We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
This is what the Lonely Planet travel guide says about Adams Morgan: “Funky, ethnic, bohemian Adams-Morgan is a lively mix of cultures and cuisines, scents and sounds, all in a two-block patch of the city.”
The area is quiet by day, “[b]ut nightlife is what’s happening here. And nobody can resist the exotic flavors. There is something for everyone: students drinking at Millie & Al’s, gringos learning a few steps of salsa, gay boys enjoying the famed Perry’s drag show, yuppies eating Ethiopian with their hands…”
If you add to that all the ass-grabbing, vomiting, and fighting, you’ll have a complete picture. On weekend nights, youngsters from across the region clog this already-dense strip, and by midnight the narrow sidewalks become a gauntlet. It’s hard to walk the 18th Street stretch without some kind of harassment; it might be a catcall, a little grope, or a fist in your face.
Something about Adams Morgan just makes people go wild. At the beginning of the year, a 34-year-old man died after being punched into a coma. In July, a 23-year-old man was stabbed to death after a freestyling contest.
For the past three months, police have greatly increased their presence. Members of the Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District (BID) are paying a voluntary tax for extra patrols. The BID usually has four extra D.C. police officers to walk the strip on weekend nights—these are on top of a handful of extra officers already in the area because of this summer’s crime emergency. Police partially close 18th Street at the end of the night to allow for easier crowd control. BID security coordinator Chuck Brazie boasts Sept. 15 was the first time in six weeks that emergency medical technicians had to be called in because of a fight—a bouncer had his jaw broken. Brazie says this is a “substantial improvement” from the bad old days.
If you’re looking to fight in Adams Morgan these days, go for a quick knockout punch. Brazie and his corps of BID security aides wade through the crowds every weekend night, looking for trouble. The second they find it—Brazie says he can feel the “electricity” in the air when a fight is about to start—they disperse the crowd or hit the emergency button on their walkie-talkies. D.C. police officers with plasticuffs show up almost instantly to break up the badness and smush any noncompliant heads into the ground.
Sylvia Covarrubias is talking to a friend in the patio area of Pharoah’s Rock and Blues on Columbia Road around 10:40 p.m. when the sounds of a scuffle come from inside. She hears a bottle break, some chairs shuffle around, and somebody say, “I’m calling the cops.”
Officer Gregory Pemberton happens to be walking by and notices the commotion. He calls backup, and within 30 seconds three cars and a van arrive. At almost the same moment, Covarrubias says, a roughly 6-foot-tall man named Howard calmly walks out of Pharoah’s as if nothing had happened.
Police officers ask Howard to take a seat. After a few minutes of talk, they ask him to stand up and tell him he is under arrest. As he’s cuffed, he mumbles about having an orthopedic doctor for his arm, how he wants a baloney sandwich, and how he won’t get out of jail until Monday. He gives his wallet and keys to a friend, whom he asks to feed his dogs.
“It was pretty lame,” Covarrubias says. “If they’re gonna arrest a person, there should at least be a chair thrown.”
No such luck this time. Customer Erik Hansen, a 26-year-old who had been sitting at the bar the whole time, says Howard asked the bartender for his tab and then drew a big “X” on it, saying it was because he was an ex-slave. The bartender took his beer away, and Hansen says Howard started saying things like, “Bitchass motherfucker, I’m gonna break your neck!” There was a bit of shoving, and Howard struck an employee in the face.
The Pharoah’s people refuse to identify themselves. They say this kind of thing never happens at Pharoah’s.
At around 11:30 p.m., an eager bride-to-be jumps onto the hood of a car and yells, “Whoo!” while her bridesmaids watch, thrilled. She’s one of at least seven fiancées who’ve hit the strip tonight for bachelorette debauchery. The driver of the car sits on his horn until an officer comes over and grabs the young woman. “Get off the damn car,” the officer says.
“First arrest of the night!” the girls yell. They scurry up the street, giggling and squealing.
Two brides collide in front of Tom Tom at midnight. They compare their wedding dates. One of them reveals that she only came to Adams Morgan because her friends wanted to. The other asks this reporter to bite candy off her necklace.
At 1:15 a.m., a fire engine roars up to LeftBank, an upscale restaurant on the west side of 18th that has a club atmosphere at night. Word is a woman inside appears to be suffering from alcohol poisoning—a guy standing by the door says there was a two-for-one drink special. Nobody comes near the entrance for five minutes after the fire engine arrives, but as soon as an ambulance shows up and EMTs run inside with their medical equipment, a huge line forms.
After a few minutes, the EMTs emerge carrying a woman in a chair. She’s wrapped up in a white sheet like a mummy. Her bare white feet are sticking out, and she has an oxygen mask on her face. Her greasy-looking hair swirls around her head. She’s not moving at all.
The woman might not have had too much booze; it could be that somebody slipped something into her drink. Brazie says this is the fourth apparent roofie victim on 18th Street in the past two weeks.
At 2:45 a.m., a drunk blond woman vomits on her feet in the street in front of Tom Tom. She stands in it for a good five minutes, slouching, with her arms slung over the shoulders of two young men. One of them helps her pick up her cell phone when she drops it in her puddle.
A few minutes later, a preppy young fellow props up another barely able-to-stand girl. He steadies her for a minute and then lets go to join a conversation with a group of three other preppy types. Then she starts swaying and almost falls over, and he disengages from the conversation to prop her up again. This process repeats itself for 15 minutes. They start wobbling down the street, inches from oncoming traffic, before finally sitting down on the curb at the corner of 18th and Kalorama. Eventually she barfs between her legs.
At about 3 a.m., Brazie says the night has been tame so far but that we’re entering the trouble hour. Sure enough, a fight starts just up the street. A police officer is using his baton to pin a young man onto the trunk of a car. The other combatant(s) have apparently fled.
“Where do you know those guys from?” the officer asks, trying a little man-to-man reasoning. “What happened?” He tries to calm his captive down, but the guy keeps struggling. A crowd forms. Another officer shows up to help, and the two cops force the man to the ground. One officer pinches the guy’s throat while the other puts plasticuffs on him.
While this happens, another little fight starts in the middle of the street between a short fellow in baggy clothes and an even shorter valet who has lost the guy’s ticket. The two warriors stand an inch apart with chins raised, and then the angry man gives the valet a bump in the torso. Police—lots of them on the scene now—put the angry man in plasticuffs immediately.
The crowd swells as a paddy wagon arrives. A young woman begins singing: “Set my people free…”
Just a few minutes later, two more young men start fighting on the sidewalk, not 20 feet from the first two arrests. Police tackle both of them. One gives up and is thrown in the paddy wagon in a matter of minutes, but the other just will not quit. The crowd on the sidewalk becomes completely impassable as first two and then five officers press the man’s skull on the concrete. He continues squirming, soundlessly, for a full 10 minutes before officers manage to get him into the wagon.
“This guy’s just a wildcat,” says Sergeant Tubbs, a D.C. police officer who patrols the strip on weekends. The arrestee gives the paddy doors a solid kick from inside.
“How the fuck many drinks he had?” a woman shouts.
Right around 3:20 a.m., an officer brings a small man up the street by his collar, saying all he had to do was obey her order to get back on the sidewalk. The now-obedient fellow has a slight smirk on his face. She tosses him into the wagon with everybody else.
Sgt. Tubbs shakes his head, saying that once a fight starts when there’s a big crowd, the violence tends to catch on. “It’s like a high-school environment,” he says. CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Greg Houston.