K Street's Second Shift

By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 2, 2008

Money for access. Influence peddling. Gucci. It's just another Monday on K Street.

Even at 1 a.m.

The men in black suits and headsets are out as usual on this street of power and prestige, but at this hour they're separating the VIPs from those who must wait in the cold. Red carpet and velvet ropes tart up the sidewalk, and the line of luxury cars waiting for valets looks like an auto show. The owner of the black Maybach sedan -- about $350,000 worth of cool comfort -- gets ushered in immediately.

In a few hours, Brooks Brothers and Cole Haan will replace Bebe and Coogi as lawyers and lobbyists return to their offices and resume the business that has made K Street so famous for greasing the wheels in Washington that HBO based a show on it.

But the nights belong to K Street's new cottage industry. A half-dozen late-night bars and lounges have opened within a block of 14th and K streets NW in the past few years, transforming the area into the District's trendy new nightspot.

The street's cachet as a nexus of power is part of its draw.

"It's more upscale, more career-oriented," said Arlington County resident Nickolena Sidler, a graphic designer who often commutes into K Street after dark.

"K Street evokes a tradition of power and deal-brokering unique to D.C.," said David S. Chung, a University of Virginia-trained lawyer who opened kstreet lounge in 2005 in a 12-story office tower where he worked as a summer law associate. "There was a demand for an upscale, luxury playground for a mature clientele. So why not place the venue in a similar locale?"

But the throngs lining the red carpets look a lot like traditional clubgoers. Weekends are the busiest, and Wednesday and Sunday nights target African Americans. The common denominator is the patrons' youth.

After all, K Street's second shift doesn't start until 10 p.m.

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