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Behind the Scenes at the New Deal Cafe

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In case you haven’t heard, the New Deal Cafe recently beat out the likes of Wolf Trap, the 9:30 Club and the Birchmere in WTOP’s Best Music Venue contest.  Seriously.

So how did that happen?  That a 70-person-capacity funky local cafe has won that much local love?  Bar manager and music coordinator Amethyst Dwyer has some thoughts about that.

First, the musicians love it – for the vibe, the great energy, the occasional rowdiness (though always “family-friendly), and the sense that the audience is into the music.

For the many volunteers who make the Cafe run, including its seven-eight bartenders what makes the Cafe so special is the Cooperative – that it’s not just a nonprofit but also a communal venture. To quote Amethyst: “We all looooove the cafe”.  While the restaurant is run by Karim Kmaiha,  the bar, cafe and art shows are all run by the cooperative. Terri Rutledge, the general manager, coordinates it all and the five-member volunteer Board of Directors helps to oversee the big picture.  (Oh, and Julia Wade is the volunteer art director.)

And for the patrons?  It’s like an English pub without the dogs (except for one service dog who’s allowed by law and very welcome). Family-friendly and nonthreatening for the many single women who hang out at the bar – which she encourages anyone new to town to do, as the bartenders make sure everyone is introduced.

Speaking of patrons, Amethyst recommends they make reservations for dinner if they want to be sure they have a seat, especially on weekends.

Amethyst and Dorian

So who IS this friendly, welcoming earth mamma who helps makes the whole back room such a cool place?  Amethyst’s first career was as a massage therapist, primarily at the Four Seasons Hotel.  She moved to Old Greenbelt in ’96 and both she and husband Dorian Winterfeld became involved in the New Deal early on (and he currently serves on the board).  So it was a natural to start her second career managing the bar at the New Deal – her “day job.”  Then in January of ’11 she volunteered to take on the job of booking entertainment – which actually takes more time than her paid job.  Her other duties include managing the calendar.

In choosing performers to book in the Cafe, Amethyst looks at their links, listens to their CDs, watches their videos on YouTube, and solicits word of mouth.  For groups wanting to perform here she insists they have at least one of those, or that she’s seen them perform in person.  Speaking of which, a great way to get seen is by performing at the Cafe’s open mike events on Thursdays.  Amethyst books a huge diversity of music, including rock, blues, big band, Celtic, soul, world beat, and bluegrass.

More Musicians than Ever Wanting to Perform Here


Because the Cafe has been enjoying a Renaissance of popularity in the last couple of years, it usually enjoys a back-up of 100+ acts of various types wanting to perform here.  But thanks to the New Deal’s great success in WTOP’s poll, that number has just about doubled.  That’s close to 200 groups wanting to play here for tips only, y’all!  Why?  Because of not just the great vibe but its status as a  good stepping-off place for groups.  And hey, the tips can amount to as much as $300 (because New Deal patrons know to tip well) while too many D.C. clubs pay their performers as little as $100.  The Cafe also has a great sound technician in Frank Kayser, also a volunteer.  Amethyst calls him “our sound god”.

All told, the Cafe owes its success to Karim’s fabulous cooking, to the earth mamma who books great acts, to the sound god, to the art director, to the general manager, to the board of directors and the other co-op members who volunteer in so many ways, but financially, it’s all about the beer, specifically the on-tap variety.  It’s thanks to beer on tap that the Cafe has almost completely paid off its debt – about $100,000 of it!  The only income to the co-op is from the sale of beer and wine and of the two, Beer is King.

 Beer photo credit.

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com.

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