwindled. But this year, Gypsy Sally’s, a brand new venue, is seeking to bring Georgetown’s live music scene back to life.
“Georgetown used to be a real music destination. Little by little, all those venues went away until there was only one left — Blues Alley. So we want to bring the live music back and a little bit of that nightlife Georgetown has been missing,” said Karen Ensor, who owns Gypsy Sally’s with her husband, David.
Gypsy Sally’s, which opened Sept. 12, is an American music venue that will feature acts specializing in blues, rock, folk, country and bluegrass. “We are sticking to our guns on our image. We don’t want to dilute what we are trying to be by offering too many things. We won’t ever feature hip-hop or funk because people can go to other venues in D.C. for that,” Karen Ensor said.
Since opening its doors last week, Gypsy Sally’s has already featured artists Jim Lauderdale, New Country Rehab — who have been called Canada’s Mumford and Sons — and Mockingbird Sun.
Located on the end of K Street just before the Capital Crescent Trail, Gypsy Sally’s has views of the Potomac River and the Key Bridge. The space, which used to be an ice factory in the early 1900s, is ideal for listening to music because of its wide rooms and high ceilings. The venue was also enhanced with acoustic treatments to improve the listening experience.
The husband-and-wife team spent more than two years trying to find the perfect space for their club — one without architectural elements that would obstruct concert-goers’ view of the stage. “Finding the right space was a labor of love,” Karen Ensor said. “When we found this location, we knew it was good right away. It was magic.”
Gypsy Sally’s interior is divided into three different areas: a music room with standing area and tables available for reservations, a vinyl lounge and a space that the Ensors hope to develop into an art gallery.
Currently, the space holds an antique Volkswagen bus complete with a small stovetop and sink. Reminiscent of the era they are trying to recreate, the VW is another supplement to the feeling of history that permeates the entire venue.
The walls of the music room are lined with authentic farm wood from an old Pennsylvania barn, inspired by the idea of bringing the feeling of old country blues to the city. The room features two bars, both decorated with vintage concert tickets to further enhance the sense of nostalgia.
The Vinyl Lounge has more of a rock ‘n’ roll vibe, with a dark red counter for the bar and vintage music accoutrement decorations, like the old album posters and vinyl records that adorn the bar. The lounge is outfitted with two vinyl turntables that play featured albums every night. Guests are also encouraged to bring their own vinyl records in to play, and the Vinyl Lounge will hold nightly contests for “Best Cover Art” or “Best Set” based on the albums patrons bring in.
While most concert venues serve greasy French fries and chicken fingers, Gypsy Sally’s has added a fine dining twist for guests. “We are trying to promote concert dining. We feel like it is music for adults. We want people to come have a seat, order a nice glass of wine, eat a delicious dinner and listen to some great music,” Karen Ensor said.
Head chef Donald Spencer has created a modern American menu based on the F.L.O.S.S. philosophy: fresh, local, organic, seasonal and sustainable. Featured menu items include a pulled pork sandwich topped with apples and served on brioche, a kale and cranberry salad with pine nuts, and Parmesan and spinach-cheddar sliders. The menu is reasonably priced, with most items ranging from $5 to $12.
Bar manager Boris Umanov, who gained experience behind the bar at Range in Friendship Heights and Bandolero on M Street, is also elevating the typical concert cocktail. His expertise in mixology is evident with his inspired craft cocktails, including the Big Pink, which combines rye whiskey with fresh raspberry extract and egg white. Umanov plans to rotate the craft cocktail list in the Vinyl Lounge to highlight seasonal ingredients and provide a more dynamic menu for frequent guests.
While customers can order classics, Umanov recommends trying something a little more dangerous such as the Diablo — a concoction of tequila, cassis and ginger beer — or the Martinez, made with gin, maraschino and orange bitters.
Gypsy Sally’s offers a wide selection of beers and wines, including many local beers offered both in cans and on tap. They also make a fireball whiskey in-house and feature an aged Sambuca. Prices range between $4 and $12.
“As a veteran musician and restaurant worker, this has been a dream a long time coming, and we are very excited to create an active relationship with the community to grow and create a space that Georgetown can make its own,” David Ensor said.
Though most shows and the Vinyl Lounge are limited to those 21 and older, Gypsy Sally’s plans to hold all-ages events in the future, and the Ensors hope that their venue will become a staple for Georgetown students.
“We want to give the Georgetown students another place to hang out. There’s food served and we’re open till 2 a.m. serving late night munchies,” Karen Ensor said. “We hope students will come and make it their own.”
To introduce Gypsy Sally’s and the Vinyl Lounge to the Georgetown community, Gypsy’s will be hold a special event just for the school Sept. 26. In the future, Gypsy Sally’s hopes to hold more events specifically for Georgetown students, including a music trivia night and open mike nights.
Open until 12 a.m. Sunday through Tuesday and until 2 a.m. on Wednesday through Saturday, the Vinyl Lounge is the perfect place for students to unwind after a long week of classes. As opposed to going out to a club or a more raucous bar, Gypsy Sally’s provides an ambience that is more laid-back and offers guests the chance to enjoy a more unique cocktail while listening to classic vinyl.
Upcoming performers include rock artist Cris Jacobs, the roots rock band David Mayfield Parade, country band Nora Jane Struthers & the Party Line and award-winning bluegrass duo the Gibson Brothers. Although tickets vary in price, some shows are as cheap as $5.
The laid-back atmosphere is a welcome addition to the Georgetown nightlife scene.
“Definitely wear blue jeans. We want this to be a low-key place for people to come have some drinks, have fun and listen to great music,” Karen said.