On the Town
Changes, All in The Name of Love
Friday, September 2, 2005
MARC BARNES raised more than a few eyebrows last month when he announced that Dream (1350 Okie St. NE; 202-636-9030), the three-year-old nightspot that had become a regular party destination for hip-hop artists, professional athletes and thousands of local clubbers, would close on Aug. 20 and reopen as Love -- a humdrum name if there ever was one -- the following Thursday. Cynics (myself included) wondered if it was to distract from ongoing problems at the venue or to create some much-needed hype in the face of new competition from clubs such as Avenue or the K Street Lounge. Fans e-mailed to ask whether Dream was getting rid of its college night or ending its popular happy hours.
"People ask, 'Why are you changing? Everybody knows Dream,' " Barnes says. "People in Japan called [to ask about the change]." But, he says simply, "We're doing what we want to do."
In the nightlife industry, where buzz and reputation are everything, it's rare for a club to change its name without a corresponding change in ownership, but it's not unprecedented. Joe Englert changed Politiki into the Penn Ave. Pour House when he decided that Capitol Hill barflies were growing tired of drinking mai tais at the Polynesian-themed bar. DC Live became the VIP Club after a multimillion-dollar facelift; owner Abdul Khanu needed a moniker that reflected his desire to have everyone "feel like a VIP." And in the case of Buzz -- the massive DJ night that became Sting and is now known as Cubik at Nation -- changing the name served as an exorcism, after the event's reputation was sullied by some well-publicized allegations of drug use by patrons.
Perhaps Barnes and partner Masoud Aboughaddareh (the promoter better known as Masoud A.) had similar goals in mind.
Dream opened in November 2001, and Barnes estimates that more than 3 million people have come through the immense four-level club, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Beyonce, Magic Johnson, Diddy, Steve Francis and the Roots. Cam'Ron shot the video for "Hey Ma" at Dream, and interspersed with scenes of the New York rapper and his crew dancing and sipping champagne, we the hoi polloi got a look at the penthouse suite, including the showers and rooftop hot tub.
Filled with warm mahogany walls, marble accents and well-appointed VIP rooms, Dream was the first Washington nightclub ready for a close-up on MTV's "Cribs." The first floor alone was a hip-hop millionaire's version of a Ritz-Carlton lobby: a huge island bar, soft carpeting, a concierge desk, coat check, raised VIP seating areas and large DJ booth. That's before you climbed flights of stairs to the enormous second-story dance floor, where hip-hop stars took the stage almost every weekend; passed through heavy red-velvet curtains to reach the plush, velvet-lined walls of the Red Room; or explored the vast outdoor deck -- which overlooked a school bus parking lot, but still managed to feel hip and tropical.
At the same time, though, Dream, located in an isolated industrial area off New York Avenue, has attracted more than its share of trouble. D.C. police took to calling the place "Club Nightmare," according to a March Washington Post story. A litany of crimes associated with Dream include stabbings on the dance floor; three people wounded when a security guard opened fire outside in May 2004; and numerous fights, muggings and thefts from automobiles parked nearby. Residents in the surrounding neighborhood of Ivy City complain about illegally parked cars, increased street crime on weekend nights, noise and trash. Patrons gripe about endless lines to get in, distant satellite parking lots and unpleasant doormen.
And while other clubs were opening with cutting-edge lighting, sound and design, Dream remained relatively consistent. That was part of its appeal but also what made it prime for a revamp.
Earlier this summer, Barnes and Masoud A. decided it was time for something new. To some degree, they admit that shaping Dream into Love is something of a public relations exercise. "People have focused on the negative things that have been said about Dream, not the beauty, not the 3 million people who came through," Barnes says. He says that he recognizes that Dream had its share of problems and that customers who encountered difficulty with parking, long lines or crowds didn't give the club a second chance. "Those are people we wanted to bring back," Barnes says, to demonstrate that his staff can do better. Problem is, "people want to go to a new place. . . . We thought by changing it to Love, we'd cause a stir. We thought more people wanted to see the new Love and not just the new Dream."
Masoud A. adds: "Some people didn't want to come to Dream. Now people can meet us halfway."
Construction began about a month ago, but, surprisingly, Dream kept operating on weekends while walls were installed and carpets were laid during the week. As a result, the "grand opening" came before everything was ready for prime time -- "There's more furniture that hasn't been delivered and we couldn't get that in the time frame," Barnes says -- and more changes will occur in coming weeks. (This also explains why you can still see some fixtures bearing the Dream logo, while in other parts of the bar, designers have slapped a swirly "Love" mark on anything that stayed still long enough.)
The transformation from Dream to Love isn't a dramatic change, but a combination of remodeling and redecorating, with a few nice touches thrown in, including shuttles from outlying parking lots and even downtown Washington.