The Channel Inn didn’t change much in its 40-plus years on the Southwest Waterfront—the nautical decor, restaurant menu (Veal Oscar!), and little Dial soaps in the guest rooms are just a few things that contributed to its charming, ’70s-time-capsule vibe. The hotel’s lounge, the Engine Room, kept better pace with the times but remained a similarly gentrification-free zone—in part because of the loyal band of D.C. regulars drawn there by 3rd Generation, the lounge’s house band for the past 20 years. Bassist Edmond “Bubba” Harley, keyboardist Harlan Jones, drummer Kenny Burrell, and singer Tiya Crosson played a mix of R&B, soul, funk, and jazz for a predominantly African-American crowd, mostly folks in their 40s, 50s, and 60s looking for good music, good food, and a familiarity that is more and more difficult to come by in D.C. There were regular sets on Fridays and Saturdays, and the band backed a popular open mic on Wednesday and Sunday nights. (Marion Barry, at one time an Engine Room fixture, liked to get on stage but would only ever sing the blues, Crosson says.)
In April, the Channel Inn will close for business, as part of the $2 billion Wharf waterfront redevelopment project, leaving 3rd Generation without a home—the band’s last gig at the Engine Room was Sunday, March 30. So where will fans be able to find them? “At home watching TV as of right now,” says keyboard player Harlan Jones. “You might get off a Metro train or bus and see us playing in front of a pot,” Harley quipped during one of the band’s last Engine Room shows. Luckily, giving people 20 years of good times fosters a lot of good will—regulars are helping them find a new spot. For now, they’ve got at least one night secured: Fridays at the VFW Hall in Lanham, Md. But will it be the same? “Will this cult of the Channel Inn follow us? We’ll see,” says Crosson.