All photos: Kimberly Cadena
As the host locks the front door and flicks the blinds shut at L’Enfant Cafe, I lean over to whisper to Washington DJ Shea Van Horn. “There’s no way we are going to be here for three hours, right?” At 2:00pm, we’ve settled in with our party for what our host promises to be an experience that goes beyond brunch. “I don’t think so,” replies Van Horn. “But, we’ll see!”
The La Boum brunch at L’Enfant Cafe starts off as just that – a brunch. A slip of complimentary (and pink-colored) champagne greets guests as they squeeze into a tight seating arrangement at the jewel box-sized restaurant at the corner of 18th & U Streets, NW. But, far from feeling crowded, the La Boum brunch is arranged to feel intimate, confidential, and reminiscent of a hushed speak easy where you are allowed to indulge in decadent pleasures not permitted on the outside. La Boum is a delightful, if dirty, secret.
Like a true speak easy, La Boum has only relied on word-of-mouth to sell out each of its weekly Saturday brunches since debuting in December (often five weeks in advance). But, it’s not the feel of a speak easy that La Boum is most closely trying to emulate, but instead the feel of a French teenage house party when the parents are out of town.
With the blinds closed, and the lights dimmed, drinks are ordered first. While servers bring out champagne bottles topped with flaming sparklers, brunch is added. La Boum offers both French and French-influenced American fare such as tarts and crepes. “I’m never eating Eggs Benedict on an English muffin ever again,” a friend joyfully declared after enjoying the dish as served on top of a subsituted croissant and dashed in champagne hollandaise sauce and lobster.
As the crowd finishes their courses, a guest DJ in the corner begins to slowly raises the tempo of the music (Fatback DJ KC Higgins guested on our first outing…and Shea Van Horn would soon return to DJ the party himself). Guests soon begin to shift and shimmy in their chairs, and owners Christopher Lynch and Jim Ball encourage a few attendees to stand on those chairs in order to “be bad.” Ball will soon be standing on the bar counter himself, waving linen napkins over his head. “The parents are out of town!” he yells into the microphone. The brunch crowd cheers.
La Boum is always punctuated with a few surprises. Burlesque performers and exotic dancers are slipped in, and then they slip down to little more than pasties and jewelry after the plates are cleared away. Fluffy pink wigs make their way out from the back for the guests to enjoy, along with silly hats and – of course – more champagne. By the third hour of La Boum, most of the tables have been cleared away and nearly everyone is dancing.
Near the end of the brunch, La Boum is a frenzied joy. People aren’t just dancing; they are dancing on chairs, dancing on tables, and dancing on top of the bar. There are multiple glasses raised, and a few bare chests in the dancing crowd.
What is remarkable is the perfectly played slow-build that La Boum employs up to this point. The beginning of the brunch feels refined, sophisticated. But, over several hours guests are slowly prompted to relax, dance a little bit, and release whatever inhibitions they arrived with. This isn’t a “drunk brunch,” but it is very much a party. La Boum manages to comfortably coax even its shyest guests into dancing and laughing by the end of its run.
La Boum at L’Enfant Cafe
2000 18th Street, NW (18th & U Streets)
For reservations, visit: www.laboumbrunch.com