This week some bad news came out: Chief Ike's Mambo Room, the storied bar on Columbia Road in Adams Morgan, is closing on Sunday.
The bar, which has been open since 1992, was once the closest bar to Columbia Heights, back before Wonderland opened in 2004. Columbia Heightsters of the day used to trek down towards Adams Morgan to get a drink or two.
The owner, Al Jirikowic, told the Express he was closing the bar and retiring, because “Adams Morgan is no longer where the hot, cool people go. It’s all becoming strollerified now.”
You might not imagine it now if you've visited lately, but the spot was pretty hip. Jirikowic said to the Post that people like George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh would come in, and it achieved some national notoriety when the Bush daughters were busted there for underage drinking.
The place had crazy decor, paintings of Dwight Eisenhower dressed like a Native American (hence the name,) the bar covered in who knows what, little cubby holes and hidden parts of the bar, and it hosted all kinds of events -- for example, my favorite local band of the time, the Assrockers, a mock metal band, played there a bunch of times.
Both the article about the bar closing and the Post columnist Clinton Yates point out that the bar had been declining for some time -- there wasn't the same vibe. But at the same time, maybe part of that is because of the changing neighborhood.
Yates's column is pretty interesting; he talks about the disappearance of a lot of popular older places, to be replaced by "$14 drinks and small plates." He continues:
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.Heavy stuff.
I have fond memories of the bar too, I lived behind the Safeway in Adams Morgan in 2003 and 2004 and spent many nights at Chief Ike's. It was one of the cooler, crazier bars around, but in a who knows what will happen way as opposed to the getting-in-fights-over-Jumbo-Slice crazy on the 18th Street strip of bars.
There was also the less well-known upstairs bar-within-a-bar, the Cosmo Lounge. It was a relaxed bar with a couple cool bartenders and a chill, quiet vibe. It closed a few years ago.
And now, the whole bar is no more. Jirkowic talks about writing a personal history of the city: if it includes 1% of what happened at the bar, it'd be a hell of a read.
Top photo by rockcreek, bottom photo by dcjohn
Update: Wonderland wasn't the first bar ever, but the first bar with a wide clientele.