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The ongoing tussle between rival neighborhood groups over live music in Mount Pleasant might have you thinking it’s the Wild West out there. I reckon it’s more of a ghost town. Years back, there might have been some showdowns; some say that late at night, the streets still whisper with tales of past fisticuffs and drawn-out voluntary-agreement hearings.
But recently, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has been loosening the reins on live music in the area: Last month, Mount Pleasant watering holes Haydee’s and Don Jaime’s were freed for hoedowns; a ruling on neighborhood black hat Don Juan’s is pending.
On a Friday night not too long ago, I hung around Mount Pleasant Street after midnight, just to see what mayhem the music might bring.
12:30 a.m. Outside Haydee’s, a group of friends talk atwixt themselves after bending an elbow at the Mount Pleasant whistle-wetter. The gang flirts with loitering before quietly dispersing, never to be heard from again.
12:35 a.m. A lone cyclist rides on, possibly into the distance.
12:45 a.m. At the local 7-Eleven, everything’s fine as cream gravy: A rack of taquitos slowly turns; doughnuts, fresh-baked, look good enough to eat. All of a sudden, a crowd of young fellers enters the establishment carrying on with a canine critter. The lady holding it down behind the counter informs the boys they best skedaddle: “No. Uh-uh, no dogs in here,” she says. One boy wrangles the pup outside, where it wanders unleashed, seeking out strangers to stick its sniffer on.
1:00 a.m. Outside La Casa, a man occupies a red Prius all by his lonesome, taking a listen to a reggaeton song with the windows up. When I saunter by, he turns down the volume, then turns it up again.
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1:05 a.m. Behind Don Juan’s, the frontier between the Mount Pleasant Street drinking holes and the neighborhood living, an air-conditioning unit emits the light whir of a herd of softly approaching steeds. Deeper into the neighborhood on Lamont Street, when the breeze hits it just right, a wind chime can be heard chiming.
1:15 a.m. Heading north: Three white males, gussied up in striped polo shirts, powerful drunk. One picks from a bag of Spicy Nacho Doritos; another holds a frozen pizza. Two ladyfolk take up the rear. “I had a great workout: great on my ass, great on my legs. My problem, seriously, is my back,” says one. “I know how to fix it,” the other counsels her. “You need to come with me to cardio tomorrow.” Unbeknownst to the ladies, the men have hung quick behind the corner of a building, preparing to raise a ruckus and ruffle a few lady-feathers. The hollerin’ scares the women, vindicating the anti-music set: Loud noises are sure a fright.
1:30 a.m. The street can sometimes drag down even professional loiterers like myself. I step inside highfalutin Marx Café to put my feet up and enjoy a bender. A fellow by the name of Marc Masters spins something called “No Wave,” luring gentries from the Mount Pleasant side streets. The DJ set, which rides the frontier between live and recorded music, looks to be the region’s entertainment for the night. The commotion brings its share of shady characters: Bachelors hanging out and drinking beers; a man who repeatedly traces a smiley face in a fogged-out window. I have heard Mount Pleasant, and it sounds like nihilism.
2:00 a.m. Last call. Don Juan’s is now officially dry as beef jerky in August, but as long as the karaoke machine is still hooked up to the small television near the window, the place is as hot as a whorehouse on nickel night. Three salty roosters croon their hearts out until they’re swept out of the bar.
2:10 a.m. I buy a Dr. Pepper.
2:15 a.m. A man across from the 7-Eleven hollers at a lawman: A man in a black shirt done assaulted him, he says, and he’s heeled with a switchblade at the least, he says. Inside the store, a security guard taking a gander at Guns & Ammo reckons I better move along to Adams Morgan if I’m looking for any real action. “Whatever you’re writing, don’t put my name in there,” he adds. Three policemen roll up in hustle buggies, another on a motorcycle, and stop the black-shirted buck. After gloving up and bending him over the car, the suspect gets his wiggle on. The law hangs tight awhile, on the shoot for any other trouble from the convenience store. Their flashing lights extend down Mount Pleasant Street, lighting the place up like a soundless Fourth of July.
2:31 a.m. Jiminy! A man bellies up quick and close behind me. Turns out he’s just an old friend. He invites me to turn some beef at a barbecue the next day.
2:45 a.m. Two old curly wolves make a go for Don Juan’s but find it closed for business. Full as a tick, the pair hangs outside, a-fussin’ and a-fightin’. One circles around the back of Don Juan’s and gives the thickets near the side of the building a good watering. “I swear, I see some guy pissing on there every time I come by here,” says a roving passer-by. “I don’t know why they always pee there. It’s extremely well-lit.” The building pisser turns and stumbles away; his friend—long hair, short pants—gives a long, lover’s look before stumbling into a home, less than a block away. A black SUV beeps twice. It’s the pisser’s. He climbs inside, backs solidly into the cab behind him, and drives away. Reckon he’s headed for the bone garden if he ain’t locked up in the calaboose first.
3:02 a.m. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here: The bars have emptied out. Outside Don Juan’s, one man asks me how I’m doing; another approaches a woman’s car and bullies her with a middle finger before heading off; a suited-up silver fox coughs loudly while waiting for a cab. A minivan stops outside, serenading the corner with “Bette Davis Eyes”: “She’ll expose you/When she snows you/Off your feet with the crumbs she throws you.” A group from Don Juan’s heads into the van and drives off.
3:10 a.m. A crowd of flannel-mouthed fancy talkers exits the Raven Grill. A man in a business suit slowly haws to an acquaintance. “Let me explain to you about the work that I do,” he says. The other man seems to tolerate this.
3:30 a.m. Outside the 7-Eleven, a man jingles his hand in his pocket, perhaps menacingly, before resting on his sitter and enjoying a Cup Noodles. We get to talking. A powerful drunk friend of his stops by and, seeing I’m a stranger to these parts, offers me his bed to sleep in. When I decline, he generously offers to pay me for the trouble. When I decide to ball the jack home, he follows me most of the way, retreating only after I repeatedly threaten to call the law.
4:00 a.m. Back in my home turf of Adams Morgan, ambulances blare; street critters feed on discarded pizza pies; ruckuses are raised from the McDonald’s clear down to Florida Avenue NW. For now, Mount Pleasant sleeps; but let’s just wait until Don Juan’s application for live music goes through.
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