Wednesday, May 18th, 2011
“I actually do remember my first time coming to the Black Cat. It was the winter of 1996 and I came to see a punk show. I had been to the old 9:30 Club a bunch of times, but had never been to the Black Cat. Me and my friends didn’t know where we going and the neighborhood seemed a bit scary. We were looking for the place and eventually turned the corner onto 14th Street. When we did, we saw a bunch of leather jackets and mohawks. We thought it was the right place, but would have gone there even if it wasn’t. We went in and the show was a lot of fun. I think the Suspects were playing, which was one of my favorite local bands. Immediately, me and my friends were like, this is the best place ever.
“After that, I started coming here a few times a week. I had just dropped out of college from Southern Mississippi and was living back up here with my parents in Northern Virginia. My original plan was to make some money here and then move to New Orleans, but that never happened. I started working at Dulles airport and had all kinds of crazy hours, so I would spend my days skateboarding downtown and then drinking cokes at the Black Cat before my 3am shifts.
“I tried to switch jobs and be an electrician’s assistant, but that didn’t work out. I decided to stop by the Black Cat and apply for a job in 1998. I didn’t expect to get it because I didn’t know anyone who worked here, but they still hired me. My first job was working the door and cooking in the kitchen for bands. I wasn’t making a lot of money, so I ended up moving back into my parents’ house. Still, I liked the job. It suited my style of being up all night, and I liked the people. With time, I started moving up to barbacking and then bartending. In my thirteen years here, I have pretty much done everything except managing and sound.
“When I started hanging out here, this place was a lot different. There wasn’t anything else on the block and the neighborhood could seem a bit sketchy at times. But, most of our regulars could afford to live in the neighborhood, so we had this built in clientele of locals and neighborhood people. As the neighborhood changed, many of those people moved farther-and-farther away. You can’t expect places to stay the same or for the same people to keep hanging out though. People grow up and move away. Even my wife and I moved to the suburbs for our kids. We used to have a concrete patio in NE and now we have a big yard and a swing set in Virginia. That’s just how things go.
“I think that I have stayed here so long for a number of reasons. First of all, I love this job. I have made all of my friends and even met my wife through working here. When everyone is here to have a good time, this is the best job in the world. Sometimes people use alcohol to let the worst parts of them shine. When that happens, you can see the unpleasantness of humanity. That’s why it is important to keep control of the environment as much as you can and watch for people who are heading down that road.
“I guess the other reason I have stayed here for so long is laziness. I have a job, so I don’t need to find another one. I didn’t go to college, which doesn’t mean much these days, but it limits my abilities to just walk out of here and into something completely different. Right now, bartending is all I really know. But, I love it.”
No story of Chad America would be complete without asking about his name and beard.
On Chad America:
“Chad America is not my given name, but it is the name I go by…it is my acting name. I got in back in 1999. We were sitting around at work one night coming up with fake stage names. I came up with Chad America and it just kind of stuck. It started as a joke, but my pseudonym lets me get to know some customers without them getting to know too much about me. It allows me to be somewhat closed off even as I am being outgoing and engaging with people. With it, I can separate my time at home with my kids and my time here. My real name is actually Chad Allison.”
On the beard:
“I started growing this beard three years ago, just after my first son was born. I never intended to be a beard guy, but it just grew out and kept on growing. Now, it has taken on a life of its own. To be honest, I don’t know what would happen if I shaved it. My kids have never known me without a beard. Without it, I fear that my whole world would implode. So yeah, I guess that I have inadvertently become a beard guy.”
The Black Cat is located at 1811 14th St. NW.