Ten years ago, when John Chambers started BloomBars, he envisioned it as a studio for arts classes and performances that he could eventually grow to locations around the world. “Soon after doing it a little bit, I realized it was my backyard where I wanted to make a difference,” says Chambers, 44. His not-for-profit space in Columbia Heights has programming for all ages, but it’s become best known for curating art for kids: He’s hosted poetry readings, puppet shows, dance lessons, movie nights and even a monthly open-mic night, where children 12 and younger show off their skills onstage. Much like he might encourage his young patrons to do, Chambers is using his imagination on his dream day. His “future-fantasy” itinerary includes a festival and a march all around D.C. with his 7-year-old daughter, Ava Maya — but really, everyone is invited.
As we walk out my back door and into the alley, we’re greeted by D.C.’s first “Alley Mural Walk,” a community celebration and benefit for MuralsDC and their artists, who can be seen putting the finishing touches on garage doors and buildings that line the alleys of Columbia Heights. This is like a festival: All the residents have agreed to donate their garage doors as canvases, and all these muralists come in and create this mural walk. Vegan food sponsor Khepra’s Raw Food Juice Bar hands me a bag with an avocado plantain pie and a coconut sea moss smoothie. It’s delicious, trust me. So we’re dancing through the streets as all this stuff is happening.
As the crowds begin to swell, we all pick up trash bags for a community cleanup. My daughter and I actually do this most Wednesday nights, if anybody wants to stop by BloomBars [3222 11th St. NW] and join us. With the alleys and streets spotless, we head to the fountains at Columbia Heights Civic Plaza, and get completely soaked while we dance and sing along with local musicians.
We’d have a brief power nap at the oxygen chamber, also known as the United States Botanic Garden. I call it the oxygen chamber because you walk in and go, “Ahhh, oxygen!” It feels so great. This works best when wearing dark sunglasses and carrying a baby, from experience. We’d have lunch delivered from Lapis — we’d have their famous sabzi. It’s a spinach dish, and it’s like magic.
We’d continue our second-line-like march down to the Navy Yard, where we’d all get in paddleboats and paddle up the Anacostia River to the National Arboretum. As the sun begins to set, we commence a lantern walk through the Asia [garden]. You just walk through and throughout. There’s a little nook with a bunch of gnomes, and a puppet show, and a little band playing in another corner, so there’s all these little things that happen throughout the walk. And if you’ve never been to those gardens as they meander down to the water of the Anacostia before, it’s just gorgeous.
Finally, we’d end up at my Cheers, Room 11. Now just a small group, kids off to bed. I order a habanero-infused strawberry sangria. With the doors locked and the curtains closed, we have a little dance party into the night. Outside on the patio is an air taxi waiting to take us to the University of Maryland Observatory to watch the stars melt into the sunrise.