For this week’s nightcap we stopped by the nation’s capital for a drink with Bill Duggan, the owner of Madam’s Organ. Madam’s Organ, located in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C., features live music daily and boasts four levels of entertainment with five bars. Join us for some tunes as we chat with Bill, and find out his most memorable night of music.
NightOwl: Tell us about Madam’s Organ, and your bar inspirations.
Billy: In 1992 Washington D.C. and especially the Adams Morgan neighborhood was a very different place than the nightlife destination it is today…..in Adams Morgan there was only one venue that offered live entertainment…and that was a French restaurant with a tap dancer on the bar. I wanted to create an eclectic, friendly bar offering the best in Blues and Roots music….sort of a cross between a Rocky Mountain bar and a smokey Chicago speakeasy……and it worked! We had a line up the block on opening night with The Bobby Parker Blues Night Band….and we’ve been on a roll ever since with live music seven nights a week and down home Soul Food.
NightOwl: Madam’s Organ was cleverly named after the neighborhood you’re in, Adams Morgan. How did the name of the bar come into play?
Billy: Adams Morgan is, without question, the most ethnically, socially and economically diverse neighborhood in DC…..I wanted a name that referenced the neighborhood but with tongue firmly in cheek…….and, by adding a 38-foot high mural of a big-busted, red-headed Madam on the exterior I knew we’d be hard to miss. Ironically, many people now believe the neighborhood derives its name from the bar and not the other way around.
NightOwl: You’ve been around for over 25 years, which is not an easy feat. What do you attribute to Madam’s Organ’s longevity?
Billy: In October Madam’s Organ celebrated our 25th anniversary…..pretty crazy….and I think we owe our success to being authentic…being real, in a town where not much is real……young, old, rich, poor….black, white, latin, Asian…gay or straight….everyone mixes, everyone gets along….music brings people together.
NightOwl: Your four-story establishment has seen its fair share of live music. What was the most memorable night of live music you’ve seen so far?
Billy: Over the years we’ve had so many memorable nights….with some of the blues greats to drop-ins by The Gypsy Kings, Juanes or Citizen Cope….in the past few years three of our acts have ended up on The Voice……but probably my favorite night was a fundraiser where Bobby Parker was playing…….Mayor Berry got up to sing while Skunk Baxter (from Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers) traded licks with the Hungarian Ambassador to the U.S….with a house full of diplomats, two cabinet secretaries and three Pulitzer Prize writers in the room……you never know who’ll show up….or show off.
NightOwl: Tell us about your Thursday nights, which are for giving back to non-profits. How did that start?
Billy: You know, I come from a very poor background….I’m one of 17 kids in a large Irish family from south of Buffalo……and I remember every good deed that was ever done for me and those who helped me along my way…….and I wanted to make sure that we give back to our community….so, every year we take between 30 and 45 neighborhood kids to my beach house for 4 days….and at Christmas we throw a party for over 100 of these kids and their families……and every Thursday we host non-profit nights for local and national charity and non-profit organizations….we all do better when we stick together and help those who are helping others or who need our help.
NightOwl: What was the inspiration for the red-haired woman artwork outside the bar – that lets lucky red-heads drink for half off daily?
Billy: As for that Redhead….The Madam…..she was to be….and is ….an ex-whore, a madam….and there’s that old saying about “a heart as big as a whore’s”– Madam’s Organ has heart.
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