Owner Hughley aims to shatter the chains of Black identity through the restaurant’s globalized food and drink menu.
Afrofuturism is a movement aimed at reclaiming Black identity through art, literature and political resistance. Creators seek to merge our culture and history in a way that retells the past through a futuristic and more positive gaze. For D.C. entrepreneur and restaurateur Keem Hughley, bringing this idea to life through his latest concept, Bronze, was not only important but necessary.
Opened on Christmas Eve 2022 along D.C.'s famed H Street corridor, the first-of-its-kind restaurant and bar is already sparking conversation around traditional African flavors and how Black people should be able to expand their dishes from the global perspective.
"Our catchphrase is 'the future is Bronze.' And it means so many different things for us. It means imagined realities, not prescribing to what the world has created for us, and being able to showcase the spectrum of Black identity through the diasporic communities around the world," says Hughley, owner of Bronze. "I want to shatter the limited notions of Black identity and completely unchain that."
The idea for the business was born during the pandemic as Hughley thought about what he wanted to introduce next to the culinary space. He knew he wanted to do something different while also addressing our community's social conditions over the last 600 years. After discovering Ytasha Womack's book, Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture, he did a deep dive into the movement. This unlocked several possibilities on what his latest business venture could be.
"How do we tell a legacy story, when the legacy doesn't exist, because it couldn't exist. When we think of Louis Vuitton and Tiffany's, they were afforded the luxury to exist. For us, we never really had that luxury. So, with Afrofuturism we get to create that luxury and story. For Bronze, we've created our own story starting from the 1300s and we take it up from there," explains Hughley. "The story of the food and beverage is told through the eyes of an African man we created, Mr. Bronze."
Described as creative African fare, the menu centers around food from the perspective of someone from Africa with globalized ingredients. The restaurant's executive chef Toya Henry leans on any and every cooking technique and ingredient found around the world, so as to not be limited in any of the dishes she creates. The goal is to make guests feel as though Mr. Bronze traveled to another country, brought that dish back to Africa and put his own spin on it.
At just three weeks in, Hughley shares that the grilled aubergine with broccolini, torched oysters and grilled sea bass are rising as menu standouts.
"The aubergine and broccolini is just an excellent dish. It's one of our vegan items. We use a charred broccolini with it that we spice, season and salt," shares Hughley.
Another large part of Bronze is its bar program. It is Hughley's hope that it is eventually recognized as H-Street's premiere food and drinks spot.
"Our bar program was created by Al Thompson. With him, we're trying to figure out how we highlight the Black mixologists and bartenders of the 1900s that didn't get recognized for their creations. We call that the most known, unknown," he shares. "We also draw inspiration from books and sounds like those from Octavia Butler or songs from Coltrane, and we create the cocktails around our reactions to them. It's been a hit so far. Now, it's about becoming the largest spirit program on the H-Street, Northeast corridor."
The three-story space is truly an experience. Floor one is where the 26-foor bar is housed along with artwork commisioned by local artist Apartment 50. Floor two features 6 works from Nigerian artists Alabi Mwoya, which imagines the associates of Mr. Bronze, as well as a large chandelier.
"It inundates the consumer to get this overall sensory feeling. We've created languages: a food language, bar language, and a language based on our architecture. We're creating from things that could not exist based on the conditions over the past hundreds of years. When you think of that from the African diaspora viewpoint, you typically haven't been afforded the luxury aspect of it. That's what we're doing," shares Hughley.