I first learned this town from my father, the nocturnal graphic artist who designed the city’s first Department of Housing logo on his own draft table. Dressed in the blazer of his choice (with me trailing behind in one of his others jackets, which was always too big for me) we would wander the ‘old’ Adams Morgan, a true marketplace of international flavor. Johnny Rodriguez tap danced at the bar in Cafe Lautrec. Trio‘s made the best steak sandwiches I’ve ever had. And there were the Ethiopian joints in the same block: Meskerem (which still stands), The now defunct Red Sea, and our personal favorite, Fasika’s, which has since moved Uptown.
Pop would slide us into Fasika’s and the owner himself would always shake his hand or come by the table to make sure we were good. Before Fasika’s the only thing I had known about Ethiopian culture was that their kids were starving and needed my help for five cents a day. So when the pretty waitresses (in the dresses the respectfully clung to their assets) brought out the big platters and the plates of njera (spongy bread used to wrap the food in hand before eating) I got my first real taste of what the good life could be.
More than 20 years later I sit at a table in the corner at Duk’em the heir apparent to the Fasika’s tradition. I’m in my own green herringbone blazer and dress shirt, no tie. It’s a Saturday night, and after 9, which means that the Ethiopians have taken their joint back from the college kids and the gentrifiers long enough for a few drinks, a meal, and to listen to the band play the music their grow up with.
The keyboard warms up the crowd as my waitress, a matronly woman with a beautiful smile, drops my lamb tibs in front of me. I just want a quick bite as I’m heading over to Axel F at Liv to headnod the night away to the sounds of DJs Jahsonic and Stylus. But I’m barely into my first bite before the drunk 20-ish white kids stumble in, trampling onto foreign soil with the kind of entitlement that gets you a knife between the ribs in other countries. Heads turn at the bar as security orders the two into their seats. The regulars look at the gringos like they just fell of a garbage truck. A few minutes later the dude is out on the floor again, this time break-dancing…to slow music. He’s asked the leave by the owner, but the girlfriend uses her suburban voice to get them one more chance.
“That looks good, man” the culprit says to me from one chair away, his words slurred. They ALWAYS sit next to me. “What is that?”
I’m wondering if this asshole even knows what kind of restaurant he’s in. But I don’t have to wonder whether he’d have ended up bloodied out on the sidewalk if he’d tried the same the ass-clown shit ten years before. Luckily for him Ethiopians are generally mellow folks. Had he run that with some Jamaicans or even locals at a cabaret across the bridge, the only table he would have gotten would be in the ER. But this is a happier, gentler DC now. No more guns. No more blades. No more looking over your shoulder when crossing the invisible lines between territories. If this is supposedly a good thing, then why does it make me feel so…dirty.
I pay my check and cross the street in time to peep the Poemcees cover Whodini’s “One Love”. Deborah Bond is up front in gleaming blue stretch pants, her locks in pigtails. My blazer comes off as the temperature rises. I soul clap and two-step, and stand on the short stage when Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” comes on. Stylus is doubling as the host, rocking a white Kangol, track jacket and tight jeans, reminiscent of an 80’s style most of DC wouldn’t have touched to save its life back in the day. That was too New York. But now they all respect it because it’s now “acceptable” history.
I forget all about the fools on that empty dance floor back at Duk’em and proceed to break a sweat. A cutie the color of dark chocolate stops short and stands a foot next to me. Her grape purple four-inch heels are encased in matching leg warmers. Her top is a leopard print in green. Her ass is conservatively marvelous. She keeps looking over at me. Then I glance over at her. Then I turn and speak. But she doesn’t hear me. Or she ignores me. Then she walks away.
This is why I don’t club so much anymore.
Out front, Stylus, DP from Poemcees, Priest Da Nomad and I dream of a Sunday brunch where guys can hangout in greasy pajamas, eat sugar cereal and forget about being grown. But just then, as the clock is kissing 4am, we’re immortal, still doing our thing in our city. And that’s all that matters.