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Gua-Rapo Adds Live Music on Wednesdays

After three months, restaurant has found urban niche in Courthouse.

When he opened Gua-Rapo last fall, Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld wanted to make the restaurant an urban mecca in Arlington, complete with a week full of live music.

Standing in his way was a problem he had faced before: Gua-Rapo, at 2039 Wilson Blvd., was the new spot on the block, without a long-standing clientele. Adding to that was Fraga-Rosenfeld’s goal of creating a laidback, quiet place, a restaurant that offered tapas and drinks, but also let visitors talk – the kind of restaurant that has no neon sign out front.

That made live music an unwieldy proposition.

But after only four months in the area, he has gotten three-fifths of the way to his goal, and added Wednesday nights to the live music schedule last week, with Folie a Trois. "I planned to do it from the beginning," Fraga-Rosenfeld said, "But it costs money. It’s not cheap to have a live band, so I had to excite [people] to come out."

Fraga-Rosenfeld has done it before, with Chi Cha and Gazuza in the District, and Bambulé in Chevy Chase. He drew on that experience with Gua-Rapo, pulling musicians booked at Chi-Cha into Gua-Rapo.

He also decided to start with the beginning of the week, and had French Connection playing Monday nights. "It’s easy to get people out on a Friday or a Saturday," he said, but that leaves the weekday untouched.

Still, it took a while to build a steady clientele. "The first night, it was just me and the band," he said. "But if you have consistency, if every Monday, two more people come, and two more people come … then it’s okay."

Gua-Rapo did not fly under the radar for long, and Fraga-Rosenfeld built up a steady market in the neighborhood, people looking for a "more urban feel" in Arlington.

<b>Call it Folly</b>

<bt>People looking for an urban feel are the perfect crowd, Michael Harris said. Harris, the guitarist for Folie a Trois, said the band plays a mix of jazz, hip-hop, funk and "movie music."

Harris played at Chi-Cha on Mondays, and has faith in building up a crowd of regulars on Wednesdays at Gua-Rapo. "Mauricio does very well," he said, with nights at the club centered on different music styles. "I’m happy to see him going for a more eclectic American approach," Harris said.

Folie a Trois, meaning Three Men’s Delusion, is Harris on guitar, Ira Gonzalez on bass, and Jay Tobey on drums. The three have played together in the past, but Folie a Trois is still relatively new. The band fits the space at Gua-Rapo, he said, and will make for a nicely varied music schedule.

"Monday is French night, Tuesdays is gypsy night, and Wednesday night is edgier. People like to hear live music like they might hear in a New York club," he said. "Jazz and hip-hop mixed with vintage funk."

<b>Not So Loud</b>

<bt>One of the problems facing live music venues in Arlington in the past is complaints from the neighbors. The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor has developed so that clubs and bars often exist cheek by jowl with residential neighborhoods.

Peter Owen, head of one of the area civic associations, said Gua-Rapo had been a good neighbor so far. Fraga-Rosenfeld had eased his way into the community when the restaurant opened, he said. "It sounds like Gua-Rapo will be an asset to community," Owen said. "Mauricio has a nose for what’s cool and hip. The fact he moved to Clarendon is good sign."

Harris and Fraga-Rosenfeld said that those feelings should continue with the expanded music schedule. "We’re not that loud, we don’t want to be a nightclub," Fraga-Rosenfeld said. "I want people to be able to talk." That philosophy carries over in Folie a Trois, Harris said. "It’s not music to sit and listen to, it’s music for drinking and talking and socializing," he said.

Besides, Fraga-Rosenfeld said, he didn’t expect to hear many complaints from the neighbors; his customers are the neighbors. ""There are a lot of walk-ins, a lot of people from the immediate neighborhood," he said. "When I see people leave, I see them walking home."