Friday, August 29, 2014

Great article on the history of Wonderland

Oktoberfest at Wonderland Wonderland, our beloved local watering hole, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary -- 10 years of trivia, dancing, hanging out and the like. Eater DC has a great retrospective on the place, an interview with owners Matt McGovern and Rose Donna.

There's a lot of good stuff in there, like how they celebrated a 6-month anniversary of the bar because they weren't sure it would make it to one year. Donna and McGovern, who are married, met while McGovern was bartending at Madam's Organ. They moved to Columbia Heights and talked about opening a bar. Looking through the city's tax records, they found the address of the owner of Nob Hill, the longtime African-American gay bar that was located where Wonderland is now, dropped a note under his door that they'd like to buy the place, and he got right back to them. (Here's more about Nob Hill, which opened in 1957, or maybe in the 1940s.)

It was also one of the first establishments on 11th, along with Columbia Heights Coffee, which was since replaced by Maple. Matt and Rose also talk about how taxis started to come by without anybody else calling, hoping to take home bargoers, and they knew they made it when group houses in the area started to mention their proximity to the bar.

The article also talks about the vibe and crowd -- pretty diverse and friendly. Matt recounts one story where police officers, who came in for a while, would recognize people they busted also hanging out at the bar.

That reminds me of my favorite story about the bar from its early days: one day, some guys in ski masks came in and they were robbing the place. The crowd of regulars all laughed, assuming it was some other regular playing a joke, and went back to drinking and chatting. Then when folks realized it wasn't a joke, they cleaned out the register and left in about three minutes, after which everybody went back to drinking and talking like it was no big deal. Another time, a guy showed up with an inflatable penis costume for no reason.

Obviously I'm a big fan of the place, and do yourself a favor and read the article.

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