Derrick Van Buren must feel like the Walt Disney of the go-go set. Guiding a tour through the Icebox, a recently renovated go-go warehouse located off Bladensburg Road NE, the club’s manager can’t stop pointing out and marveling at the club’s latest features: red laser lights, a “food court,” a “VIP Lounge” complete with big black leather couches and jumbo-screen TVs. Leased by go-go promoters ICYICE Productions in June, what was once a strip club/go-go showcase called De’ Zulu Cave has been turned into a mall-like emporium for those fevered beats. This isn’t your father’s go-go club. In fact, the music seems secondary.
On a recent Saturday night, teens from Annandale, Upper Marlboro, Woodbridge, and Arlington share space with the usual home-grown crowd waiting for the Northeast Groovers to plug in. But at the Icebox, it doesn’t feel much like waiting. All attention deficits can be satiated with video games, an Ice Gear clothing boutique, and the food court. There is no hint of the violence that has consistently plagued warehouses like the Taj Maehall, a few blocks away. Girls line up in neat rows along the wall, waiting to dance. A group of guys pose in front of a spray-painted picture of a Lexus sport utility vehicle, flashing the camera their middle fingers. Aspiring musicians talk shop with Dig Dug, the Groovers’ percussionist, beside the stage. Of course, it’s exactly what Van Buren had in mind.
He says ICYICE director of operations Ken Moore wanted to move away from the usual club atmosphere and create an entertainment venue, noting that the club doesn’t employ bouncers but rather what Van Buren calls “coolers”; the security staff is supposed to keep the peace, not disrupt it. He adds that in the summer, the Icebox has a full basketball court, picnic tables, and even a pool. The management also plans to add after-school tutoring sessions before matinee shows and hopes to host proms.
“Most people don’t look at [go-go] as a business,” Van Buren says. “Before ICYICE came along, go-go was a once-or-twice-a-week event. We’re trying to market go-go.”
Indeed, ICYICE follows a growing trend among go-go scenesters. From the Go Go Alliance to Go-Go Swings magazine, business types are flacking for a scene that used to be left to the underground; they believe go-go can not only make money but keep kids from fighting each other. Ice Gear marketer Chris Birch says he used to shun the Cave: “Before it was the Icebox, I never came to the placejust from the rumors and stuff.”