By Alejandra Owens. You can find Owens at her food blog, One Bite At A Time. Owens also writes for City Eats DC, a Food Network site, where you can book dinner reservations. Follow her on Twitter at @frijolita. Luis Gomez also contributed to this piece. Catch Gomez’s photos at One Photograph A Day. Follow him on Twitter @LuisGomezPhotos.
Being unfamiliar with early ’60s Brazilian artistic movements, I originally thought Tropicalia was an unironic name for a new concept bar opening at 14th and U NW. Plastic palm trees, bright colors and little umbrellas in my Tiki-style rum drinks, right? Well, bright colors yes. Okay… and maybe rum, too. But the kitsch, Caribbean-inspired, “yeah mon!” feel?
Nooooo. Repeat after me: No
When we sat down with JD Quioco of Tropicalia to discuss the new place, my first question was about the name. Dubbed “Tropicalia,” the basement space located below Lost Society and Subway at 14th and U is set to transform into a “global dance hall” at one of DC’s legendary intersections with an opening date of “very soon.”
“I don’t want to use the word ‘nightclub’ or ‘venue.’ You want to get the feeling you get from watching Buena Vista Social Club, and we want it to be a place where friends can gather for good drinks, some dancing and a fun night. In other words, a neighborhood place,” said Quioco.
The Dance Hall and Design
Tropicalia brought together a team with the best talent they could find — artists designers, and architect and sound people. Clocking in at 3,500 square feet with a capacity for 200 dancing people, Tropicalia has the potential for becoming DC’s next great dance hall. The music will come from a mixture of live musicians and DJs.
The DJ booth is mobile and can be moved to different locations on the dance floor depending on the night. The bar is a glowing one. Made out of white plexiglass and steel, it has thousands of programmable LED lights inside it that can be programmed depending on the music or the mood of the moment.
The Drink Menu
A menu of Caipirinhas with various fruit juices as the base are the foundation of the drink menu, but five types of Cachasas will also be offered. Cachasa is a liquor made from fermented sugarcane and is similar in nature to rum, but largely unheard of or sold in the DC area. Quioco told me it has a “smokey, molasses flavor” which piqued my interest.
Not one to don my dancing shoes and head out on a Saturday night, I’m actually really excited for Tropicalia to open. It seems to be just what the neighborhood needs at the right time, off-beat drink offerings and music that won’t leave this 30-something feeling woefully uncool from the moment I walk in.
It’s a very unusual space, there’s no way around it. Puffy “clouds” (chandeliers) dot the sky above the plexiglass, lit bar, a psychedelic mural of a forest scene hangs prominently next to the front bar and some 60 hand-painted neon pink chairs drip with a rainbow motif.
Part of the Neighborhood
Aside from some questions about how the neighborhood, and DC at large, will receive a new place inspired by a mixture of art forms and music types, Quioco says, “Time will define what we really are.” Though he hopes the spot soon becomes a place where neighborhood folks can convene on quieter nights, enjoying good drinks and company.
After spending more than a decade in the 14th and U Street neighborhood, it’s an understatement to say that Quioco is deeply embedded in the fabric of the community. Quioco spent years as general manager of two 14th Street restaurant-bars.
“You have to stay responsible, and loyal to people in the neighborhood. You need to have employees who can interact with the public,” said Quioco. “Anyone who is successful in this city knows that they need to work with the neighborhoods and the city government… to reach out and be responsive to people’s concerns.”
Tropicalia is like nothing DC has experienced before, and I think that’s just what the city needs right now — something to shake us up a bit.