Serious people may disagree over whether the Gibson makes a decent highball or whether Chez Billy’s steak frites really need to be $25. And then there’s the whole question of swagger-jacking at the sceney theme establishments owned by restaurateurs Eric and Ian Hilton, like Marvin, Den of Thieves, the Brixton, the Gibson, American Ice Company, El Rey, Satellite Room, and others. But ultimately, pseudonymous D.C. indie rocker Jack on Fire isn’t interested in those fine points: “The Hiltons may be smaller players in the gentrification game; this does not abdicate them of their responsibility for creating mediocre establishments for morons.”
Jack on Fire posted the song “Burn Down the Brixton” last night (not long after the Satellite Room unveiled a menu featuring a beef burger named after noted vegan Ian MacKaye). It’s a polemical electroclash anthem whose chorus goes, “Burn down the Brixton! Send it to its doom! Then we’ll have a milkshake at the Satellite Room.” The verses that follow refer to the white flight that transformed D.C. beginning in the 1960s and the gentrification and blanching that have transformed it over the last two decades—-perhaps most jarringly on corridors like U Street, once known as Black Broadway, where luxury apartments now go for if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford-it prices. According to Jack, the Hiltons deserve some of the blame.
Here I will note that Arts Desk condones neither arson nor the throwing of Molotov cocktails (or any kind of cocktail!), and post the rest of the lyrics:
They fled for the hills back in ‘68
Then the smell of money drew the master race
They came from Virginia, fraternal thieves
Engorged, they plowed and they sowed their seed
They paved Black Broadway for a breeding ground
A nice patch of grass for some K Street cows
It’s a piece of fly paper for dumb white fucks
Cranberry vodkas and food that sucks
Khaki-clad clones of Alex P Keaton
Everybody say it with me: fuck the Hiltons!
It’s the last call, cut them all off
Make your next cocktail a Molotov
But…the Brixton is just a bar, isn’t it? “U Street today would appall even the worst Adams Morgan weekend warrior,” Jack writes in an email, “and the disaster began with the Brixton. It is the epicenter of the overpaid white douchery that is choking our fair city.” (Jack admits that “I have had one or two of the peanut butter/whiskey milkshakes mentioned in the song and have visited their other establishments.”)
Of course, Hilton-bashing is something of a cultural sport in D.C. (Including in this paper!) Recall the Washington Post Root D.C. column accusing the Hiltons of swagger-jacking—-of appropriating signifiers of black culture while contributing to the whitening and upscaling of the U Street area—-and the shitstorm that followed. And in a memorable quote from last week’s Washington City Paper cover story on dive bars, one tavern owner said, “I still can’t believe they opened a bar in Marvin Gaye’s hometown where he lived his entire life, he’s a hero here, and they open a restaurant and dedicate it to the year he lived in Belgium. So they could sell $9 Belgian beer, and, like, steak frites. That’s insulting to everyone.”
Musically inclined people of a certain bent are quick to connect the multi-culti lounge music of Thievery Corporation, the electronic duo of which Eric Hilton is a member, to the Hiltons’ restaurants and bars. Count Jack among them: “Thievery Corporation is an appropriate soundtrack for the Brixton and the other Hilton businesses: glossy, empty, and existing only to capitalize on the culture and history of others.”
I sent Ian Hilton the song, and this was his response: “Give me a few minutes to process this one. The only word I can come up with right away is ‘catchy.'”
After processing it, he added in a second email: “Glad Jack likes the shakes at Satellite Room.”
Photo of the Brixton via Google Maps streetview
Correction: This post originally listed Eighteenth Street Lounge as one of Eric and Ian Hilton’s establishments. In fact, just Eric is an owner of Eighteenth Street Lounge, alongside three other co-owners.