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Residents of Venerable Adams Morgan Co-op Protesting ABC License Renewal of Neighborhood’s Venerable Chief Ike’s

By Anthony L. Harvey

Images accompanying this feature can be viewed in the current issue PDF

At a spirited, five-hour public hearing the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board, five members of the Board heard testimony from residents of the well-known Beverly Court cooperative apartment building at 1736 Columbia Road who are protesting, on the basis of noise heard in their apartments, the liquor license renewal for the equally well (if not better) known Chief Ike’s Mambo Room, located across the street at 1723-25 Columbia Road, two doors down from Ontario Road. Both the cooperative and Chief Ike’s are also well liked in the community by artists, journalists, political activists, contrarians, and nightlife lovers of all stripes, and are known to ABC Board members as well.

Chief Ike’s is a multi-themed tavern, heavily embellished with boldly arresting decorative and fine arts, primarily patronized by young people in their 20s and 30s, according to Allan Jirikowic, owner and well known theatrical and arts impresario. The tavern serves food and has an entertainment endorsement on its liquor license which authorizes it to host live music, small cabaret acts, parties and special theme nights, and literary events — all of which occur in the establishment’s open area of its ground floor. This specifically themed “Chief Ike’s” occupies the entire ground floor of its two, relatively narrow, conjoined commercial buildings.

The second floor, contains the establishment’s two, much smaller spaces — the first, loosely themed as “Chaos” and the second, as “Pandemonium.” The second floor sound system is set up for a DJ and a small space is available for dancing. The Asian, Western, Mexican, and uniquely eclectic art and decorative works on both floors — all created by Washington artists — range from museum-quality realism to the visionary macabre.

The Beverly Court Cooperative is a handsome, four-story, medium-sized apartment building which partly fronts on Columbia Road at Ontario Road and then angles back behind adjacent commercial store fronts on Columbia Road toward 17th Street and the equally angled back wall of the old Ontario Theatre. It is the first cooperative apartment building the purchase of which was privately financed by its residents, this occurring in 1978 and 1979 and led by the artists and journalists then living in the building.

Beverly Court’s front and Ontario Road sides are zoned mixed-use/commercial, with the remainder of the apartment building falling into a residential zone with only two building spaces currently being commercially occupied, according to former ANC Commissioner Nancy Shia, a lead protestant and well-known crusading photo-journalist.

Shia and three fellow Beverly Court residents testified under oath to their being disturbed late at night and toward early morning closing hours by the bass and percussion sounds of live bands performing at Chief Ike’s. While none of these protestants asked that the Board not renew Chief Ike’s liquor license with its entertainment endorsement, all asked that Chief Ike’s honor its voluntary agreements that no noise from its establishment be audible in their respective apartments and that Jirikowic and his staff be more communicative with Beverly Court when noise problems occur.

Jirikowic and his manager, Robert Belmonte, rebutted the protestants assertions, citing the sworn testimony of ABC investigators that no noise emanating from Chief Ike’s was detected on 15 recent inspections and four earlier undercover visits — a rebuttal corroborated by the ABC investigator as well as by the experience  of the establishment’s managers as well. On one occasion, street traffic and radio amplification may have caused a low level of noise being detected on the Beverly Court side of the street; whether or not that noise came from Chief Ike’s and whether or not it could be heard in the protestants’ apartments was not established.

Protestants’ rejoinder was that the investigator had come at the wrong times — for example, between 10:00 p.m. and 12:00 midnight rather than between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. While Chief Ike’s witnesses testified to the sound suppression actions already taken, protestants insisted that more could be done. Jirikowic noted that the live music stage was now backed by two layers of soundproof glass, a layer of heavy recording studio-style foam, a quilted curtain, and a canvas painting. Speakers have been moved to positions 10 to 12 feet from the front of the building and together with a sub-woofer on rollers, all are now turned to face the rear of the building. Further, Jirikovic pointed out, two vestibules shield the single front entrance from patron noise. Subsequent to the ABC Board hearing this reporter visited the premises and was shown the noise abatement measures that been described at the hearing.

Shia, however, asserted that doors were often propped open and she asked that other of Chief Ike’s windows be further soundproofed. Protestant Randy Hansen inquired as to the disposition of a requested awning for sound suppression of noise from the front patio seating. In total dispute was the question of whose fault it was that neither the ABC inspectors nor Chief Ike’s staff had ever been invited into a Beverly Court apartment while such noise was being heard.

Acting ABC Board Chair Nick Alberti and members Donald Brooks and Herman Jones seemed puzzled in their questioning as to how the licensee’s people and the ABC inspectors heard no sounds but the Beverly Court apartment dwellers did. Do you think they’re hearing things, Donald Brooks asked Jirikovic.

On a lighter note, Alberti asked Jirikovice where the name of Chief Ike’s Mambo Room came from. Jirikovic recounted for the Board his having seen as a small boy a photograph in the Washington Post of President

Eisenhower in a Lakota Sioux war bonnet and of his asking his mother who that was. “It’s Ike,” she said, and many years later Jirikovic commissioned a terrific standing portrait of Ike in his war bonnet by Adams Morgan painter and muralist Byron Peck; it hangs in the middle of Chief Ike’s first floor. Coincidentally, Peck is also the painter of the exuberant mural on the back wall of the Ontario Theatre facing Beverly Court. As for the “Mambo Room,” Jirikovic explained the name Mambo Room as being in memorial to African slaves who devised the mambo as a dance they could do while still being in their shackles.

As is the Board’s custom, this March 23rd hearing was adjourned with the Board taking the matter under consideration; a decision and final order will be due within 90 days.