Are you dashing enough to belong to elan - the club for the dashing?
"Dashing!" snorts Lance McFaddin, sporting the kind of red plaid shirt you can get away with only if you're young , rich and Texan. "Who the hel wants to be dashing" Lance McFaddin is the owner of elan.
McFaddin stops, skewers the soggy remains of a Georgetown Inn omelette, and assesses his club's motto again. "Dashing? I hate that word. My media consultants talked me into it because they said that's what elan means.
"See, three years ago I came up with this concept for a private club - well, not exactly private. I wanted a very residential, very low-keyed place where people felt like they were at home. We took the idea to an ad agency and they came back with the name elan. Well, I just loved it. Or the logo, that is. So I said, 'Now tell me, what does this world mean and how do you pronounce it? Because whatever it is, I sure I don't have it'."
Until three weeks ago, Houston, Memphis and Dallas had it, but Washington was sans elan. There was, of course, Pisces, a private club for the rich, Foxtrappe, a private club for young blacks, and the Apple Tree, a public discotheque for the single.
But according to McFaddin, elan is not a discotheque, though there are two dance floors, disco music and a disc jockey in a three-piece suit. And elan is not an exclusive club, either. It is, McFaddin insists, a public bar-restaurant where people became "cardholders" by shelling out $300 a year for two membership cards - one of which need not be in your name but is preferably held by a member of the opposite sex. Once you have the cards, you can play - walk into elan anytime and pay retail for drinks and food. (Drinks range from $1.50 for beer and wine to $2.75 for frozen drink specials.)
Now, you understand, that McFaddin is expecting Washington to stand up on boogie elan style. "I certainly didn't think when we opened up everybody would say, 'Gosh, we're anxious to pay you $300'." (Noncardholders will pay a nightly $10 cover.)
McFaddin, who was up from Houston for his first look at his new Washington boite, continued, "We know from experience that just doesn't happen. Which is why we have the preview period. We shake out the kinks in the club and the customers get a chance to come in, look us over and decide for themselves."
"In Houston we hit no consumer resistance to that $300, but it we do here, well, I could think about lowering that figure. But you have to understand that we pour most of that money back into the club to give our customer a superior experience in terms of graphics, music, service, ambience - even the art on the walls."
Elan Washington is owned by McFaddin and his partner, fellow Texan Sam Kendrick, who together form McFaddin Kendrick, a Texas conglomerate specializing in land, hotel and restaurant development and operation. Joining them as a limited partner in the operation is Buddy Temple, whose family is the largest stockholder in Time, Inc., and who is a Texas state legislator currently running for speaker of the house.
Temple and McFaddin both come from Lufkin, Texas, where 18 years ago they hooked up with Charlie Wilson (D-Tex.). As a result, Congressman Wilson is now part owner of a nightclub - having kicked "less than $40,000 into elan Washington.
"When Lance and Buddy asked me to join 'em on this one, I thought it'd be too much fun to lay back," says Wilson, who at 6 feet 4 looks like an extra in "The Misfit." "Besides," he adds grinning, "I've never been in show business before."
Elan's prime age target is 25-30. "Probably anyone who acts or feels 30," elaborates McFaddin, who is 37. "Or at least wants to feel 30 that night.
"See the whole success of elan is in selling those cards. And we do a pretty aggressive marketing job with that."
To say the least. In the last three weeks Washington has been barraged with bigger-than-Texas enticements to come dash at elan . First there were the newspaper-cum-Cosmopolitan ads showing a pretty brunette woman followed by a pretty blond man alighting from a car talking about "Our Washington. Vibrant, knowing, fantastically alive." "Our Washington," assured the dashing brunette, "will be at elan ."
Much of "Our Washington has been seduced by some 10,000 complimentary passes (five per person) mailed out inviting people to the building with the blue awning on K street. The mailing list was culled from both Washington friends of the owners and master lists from elan's publicist, Carolyn Peachey.
After spending a reported $500,000-plus (McFaddin won't say for sure), Houston architect Ted Heesch came up with something that looks like the set of "Good Morning America."
Floors are covered with burnt-orange carpeting, red drapings hang from exposed ceilings, and plants drip overhead, dancing above two high-chaired tables filled with the obligatory backgammon boards. Taking up the main room is a book-lined wall, comfortable couches and a postage-stamp-sized dance floor. A large semi-circular bar is the No. 1 attraction and gathering place. Behind the bar is another tiny dance floor with cushioned banquettes and tables.
"This place is in transition just like Washington," said Carterite Terry O'Connell, helping himself to an elan sparerib - one of several hors d'oeuvres platters ranging from $11.95-$18.95 that the club offers at night. "It can't decide if it's north or south. Part of it is very Atlanta with open ceilings and plants while the other part - that library business - is very New York." Elan tomes include "Secure Transactions," "Captain from Castille" and the 1950 "Information Please Almanac."
So far the crowd at elan has not been Dom Perignon even though a few Remy Martins have sauntered through the front door. So far, no Wild Turkeys. CBS' Ed Bradley has been in, as have presidential aide Steve Selig, political adviser Pat Caddell, David Bowen (D-Miss.), ABC's John Scali, CBS' Ike Pappas, Ella and Mo Udall (D-Ariz.) (she's on the elan advisory committee), Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun and Sen. S. I. Hayakawa (D-Cal.).
Still, some patrons are finding too many open-neck shirts and gold chains. "The night I was there the crowd looked very suburban, very double-knit to me," said lawyer Robert Liotta, a self-described "shunner" of the disco scene. "It looked like a lot of the people dancing had had lessons at Arthur Murray."
"It's very well appointed," observed Channel 7's Paul Berry, "but it doesn't strike me as a super-sophisticated private club." And energy consultant Carl Hayden, who gave up Pisces ("too boring"), says he doesn't find elan "any different from other bars I go to." He, however, spent several evenings there last week.
The Democratic National Committee's John Golden - better known as Hamilton Jordan's best friend - says he hasn't decided about elan yet. "There is no question that I am Mr. Nighttime," assures Golden, adding that a favorite evening pastime is catching the belly dancer at the Aster. "And I might join the club, depending on the mix. If it turns into a place full of middle-aged, governmental affairs types, then no way. But if they get some nice-looking women and young, progressive people, I'd go for it. Otherwise, $300 is a big price to pay to be conspicuous by your presence."
Complaints about elan currently boil down to a question of style - Texas versus Washington. Elan's dress code, for instance, merely requests "appropriate attire" - which caused instant confusion in a town where male identity is wrapped up in a three-piece suit. And then there is the money problem. Cash customers are required to pay after each drink while credit cards must pay for the first round before running up a tab.
"I was damn insulted," sniffed one Washingtonian when asked for cash immediately. "People here don't walk out on bills, because it they do, they know they'll read about it in the newspaper tomorrow."
McFaddin says he'll make the changes - that the object is to"localize" elan .
To rev up interest, Wilson was set to hand out free cards to all members of Congress - until it occurred to him that the Ethics Committee just might not take too kindly to the idea. Wilson says, "We got ethicsed right out of business on that one."
And a lot of people are watching. One Washington entrepreneur, who says he has plans for a nightclub, says, "If this club goes, 15 other places like it could follow.
"Let's face it. This is one of the first times that big outside money has come in to woo Washington nightlife. If they succeed, others will follow. Anything that gets people out at night in Washington is good for the city."
On the other hand, some local folks are more than a little suspicious - and envious, perhaps - of the Texas invasion. "Thinking you can just walk into Washington and call yourself exclusive is the first mistake," said Tom Curtis, part-owner of the L.A. Cafe. "Putting up a couple of congressmen's pictures on the wall might be impressive in Dallas, but not here. And, with a mass mailing, you turn off the exact kind of right people you're coming to Washington to get."
"Hell," defends Wilson, "we're not after high society. We're after fun people. And the $300 will keep out the street drunks."
Yet elan won't start playing hard-hardball until the preview period (approximately two months) ends and the cardholders take over.
McFaddin, naturally, is optimistic, shooting for 4000 members to be garnered from "a tremendous number of single, affluent people in Washington making $24,000 and up."
But will they spend it? Even for McFaddin's "superior experience?" After all, 25,000 dashing souls in Memphis, Houston and Dallas have kicked in their $300 before.
"Well," muses McFadden, "we sure aim to make this thing work. But I also don't think we should take anything too seriously, even though I know Washington is a serious town. Life is not going to stop or start for anybody - including us - based on the success of elan in this city.
"I mean, how can a club for the dashing be a life-or-death matter when people all over the world are starving to death?"