Niketown, high-end apartments and a burgeoning distillery scene have turned Ivy City into the District's hottest transitioning neighborhood. Now it's getting its first nightspot: Big Chief, a cavernous bar and music venue that has taken over a former roofing supply company on Fenwick Street NE. Here's what you need to know about the new space, which is run by Geoff Dawson and Peter Bayne of Penn Social and Highline RxR.
The rooftop holds 170 people and an Airstream trailer.
Around 200 people can hang out at the bars, lounge areas and picnic tables on the main floor, which has a decidedly industrial vibe. But most people will head straight upstairs to the rooftop, even if the current view consists of little beyond construction and cranes right now. There are picnic tables for groups, and a "catering table" where drinks will be sold.
At the front of the rooftop is a silver Airstream trailer, which should transform into a bar by the end of the month. The Airstream "is a blank canvas," Dawson says. It's been gutted down to a few essentials, including the original radio, and will be filled with a bar with five or six stools, and a banquette on each side. Eventually, it will be possible to rent the trailer and the deck around it for private parties. For those who are curious: The Airstream was lifted up to the roof when the building HVAC system was installed.
It's the new home of Brass Connection.
The owners put "Think New Orleans meets Brooklyn" on Big Chief's original website, and while that slogan made me cringe a little, Big Chief is serious about trying to bring a Crescent City vibe. The bar's name is derived from the Mardi Gras Indians (and not the nickname for William Howard Taft). More importantly, brass band music will be front and center.
You may have heard the Brass Connection band pumping out funky pop hits on trombones and sousaphones at the Dupont Circle Metro Station or on the streets of Chinatown. Until now, though, the family group hasn't had a regular place to perform. Dawson says Brass Connection will perform "once or twice a week" at happy hour, and headline a weekend slot once a month.
Outside of Brass Connection, Big Chief will offer other bands and DJs; Mondays are reserved for Motown on Mondays, which features classic soul and remixes.
Beer comes from metal tubs, not taps.
The drink menu at Big Chief is fairly simple: 10 to 12 canned beers (including Abita and "cheap tallboys") and five cocktails, which have a New Orleans flavor, including a Sazerac and a daiquiri. The gimlet uses Green Hat Gin, which is produced just down Fenwick Street.
There's no kitchen, so neighbors are providing food.
Big Chief doesn't serve its own food, but customers will be able to order smoked fish and other snacks from the Ivy City Smokehouse, which is located around the corner on Okie Street. Bayne says they're planning to work with food trucks from the Union Kitchen restaurant incubator, which is located down the street. Expect rooftop cookouts throughout the summer months, too.
Doors will be open on weekends for Ivy City distillery crawls.
Big Chief will open at noon on weekends, when Ivy City really comes alive with groups hopping between the area's three distilleries – New Columbia, One Eight and Jos. A. Magnus – and the Atlas Brew Works tasting room. Doors open at 5 p.m. on weeknights, and earlier when there are special events.
Big Chief, 2002 Fenwick St. NE. bigchiefdc.com.