The Club Scene Just Got a Bit Smaller

By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 14, 2006

It has been a tough couple of weeks for the local nightlife scene.

Between March 25 and 31, three of Washington's biggest and cheesiest dance clubs -- Lulu's, Polly Esther's and Tequila Beach -- shut their doors for good, all scheduled to be replaced by offices and retail. The owners of Nation, a cavernous warehouse-style concert hall near the Navy Yard that has hosted some of the world's top bands and DJs, announced that it would be closing July 15. It will be torn down to make way for a 10-story building.

At the beginning of April, five gay establishments, including Ziegfeld's cabaret, were kicked out of their longtime digs on O Street SE to make room for the new Nationals baseball stadium. In Adams Morgan, the Blue Room lounge held one last party before disappearing from 18th Street.

This rash of closings is just another sign that Washington's clubs, no matter how popular, are no match for the area's ceaseless need for real estate. In recent years, huge nightspots such as the VIP Club and little dives such as Stoney's have been forced out, all in the name of offices, condos and the Washington Nationals.

Many of these announcements were not surprises. Proposals to raze Nation were submitted by developers in August 2004, and plans for a new high-rise at 12th and F streets NW, where Polly Esther's and Tequila Beach sat, have been kicking around for a similar amount of time. The owners of Ziegfeld's, the Follies and the other Southeast clubs knew the stadium was going to displace them eventually.

Nation's owner decided to cash in on the neighborhood's impending revitalization. "The development company came to [the promoters at Nation] and gave us a time frame," explains Ed Bailey, who runs the Saturday night party Velvet Nation. "We could have let it drag on" with the future uncertain, so the promoters of Nation's various weekly events "all got together and talked about how to give it the send-off it deserves," he says. "Usually when a nightclub closes, you show up and there's a lock on the door."

It's a big loss for the city's club and concert scene. Since opening as the Ballroom in 1995, the former Hurley Boiler building's stage has featured Prince, Rage Against the Machine, Eminem, Bad Religion, Ozzy Osbourne and Limp Bizkit. However, the amount of live music has slid in recent years as Nation focuses on Cubik (formerly Buzz) and Velvet Nation, two incredibly popular dance parties that draw thousands every weekend.

A steady parade of the world's top DJs, including Paul Oakenfold, Dieselboy, Sasha and John Digweed, has helped Cubik get named the country's top club night by electronic music magazines Urb and RPM, but it was just as much fun to hang out on the two-level patio and listen to local up-and-comers while the Capitol dome loomed large in the background. Promoter Buzzlife Productions will announce its plans sometime in May, says Amanda Huie, the group's director of PR and marketing. "We don't want to announce anything yet. We're being courted by nightclubs, and we don't want to ruin anything," she says.

Huie says Buzzlife is in the process of confirming some "really big headliners" for the finale, which will be "a representation of all the people who've played at our club over the past decade."

Velvet Nation, run by Bailey and John Guggenmos, has made a name for itself over the years as the city's largest gay dance club, with frequent appearances by such superstars as the Pet Shop Boys and Junior Vasquez, DJs from across the country and themed parties such as the Madonnarama. Its July 15 party -- the last at Nation -- will be "the most unbelievable ending night party ever," Bailey laughs. He has booked a DJ and performers to be named later and says he is looking forward to the last few weeks. "During the stretch run, I'm trying to bring back everybody who's been a resident DJ, every performer who's ever had an impact here, everyone who's ever helped us be successful."

There are about 15 weeks left for Nation, and a number of special events have been planned leading up to the grand finale, including an appearance by Paul Van Dyk, a dance contest with hip-hop legend Grandmaster Flash and a giant celebration during Pride Week on June 11. Announcements about the futures of Cubik, Velvet Nation and goth-industrial party Alchemy will be made closer to the final date.

Nation has the ax hanging over its head, but it's too late for the establishments at O and Half street SE, which closed April 2. Ziegfeld's, a cabaret, was among the victims, as was the nude-dancing club Secrets and the nightclub Heat . As stadium construction progresses, more closings will follow. The gay strip club Wet, the large dance club the Edge and strip club Nexus Gold will stick around a few more months.

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