So I made the rounds last Friday to check out some changes and some comings and goings.
I started out at Bardo Rodeo (2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington; 703/527-9399), to bid it farewell, as it's closing its doors for good this week. Rumors that it would close have been swirling for nearly a year. First the owners moved brewing operations out to Amissville, Va., and then they downsized Bardo substantially. Rent was just too high along that booming Wilson Boulevard corridor.
When I wandered in, the place looked anemic. Only a few patrons were bellied up to the bar, while another few played pool. The bartenders were giving desultory service. I had an ale (that tasted soapy) while the man behind the counter gave me the scoop: "Yup, we're closing." Any drink specials being offered? "Well, we have to finish all the beer, so there's probably going to be some deals being made," he said, smiling.
So then does the whole crew move out to Herndon? "Chamdo won't open for another two weeks or so, but yeah, most of us will go over there," he said. Chamdo is the latest "Rodeo" that Bill Stewart will have helped create, after Roratongo Rodeo, Amdo Rodeo and Bardo. It will be at 208 Eldon St. in Herndon (see www.chamdo.com), and there are plans to make it a 24-hour establishment, with regular film screenings and some high tech additions, along with Bardo beer. Stewart's brother Andrew will own Chamdo with another partner, while Bill earlier this week said he's looking to open a spot on Capitol Hill: "Something that has good food and good beer, a nice neighborhood joint, instead of super trendy. That gets old."
I headed west, stopping at Whitlow's on Wilson (2854 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703/276-9693) to see their brand new room (they've expanded into yet another storefront). It's got yet another bar and yet another pool table, and the room looked nice from the doorway (there was a corporate party under way, and my attempts to crash it were foiled), with lots of wood paneling and such.
Around the corner on Highland, the line was down the block to get into Mister Days
(Clarendon Boulevard and Highland Street, Arlington; 703/527-1600), the new Arlington edition of the downtown sports bar. I'd visited previously, and aside from a couple of nice bartenders, I can't see the appeal. A dozen video screens keep the sports coming at you, but the calamari and the burgers were mighty disappointing. I didn't spend much time visiting the site's previous tenant, the Blue & Gold brewpub, but the food was much better and there weren't a lot of annoying televisions.
Onward I drove, to deep Vienna, where I poked my head into the new White Tiger Indian restaurant (146 E. Maple St., Vienna; 703/255-0800). They were having their grand opening, and the food offerings were delicious, the sitar music impressive. But what happened to the blues that used to be at that address? You see, White Tiger is what used to be the Vienna Tap & Grille, always a reliable place for local blues, rock and R&B. The manager said that while they have canceled the Sunday brunch musical duo of Marge Calhoun and Ron Holloway, they'll still offer live music on Fridays and Saturdays. I wouldn't bet the farm on that continuing for long though.
Since I was close by, I stopped into That's Amore (150 Branch Rd., Vienna; 703/281-7777) where my new favorite local band, Cecilia, was playing. They had the enormous main dining room packed with fans, and a half-hour of their glorious familial harmonies got my batteries charged up enough to head downtown.
First stop in the District was the Cage (1811 14th St. NW; 202/234-6000), on the same block as the Black Cat. Owned by the fellow who used to have the cash cow dance club the Cellar, the Cage is about as charming as the Cellar was, i.e. not at all. It's one vast second-floor room with bars running the length of two sides. The center is a good size dance floor, ringed with excellent lights and a sound system that'll keep you from having to talk to anybody. The cinderblock walls are bare and depressing, the music is faceless techno and "hi-NRG." I had to go.
It was just a couple of steps to the Black Cat, so I moseyed over to chat with owner Dante Ferrando. His dad, Bobby Ferrando, has officially moved his Food for Thought food business into the Black Cat's kitchen, and he's offering all manner of dishes, including much vegan fare, to the Cat's patrons Monday through Saturday from 7 to 11 p.m. In the club's Red Room they've installed the Foodforthought-O-mat, one of those old-style food automats where you slip in your money and open a little door and pull out your sandwich. That way if you've got late night vegan munchies (it's all vegan), you can sate your jones after the kitchen's closed.
Dante also pointed out the improvements to his club's "backstage," the little side stage toward the front of the main concert room: new lights, new speakers, new carpet, a video screen, video projector. He's been diversifying so as to attract more and different crowds to his club in this age of uncertainty over the appeal of live music. He's been booking a film series on Monday nights and has booked regular storytelling and other spoken word nights.
"It would be great to run the club as a 500-person live music spot seven nights a week," he says, "but this is a different time. I'm looking more at the model of d.c. space [the still-missed defunct joint that was at 7th & E streets NW] for what I can do with the Backstage." Ferrando has had to hire a new booking agent with the departure of Joanna Virello (who's now booking the Garage), so look for subtle changes in the Black Cat's offerings.
After that I drove down F street to eyeball the old Bank nightclub, which as of Friday is Platinum (915 F St. NW; 202/393-3555), an upscale dance club from part-owners of DC Live and Eleventh Hour. I'll be checking in on Platinum in the next few weeks.
Speaking of dance clubs, I had one more stop to make, at Tracks (111 First St. SE; 202/488-3320), the 15-year-old dance club down by the Navy Yard. It's closing Nov. 6 and I wanted to check it out one last time. The music wasn't particularly cutting-edge but it was pretty hot, and the dance floor was packed when I got there around 1 a.m. General Manager Patrick Little told me the property's being sold for development, but that Tracks fans shouldn't worry. "We'll open up a new club at 1824 Half St SW, sometime before the end of the year." He says it may or may not be called Tracks, but that we'll all hear about it when it's ready to open.
And as for the rumor that Madonna will make an appearance at the closing night party (a rumor he helpfully told me about), Little said slyly that "there's always a possibility for anything to happen." Indeed.