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On the Town

All Wrapped Up in Fur

By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, November 26, 2004; Page WE05

ANY LARGE DANCE club that opens these days needs to be able to boast about a state-of-the-art sound system and "intelligent lighting" in addition to the usual claims about numerous dance floors, bars and VIP areas. And, if you want to attract high rollers and ballers (professional or otherwise), the more upscale the decor, the better.

When Michael Romeo, who ran the huge Insomnia club in Chinatown, began planning a new superclub last year, he noticed that smaller, intimate clubs and lounges were attracting a larger portion of Washington's ever-more-competitive scene. So, Romeo says, he decided to mix the two formats. The result is Fur (33 Patterson St. NE; 202-842-3401), which offers a dance floor large enough to draw the biggest names on the electronic dance music circuit, as well as self-contained lounge areas, a late-night cafe and numerous well-appointed bars. Romeo says he designed the space so "people who hate big nightclubs can hang out here."

Fur opened seven weeks ago in Northeast Washington, attracting clubgoers with its large dance floor, late-night cafe, theme rooms and private sitting areas. The club also has a smoke-free bar. (Jonathan Ernst For The Washington Post)

On Friday and Saturday nights, Fur offers at least four DJs spinning divergent styles in different sections of the huge club, formerly a cold-storage warehouse where Washington department stores stowed their fur coats and accessories during hot summer months.

For all the buzz about lounge seating, coat checks and espresso bars, Fur won't disappoint the people who just want to come and dance until the wee hours of the morning. A narrow covered walkway from the main lobby provides a dramatic entrance to the main dance floor, known as the Arena, which Romeo says encompasses about 12,000 square feet. Chandeliers, huge speakers and the requisite giant disco ball hang from 30-foot-high ceilings, and when the DJ is in a groove, you can feel the bass deep in your chest while a flashy laser light show pulses in time with the music. Because of the way the speakers are angled, it's possible to stand at one end of the room and have a conversation or order a drink at one of several bars without having to scream -- a very nice touch.

As in many other clubs, VIP guests can look down on the DJ booth and vast stage from a mezzanine level -- but at Fur, so can nonsmokers, who have a bird's-eye view from a smoke-free bar with its own balcony.

So far so good. Then it gets confusing. On my first visit, Fur is a sprawling maze of hallways, bars and velvet ropes, and trying to navigate the various rooms in a crowd of up to 2,200 clubgoers can be a bit of a challenge. Where the heck am I? Mink Room? Sunken Lounge? How do I get to the nonsmoking section? This is one club that could benefit from having a shopping mall-style map near the front door. Maybe people who dislike crowded superclubs will enjoying hanging out in Fur's individual theme rooms, but they'll have to fight through the throngs to get there.

While there are some common elements in the various lounges and nooks -- namely sumptuous leather couches, oil paintings, granite bar counters and large flat-screen televisions -- each does have its unique touches. The Mafia Lounge, featuring a painting of Al Capone, is lit with candles; an adjacent "cognac and cigar room" has a humidor full of 16 kinds of cigars, from Cohiba to Zino Platinum, and a dedicated cigar expert to help you choose one.

In the Mink room, which has mink-covered panels on its walls, scantily clad women dance on a stage behind the bar, and guests have a skybox-style view of the action on the dance floor below. If you want to hang out there, you and up to five friends must agree to spend $500 -- minimum -- on alcohol, cigars or snacks to reserve seats.

Minimums are a fact of life at Fur. There's some open seating in the cafe, a welcome space serving Lavazza espresso drinks, panini sandwiches and Italian pastries, and space to relax in the main martini lounge, but most couches and ottomans come with a standard three-digit reservation fee, and there's nary a barstool in sight.

Then again, most patrons will be focused more on the dance floor. Glow, a Saturday event dedicated to pounding trance and house music, is Fur's flagship night, drawing a youngish crowd for marquee names such as the Grammy-winning DJ duo Deep Dish (Saturday night) and globetrotting Dutchman Armin van Buuren (Dec. 11). Friday is Fusion, which puts everything from '70s disco to Guns N' Roses to Lil Jon on the main dance floor, with hip-hop, international and house music spread throughout the other rooms. Early arrivals get free drinks and reduced admission through www.fusiondc.com. Only the Mafia Lounge is open for Sunday's hip-hop-flavored Capiche party, and Romeo recently kicked off an 18-and-older college night on Thursdays.

There have been growing pains. Fur's opening night seven weeks ago, which featured superstar German trance DJ Paul van Dyk, was a debacle, to say the least -- people who bought advance tickets wound up waiting in line for three hours, or not getting in at all. But my visits have seen that even though everyone has to go through a metal detector, the lines seem to move quickly, especially early in the night.

That's great, because you won't want to hang around outside for too long. Located near the intersection of North Capitol Street and New York Avenue, blocks from some notorious open-air drug markets, Fur has visible security, and uniformed police officers occasionally pop into the club. Fur has valet parking ($15); secure, fenced self-park lots ($10); and plenty of street parking if you want to chance it. Taxis can be hard to come by, so the club's staff is working to get more companies to swing by more often and will call cabs for customers if they request one.

Romeo is hoping that the new New York Avenue-Florida Avenue-Gallaudet University Metro station -- less than three blocks away -- will bring increased business to the club. A black Hummer shuttles patrons between Fur and the Metro station "every 15 minutes or so" for free, and Romeo says Fur will offer free admission to patrons who arrive before midnight and show a SmarTrip card at the door.

"I used to drive around looking for a place to open a nightclub, and I found this area," Romeo says. "I thought it would be perfect. People said I was crazy, no one will go there." Then again, he notes wryly, people said the same thing about Insomnia, one of the first clubs to open near MCI Center.

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