A West African Encounter in Adams Morgan
By David Betancourt
Washington Post Weekend Section
Friday, September 7, 2007
The slogan at Bukom, a West African cafe in the heart of Adams Morgan, is: "A place where great minds meet and cultures merge." Once you step inside, you understand what they mean.
"As a first timer, you will meet other people and you can interact with other cultures," said Bukom's manager, who goes by the name Justice. "You will always learn something before you leave."
The first thing you notice once you're inside is the live band, whose music hits your ear immediately. It's not the same band every day, but there is a live band seven days a week. The music features such styles as reggae, soca, zouk and highlife (West African music). And there is no cover charge. The band performing on this particular recent night is DKGB (drums, keyboards, guitar, bass) with new lead singer Tony Roy.
"I love the atmosphere at Bukom," Roy said. "I love the atmosphere, I love the vibe of the people. The vibe of management. It's always been a pleasure to perform there. There aren't too many places around the D.C. area you can go seven nights a week and get reggae music in live performance. Other places you have to pay to get that kind of experience."
DKGB is one of Bukom's more popular bands, always bringing in a large crowd and providing excellent reggae from about 9 until 2:30 in the morning.
The bands are always a big draw. On a given night you'll see just as many people lined up around the bar at Bukom to get a better look at who's performing as to get a drink.
A quick glance inside reveals a diverse crowd. Many of Bukom's frequent patrons hail from such African countries as Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia. And although that might be expected at a club that caters to the culture, many other parts of the world are represented.
"Yesterday I met two ladies who were visiting from Australia, one originally from Tanzania, the other was originally from India. It was their first time here," Justice said.
Grisell Carrillo, visiting from Mexico, experienced Bukom for the first time while visiting friends of her sisters' who frequent the club. Despite a language barrier, Carrillo walked away fond of the experience.
"I liked it a lot," Carrillo said in Spanish. "Especially the music, and the food was excellent. I had a lot of fun."
Despite the night-life vibe of Bukom, management says the cuisine, as well as the music, is a big draw.
"When you come to Bukom, you don't miss Africa because the food is just like eating in Africa. We get our food from the international market in D.C.," Justice said.
Although it's common to see a plate of chicken wings, Bukom's other popular dishes include egusi with goat meat, curry chicken, chicken yassa and red snapper. The authenticity of the food is appreciated by Bukom's African clientele, but it is also a great introduction for newcomers to West African cuisine.
Good cuisine, great live music and social mingling aside, one of Bukom's best-kept secrets is that it's a great place to watch a soccer game. On each of Bukom's three levels you have the option to eat, drink, dance and watch soccer. The Fox Soccer Channel is frequently shown on all of Bukom's televisions. If more traditional American sports are your thing, though, don't worry. Soon you'll be able to see a Redskins or Wizards game on the screens as well.
"We show almost all sports here," Justice said. "Soccer is the favorite for our customers. With football season almost here, we will be showing football and then basketball into the wee hours of the night."
Hands down my favorite place on any given night. Laid back, live entertainment from the baddest band I've ever heard (bad as in GOOD people). They can play anything but mostly choose a reggae-infused African sound. It's enough for the ppl who don't have tables to stand up with a drink and sway from side to side like a natural born rasta. You MUST have the food here. If you have never had West African food this is the place to explore. I had my first taste of Jolof rice (Nigerian); stewed fish; spinach and salmon dish; and a variety of appetizers for the first time here and nearly got on the mic to sing a joyful song. It's that good! The drinks are awesome..the native stuff is especially strong. Pros: serve food until very late (like midnight); awesome live music, small enough to keep the right ppl in and the wrong ppl out; free entry every night (except the nights preceding Obama's inauguration but they gave drink tix with entry); Cons: if eating, might have to wait a little wait for a table; it's not open during the day so you have to wait until night to get their amazing food.