When I moved to Washington, DC in the mid 1990's, the hippest place to go was a neighborhood called Adams Morgan. For about a ten block stretch along 18th Street there were restaurants, galleries, cafes, nightclubs, bars, vintage stores, and one pseudo Head Shop. There were no corporate interest along the strip except for a McDonalds on the corner of 18th and Columbia, and an Exxon gas station just one more block up. You could go door to door and move from live rock to jazz to bluegrass to reggae, and actually spend as little dough as you wish. At the Spaghetti Garden just a half block north of Kalorama on 18th Street, I would get a fresh pasta dinner with meatballs and a bruschetta appetizer for about 8 bucks…and mi belly full!!
Adams Morgan during that time was bohemian, a place where you were most likely to find the highest concentrations of artists, musicians and the like. The new term is “Creatives”. You weren’t very likely at that time to run into the Capitol Hill crowd who were generally boorish and oftentimes entitled, which meant that they didn’t make good drinking buddies or friends. They did however like to spark the Dutch and also other things that weren’t on my personal playlist. I spent most nights in Adams Morgan during that period of my life, except for maybe a couple of Monday nights per month when I would go out to Camp Springs, Maryland to the Classics Niteclub. The Classics had male strippers performing to a crowd of ladies until 10pm, at which time the DJ would turn it up, and the doors would open to the line of guys waiting to get in and party with a room full of women who had been watching naked men perform all evening. The whole thing seemed pretty efficient from my standpoint. Remember, there was no Tinder in those days.
Anyway, Adams Morgan was my normal evening home, and my favorite of all places there was Bardia’s New Orleans Café. Bardia’s was a small and cramped space with no more than ten tables. The bathroom was located in the kitchen. Playing thru the speakers was classic music of the Delta region like early Louis Armstrong stylings. The food was low country New Orleans style featuring Po’ Boys, Gumbo, and Etouffee. It was okay cuisine. I’ve always thought that New Orleans cuisine was overrated. It kinda all tastes the same to me…etouffee, gumbo, jambalaya all seem like variations on the same theme. Its tasty, just not phenomenal. Of course beignets are great, but so are funnel cakes. I can definitely assert, that I hate Café du Monde coffee. It has chicory in it. And what the fuck is chicory you ask??? It’s the root of a plant that’s ground up, and was introduced into coffee during the Napoleonic Era in France to stretch the coffee due to its cost and oftentimes scarcity. Why do folks stand in line in the French Quarter to get this stuff, and why must it be in my coffee today when we have access to cheaper coffee off the backs of immigrant and native workers who are underpaid and systematically abused? Hell, if folks gonna die so we can have coffee, we might as well drink the shit straight, out of respect. I digress…
Anyway… So, seemingly I’m not a huge fan of the Orleans cuisine, save for Bananas Foster and bread pudding. But what is most alluring about the Bayou to me, is its people. I can’t think of a place where I have met nicer folks. Bardia himself was a New Orleans transplant and embodied all the great qualities of the Bayou culture. He always stopped by my table to greet me personally and ask about my family and me. In the early days, I felt that he understood my financial situation, so I would get the hook-up. After coming in with a few “hoochie mamas”, my hook-ups disappeared…oh well.
I loved Bardia’s. It was my favorite haunt and was within budget. I liked to just stop in sometime and endure a cup of coffee and hot beignets, especially if I saw that the most coveted spot in my universe was open…the Window Seat!! Bardia had set the place up with one table for two (later he jammed in a second table) that sat on an elevated platform just under the bay window at the front of the restaurant. From here, you could take it all in, especially as late afternoon gave way to early evening when you could watch the energy build, and see all types of people…all cultures…lovers, seekers, partyers, the friendly and un-friendly, the freaks, the beautiful and the grotesque. We all seemed to belong together in what to me seemed be DCs home grown version of Greenwich Village. On warm evenings, when the window was open, you could hear the barker from the club down the street yelling its name to attract customers--he yelled, “Heaven and Hell…Heaven and Hell…Heaven and Hell”, a theme apropos for the club and what the street would become in later years. I replay my memories from the window at Bardia’s as series of snapshots, like the image of the famous Toulouse-Lautrec poster that appears as a mural on the façade of the building across the street which itself was once the home to Café Lautrec where I listened to live jazz until closing and marveled at what at great time the “grown-ups” were having. And then there was Montego Bay Café, now a Greek tapas restaurant, that had good jerk, a nice bar, and Reggae music playing all daylong. There is so much more. Bardia’s closed recently, and it will be sorely missed. There are other places to view and take in the energy on the new 18th St, but there will never be a better vantage point than the window at Bardia’s