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It’s been almost eight months since partners Jo McDaniel and Rach Pike set out to find a home for their queer dance bar and cafe, As You Are Bar. The ink just dried on the couple’s lease. The bar, named for the Nirvana song, is bound for Barracks Row. It replaces District Soul Food and Banana Cafe at 500 8th St. SE.
“Being a block off the Eastern Market Metro stop makes us accessible to people who don’t drive or don’t have money to Uber,” McDaniel says. “We wanted to stay out of the west side of town. It’s inundated and has some inaccessibility issues mostly to do with money. Being in Southeast has less of a pay wall.”
They also like being on Capitol Hill. “We’ll have access to legislators,” McDaniel continues. “They can’t ignore us if we’re next to their offices.”
McDaniel and Pike met working at A League of Her Own in Adams Morgan. They’ve stayed busy finding a place of their own since leaving their old jobs. Catch them in The Lesbian Bar Project, a documentary that captures efforts to support and protect what lesbian bars remain in the U.S. They sat on a panel at the Library of Congress in October following a screening of the 20-minute film.
The space allows them to stick to their original vision of having two distinct areas—a daytime cafe and nighttime lounge on the first floor and an upstairs dance boutique open to patrons 18 and older. “The dance floor isn’t too big, so it won’t feel empty,” Pike says. “And it’s not too small that it feels crowded.” The upstairs will also have a back room with video games.
Pike and McDaniel will set up the cafe to have some areas that are optimal for teleworking and others that are ideal for conversation with lounge furniture. They hope to host some youth programming with nearby community organizations.
Everyone is welcome in the safe space they’re creating. “We want people to show up exactly as who they are and how they identify,” Pike says. “Can you come as a cis White man? If that’s who you are, that’s how I want you to come. We’ll only take issue if you can’t celebrate and respect everyone else’s identity.”
McDaniel says they’re looking to hire queer BIPOC employees and encourage people to apply even if they don’t have industry experience. “It’s way more about who a person is than what they’ve done, so reach out,” she says.
As You Are Bar tapped No Wave Coffee’s Reggie Elliot to consult on the coffee offerings in the cafe and Nina Love with developing the food menu and kitchen operations. The co-owners also brought in DJ Mim and Damon Dixon to help with sound and sound proofing.
Sound proofing may prove critical as McDaniel and Pike say they fully expect ANC 6B to protest their Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration liquor license. Neighbors clashed with the previous tenant, Black-owned District Soul Food, over noise, trash, violating COVID-19 policies, and cigar smoke.
“Sound from music has been an issue throughout the night as well as patron departure—things we’re highly concerned about,” Pike says. “We’re going to have to do a lot of work to soundproof the building. It’s more costly than we anticipated, so we’re looking for grants to support queer-owned-and-operated businesses.”
ANC 6B04 commissioner Kirsten Oldenburg says she helped the As You Are Bar owners host a town hall. “There was an honest dialogue between them and neighbors, whose main concern, I believe, is late night noise,” Oldenburg says.
McDaniel and Pike say they gave their contact information out to neighbors and conducted a sound test, which they plan to repeat at different hours of the day.
“At this point ANC6B has not received notification from ABRA of an application,” Oldenburg says about a potential protest. “Once that is received, it sets off a formal process whose initial endpoint is a vote by 10 commissioners as to whether we advise ABRA we support or protest the application.”
Pike and McDaniel can’t predict with ease when As You Are Bar will open because they don’t know how long the liquor license application will take if they have to face a protest and agree to a settlement agreement. Sometime in 2022 is the goal.
As You Are Bar, 500 8th St. SE; asyouarebar.com