This isn’t Ms. Frizzle’s Magic School Bus. The vibrantly graffitied bus and surrounding lot in Shaw will soon be home to Electric Cool-Aid, a beer garden with frozen drinks slated to open by early summer.
Those familiar with the corner will remember it as home to Mr. P’s Ribs and Fish, the barbecue bus famous for its smoky ribs, manned by neighborhood fixture Fate Pittman. The converted 1995 school bus (complete with deep-fryers) was left on the property after Pittman passed away in 2015.
After walking past the abandoned space many times, a trio of service industry veterans—brothers Ben and Jesse Schwartz and Angela DelBrocco—decided to bring the bus out of retirement. DelBrocco has manned bars at local watering holes like Nellie’s Sports Bar, and Ben is a bartender at nearby Ivy and Coney. As the beer garden’s operations manager, Jesse is bringing his experience opening high volume bars in New Jersey.
The name Electric Cool-Aid is unrelated to the massive Kool-Aid Man bellowing an emphatic “OH YEAAAAH.” In fact, the origins are far trippier: the owners were inspired by novelist Ken Kesey and his cohorts, the “Merry Pranksters,” who traveled in a painted, psychedelic bus during the summer of 1964. The counterculture caravan was immortalized in the book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
Paying homage to the anti-establishment spirit, the owners decided to deck out the property’s school bus, which will remain stationary. They enlisted Dripped on the Road, a Merry Pranksters-esque collective of street artists who traverse the country in RVs with spray cans in hand. Brooklyn street artists Ramiro Davaro-Comas and Jonathan Neville painted the bus while collective artists Trasher, McMonster, and Denton Burrows designed the surrounding murals. The result is reminiscent of the kaleidoscope street art that decorates Freetown Christiania, the Copenhagen community known for its liberated lifestyle.
“The bus isn’t in its final inclination or stage yet. We’ve got it painted once but we’re looking to probably paint it again when we get closer to opening,” Ben Schwartz says. “Maybe even turn it into an event, get people to participate.”
While the city’s permitting process will dictate whether drinks can be served directly out of the bus, it will still remain the north star within a constellation of picnic tables that form the beer garden.
Offerings will include around six varieties of adult frozen cocktails. The owners plan to test out their drinks at other local venues leading up to the bar’s unveiling. Wine and canned beer round out the casual, backyard party atmosphere. In the winter months, cold concoctions will be swapped out for belly-warming beverages.
When the owners say they want Electric Cool-Aid to be a part of the neighborhood, they say it as neighbors themselves. The owners have lived in close proximity to the property and remember Mr. P’s pork ribs.
“We want Rhode Island Ave, the transition into Bloomingdale, to be safe for people to be there,” Schwartz says. “We think opening a public space there will help public safety as well as kind of be really great for the community at large.”
Electric Cool-Aid. 512 Rhode Island Ave., NW.