At Current, It's Full Speed Ahead
By Fritz Hahn
Special to the Washington Post
Friday, Sept. 19, 2008
The buzz: If you haven't taken a late-night stroll around 18th Street and Connecticut Avenue NW in a while, you might not recognize the block that was once one of the city's hottest night-life strips.
Five, the three-level dance club, has been closed since a stabbing in May.
Play, a cozy haunt popular with bachelorettes or those who wanted to partake in bottle service without the usual stodgy atmosphere, is also shuttered.
And Dragonfly, one of the first achingly hip martini-and-sushi lounges when it opened in 1998, sat empty for more than a year. Until now.
Enter Current, the club that has moved into the space.
Dragonfly regulars might recognize some things: The all-white walls remain, as does the high-end sushi, beautiful crowd and late-night DJs. But there are changes, including a focus on bottle service and a less-adventurous music program.
The scene: Current was conceived as "an ultra-futuristic luxury yacht," says partner Richard Koch. Downstairs, which fills with suits after work, the room is dominated by small wooden dining tables, a long bar and a sushi bar. Even at happy hour, there are customers who could be models sipping martinis and picking at colorful eel rolls.
The club's looks are simple: hardwood floors, pieces of wavy, curving metal set under the glass-topped bars, mimicking waves. Nautical touches abound: The ribs overhead look like the below-decks of a cruise ship, and "portholes" in the ceiling allow views between floors, though a constant wash of water keeps the glass slightly opaque.
A large projection screen shows a mix of scenic ocean views and hit movies.
Up a grand floating staircase is where the real action is, especially on weekends, when the wide-open room fills with groups dancing to a DJ and kicking back on a row of couches along one wall, where up to eight people can reserve space for a minimum tab of $500.
If you're into bottle service, Current has one of the better setups around: The tables aren't as crammed as they are at other clubs, so you feel like you have some breathing room, and you feel a little more like a VIP.
The "prow" of the second floor, a U-shaped area near windows overlooking Connecticut Avenue, is the "Captain's Table." It has a $2,000 minimum and room for up to 20. Perks include a private elevator that whisks you directly from the street to your booth without any of the waiting that commoners must do.
For those of us not dropping that much cash, service is generally good, though the bartenders can be a bit pokey when the orders fly fast and furious.
The biggest complaints so far include how well-lit the place is (even at 1:30 in the morning, which takes away some of the nightclub aura) and the generic music. Madonna and Justin Timberlake remixes and vintage Biggie aren't exactly the cutting-edge sounds that Dragonfly was known for.
Getting in: Arriving early is the key. I've walked in with no wait a little after 10 on a Friday, and I have had a doorman hit me up for $20 when I arrived about 12:30 a.m. on a Saturday.
A word on the dress code: Manager Mood Bacho says the club is going for cool but casual. Sneakers are okay if they're stylish, and designer jeans are a given. Weekend crowds find a number of tight-fitting T-shirts among the embroidered button-downs. Leave the athletic wear and hoodies in your closet.
An easier way to make sure you get in is to RSVP with one of the promoters hosting events at Current: Try http://www.absoluteaddiction.com, http://www.jetsetmafia.com or http://www.dcalist.com. You'll still have to dress the part, but you can usually skip the cover.
In your glass: Sake cocktails are as smooth as silk, made with unfiltered sake and fresh juices. At $16, they're on the pricey side. Most other cocktails are distinctly average. If you're sticking to beer, beware: There's a very limited choice for $7 a bottle.
On your plate: You may come here for the late-night clubbing, but don't neglect the sushi: Dragonfly's sushi chef has returned, joined by a former Komi sous-chef. The miso soup is light, with a heavenly broth. Colorful nigiri taste as fresh as they look, and the artfully arranged sushi rolls disappear quickly off plates. (Ask about specials, since the rolls that rotate on and off the menu are more interesting than the California and yellowtail staples. Service runs until midnight.)
Price points: This is not a cheap night out. Even if you beat the cover charge, you're looking at $10 for a mixed drink, $16 for the premium sake cocktails, $7 for a Heineken. The sushi is more reasonable: $6 or $7 for nigiri, $8 to $10 for rolls.
Need to know: If you need a smoke or a breath of air, make sure to get your hand stamped or you'll have trouble getting back in.
Nice to know: The doors to the unisex upstairs bathrooms look translucent, but as soon as you step inside and close the door behind you, it fogs up with steam. Definitely raising the stakes in the D.C. bathroom design race.