Review: Thurman's in Shaw
There’s a house piano and drum kit nestled in the front window of Thurman’s in Shaw. Tucked among peaceful residential streets at 4069 Shenandoah Ave., it looks like a typical corner bar, aside from the posters of jazz greats – Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk – covering the walls. A dark wood bar faces an impressive array of bottles lit from behind with a soft glow. A large TV often plays baseball or hockey games, and the lively patio out front is a true gem with blue string lights illuminating long tables and a fire pit. The vibe is casual, neighbors seeming to flutter in and out.
It’s when night falls and the live music begins that the space transforms. The TV goes dark, the lights dim and Catholic saint candles occasionally appear along the bar. On Thursday and Friday nights, local jazz combos the Adam Maness Trio and the Kendrick Smith Trio hold court. The musicians mesmerize, effortlessly riffing off one another. The piano lid remains open so you can watch the hammers frantically meet the piano strings. Conversation becomes hushed, most patrons nodding along to the songs. No way this isn’t one of the best free shows in town.
Thursdays and Fridays are the best nights to stop in, but Saturdays are also great, when a rotating list of DJs spin tunes on what owner Doug Fowler, formerly a concert sound engineer, claims is “the world’s finest sound system in a neighborhood bar.” The Saturday I visited, DJ Soundtracks for Living created an intriguing mix of beats overlaid with jazzy trumpet.
The cocktail menu includes a short list of classics, including a grade-A margarita made with citrus juices and agave syrup served on ice in a tall glass. There’s also a handful of shrub cocktails made with products from Heirloom Bottling Co., located just down the street. The bourbon-based shrub sour, made with Heirloom’s blackberry-lemon-mint shrub, lemon juice and sugar, and rimmed in salt, has a dry, wine-like finish, the shrub balancing out the drink’s sweeter elements. It’s the perfect patio sipper on a warm summer evening.
If you need a little extra help to relax, try a CBD Bomb, an effervescent mix of the liquor of your choice and Queen City Hemp Seltzer. At the bartender’s suggestion, I tried a mix of tequila and a guava seltzer, refreshing and almost exactly like a paloma.
In addition to cocktails, the bar serves up more than a dozen wine options by the glass (even more by the bottle), a respectable list of whiskeys and a variety of craft beers, including a nice selection of Belgian beers. At the bar, a big batch of sangria sits waiting to be poured. Current cult favorite Topo Chico is also available.
If you visited Thurman’s back when it was Thurman’s Grill, the menu will be something of a surprise. As of early 2018, the kitchen specializes in fresh Mexican street food. The tacos – fish, chicken, steak, bacon, chorizo or beans and vegetables – are the star of the menu. Flavorful fillings are accompanied by onion, cilantro and lime and wrapped in two grilled, chewy corn tortillas. These are small, so you’ll want to order a few if you’re hungry. Although true to its name, the giant burrito was less impressive, the protein and vegetables somewhat overpowered by a too-generous scoop of beans.
Whether you’re lured in by the jazz, the tacos, the drinks or the patio, Thurman’s transcends its neighborhood bar category. If only we were all so lucky to live down the street.
Stephanie Zeilenga is a longtime critic for Sauce Magazine.
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