Beer, hay, woodchips.
West Philadelphia isn’t exactly known for its nightlife, but you’ve gotta give each venue credit for trying. Koko Bongo on Chestnut Street is one of only a few nightclubs and bars in the area to attempt survival.
Nestled between adjoining universities, Koko aims for a college-heavy crowd. With nights like “Thirsty Thursdays,” when drinks are 50 cents, they hit the target. But the club/bar is also in one of Philly’s more dangerous neighborhoods.
Ahhh, my night at Koko Bongo…where do I even start? Let me begin by chastising the venue directly: How dare you, Koko, how dare you?! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the very beginning. I thought the night got off well. No problem getting in the door. Found a stool to rest my no-longer-needed jacket. I got a chilly domestic beer in record time from an attentive and semi-attractive bartender. But I should have seen these as the first subtle warning signs. The place was empty; I’m talking ghost town. Need I say more? I will, for your benefit.
So the venue is basically one wide open room. With nobody to fill it or act as buffers, the DJ music effectively reverberated off every surface with an unsettling clatter. Having to scream above the noise, not even bothering to notice what was playing, I gave myself a headache before getting to my second round. At this point, I noticed the group who agreed to endure this adventurous outing with me has already thrown back more than a few and taken to the floor…if you could even call it that. I am convinced that this place is some old warehouse for hay or woodchips or some other stench-soaking material. It looks like an abandoned barn and smells like a barn at full capacity. What is this place?
After hitting the dance-ish-floor with my humble and willing posse, I quickly realize where the other club attendees, all five of them, were hiding. Let me spell it out: T.V. To give this place credit, it did have decent screens and it did know how to cater to its “crowds.” Every dude there was watching sports. Now, I realize this place could just be a more casual venue, the kind of place you go to grab some beers and watch the game. But with high ceilings and vast space to accommodate something so much bigger, it’s hard to believe that Koko wants to be a sports bar. Advertising Karaoke nights, live music, and DJ dance parties on its website, this place ought to be ashamed of trying to legitimize itself. My moldy basement, complete with archaic video game systems and skunked cases of beer, is more fun on the average night.
Soon after stepping inside Koko Bongo on a clear Friday night, I realized my first mistake: Stepping inside Koko Bongo. How the hell did I find myself here? What awful karma brought me to this place? I knew early on that the night would be bad...
The half-assed décor was what really made this sh*thole reek of budget from the start. Picture this: torn posters, mangled palm fronds, and shredded up grass skirts. Glittery streamers and some other questionable adornments looked like the dirty work of some poorly paid frat boys. We are nowhere near paradise, or any of its island neighbors. That was clear. And what does Koko Bongo mean anyway?
Despite the many pool tables, and what could be excuses for beer pong tables, nobody here was having fun. It was a college-aged crowd, it was the weekend, you’d expect them to be amped, but everyone looked like they were at the library. Then, it dawned on me. Maybe that had something to do with the 10:1 male-to-female ratio. Just maybe. By the time I realized what a sausagefest this bar was hosting, it was too late. I had already bought a drink. But my first sip of that weak cocktail was what really grinded my gears. What could make this place more unbearable? Oh, that’s right. Terrible music.
I felt like I was back in high school, at a lame Hawaiian-themed dance, only this was worse. The dancefloor (which reminded me of a gymnasium floor more than anything else) was half-empty (note my pessimism). The DJ seemed more intent on eye-groping the university coeds than playing good music. With at least three nearby colleges, you’d expect this place to be a hotspot. Not the case. But, I digress. Every song was dated to the late ’90s with record-breaking accuracy – I kid you not. I think I recognized most of the songs from my Sweet Sixteen party. I saw four guys try to walk into the ladies restroom, which, to give those guys some credit, is very poorly labeled! Everything here was just wrong.
But the cherry on top wasn’t until the end of the night. Come two a.m., lights went on, music was cut, the bar was shut down, and everyone was very rudely asked to leave. No exceptions. Not that anyone was begging to stay, but my drink was half-full! (Oh, I have my optimism back.)
After talking with some locals and getting the scoop, it seems as if Koko is the kind of place that has its “on” nights and its “off” nights. How cute. Needless to say, this “off” night was way off. Maybe an “on” night would change my story, but there are only so many Saturdays worth risking.