PoP Profile: Matthew McGovern & Rose Donna of Wonderland Ballroom Fame and New Owners of the Looking Glass Lounge

IMG_6247, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

I was able to sit down with Matthew and Rose this Saturday to learn a little bit about them and their plans for Temperance Hall, which indeed will be renamed Looking Glass Lounge (Check out last week’s City Paper for an ad they placed). Matthew, 45, hails from Manhattan and his wife Donna comes from the great city of Detroit. Matthew has lived in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood for the past 20 years and Donna for the past 7 years. Matthew originally moved to Mt. Pleasant because at that time it was the neighborhood that most reminded him of New York. He liked the diversity there and it was a neighborhood he could afford.

You’d think owning and running the Wonderland Ballroom would leave no time for other pursuits but nothing could be further from the truth. Rose runs an international public health non profit called Data Dyne while Mathew runs a property maintenance company.

Wonderland Ballroom

Previously Matthew had been a bartender at Madam’s Organ. Out of this experience he decided to look for a bar of his own. They initially looked in the Brookland neighborhood but many of their friends had begun moving to Columbia Heights and Petworth so they became familiar with those neighborhoods. One day a friend called them and let them know that Knob Hill was closing on 11th Street. Remember in 2004 11th Street was very different from today but Matthew and Donna thought it would be a great real estate investment and hopefully a bar in that location would break even. They had no idea that the Wonderland Ballroom would become such an amazing success. As a result, Matthew explained with a frequent laugh, they had to “learn the business”.

They came up with the name Wonderland Ballroom because there many old glorious “Ballrooms” in Detroit and New York. It was a little bit tongue and cheek to name a bar on 11th Street ‘Ballroom’ and it also was a bit of an homage to where they came from. They were very excited to open up a neighborhood bar because no one was doing that at the time. Rose said that Wonderland reminds her of a bar that should would go to in Detroit called the “Tap Room”.

They both pointed out to me that there actually isn’t a “Wonderland” theme at the Wonderland Ballroom. They described the theme at Wonderland as more urban salvage. Keeping with that theme they have just acquired the “Common Share” sign from the recently closed legendary bar on 18th Street in Adams Morgan. So keep your eyes open for that next time you go to Wonderland.

They are extremely proud of Wonderland and the positive development it has brought to 11th Street. Mathew noted that as a result of Wonderland opening “cabs now come to Columbia Heights and the neighbors love that.” They’d also like to think Wonderland’s success contributed to Red Rocks opening up just up the block. Mathew and Donna are both huge fans of Red Rocks and they think that it is really cool that they are there now.

Looking Glass Lounge

As mentioned in an earlier post, some of the changes coming to Looking Glass Lounge include expanded seating. Some of you who have already visited Temperance Hall may have noticed that some of the dividers have been removed between the booths. Additionally, there has been the addition of new cushioned bar stools that swivel. Another change you may notice is that the TV will no longer be on unless there is a local team playing in a sporting event. Matthew explained that the idea is that space will become more of a place to eat and drink and socialize. In the distant future it is possible that they may get an “entertainment endorsement” that will allow for some live acoustic music to accompany brunch. Matthew and Rose both hope to better integrate the basement and patio into the bar. There will be more heaters put out on the back patio for those who wish to smoke in a comfortable environment. As for those who were concerned about an Alice in Wonderland theme, you need not worry. Rose explained that it all ready is the Looking Glass as she pointed out all the mirrors to me with a smile.

As for the menu there will be some changes that Matthew and Rose describe as “streamlining.” They explained that the kitchen in Wonderland is actually smaller than most people’s bathrooms but at Temperance the kitchen is much bigger so there will be many more possibilities. They will be keeping the chili but there will be some changes to the recipe.

You will also notice that the beer choices have changed. Currently on tap there is Hoegaarden, Stella Artois, and Dogfish Head. But many more are coming including Boddingtons. To accompany the new beers there is a new Happy Hour. Happy Hour is everyday until 8pm with $3 Dogfish Head & Stella Artois and $4 Hoegaarden plus $1 off Chimay and Rail Drinks.

Finally they will be converting the jukebox upstairs to a 300 CD jukebox that is not connected to the internet. When no one has selected music for the jukebox there will be a stereo set up that will play an ipod and cds. They will also be moving the location of the jukebox to make it more accessible as they both noted that socializing around the jukebox is “how guys and girls get each other’s phone numbers.”

Both Matthew and Rose stressed that the changes will not really be noticeable to the casual customer. Matthew summed it up this way, “My goal is that people who have been here before on occasion will walk in and say ‘yeah I’ve been here before but it feels more comfortable’ but I don’t expect anyone to notice any of the changes we make”.

My two cents

I found Matthew and Rose to be very open, friendly, and warm. I truly believe that they embrace the idea of the “neighborhood” bar and seek to ensure that the Looking Glass Lounge remains one. I’m personally very excited about the new beer selections and of course the great new happy hour. Also don’t forget that Dan Searing will remain General Manager and I think Dan has a very strong connection with the community and their desires. So the next few weeks will be a bit of a transition period. I’m really excited to see how the new seating takes shape. Not that I wish the bar was sold but if it had to be sold, I am relieved that it was sold to people who truly understand the importance of a neighborhood bar to this community. I am sure we will revisit this transition from time to time but after speaking with Mathew and Rose I’m feeling pretty optimistic.

35 Comment

  • 1. Looking glass is still a truly awful name and the branding of the alice in wonderland idea seems like it isn’t congruent with a truly “neighborhood bar”.

    2. Are the garlic fries staying?

    3. Last I checked we don’t have an EPL team in dc, so that means no sunday brunch soccer. Truly a disappointment, especially if a lack of soccer affects dan’s disposition, like I fear it will.

  • Crap name, Looking Glass is, but I love their change ideas, especially unhooking the Juke from the internet. I may be a serious net junkie, but a bar should have one musical theme, not some jerk and $5 making it a headbanger or country bar for an hour.

  • Well Wonderland doesn’t exactly have Alice in Wonderland decor…it sounds like they don’t plan to drastically change TH’s decor. Honestly if TH had to be sold i can’t think of people I’d rather buy it than the Wonderland folks. I wish though that we could get a new bar opened by the Wonderland team and keep TH too. To put in my $0.02 i am also glad they are getting rid of the internet jukebox. I hope they keep the mini sloppy joes though 😉

  • Sounds like the doom and gloom discussions were a little premature. I don’t like the beer selections. Not very creative. There are tons of good beers out there, and these seem like just more of the same.

  • Hate to hear that they plan to kill the internet jukebox, but if they accomodate with good jazz choices I will continue to give them business.

  • I hope they bring back the Wolvers Organic Brown Ale. I love that stuff.

  • What is the problem with name? I like the name Temperance too, but see nothing wrong with LG. Besides, who knows the reasoning – maybe the owner wouldn’t sell them the name, or maybe Matt just wanted to put his fingerprint on it. It seems a minor issue either way, it’s just a name.

    I really like the idea of losing the internet jukebox. The music at Temperance has always been dodgy. Too much selection is NOT a good thing in the case of a neighborhood bar. I also am very glad to hear the TV will be OFF except for games. I hate bars with TVs on all the time. Sports are OK at a neighborhood bar, because at least that’s sort of social. But otherwise, it sucks the life out of the place. Stay home and watch TV if that’s the only reason you went out, the beer’s a lot cheaper too.

    Anyway, none of this surprises me. Wonderland did great things for the 11th Street area and is still a great bar (notwithstanding the cooler-than-thou segment that can’t go anywhere that anyone else knows about). That stretch of Georgia needs a jump start and I can see only good things coming of this transition.

  • From your interview PoP, sounds pretty good. I still hate the new name – Looking Glass, and hope enough feedback makes them reconsider (sounds too cutesy). Good with tV policy. I’d love to see if they have some ability to improve things commerically around that section of Georgia ave, but I won’t hold my breath. What would have been much better is instead of buying Temperance all, they opened a new bar/restaurant nearby. Maybe some one seeing Temperance’s success will still do that – especially if the big Mission Homelss shelter doesn’t move in down the street.

  • are we sure they’re married? i see no ring on the finger. i’d like a full background check pop. something is fishey here. i think its all a front to slowly take over the world with alice in wonderland named places full of painful hipsters thinking its cool to leave the safe confines west of the park. gentrification at its worst.

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  • i like the new name a lot. much more creative than TH.

  • So about the menu…we need details!!

  • Really I think I support 100% of the plans mentioned in the article. I was terrified when I heard TH was closing, but maybe something better will come…mmm, $3 Dogfish Head on Georgia Ave.

    I will miss the loungy-er feeling of the couchs in the back. Good place to be with friends to feel special when the place wasn’t crowded (which was pretty often).

  • Temperance referred to the prohibition era decor and drinks at TH. With the name change, I hope they don’t get rid of the current drink specials, esp. the Manhattan. I’m glad to see the internet juke box go but will miss seeing soccer games on the tv. Maybe we can watch Redskins games with the sound on now that the jukebox is out? I hope they don’t get rid of the grilled cheese. Yum.

  • I know Rose and Matt from when they started Baby Happy hour at Wonderland. it was an absolute godsend to new parents who wanted to meet other ‘like-minded” parents in the area. I am positive they will only make the PW bar scene even better. I look forward to seeing them and their upgrades.

  • You can say good-bye to the Manhattans. We loved the Manhattans at Temperance, but when we went Saturday night we were told that the new ownership was no longer serving cocktails. Apparently—a bourbon and water was okay, a Manhattan was not.

    What is up with THAT?

  • Markus — that’s what Fox Soccer Channel is for 🙂 For instance, Chelsea-Arsenal was on yesterday…

    Also, DC United is not a shabby side.

  • Wait. They seriously won’t make Manhattans anymore? I love their rye Manhattans. If it is true, that’s a nice way to shit on the old clientele. Well played.

  • My wife and I went Friday night. Matthew was there. The bartender was CLUELESS. My wife ordered a Sazaerac which was on the menu. What came back was god awful. Granted Sazaeracs are a bit arcane for DC, but I would have been embarassed to serve that. A simple “I don’t know how to make that” would have been nice

    Guess its just a beer joint now.

  • Just some quick correction/clarifications: …you can still order the cocktails, they are just not going to be featured on the menu. … Soccer is going to STAY during brunch, and we plan on opening for soccer brunch on Saturdays as soon as possible. …Sorry about your bad Sazaerac, Steve, but your bartender on Friday was Eric, who is part of the old Temperance team (and he’s staying) ; the Saturday bartender was Scott, and if he didn’t want to make a Manhattan, who can blame him? But we’ll strive to live up to the old cocktail standard that he helped set …Speaking of Scott, today he managed to get a last minute flight home for the holidays early tomorrow morning, so it turns out that his last night was in fact last night…the menu is going to stay basically the same for the near future. We hope to add more items around New Years, and eventually have weekly and daily specials, and add more vegitarian options, as well as some more bar food, like nachos and chili cheese fries. … that said, Thanks for the continued interest in the place, and we hope to meet you all soon, (after we eat all the garlic fries)

  • people, people, people.

    i can’t believe some of the negative reactions on this board.

    from someone that has been living in dc since ’95, i’m kind of appalled at how easily folks settle int to the ‘current state of affairs’. look, your neighborhood is growing. that’s how it will be for many moons to come.

    accept it.

    embrace it.

    you’re “pioneers”, yes. but you’ll all be gone before the next iteration of the ‘hood’ comes along.

    contribute to the development of your community. i really can’t believe you folks are complaining about a great couple furthering along the potential of what could be an even better bar. YES, it could be better. we all have our stories, and you know i’m right.

    give them a chance, and open up your minds ( i was going to say ‘open up your parochial box heads’, but i thought that might get me in trouble).

    what are you all so afraid of?

    that your little secret neighborhood will become a bustling area?

    yeah, that’s looking out for your neighborhood….

    think about the larger picture please, if your able.

    if not,

    maybe you should think about cashing in your equity and moving to anacostia.

    you folks are.

    can we get a poll on how long people have lived in the area, if they rent or own, when they’ll be leaving the city to return to .. wherever?

    i’d really be curious.

  • Fine, I’ll start answering the questions above:
    DC since 1983
    Petworth since 1990
    Leaving MY city? What are you, nuts?

    Oh, and stop with the “pioneers” stuff ok? Ain’t no “pioneers” here. There were people here when I got here.

  • Thanks to Rose and Matthew for responding and clarifying. I take back what I wrote earlier. Temp got me hooked on those rye manhattans so that now it’s the only way I can drink them. I look forward to enjoying many more at the bar.

  • Matthew and Rose

    Thanks for writting in and clarifying. My wife and I, being from New Orleans were actually quite suprised a bar in DC would even attempt the Sazarac since it is not widely known. Let me know and I can provide a close to orignial recipe…for when we come back! PS – there are 2 secrets – BOTH angustura AND Peychauds bitters and Herbsaint and not Pernods.

  • Matthew & Rose – Don’t let the bar-stewards grind yer down!

    Congratulations on making a success of the Wonderland. I hope LG/TH is every bit as successful.

  • this is not meant as a putdown – i love our hood and am excited about the newness of it all – but, only in DC would it be a comfort to know our bar/restaurant owners do other more ‘serious’ shit on the side!

  • Rose and Matthew say: “the Saturday bartender was Scott, and if he didn’t want to make a Manhattan, who can blame him?”

    Huh? I dont care if it was his last night. If he’s working behind the bar, he should make the cocktail that was ordered. The arrogance is astounding.

    I hope the new folks keep the rye selection. Some of us actually travel across the city to drink there sometimes. And yes, the food service was crap.

  • We went there last night and I’m happy to say that we had a couple good Manhattans and lots of prohibition peanuts. The changes thus far have been so minor that we probably would not have noticed them if they weren’t pointed out to so, e.g. new construction on the bar shelves.

  • Steve,
    Please post your ‘close to original’ Sazerac recipe. I’ve been looking for a good one.

  • Jasong. First pack an oldfashioned glass with ice and water or pre chill one in your freezer. In a drink mixer combine two parts rye (you can use bourbon, but it will not be as smooth), one part simple syrup, two dashes of eash angustura and Peychauds bitters with a couple of ice cubes. Remove glass from freeze or dump the ice wtaer. Put just enough herbsaint in the glass to coat the entire inner surface – about a teaspon. Dump out excess. Strain mixture from shaker into glass. Rim with lemon and drop twist in drink.


  • Sorry to get in late on these discussions. I read PoP when I’m bored at work =;-)

    On walking back from the Upsher Art Festival on Dec. 15th at Domku, my gal and I thought we’d peek in the window of TH, hoping we might pop in for a drink on the off-chance they’d be open.
    They weren’t technically but Matt was in pooring free drinks to friends and opened the door to let us in. He offered us a shot of anything from the bar. We both chose a form of rye.

    So, we took the opportunity to pepper him with questions, most of which had already been answered above.
    In summary:

    the changes to the decor will be very subtle
    there will be more vegetarian options – Yay!, even if they can’t spell vegetarian (see above)
    Temperance Hall was going to be sold anyway – the owners were just about to pack it in. Matt explained to us that he and Rose were out to dinner with the TH owners when they were asked “housabout you take over the bar?” What apparently started as a joke has become a reality. So, the changeover could be a lot worse. Just be glad it’s not going to change drastically – like become a Starbucks.
    the selection of rye won’t be quite as great
    did I mention the addition of vegi…vegetarian dishes!?!!?!!

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