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On the Town

Waiting for Chloe? Get in Line

By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page WE05

WAITING TO get into the white-hot Chloe (2473 18th St. NW; 202-265-6592) on a Saturday night is like waiting for Godot. The beleaguered doorman-cum-bouncer has announced several times that the club is full, and because it's after midnight, he's not sure if anyone else will get in. Well, maybe. Hard to say how long it might take.

Of course, this will not do.

The airy Adams Morgan club Chloe combines colorful decor with futuristic accents and industrial touches on two levels. A patio opens in a few weeks. (Michael Temchine For The Washington Post)

The long line becomes an amorphous crowd straining to get the bouncer's attention. A number of would-be patrons claim to know bartenders or be friends of the manager, and ask if said employees can be summoned to the front door to verify that, yes, the well-connected would-be patron is a cool person who should be allowed into Chloe and not left to rot on the sidewalk. The answer is always no. "You got to call them on their cell phones," the bouncer says, repeating what seems to be a well-practiced line. He's obviously heard these stories over and over.

One guy pleads that his girlfriend is already inside, and would the large, black-jacketed man blocking his entrance please let him go inside and look for her? "Just five minutes," the guy says. "You know where she is inside?" the bouncer asks. "It's a big place." The answer, again, is no. A couple arrives at the end of the line, and the guy walks forward to find out how quickly they might get in. Again, it's hard to say. Maybe 20 or 30 minutes? They stand around for maybe 10 before heading off down the street in search of drinks and warmth.

The vagueness is frustrating. A couple arrives, makes a phone call and is ushered inside because a friend has reserved a table. Half the guys standing around -- it's mostly a crowd of guys -- have cell phones glued to their ears. "Where you at?" "No, I'm outside."

Every time the door swings open, the crowd surges forward, straining to see who's coming out, hoping that their friend the manager/bartender/bouncer/dishwasher will appear and offer them a golden ticket -- or, more likely, that two or three people are leaving, meaning two or three people may be able to go in and take their places.

Lines have been a major talking point at Chloe since February, when the restaurant, lounge and dance club made a splashy debut at the northern end of the 18th Street strip, its presence marked by a modest doorway and a small glowing sign. Adams Morgan is full of nightspots, but few ever have lines -- and waits -- like this, with dozens clustered outside at peak times. Neighborhood residents grouse about noise and crowds blocking the sidewalk. Clubgoers complain about the seemingly endless holding pattern, and suspect that the reason is buzz-generating hype. But since first daughters Barbara and Jenna Bush couldn't jump the queue one night, you really have to wonder if it's all an act.

General manager Danny Coyle says it's not. "We can only accommodate so many people," he says. "The legal capacity is 250. That's why there's a line."

There are ways around it, of course -- it's no secret that women frequently skip to the front or are admitted instantly, so Coyle suggests a night out with some female friends. Reserving a table includes six no-line, no-cover admissions but costs a minimum of $500. Try the restaurant and lounge earlier in the week, when business is slower, and a neighborhood crowd gathers to peruse the wine list. (A half-price martini night is in the works.) Coyle's best advice, though, remains "Come earlier."

That's not what everyone wants to hear -- honestly, you'd think that it was illegal to arrive at a club before 11 -- but on the Saturday night in question, I breezed in a little after 9 without having to wait in line, get the once-over from a doorman (no hats, sneakers, athletic wear or boots) and pony up the $5 cover leveled after 10 on Fridays and Saturdays.

The most striking thing about Chloe is how big it is. It's a second-and-third story walk-up cobbled together from pieces of three separate rowhouses, providing numerous nooks and crannies filled with large leather banquettes and couches. Most of the airy room is open to two stories; a mezzanine level offers a bird's-eye view of the huge bar and action on the dining-area-cum-dance floor.

As at the neighboring Saki Lounge -- also owned by Alireza "Haji" Hajaligholi -- the room is outfitted with "intelligent lighting" that constantly shifts colors, bathing the room in cool blues, minty greens, hot pink and fiery orange. These large, glowing panels are everywhere: mounted on bar fronts, sections of the ceiling, even on the underside of the steps on the large open staircase that curves dramatically as it leads to the mezzanine. The lights help soften the otherwise odd decorating scheme, which mixes a "Miami Vice"-style pink-and-turquoise color scheme with industrial accents (shiny chrome sewer grating), some '70s retro designs (egg-cup barstools and patterned metallic wallpaper set into the bar tops) and futuristic touches, including a giant metal globe that houses the DJ booth.

The much-in-demand Dirty Hands (Dream, Andalu, Soul Camp) is among the DJs spinning hip-hop and house for the trendy masses on the packed -- and I mean packed -- dance floor. Four bars are scattered throughout, and while drinks are well made and reasonably priced ($6 for a Tanqueray and tonic), I don't think I'll get used to paying $6 for a bottle of Heineken.

If you're trying to escape the crush, beware: Access to the upper level, which houses many of the private tables and the best people-watching spots, is roped off once the area gets too crowded -- which tends to be early in the night. Demand will only get higher in a few weeks when Chloe opens its spacious back patio. Coyle expects it to offer a mix of pricey seating and room to mingle.

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