As I descended the stairs in the Black Fox Lounge in Dupont, La-Ti-Do host Regie Cabico greeted me extravagantly and gave me a warm hug like we were old buddies, although we’d only just formally met about an hour ago when we fell to chatting at the upstairs bar. My coworker, who was there for the first time, settled across from me at one of the hightop tables. “Do you know everyone here?” he asked me.
Not a soul but the fellow colleague we’d come to see, actually, but that’s what an evening at La-Ti-Do is like. It’s almost harder not to make friends the minute you walk in the door.
A combination musical cabaret and spoken word series, La-Ti-Do debuted in January of 2012 to a full house and has been going strong ever since. It raises the roof weekly every Monday at 8 at the Black Fox, and also on Sundays in Manhattan at the Bowery Poetry Club. Co-created by the show’s hosts, local impresarios Regie Cabico and DonMike Mendoza, each week features a lineup of local, national, and international artists performing everything from pop music accompanied by ukulele through powerhouse slam poetry.
I’d heard of it awhile ago and Facebook-stalked the event for a long time, but only recently started going. I’d had an image in my mind of stylishly jaded jazz aficionados at tiny round tables and heavy-lidded sirens in floor-length sequins purring out old torch songs, but the reality was infinitely more fun. All types of people crowd the Black Fox’s tiny basement, shoulder to shoulder on low-slung couches or perched at bar tables, dressed for comfort and chatting with whomever’s closest. The whole thing has a DIY vibe and the experimental feel of an open mic (in fact it reminds me of my favorite poetry open mic from my misspent youth), but make no mistake– these performers are dazzling, a curated cross-section of the area’s diverse and breathtakingly talented performing arts community. (There’s a side rant in there about the DC performing arts scene being one of the city’s best-kept secrets, but I’ll save that for another day.)
Regie and DonMike host with easygoing charm, armed with references and call-and-responses that point up the following of regulars they’ve cultivated. Some of the performers we saw were clearly house favorites, like poet Drew Law with his signature topknot, who started with a couple of witty haiku and ended with a rhythmic tour-de-force about love lost that had me spellbound. (Check him out at the Beltway Poetry Slam Finals next week.) Performers sit in the audience when they’re not on-deck– there’s no backstage– and often there’s casual, playful banter as someone gets up or sits down. It’s the kind of place where if you fuck up a little or lose your place, you can just announce that you’re starting the verse over, and no one seems to mind. Personally, I kind of liked those rough-edge moments, like achieving the perfect amount of fray on the jeans that make your ass look great. It’s the beauty of indie art in tiny venues, that wabi-sabi of little flaws that give personality to perfection and that make the evening feel like a cozy house party with your most artistic friends.
My companion later remarked that he thought house pianist Jonathan Tuzman deserves to be making six figures, and indeed a special shout-out is deserved for that unsung hero, the accompanist. Jonathan played both piano and guitar for most of the performers in the lineup, and I found that I was glad when someone chose a song with a lengthy piano bridge, because it gave us a chance to focus on him as a musician for a few moments.
And if that wasn’t enough, the bar offered a late happy hour from 10-11 following the show, encouraging the crush of people mixing and mingling. For a relative newbie, it still took me over half an hour to leave with all the spontaneous conversations I got into. Like I said, it’s the kind of place where you can’t help but make friends if you’re even the slightest bit outgoing.
Will I be back? Hell yeah– and not just if I wrangle a spot onstage for myself! Forget that it’s a school night and extend your weekend one day longer at La-Ti-Do. As we learned during a spontaneous trivia contest for a free drink ticket, “latido” also translates to “beat”, because– as Regie put it– “We’re the heart of cabaret.” Agreed!