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Tighten Up

Caps Piano Bar has had regulars dancing for 25 years.

Lance Stewart, a dance ­instructor whose business card reads "Teacher of Dancing," is whisking a woman around the dance floor of Caps Piano Bar (2610 Briar Ridge). He's been here a time or two before.

"I've been coming since the day it opened," says Stewart. "I come here because I love the band. I bring some of my [dance] students to practice. It's a good place to come."

At 63 years old, Stewart has a full head of impeccably groomed hair. He's thin and handsome, he smiles when he talks and he dances like he spent the afternoon getting his feet massaged by Jesus. He is dressed head to toe in black, minus the collar of his shirt and the tie slithered around his neck. Both of those are white, making him something like Dos Equis's Most Interesting Man in the World — with better footwork.

Lance Stewart has been cutting a rug at Caps Piano Bar for a quarter century.
Larami Culbertson
Lance Stewart has been cutting a rug at Caps Piano Bar for a quarter century.

If you've managed to miss Caps — or even actively avoid it — that makes sense. The 25-year-old venue is located where the retail-dominated Galleria area begins giving way to more residential terrain. The exterior of dull and lifeless stucco, coupled with nondescript, almost dirty-looking signage, makes it look about as fun as being dropped into the middle of the Pacific Ocean with your hands tied to your feet.

But its appearance belies what's actually going on. Inside, Caps teems with life night after night.

The venue is of a decent enough size, holding a little more than 100 people. On weekend nights, it gets just about that many, most of them 35 years old or older. The majority of the people adhere to the "smart casual" dress code that's liberally enforced.

For those most familiar with Washington's bustle or even Midtown's minor-league version, or the trendiness of Grand Prize Bar (1010 Banks) or purported prestige of Hudson Lounge (2506 Robinhood), an evening at Caps will feel like an assimilation of all of them.

The bar is neighborhoodish, but not too much. It encourages dancing and carrying on, but not in an obnoxious way. The bartender has a thick ponytail and wears a white long-sleeve button-up shirt underneath a black vest, which is the second type of guy we immediately picture when thinking of the word "bartender" (Tom Cruise is the first).

Tighten Up, the house band, is a splendid three-piece combo made up of Gale Evans, a soul singer who has worked with Percy Sledge; Sean Ryan, a likable Irish drummer with an affinity for techno; and Travis Doyle, a nimble-fingered, stalwart keyboardist with an affinity for berets who's been playing at Caps seemingly since the beginning of time. Evans shines on Ray Charles's "I Got a Woman," and Doyle easily flexes his talents during any blues song with a piano solo.

Older men and well-dressed women glide around the dance floor at their ­leisure. People who aren't dancing sit at the bar, talk, eat free popcorn, drink wine and don't clap after the songs. On television (Planet Earth), a tiny woodland creature steals some ducklings from their mother.

It's like this tonight, and will be like this tomorrow and the next night and, if they please, probably the next 25 years.

"We're consistent," says Jimmy the Bartender, an Iranian man who's been in charge here for 21 years. "We have the band, we're open six nights a week until 2 [a.m.]. We're here."

They're there. For Lance Stewart or Travis Doyle or anyone else who bothers to wander in.

And there's a lot to be said for that.
_____________________

LAST CALL

Lance Stewart; Big KRIT; Mookie Jones

We would not be doing our civic duty were we to not pass along Teacher of Dancing Lance Stewart's information. He can be reached at tangolance@aol.com or by phone at 832-443-5829. Second, Caps is closed Sundays, and Monday is the only night of the week Tighten Up does not play. That's when Caps does its open-mike night, with a separate band and patrons welcome to bring their own instruments and join in.

Elsewhere, Big KRIT, not to be confused with Houston's Kritikal, is headlining a show alongside fellow blog favorite Freddie Gibbs Friday at Warehouse Live (813 St. Emanuel). You should also attend because the sort-of reclusive Mookie Jones, a talented, smooth-crooning rapper and Houston native, is opening. See him online at mookiejones.blogspot.

 
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