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The Clef Club building housed the oldest black cabaret in the city, Oriental Gardens, in the basement. Managed by Louis Thomas, the cabaret drew large crowds and featured entertainers such as Duke Ellington and Bricktop. It also operated as the Louis Thomas Cabaret. The building also housed business offices.

The club may be named for the original Clef Club, formed in New York City in 1910 by musicians including James Reese Europe (1880-1919), a ragtime composer, bandleader, and musical entrepreneur who was trained here in Washington and who is credited with taking jazz out of the dance halls and into the concert halls. The Clef Club was a combination musicians' union and booking agency, whose members often performed together.

The original building was demolished in 2002.

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