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A D.C. Bar With No Alcohol? BloomBars in Columbia Heights Serves Up Art Instead | Arts & Culture

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A D.C. Bar With No Alcohol? BloomBars in Columbia Heights Serves Up Art Instead
Arts & Culture

Let me start this article off by giving you some background.  You should know that this story only came to my attention because I was contacted on Twitter about a very unique type of bar in Columbia Heights…a bar that didn’t serve alcohol.

I was intrigued.

I first began receiving direct messages from @BloomBars inviting me, @LandauDC, to various programs and events that they were hosting about a week ago. 

“What’s a BloomBar?” I thought to myself. 

I visited their website and discovered BloomBars, not BloomBar, is a non-profit art “bar” that acts as a platform for artists, dancers, and other performers to show their stuff.

To be completely honest, though, I still didn’t really get it.  I decided I needed to go and see it for myself.

“What the heck’s a BloomBar?” My boss asked me when I told him I was headed there.

“BloomBars, not BloomBar,” I responded, suddenly the expert on the name.  “And I don’t really know.  I’m just going to go and find out.”

“OK,” He said, as I walked out the door.  “Sounds like a cult to me though.”

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It was just a short while ago that Columbia Heights resident John Chambers was working at a firm producing advertising for then Senator Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign, when he experienced what he calls a “cathartic moment”.  

“I’m a product of two civil rights activists that changed the world,” Chambers said.  “And that was my point of view growing up: thinking that I could make an impact.”

Chambers had been doing some community work at 3222 11th Street in Columbia Heights, where he had converted a sort of townhouse into a space where artists could come occasionally and share their talents with the neighborhood.

“I really wanted to find the connections, the bridges between the arts community and the social justice, non-profit community in a way that both empowered and allowed artists to grow, and allowed communities to grow.”

It was just after the election that Chambers decided that he wanted to take the next step.

“After I had this sort of a cathartic moment, I realized I just needed to take a break and just think about what my impact was going to be,” Chambers, a Howard University graduate, reflected.  “Because I felt that I was really removed with the work that I was doing and wanted to be more hands on.  I wanted to think deeply about what my connection was with the community and how I could empower people to take ownership of a space.  And so I took a leave of absence from my job, and the rest, I guess is history.”

That leave of absence became a very extended leave of absence. 

Since leaving his job, Chambers has invested all his time into his space at 3222 11th Street, a venue that has since developed into BloomBars, a non-profit organization/bar that serves up artistic performances and inspiration rather than alcohol, and operates entirely on donations and volunteers.  This Friday, November 12th at 7 p.m., BloomBars will host its first-ever silent auction fundraiser.

“Our mission is to inspire and unite communities through the arts and to nurture and support artists that are committed to supporting the community,” Chambers explained. “Ultimately building a legion of artists who believe in the transformational power of art and all its forms.”

The diversity of programming offered by BloomBars is simply astounding.  The range of events on the schedule includes improv comedy, open mics, poetry in the mornings, and yoga and belly dancing classes. 

Chambers said he noticed that some people from outside of the District who come to bars on weekends would then drive home dangerously under the influence of alcohol, so BloomBars created “Sunrise Cinema”.  “Sunrise Cinema” occurs on the last Saturday of every month and shows movies from 2 a.m.-6 a.m. so people can relax, sober up, stay safe, and wait for the Metro to start running again.

The diversity of programs reflects BloomBars clientele.  Chambers welcomes everyone to the bar, and since there’s no alcohol, there’s no age limit.  Chambers hopes the venue can act as a place of unity for a neighborhood that has residents from every racial and socio-economic background.  

“I’ve lived here for ten years and I’ve seen the transformation here,” Chambers said. “It’s good in a lot of ways, but in a lot of ways there’s been challenges making connections.   It’s tough (to make connections between) people who have lived here for generations and people who have come in recently, and this is the type of space that really supports that interaction.”

While the surrounding Columbia Heights and Petworth communities have benefited from BloomBars, Chambers isn’t ready to stop there.

“The bigger vision is to create spaces like this all over the country, and even all over the world that allows artists to have a greater platform,” Chambers said.  “The goal is to be artist centric, community focused, and volunteer driven.”

And now Chambers’ concept is on the verge of being in full bloom.  The non-profit has had artists visit from other countries to participate in programs, and Chambers has received inquires regarding setting up other BloomBars all over the globe, from Los Angeles to Tampa Bay, from Zimbabwe to Sweden.

“People are hearing what we’re doing, and they’re inspired, and that’s humbling for a lot of us.  (What we’re doing) isn’t rocket science.  It’s letting your guard down, and it’s breaking out of some of those boxes that we often find ourselves in.”

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Again, this Friday, BloomBars will host a silent auction at 7 p.m..  Check out BloomBars online for more information and to see a complete schedule of events.

Pretty interesting story to come out of a random Twitter message, huh? 

If you have an interesting story, ping me @LandauDC and have your voice heard. 

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