When Shaw resident Helena Andrews entered U Street haunt Marvin last Saturday night, she could smell that something was up. “When we walked in, you could obviously smell smoke,” says Andrews. “We said, ‘What, are they barbecuing up there or something?’”
Despite the stench, Andrews and pals decided to stick around, order drinks–“white Chimay,” says Andrews–and hang out in the packed bar. “We’re not the only people they let in after it started to smell like smoke,” says Andrews. “And it really smelled like smoke.”
Andrews estimates she was in the spot for “about fifteen minutes” before Marvin’s manager, Sheldon Scott, “came in from outside and said, ‘We need everybody to leave, we’re closing down.’” At that point, says Andrews, “Nobody took it seriously. Everyone kept drinking.”
Says Scott, “We stopped serving when we first realized there was a potential problem.” Later, when staff failed to locate the smoky source, “we decided to evacuate,” he says. “Some people left. Some had to be directed to leave . . . and some people wanted to know more about what was going on.”
“They never shouted outright, ‘There’s a fire, get out,’” says Andrews. “We overheard management saying, ‘We don’t want to yell “Fire” because we don’t want to cause chaos,’” she recalls. “They were not effectively communicating the situation.”
Scott says that management let patrons know that the situation was “a potential threat,” but did not elaborate on the problem. “We weren’t sure what it was at that point,” he admits.
After attempting to get patrons to leave for several minutes, says Andrews, Marvin’s staff “got all crazy about it and went bipolar . . . people started scrambling to close out their tabs. Then Sheldon started shouting, ‘Stop telling people to close up their tabs!’ It was chaos.”
When the building was finally evacuated, Scott says, the fire department was able to locate the source of the smell: a few smoldering cigarettes that had accumulated between the planks of the rooftop deck.
But not before Andrews had finished her drink. “We had literally just gotten our drinks of white Chimay!” she says. “They were humongous. We were downing our glasses. They were trying to kick us out, but we had just gotten our drinks, and we were going to finish them. And we did.”