In 1984, I was a volunteer in Jesse Jackson’s campaign for president and was registering voters and circulating petitions to qualify Rev. Jackson’s delegate slate for the ballot in the Democratic primary.
One evening, when I was petitioning in the Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue business corridor, I decided to check out the Players Lounge (2737 MLK Jr. Ave. SE), a bar and restaurant that I had never visited. I entered and saw a long bar to my right and to my left booths of lively diners enjoying their plates of soul food and the R&B on the jukebox.
I asked the bartender if I could speak with the owner and was introduced to Steve Thompson. I became an immediate member of his fan club, taken in by his jovial personality. He showed no hesitancy in permitting me to register and petition his staff and customers.
When I went to the second room in the rear, I encountered the entertainers, who unlike DC’s politicians had nothing to hide. They were strippers. When they were not performing, I registered them to vote or had them sign Rev. Jackson’s petition. That evening was the most enjoyable time I had experienced doing political work. After finishing my petitioning, I stayed, had dinner and drinks and remained until closing.
Players Lounge immediately became my favorite restaurant and nightspot. Fast forward 38 years and it still is. The strip shows ended years ago, but the food is still fantastic, affordable and plentiful.
This month Steve Thompson will celebrate his 50th year as the co-owner of Players Lounge along with his charming wife Georgene. In 1972, Steve purchased the business, then named Massie’s Cavern, and, as they say, the rest is history. Over the years it has become a watering hole for community activists, a must campaign visit for politicians and the place to go if you are simply looking for good food. It is indisputably the oldest restaurant and bar east of the river.
The people who go to Players Lounge are as flavorful as the food and as soulful as the music. Don’t worry about the decor, the people are the atmosphere. It is the “Cheers” of Ward 8.
As a Players Lounge regular, I have vivid memories of Marion Barry singing “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” at the weekly karaoke, Rev. Al Sharpton stopping by for dinner, Washington footballers Art Monk and Charles Mann having lunch, Donna Brazile chilling out after a day managing Eleanor Holmes Norton’s first campaign for Congress and the countless political events and birthday parties. It has been the site for various activities, and Steve Thompson’s S&G Catering has been a constant positive force in the community.
Players Lounge has hosted political fundraisers and benefits for youths and other worthy community causes. It has hosted memorial services, repasts, free Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless and delivered free food to the sick and shut in. The former strip club was once even the site of Sunday church services. Although, during recent years, some folks refer to the business as Georgena’s Restaurant, for the old timers it is and will always be Players Lounge.
The restaurant and bar business is challenging. For an establishment to be around for half a century is truly remarkable, but Steve and Georgene Thompson have the right stuff. Players is an iconic institution in Ward 8. Stop by this month and raise a toast to the owners, staff and customers of the oldest bar and restaurant east of the river. And order some food.