SHELLING OUT AND CASHING IN AT THE INAUGURATION
Later Hours Are Music to Clubs' Ears
Sunday, December 7, 2008
D.C. nightlife impresario Marc Barnes was recently offered $20,000 for private use of the Park at 14th, his popular dance club in downtown Washington, during the week of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration.
He scoffed. And, now that the city has passed an emergency law extending the hours bars and nightclubs can serve alcohol between Jan. 17 and 21, he's in for a lot more money. He estimates moving 1,500 people through the luxurious four-story Park at $100 a head and calculates raking in $150,000 a night -- not including food and alcohol.
But that's chump change compared with what he might make at Love, his mega-club in Northeast with a hot tub on the roof and a cellar that can hold $300,000 worth of liquor. Barnes expects that 3,500 people will circulate inside and another 3,500 through a tent in the parking lot, with revenue topping $700,000 a night.
"This is our Christmas," quipped Barnes, who is said to be pursuing musicians including Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Diddy, all of whom have performed in his clubs.
With record crowds expected in the District for inauguration week, Barnes and other nightlife moguls are taking a cue from Prince and preparing to party like it's 1999 -- when money flowed and there was no financial crisis. And make no mistake: The profit potential for politically connected business owners is the primary reason the D.C. Council opened the door to round-the-clock revelry last week despite cries from residents that the extended hours could mean trouble.
"In an economy where people are struggling, why not throw them a bone?" said council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who represents the area the Park is in, near 14th and K streets NW. Evans was recently reelected to a fifth term and is one of several council members who receive campaign cash from Barnes and hold their parties at his establishments.
"At the end of the day, as with many things, let's give it a try and see what happens," Evans said. "Nobody knows the answer. If we try it and it doesn't work, we won't do it again. But, overall, the benefits of doing this outweigh the drawbacks."
Others aren't so sure. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) objected to including the city's 48 nightclubs in the extended hours, which allow establishments with liquor licenses to stay open 24 hours and serve alcohol till 5 a.m. Although he wanted to limit the move to bars, he said he will sign the legislation. The D.C. police union chief has questioned whether the city will be able to provide enough security, even with thousands of out-of-town officers expected to help on the inaugural parade route and at official events. And Metro officials have not agreed to run trains past 3 a.m. on the weekend and 2 a.m. on inauguration night.
Civic leaders in such nightlife-oriented neighborhoods as Adams Morgan, the U Street corridor and Georgetown have warned of increased crime, traffic, noise and lewd behavior. Several years ago at Barnes's Love, then known as Dream, there was a spate of beatings, a double stabbing on the dance floor and an armed robbery of a patron.
"It's crazy," said Audrey Ray, outgoing president of the Ivy City civic association, which has complained to the city about Love. "There's nothing you can do against the insanity of the nightclubs. I'm so sick of this."
Barnes, 45, who has operated clubs in the District for 20 years, said fears of out-of-control crowds pouring out of his establishments are misguided. People party in shifts and go home when they're tired, he and other club owners said. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, eight bars took advantage of a law that allowed them to stay open two extra hours, until 4 a.m., during the Republican National Convention over the summer, with few problems reported.
"They do it in New York every day," Barnes said. "They do it in Vegas every day, in Miami, in New Orleans."