Four years ago, Barack Obama’s inauguration raised nightlife in Washington to a fever pitch. Jay-Z, Diddy and Young Jeezy hosted big-ticket “inaugural balls” at Love, where Stevie Wonder also made an appearance. Moby took over the 9:30 Club until the wee hours. Many nightspots were booked for pricy inaugural events, asking for sky-high cover charges while shutting out regular patrons. And those clubs that tried to keep it business-as-usual were packed anyway, with lines of Washingtonians and tourists out the door.
The revelry will return as Obama begins his second term. More than 150 restaurants and bars received permission to stay open 24 hours a day and serve drinks until 4 a.m. through the wee hours Tuesday. The diverse roster of participants — viewable at goingoutguide.com/bars — includes dive bars, sushi bars, concert halls and pricey bottle-service lounges. Musicians, actors and athletes will be on hand for the weekend’s festivities, performing or just guest-hosting at parties.
Here’s some good news: Everyone expects things to be more low-key than 2009, when getting into a club, checking a coat or hailing a cab quickly became a quagmire. Inauguration planners are estimating that crowds descending on the District this weekend will be at least half as large as four years ago, and bar owners are expecting a similar drop.
“[In 2009,] Marvin got overrun seven days straight,” says Ian Hilton, who runs a number of U Street nightspots with his brother, Eric. “This time, we have a lot of reservations, but it’s not at the same level. . . . We will fill up, but I don’t think it’s going to be a block party, like 14th and U was four years ago.”
Whether clubs are packed elbow to elbow, there’s plenty to do this weekend. Little Miss Whiskey’s Golden Dollar, which procured a 4 a.m. license, has booked an impressive trio of parties. New Yorker Jasmine Solano, who serves as Wiz Khalifa’s tour DJ, spins Friday. The following night, underground hip-hop star Talib Kweli drops a guest DJ set. Sunday brings genre-smashing DJ Ayres of Brooklyn party the Rub to play dance music that’s all over the map. None of those events will cost you a dime.
There’s a similar theme at Tropicalia, where you can catch Malian singer Cheick Hamala Diabate and Afropop DJs (Friday), a mix of African and American hip-hop artists (Saturday), a Brazilian band and samba dancers (Sunday) and moombahton, juke and club music (Monday). Only the first two have a $5 cover; the others are free.
Town, the city’s largest gay dance club, is also hosting late-night parties for those on a budget. Saturday brings famed international DJ Hector Fonseca and the house drag show. (Arrive before 11 p.m. for $8 admission and $3 drinks.) Sunday’s “Glitter Ball” is billed as “the gayest inauguration party ever,” with performers and DJs Ed Bailey, Keenan Orr and Aaron Riggins spread over two floors, with a $5 cover charge.
Of course, if you’re looking for glamour and big names without paying inaugural ball prices, there’s plenty of opportunity. The Park at 14th is hosting a Saturday afternoon “day party” with actor Boris Kodjoe from 3 to 9 p.m. The main Saturday night soiree features hip-hop star Common and radio/TV host Kenny Burns, and Jamie Foxx hosts Sunday’s party. (Advance tickets for all events are $20; buy ahead to skip serious lines.) Buzzed-about rapper Trinidad James is performing at the upscale lounge Opera on Sunday night; Love’s schedule includes Meek Mill on Friday and Future on Saturday, both of which cost $40.
One final reminder: Just because a bar received a license allowing it to stay open until 4 a.m. doesn’t mean you can show up Friday at 3:30 looking for a drink. Cafe Saint Ex and Hill Country, to name two, will extend hours only on Sunday and Monday. Ian Hilton says that while U Street Music Hall, the Brixton, Marvin and Chez Billy might be open late, there’s no guarantee they will be going full throttle until last call every night.
“We’ll play it by ear,” Hilton says, depending on the vibe of the crowd and how busy the bar is. On Monday night, when Marvin features DJ Jahsonic’s crowd-pleasing mix of classic hip-hop, ’80s R&B and vintage soul, it might look like 2009 all over again.
Marvin: 2007 14th St. NW. 202-797-7171. www.marvindc.com.