The Bar Belle: The Reef

The Reef
2446 18th St. N.W.

Before a barrage of rain, sleet and snow pushed us back into a wintry mix last week, it was warm enough for Colonials in D.C. for Spring Break to imagine, briefly, that they were really getting bombed in the Bahamas or crunked in Cancun. It was warm enough for us not to feel too bad for turning away a stumbling drunk frat grad who showed up on our doorstep at one in the morning looking for Kappa Sig – twice.

Last Tuesday, it was warm enough for us to wander up through Dupont and Adam’s Morgan, getting carded for Jack Daniel’s ice cream at Larry’s (delicious) and contemplating a long-overdue tour of the Founding Church of Scientology (dangerous). Then we passed the only thing that could have pulled us in from the springtime weather, one word chalked onto a sign outside The Reef: KARAOKE.

I had been to The Reef once before, on a summer weekend when the three-story joint was so packed you were forced to sip your beer smack in the middle of a sweaty clubber and a spooked clownfish. The Reef’s d?cor has always seemed a bit strange to me – the huge sea coral structures that flank the bar, the aquarium-sandwiched booths, and the water-swirled skylight all add up to something that approximates a washed-up 70s casino, not a hip Adams Morgan joint with a line spilling onto 18th Street. And when the place is crowded, the marine theme borders are unnerving – as much as I dislike the close-pressed flesh and the bass-heavy soundtrack, I imagine the starfish find it positively horrifying.

But on this unseasonably warm night, the bar was comfortably busy, the PBR was $3 and even the fish seemed to have a certain swagger in their swim. And while I’m sure the impersonations of Kanye and Alanis couldn’t have done much for the sea life, the people folk were hooked from the first warbling notes of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” As it turns out, The Reef’s got a cultish karaoke following on Tuesdays; the 9:30 to 1:30 shift draws its good share of regulars, from an older guy who does a lounge-act Bobby Darrin to a flirty 30-something who gives early Madonna a run for her money.

The Reef’s got thousands of songs to choose from – there are four full pages of Elvis tunes, and we heard everything from a whole-hearted “You Oughta Know” to a screeching frat boy version of “Say My Name.” A friend and I took an ill-fated try at Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer.” But whatever you choose, get your request slips in fast – the line’s backed up for the full four hours.

I will never understand why people wait in lines for this place on nights when you do not get to make everyone else listen to how good your Eddie Vedder impersonation has gotten since Jeremy spoke in class (it’s gotten like, really, really good). But Cancun be damned, sitting under a tank of sad fish with a PBR in one hand and a piece of paper committing yourself to sing Eddie Murphy’s underappreciated 1985 foray into music, “Party all the Time,” in another, The Reef starts to look like a pretty good place to spring break.

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