Friday, March 12, 2010

The Chinese Disco

“Let’s see if we can get an internship in Washington this summer” my fratty brother WHS said to me one day. After about thirty seconds of deep thought….you know….measuring pros and cons and all the other stuff that a beer soaked college junior would engage to make such a decision I said…”ok”. One of the real motivators of WHS’s suggestion that he and I apply for an internship was that I had a really good relationship with this old fella-a legendary alumnus who had connections in Washington.

“Call EFM and see if he’ll help us” …and again I said…”ok”. Now you gotta realize that EFM by this time was like about a hundred and fifty eight years old. Great southern drawl and could entertain you with stories all day long. But at a hundred and fifty eight-he could be crotchety. I don’t mind admitting that I was nervous as shit dialing his home phone number and like all these situations-my well rehearsed lines clotted and clabbered as soon as I heard his voice. I eked out the statement that WHS and I would like to go to Washington for the summer and all EFM said was “you will go” and hung up.

A week or so later WHS and I both got a packet from the Senate Judiciary Committee of which the guy we would work for was a member. We were told when and where to show up and that we had to wear coats and ties every day. We were on our way to being flunkies for a few months. WHS drove a Duster and we packed it with a few navy blazers-poplin suits-starched button downs-Weejuns and some walking around money. These jobs don’t pay too much you know.

Housing was another issue. The coordinators of these Intern programs suggest options for where to live but you are on your own regarding securing such billeting. No worries-we just asked others who had already done the summer Intern thing and they put us on a place in Alexandria called the Presidential Gardens Apartments. Pre-internet and pre any kind of worldly savvy; we sent our deposits to the landlords at this posh place after they mailed us a pamphlet showing “artists renditions” of what the buildings and interiors looked like. Lesson learned.
We roll in on a hot Friday afternoon and as well pull into the Presidential Gardens parking lot to greet the landlord and get our keys I’m thinkin’ that this ain’t good. It’s dumpier than the fraternity house. Trust me when I say that the photo that I found on google a moment ago is one of recent vintage-reflecting a massive renovation. Our deposit has been paid and we’ve no other options so making the best of a bad situation is our option. Then the cloud of despair lifted. Two gals rounded the corner-they were all cotton-all madras-espadrilles and drinking beers. They were from Alabama. They had just moved in an hour earlier. That’s when I knew everything was going to be all right. Bottom line was that this dump was THE place for Interns from all over the country to live during their summer jaunt. Nirvana-with poorly working window unit air conditioners. I drove by there one day recently with LFG and told her that I used to live there and she just said…eeeeew. 
The Blue line of the Metro system didn’t extend out to where we lived that summer so we took the bus every morning. Some cute gal from Agnes Scott College took me by the hand the first morning and showed me where to get on the bus and how to navigate to the Senate. She’d already been there for a week. I had a crush on her the entire summer. This would be me about the time that said Agnes Scott cutie walked me to the bus stop.

We get situated and then connect with said girls who knew other people in the apartment complex and before long we are amongst a pile of madras and Weejuns. Then someone announces that it’s about time to go to the Chinese Disco. Now understand me when I say that I would have gone anywhere with this fun crowd but the Disco scene was never mine and I had never been around Asians in my life. Some of these folks-the guys especially, were intimidatingly cool and so if they declared that some Asian social club was the happening place to go then WHS and I were right behind them. I wasn’t going to enjoy it if indeed it ended up that we would be making fun of hard working Chinese doing culturally specific dances that were dear to their homeland.
Funny. The Day Lily a Chinese restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue was transformed every Friday and/or Saturday night. By nine o’clock it became The Chinese Disco and it was anything but. To this day folks-I’ve never had any more fun in my entire life. I would like to tell you that being an errand boy in the Senate was riveting but frankly-I didn’t give a shit. 
What I craved after that first weekend at the Chinese Disco was another night just like that first one there. And I had those nights-every time the doors opened-every weekend-all summer long. We were the first in line and I was one of the last to be thrown out every time. 
You walked in oxford starched-madras swathed and Weejun shod. You staggered out soaked with Washington D.C. summer sweat and beer.

I’m not going to debate the genesis of the southern regional dance ritual-the Shag. It’s kind of like arguing about North Carolina versus South Carolina barbecue. It’s all good. But these rituals have nuances and before I met anyone at the Chinese Disco on the first night it was obvious who was from the Carolinas and who was from Virginia. The Carolina Shag is a dance of precision manifesting movement from the hips down. Lots of cool footwork and Weejuns are perfecto for the slippy slidy demands of the Carolina Shag. 
Not much action from the waist up and you only hold one of your partners hands with few exceptions. The Virginia aberration is something else. Now don’t get me wrong-those who did the Virginia whatever were having JUST as much fun as the rest of us. But that Virginia Dance is more of a two handed-sling your date around the floor-epileptic-above the waist unrestrained seizure. Ok I’m biased.
It is fairly undisputed among those in the know that my childhood buddy J.J.'s dad was one of the two or three individual forces that evolved the dance back in the 1940's. That's him above...somewhere down at the beach-cuttin' it.

Here’s a You Tube clip that demonstrates the elegance of the Carolina Shag…

I think the guys who concocted the Chinese Disco venue were some entrepreneurial fratty boys with a collection of 45s that would be the envy of anyone who loved that stuff. Here’s a link to a web page created for what looks like a reunion from a few years ago. Sorry I missed it. All I know is that in the Chinese Disco I found my element and my sole reason for being in DC for the summer. Other nights had their trad-prep crowd destinations as well and indeed those were fun. Third Edition-J.Pauls-Déjà Vu … but nothing and I mean NOTHING could top the Chinese Disco.

But you had to be able to dance this ritualistic thang if you were really going to have fun there right? Of course. But I’d already mastered the Carolina shag by this time…after all I’d completed three years of college and had accumulated thirty credit hours of academic work and a zillion hours of shagging at the fratty venue and other honkey tonks. As soon as I realized that pretty girls would talk to you and would go out with you if you could do this particular dance-I figured I’d learn it. The best evidence of this was watching J.C. dance with girl after girl at fraternity parties. I kid you not when I say that they literally lined up for a go with him. J.C. was about five feet six and weighed close to three hundred pounds. After one dance he would have already manifested an untucked button down shirt and sweat thru evidence on said khakis and button down. Still the gals loved him.
My D.C. summer was a blast and the Chinese Disco set the bar for the fun that could be had back then. I moved to Charlotte N.C. after graduating from college and found a slightly attenuated version of the Chinese Disco on Morehead Street. Good times were had there too but nothing like the Chinese Disco in D.C.  The Cellar had long passed its zenith of the 1960’s…I mean look at who you could have seen live at the Cellar back then.
Here's Billy Stewart at the Cellar in the 1960's. Damn. Another great memory lane trip for me. I’ve found some You Tube clips of songs that you would have heard if you’d been with me at the Chinese Disco or the Cellar.

The Intrigues-In A Moment
Thank You John-Willie Tee
I Do Love You-Billy Stewart

Cheaters Never Win-The Love Committee

*Apologies for nicking pictures here and there from other sites. I’ll take ‘em down if they are yours and you get something sideways in your butt about me using them.


JMW said...

50 cent beers?! I recall a summer like that in Lexington right before my senior year of college - working hard, playing hard and getting very little sleep. It was a beautiful thing. And if my girlfriends had come across of pile of preppy boys like that, well, yet again, a beautiful thing. ;)

Anonymous said...

Excellent article

DAM said...

After having heard the stories over lunch its great to see the pictures. It's like your generations version of Smith Point and the antics that have ensued during late nights deep in Georgetown.

Memphis88 said...

Looks like a hell of a time. I have an easy solution to the North Carolina vs. South Carolina BBQ argument; Memphis BBQ is better than both.

In The Littoral said...

Ahh, once again the Chi Di. I loved that place and you are right, there was no other like it.

I put myself through school being one of the Thursday night bartenders at EJ's. Don't know if you ever got there but it was similar to, but not as good at the Day Lily. Still it was packed with beautiful, madras clad coeds.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Keep 'em coming.


PS I was one of the northern shaggers. We didn't refer to our selves as Virgina shaggers but Baltimore Bammers.

LPC said...

I'm still waiting for the Chinese part of said disco. Having been to a real such thing in Shanghai. There. Just saying that sentence healed me from trauma sustained at Princeton eating clubs, where, as a California girl, I stared in horror as boys gatored. Felt more foreign there in 1977 than I did in Shanghai in 2005.

ADG said...

LPC...Thanks. I went back and added a word or two so that folks would know that the Day Lily was a Chinese restaurant that turned into this fratty trough on the weekends after nine pm. Eating Club trauma...yep. I read The Final Club several years ago. Lovely that you made it through so unscathed and elegant.

JMW...It was fun wasn't it?


DAM...y'all are having just as much fun as we ever had. ain't worth arguing over because I've never had bad bbq of any ilk.

LittoralDave...Baltimore Bammers....great!

Anonymous said...

Man, those days seem so long ago. What I would give for a summer night,mad shorts and a pretty girl with a ribbon in her hair. Come to think of it I'd be happy if I still had the legs for shorts!

Sandra said...

This is a great post!! I never had the pleasure of the Chinese Disco, but after this post, I feel like I've been there. I love watching people Shag. Actually one of my favorite movies ever :-) We didn't Shag in Tennessee, but loved watching it at the Pavillion in Myrtle Beach. It rings very similar to those summers long ago. Do you remember a group called the Hot Nuts? We loved listening to their music cause our parents just thought it was "horrible" - not fit for the ears of a sweet, Southern girl! haha

the architecturalist said...

I was in DC around the same time, three of us came up from Mississippi and shared a run-down apartment on Capital Hill with a Texan from Bucknell. No air conditioning and a back porch that collapsed when we had our first party. We interned during the day and spent our nights at the Tune Inn, Third Edition and , of course, the Chinese Disco. Absolutely agree- some of the best times ever!

Anonymous English Female said...

ADG - So if I book my ticket to Old Town will you teach me the shag?

PS - and I agree; south of the Mason-dixon line and north of Mexico all BBQ is delectable.

Charles said...

I wish I hadn't missed this.

Scott said...

We shagged plenty during my day at Tennessee. We (derisively) called the sling style "velocity shagging". All well and good until somebody got their arm broke.

I wonder if Ginger ever had any wardrobe malfunctions in that backless thang?

Great post,


Anonymous said...

You all might appreciate my 3-7-2010 post on "beach music" titled In Rut?! at

Let me know...

Best Regards,

ADG said...

Anon...I hear you about the legs. I think I have rickets and my calves are missing!

Preppy101...The drive-in scene in the movie "Shag" was filmed in my hometown. It was called the Sky View. Yes, I remember Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts. We had them at our summer party every year. The Pavillion has been demolished. I'll never go back there-it's all gone-all over.'s a wonder that none of us are dead from those antics.

AnonEng...The British or the American version? Either way-we'll have barbecue.

Longwang...y'all had just as much fun down there.

Scott....velocity shagging....classic.

Lucky Dog...thanks. I enjoyed it. You are a good writer.

The Wonder Of It All... said...

ADG. Just the opening beats of "Cheaters Never Win" would fill the dance floors of fraternity row at my uni. Everyone knew the lyrics, but given the number of arguments, few of the ole boys understood the song's cautionary tale.

Being from North Carolina, I came up shagging, but could never get the hang of the fancy foot movement. Plus in Charlotte, it was too hot "to be movin' that much." The shag was so regional in the South, that you could tell where the dancers were from: if you shagged with a girl on one hand, and you held a beer in the other, then you were from the Carolina piedmont. If you shagged with both hands, you were from Virginia. If you did a lot of intricate, twisting moves with your partner, then you were from Maryland AND you were doing the Pretzel not the Shag.

Make my BBQ with a dry rub, pull it, don't mince it, cole slaw belongs on the plate, not the bun, then add just a bit of tomato sauce-based BBQ sauce. Vinegar on, in or any where near BBQ takes the enjoyment away, for me.

ilovelimegreen said...

Love the photos -especially those navy/green mega-window pane pants. Had I encountered a guy wearing those pants in the 80s, I'd probably be completely spellbound.
ADG, your musical selection is tops.

Pigtown*Design said...

SQUEEEEE!!!! Many many many happy nights at the Chinese Disco. Long drives back up 295 afterwards though. I was just thinking of this place the other day and wondering when you'd write about it.
"If you did a lot of intricate, twisting moves with your partner, then you were from Maryland AND you were doing the Pretzel not the Shag. We all learned how to do the Pretzel/Shag in my parents' house's front hall with all of our friends who had gone to W&L. Those were fun days!

Anonymous said...

My sister eloped in 1977 and on her return I threw her a surprise reception at everyones favorite weekend party spot-" the Chinese Disco" Any readers remeber attending? Great walk down memory lane-

Summer is a Verb said...

Like I said, you find that time machine and, as long as I can take my current wardrobe with me, I'm all in. I must confess to being of the Virginia shag variety kind of gal but, I am a faaast learner. All the better to be able to hold my Marlboro light and beverage in one hand if I pick up the Carolina moves...XXOO

Anonymous said...

"In a Moment" seems to be a largely forgotten yet exceptional example of Philly Soul (circa late '60s) that this reader from Philly had never heard of before. So thanks for the tip. Too bad I can't find any of these on ITunes.

Anonymous said...

Addendum- Willie Tee and Billy Stewart are very much present on iTunes, and great finds indeed.

Pat's Addition said...

Boy ... has Presidential Gardens ever changed!

TWA said...

Further proof I was born in the wrong generation. what I wouldn't give to find a pile of preppy boys like that today!

tintin said...

I remember shagging with a 40 - something woman from Atlanta when I was in the Army at Myrtle Beach. She had short frosted hair and long pink finger nails. She was holding a Miller Lite and smoking Virginia Slims. I was of course - -Madly in love with her. I suspect her husband wasn't.

Oler in Baltimore said...

Mr. M.....I've said it before and I'll say it again; Please give up that foolish day job pipe dream and start writing full-time - a book, a column - it doesn't matter - the stuff you write about is the best. What a trip down that memory. I used to bartend at Sarfields (L and M street) and The Chinese Disco was the best. J.Pauls, Winstons, Clydes (well, the old Clydes). Just looking at those photos of the gator pits, the sweat and the way girls looked wonderful at 11:00 PM. It's funny to see the gents in Bermuda shorts and jackets - I think that may be coming back. Any rate, I'm rambling and I just wanted to tel you; "Outstanding post - keep up the good work".

Oler in Baltimore said...

Mr. M.....I've said it before and I'll say it again; Please give up that foolish day job pipe dream and start writing full-time - a book, a column - it doesn't matter - the stuff you write about is the best. What a trip down that memory. I used to bartend at Sarfields (L and M street) and The Chinese Disco was the best. J.Pauls, Winstons, Clydes (well, the old Clydes). Just looking at those photos of the gator pits, the sweat and the way girls looked wonderful at 11:00 PM. It's funny to see the gents in Bermuda shorts and jackets - I think that may be coming back. Any rate, I'm rambling and I just wanted to tell you; "Outstanding post - keep up the good work".

Anonymous said...

Great Post. I went to the Day Lily a couple times. I was a high school kid, and lets just say they were not strict with carding. Of course, the drinking age in DC was 18 back then anyway.

I remember the Chinese Disco as more of a Georgetown Univ. thing. I did not realize the Southern connection in dancing style, but I think you are correct. I still remember a couple of guys using toilet plungers as beer glasses one night. I hope they brought the plungers with them clean, and did not pick them up from the restroom. Oh, the preppy hijinks.

Thanks for the memories.

Tom Buchanan

The Ancient said...

You realize that this sort of dancing is as dead as the foxtrot, don't you?

The children of a friend attended a dance at St Albans this past weekend. The only sort of dancing that took place involved "sandwiches" and "grinding."

(I thought, isn't this what used be called frottage?)

ADG said...'ve got the Shag lore and nuance down to an anthropological treatise....great!

LimeGreenGal....why am I not surprised that you loved the big a_s green windowpane togs?

MegTown...if you learned from W&L boys then you really didn't learn. Plus, you shouldn'ta driven back home. Ya'll coulda stayed at the Presidential Gardens. Everyone else did.

Anonymous...I mighta been there but I just don't remember. nailed it. That's the style thang. And the real trick is to be able to change and cig from one to the other.....effortlessly while dancin'. It's enough to make me want to start drinkin' and smokin' again just so I could do it.

Anon...In a Moment....try limewire. They have everything over there.

PatsAdd....P.G. nice ain't it? can find 'em. Just gotta look harder.

Tintin...that frosted head woman was my mama.

Oler...shit I forgot about Winstons.

Tom...I remember beating the shit out of each other with plungers. It was an alcohol related event.

The Ancient....alas. Yes, I am aware that its over.

brado said...

is that a kappa alpha order shirt???

ADG said...

Yes. That is a KA jersey. I am a Knight of the Kappa Alpha Order.

Anonymous said...

Bi--y J-ff-rs

Larry Pressley's "Cellar" was preceded by a joint @ the intersection of Rama Road & West Blvd. called "B&G Trading Post" where Shad Alberty sometimes held court. B&G was preceded by a converted service station on South Boulevard the name of which escapes me. The latter two were rough places and more akin to Ocean Drive's "Pad" of the '50s & '60s than the relatively tame Cellar. The Tams hit the Cellar about once a month in the '60s.

There was also a similar joint on Cola's Blossom Street, methinks, the name of which, once again, escapes one. And a joint in 5 points.

Is your sister old enough to remember the Ocean Drive riot on either Mother's Day or Easter circa '65? Bunch o' no count white kids causin' trouble.

something for Rin Tin in here too >

That's 'nuf fer a whal.


ADG said...

Taytayta' As always....good skinny from you-the Anthropologist of Southern Lore and Sartorial Specificity. Tintang and I are still vexed about your country ass. I have given up on the assumption that you are in Samoa. I've now settled on the fact that you are either in a mansion somewhere in the Charlotte area or a trailer in Tarboro.

Thanks for the links....great little ditty on B.J. And no, my sister was still a young'un in 1965. mom is the baby of ten kids so we had older cousins who were up to their eyeballs in all the great 45's and all the weekends-holidays in those joints. I'd forgotten about the Barrel.

The more contemporary honky tonks that I remember in Columbia included The Library-of course The Tally Ho and then in 5 Points there was Little O's. You could get your ass beat in Little O's in a heart beat.

Come see us.

brado said...

Good man!! I am currently an active member and wish that we had party's and places to go like this. Oh, by the way I love the blog!!

Anonymous said...

Rama Rd. should have read Remount Rd. (Late night.) (PDF)


maalik ausar obasi said...

I was just a child in the 80s...but I do love those photos of you when you were in DC at the Chinese Disco. As a born trad, I find it so amusing that now
Men in their 30s like myself are dressing like classic
80s trad / prep.

The photo of you in the Lacoste with what I presume to be GHT yellow shorts / quintessentially classic...

Please do keep recalling your 80s past..and I
always..always laugh so hard when you say.
shut up ...

maalik ausar obasi

Queen of Cashmere said...

I just stumbled upon this! Chi-di!!! Last weekend, I was in DC with my husband. We met there in 1981 while in college. He was Georgetown I was at Mount Vernon. We went back to all our old haunts which had changed so much. At one point he asked me if I remembered the Chinese Disco. Oh, come on now! Who could forget?
Looking at the guys gatoring,(IMPERMEABLE gator dirt = goodbye outfit), great clothes, lots of shagging made me wistful.
My husband, a Brit, could never shag worth a damn but always got a kick out of the name of the dance.
I don't have much time for blogs right now, monogram cashmere sweaters keep me on overload but, still, I'm subscribing. Maxminimus, Alice is right. You are just incredible.

ADG said...

Queenie...thanks! Those were great times. I was driving up Wisconsin last night with my daughter and passed Third Edition. That was a big Tuesday night destination during the summer of 1981.

Since you are a cashmere sweater monogram gal, you need to read my story about my first cashmere v-neck sweater with monogram. Here it is...

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog and came across this post. How much fun!! I am an Agnes Scott College grad (Class of 1981) and live in Charlotte from 1986-1994! loved The Cellar....and the Carolina shag was very different than the Georgia shag, too.

What great memories your postnbrought back! Thanks!! Liz

ADG said...

Classic Preppy Gal...Thanks. I had the biggest crush on an Agnes Scott gal that same summer. I've been thinking about that this week since I just finished the novel Peachtree Road...hadn't thought about Agnes Scott or that gal in ages. I was in Charlotte in '86 and at the Cellar every weekend.

Unknown said...

I was the DJ at the ChiDi for two plus years from 1980-83 ... lots of memories in those pictures.

ADG said...

Richard...I've yet to have as much fun as I had back then.

John Amrhein said...

For more on this amazing place and the Birth of the Chinese Disco visit

Unknown said...

Amazing to think we could have bumped into each other at CD. From '82-'86, there was rarely a month that passed when a bunch of us would slum over to Foggy Bottom from Georgetown and shag our asses off at the Day Lily.

ourgenealogy said...

See for more on The Alligator and its gatoring variants

EHW Macon GA said...

I'm celebrating my 56th birthday today, and have enjoyed viewing this blog which was sent to me by my roommate from our DC internship in the summer of 1981. Had the same exact thoughts about the Presidential Gardens dump, until we learned that Strom Thurmond's South Carolina interns - all of which were fun, beautiful southern belles - lived on the first floor. It only took us a couple of days to learn about the Chinese Disco, and it was there that I celebrated my 21st birthday that August. Boy, was I glad I had learned to shag at the KA House at Presbyterian College!

Great memories - thanks for sharing them in your blog!

Macon, Georgia

Unknown said...

I practically lived at that place. Best place to dance in town with all the guys who REALLY knew how from UVA, Chapel Hill etc. Thanks for bringing me back to one of the shrines of DC prepdom.

Claudia Caplan
Goucher Girl

Lisa Carlson said...

I loved the Chinese disco!! Aka chi di on fri! Those were the best days of my life! Shaghing with boys who's names I cant remember who wore madras! And drinking cheap AF gin and tonics! I still have a piece of the tacky wallpaper from the hallways! Miss those days so much!!