But Chief Ike’s Mambo Room was a completely different animal.
Like those others, it meant many things to many people, but what sets it apart is the fact that it was around for so long with no specific feeder system to it, necessarily. You didn’t just randomly find yourself there, you had to seek it out, even though it was only a couple blocks off the main strip in Adams Morgan. Everyone I know has spent some phase of their life executing dance moves (likely terrible) at Ike’s, and it attracted the most cosmopolitan crowd I can think of.
There was a plethora of programming which will not be matched anytime soon. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a place that’s pulling off She Rex parties, stand-up comedy, classic hip-hop throwback nights, live music and football Sundays among other things. An episode of HBO’s “Real Sex” was once shot there for an erotic art auction in 1997. All of this in a bar that had more nooks and crannies than a kid’s funhouse. Some folks don’t even know there’s an entire second floor upstairs.
From a business sense, this isn’t particularly stunning. Regulars knew that things went awry when the cook was fired, and business never really recovered. For people like me, it was always a backup, probably not the main option, unless someone was specifically throwing an event. It was almost always a late night pilgrimage up to Ike’s on Ontario Road. The last time I was there was three weeks ago, on a snap decision after running into a friend.
Now, I’m entirely prepared to say that $14 drinks and small plates have officially taken over. It’s hard for me to envision a city in which Ike’s doesn’t exist, or places like it. There are a few left on that list, but none have the guilty pleasure draw of Ike’s. It was the place you went to and acted like you felt bad about being at, but never really did. It was fun without being sceney, reckless albeit not necessarily dangerous, and honest while still maintaining charm. The state of mind that the bar encapsulated was pretty much everything I remember about partying in the city as a young adult.
Owner Al Jirikowich told Express‘ Sadie Dingfelder that “Adams Morgan is no longer where the hot, cool people go. It’s all becoming strollerified now.” That may be true, but I fear that the larger arch of that sentiment is the actual problem. D.C. is becoming a place where if you’re not in a very specific (read: high) income bracket, being a child-free adult living in the city just isn’t that fun anymore.
For years, I lamented seeing vestiges of my childhood stripped away from the visual vocabulary of the city I grew up in. It was a bleak but understandable process of change that tugged at my young heart. But as the places that I still actively care about as a grown-up continue to shut their doors one by one, I find myself wondering if this next bubble will ever burst.
Sure, Chief Ike’s was just one place, in one neighborhood. But at this point, it sure doesn’t feel like it.