MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Would you believe, Marvin Gaye wrote "Sexual Healing" in the Belgian fishing village of Ostend. How sexy is that? As a tribute, a new Belgian and soul-food bistro called Marvin has opened up in Marvin's hometown of Washington, D.C. Christopher Johnson paid the restaurant a visit.
CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: Marvin Gaye was going through things by the time 1980 rolled around. He had just trudged through his second divorce. His two most recent albums bounced like bricks. And after 21 chart-topping years, his ties with Motown records were strained. Mr. Marvin was broke and staying in London when he repelled deep into his drug habit. A Belgian promoter came to Gaye's rescue with an idea. Come to Ostend. Catch your breath and reignite your career. The move worked, and on July 4th, 1981, Marvin repaid the town of Ostend with one hell of a show.
(Soundbite of song "Let's Get It On")
Mr. MARVIN GAYE: (Singing) Now, I've been really trying, baby, Trying to hold back this feeling, so long...
JOHNSON: Gaye's two-year Belgian detox sometimes gets overlooked in the scheme of a career that lasted a quarter century. But Eric Hilton of the Washington-based D.J. duo Thievery Corporation hasn't missed it. He opened Marvin last fall as a modern tribute to that vital retreat.
(Soundbite of cars)
JOHNSON: Marvin stands right near 14th and U Streets northwest, in Washington's Shaw neighborhood. That area was once the heart of D.C's black social life. Duke Ellington lived nearby, and Marvin Gaye dropped out of Cardozo High School right up the street.
Now it's springtime and the yuppification is in full bloom. That's how a Belgian-style bistro, just blocks away from the legendary Ben's Chili Bowl, makes any sense at all.
Mr. ERIC HILTON (Restaurateur, Marvin): Welcome to Marvin. My name's Eric Hilton, and I'm going to take you on a tour.
JOHNSON: Eric and his partners opened the two-story restaurant back in the fall. He wanted to create a menu that mixed Belgian cuisine with soul food. He'd serve it all up in the space he rebuilt from the ruins of a Subway sandwich shop.
Mr. HILTON: Everything you see is new although it looks old. The dark wood, it's very common in like French bistros.
JOHNSON: Eric Hilton's menu avoids Hard Rock Cafe-style cliches. No Mercy, Mercy Tuna Melts or Ain't Nothin' Like the Grilled Wings. Still, the cuisine does give a slight nod to Mr. Marvin.
Mr. HILTON: He loved sole, Dover sole, and chicken. And we have both of those so, that's good.
JOHNSON: The centerpiece downstairs is a large image of Marvin Gaye himself. He's seated like soul Buddha number one, smiling as he watches over all the people who come to dine in his honor. But the place to be is Marvin's rooftop deck.
Mr. HILTON: Well, this obviously is where everybody is right now because it's 78 and sunny. And it's incredible because it will be like, 20 degrees out in January, and people still pile on this deck.
JOHNSON: When Eric steps away, D.C. native Terry Ford(ph) breaks down his thoughts on this place called Marvin.
Mr. TERRY FORD: I love this spot, but I don't see where Marvin Gaye fits in here. But they draw a crowd. You know, and by that I mean, you know, beautiful women. So, I got to represent...
JOHNSON: Mm-mmm. And speaking of which, I ran into Katie(ph), another D.C. native, and her friend Rebecca(ph) from Wisconsin.
KATIE: I've never had a bad meal and I'm picky about my French fries and my waffles. And my fried chicken.
REBECCA: Oh, my God, the chicken and waffles are amazing. It's like heaven on a plate.
JOHNSON: Rebecca came to D.C. to be in politics, but she came to Marvin to celebrate her birthday. Deep into a glass of champagne, she seemed to speak for many of those other ambitious civil servants, whooping it up after hours on the sunny rooftop.
REBECCA: By day I save the world and by night I come to Marvin's.
JOHNSON: Some patrons like Terry Ford wonder out loud what a Belgian bistro has to do with the late soul music legend. What is clear is folks love this restaurant as a classy spot to eat, drink, and party with friends. And it's hard to believe the late, great Mr. Gaye wouldn't be down with all of that. For NPR News, I'm Christopher Johnson.
(Soundbite of song "Inner City Blues Make Me Wanna Holler")
Mr. GAYE: (Singing) Rockets, moon shots Spend it on the have nots Money, we make it
BRAND: Day to Day is a production of NPR News, with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen.
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