The Bar Belle: Chief Ike’s Mambo Room

Chief Ike’s Mambo Room
1725 Columbia Rd. NW

At the top of 18th Street and just west on Columbia Road in Adams Morgan, a bright blue neon sign buzzes “Chief Ike’s Mambo Room.” The door under the words “Chief Ike’s” comes with a $5 cover (after 9:30), and a bouncer checking IDs at the entrance. The door under the words “Mambo Room” leads to a tall, skinny staircase with no cover charge, no bouncer and a sign behind the bar proclaiming “PBR 2 for $5.” It’s hard to believe the two bars are connected. I later found out the upstairs bar actually isn’t called the “Mambo Room” but rather the “Cosmo Light Lounge.” Regardless, this bar is a must.

Both the upstairs and the downstairs of Chief Ike’s brought in people ready to dance and have a fabulous time. For the first time at a bar in D.C., I felt truly comfortable getting my groove on without worrying about other people judging what I was wearing or how I was dancing. And while I didn’t get low to the beats of Lil’ John downstairs, I did praise the DJ upstairs for playing “Arrested Development.”

Our DJ for the night calls himself Jimmy the Truth, and while he usually spins punk rock, for some reason (which he couldn’t articulate on Saturday night) he was playing 80s dance tunes – and the whole bar was loving it.

Aside from great tunes, the upstairs part of Chief Ike’s boasts a pool table and “Area 51” (an arcade game with plastic guns). Almost as confusing as the games in the Cosmo Light Lounge was the d?cor. The creepy skeleton painted on a back wall further illuminated by the use of a black light made me start to think twice about the bar. But then George Clinton started blaring through the speakers and I chose to pay more attention to the audio stimulus than the visual collage.

As the alcohol began to set in, I started to explore the bar a little more, I found a second staircase leading back down to the main bar and was thrilled to see the dance party downstairs was grooving to Outkast as much as the upstairs crew was shouting to the B52’s. This is what the D.C. bar scene should be: people from all walks of life coming together to enjoy cheap beer and appreciating great music (in whatever form of dancing, head bobbing or chair swiveling the listener sees fit). Part of me was ready to pay the $5 cover and step the dancing up a bit, but the night had other plans for me. I enjoyed a few more 80s power ballads reluctantly left Chief Ike’s.

Will I go back? As another friend of mine said on Sunday morning, “Any bar that will let me listen to Cindi Lauper and go on army recon missions in the same night is definitely worth supporting.” I’ll be back. And maybe next time I’ll pay the cover and have a dance party to music from this decade.

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