YOU MAY HAVE wondered, at one time or another, what Heaven is really like.
Depends on what you listen to.
Talking Heads tell us it's "a place where nothing ever happens."
According to Belinda Carlisle, it's "a place on earth."
Actually, it's a place in Adams-Morgan.
Heaven is the name of a new mixed-use club at 2327 18th St. NW, up the stairs from the Isola Verde restaurant, which features a unique menu combination of Eritrean and Italian foods.
A typical night in Heaven: In the front room lined with funky old sofas and easy chairs, patrons drink and chat while TV monitors play reruns of the old "Batman" series. The walls are adorned with big, colorful abstract paintings by Mike Walberg, who is also manager of the club. A recent graduate of UDC's arts program, Walberg gave himself an exhibition as a graduation gift, but says he will be showing other artists often. In the adjoining room, DJ Tommy Berard ("Psycho Tommy") dances with himself to his propulsive sequencing of Ride, Jesus Jones and Cop Shoot Cop; the club's music mix is alternative/progressive, he says, but all the DJs have been instructed to take requests. In back, there's an outdoor patio with a bold mural of angels, gods and clouds. And the breeze is truly heavenly.
This is a club in progress, still in search of an identity. But so far, the concept of Heaven seems to be comfort, no cover charge and a follow-your-bliss attitude.
"Welcome to Heaven," the club's owner, Eritrean-born Muhari Woldemarian, is fond of saying. "If you don't like it, go to Hell."
He's referring to the restaurant's intriguing basement bar. Woldemarian says he applied to the ABC board for approval to use the name, but the board rejected the idea, so Hell is merely an official nickname.
A sign on the curiously shaped metal door warns, "Please be careful of the art," and beyond it is the sort of funkily postapocalyptic-industrial, art-directed, low-key hangout you can find on every corner in New York's East Village. Hell's denizens hunch over eccentrically shaped copper-encrusted cocktail tables and at the bar, which features a dense mural combining images of Santeria, voodoo and Catholic iconography -- including the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse -- Hieronymus Bosch and a bartender's sign that says "The Devil is IN."
While nursing a Rolling Rock at the bar, a young woman in a Sisters of Mercy T-shirt plays with melted wax from the flickering votive candles on the bar.
"I'm making a man," she says to the fascinated fellow next to her. And so she is -- there's a sprawling, screaming-red voodoo doll homunculus on the bar before her.
The lighting -- wall sconces covered by fiber-glass life masks and pairs of hands clutching the amber ceiling fixtures -- creates a strangely comforting gloom, and the whole place has a scorched and melted appearance. It even looks as if the designers set fire to the linoleum for effect. At this point, Hell seems like more fun -- it clearly has more of a sense of what it's about than Heaven. And oddly enough, it's air-conditioned. Call 202/483-2709.
AFTER BEING banished from Hell -- he created it, then left after "tragic business differences" with Woldemariam -- Al Jirikowic moved a few blocks away and created Chaos, a new bar upstairs from the Asmara Ethiopian restaurant at 1725 Columbia Rd. NW. Two flights of red stairs sprint up a narrow silver-painted corridor, leading into a cozy, indescribably eclectic space where the likes of Iggy Pop, Warren Zevon and Kraftwerk take turns ruling the sound system. Improving on the design of his impressive Hell, Jirikowic's Chaos has burnished metals, silvered bas-reliefs and devotional altars and a window front affording an aerial view of mesmerizingly chaotic Columbia Road street life. Call 202/797-4637.
NOT CONTENT to join other clubs in complaining about lack of press, the spunky little downtown club 15 Minutes set to doing something about it. The club's owners have started their own free monthly music and nightlife scene magazine. About 22,000 copies of Crackdc, an irreverent 24-page tabloid, hit the street Wednesday at eight downtown street boxes and 55 area bars, restaurants and retail spots.
Features in the debut issue include Band Clips, a guide to local bands offering blurby description, for those who wonder what Mother May I ("Minneapolis on the Potomac") or Officer Ruckus ("female fronted slam-groove-punk") sound like before you venture out to hear them; an editorial attack on sacred-cow radio station WHFS; a captioned photo essay on the venerable Waffle Shop ("to capture this atmosphere Boogie's Diner in Georgetown spent a couple million. They didn't come close"); a wickedly funny "Band Booker's Quiz"; and a cover story about that mysterious graffiti artist-around-town who signs himself Cool Disco Dan.
The formula is indisputably cool, but it's an expensive risk.
"We know it's going to work," says Joe Englert, one of 15 Minutes' owners. "People are always whining and badmouthing D.C.: 'Everybody's yuppie,' 'Everybody goes home at 5.' But D.C. is a town full of people who love to go out and love to be entertained. It's a very underrated city for nightlife. You have to remember we didn't have an industrial boom here to give us a bunch of available warehouse spaces for clubs. So people have to be more creative in the club situation here. And that's what we'd like to push for. We're all for competition -- it just makes other clubs better."
Given the city's drug problems, the magazine's name is already controversial; Englert acknowledges receiving objections from several club owners.
"Some people really hate it," he says. "It is a provocative, attention-getting name, and that was intentional. But we're not advocating taking drugs or anything. We mean it as a crack in your face to get going and do something."